The story of David and Goliath may be the most famous conflict story in the Bible, but an earlier battle fought by Abram, before his name was changed to Abraham, was perhaps even more impressive in terms of the God-given success of a few hundred fighting men against four armies. The story is one that carries important reminders for modern warriors of the Way. In Genesis 14 we are told that Sodom and Gomorrah and other cities of the Dead Sea Valley had long been subject to the kings of Mesopotamia (“Shinar”) but that while Abraham was living in the area of nearby Hebron these cities rebelled against this foreign rule. The Amorite Mesopotamian king assembled a large army including his Elamite, Hurrian, and Hittite allies. The massive force overwhelmed Sodom and its neighboring cities, seizing the goods of the cities and taking many of their inhabitants as slaves. In doing this they also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since Lot was living in that area (14:12). But Abram was informed of what had happened and took decisive action:
“A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near … Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.” (Genesis 14:13-15).
Many people may be surprised to read in this account that Abram had over three hundred “trained men” which shows the size of his household. In fact, these trained men were not simply shepherds and other workmen hastily handed a sword or other weapon. The Hebrew word hānīk, means an “armed servant” and was used of men whose primary function was to provide military protection. These men were essentially a small private security force in full-time service to Abraham. Together these men pursued the returning Mesopotamians, catching up with them near Dan on what was later Israel’s northern border.
But what is truly surprising in the account is the daring raid that Abraham and his small force executed to rescue Lot. Militarily, a raid is usually a carefully planned small-scale attack on enemy forces conducted covertly with speed and surprise – often at night and behind enemy lines – on an unsuspecting enemy. An extraction raid is one planned to rescue captured soldiers, hostages or other friendly elements and the idea is almost always “quick-in, quick-out.” Abraham’s raid against the Mesopotamian allied forces was a classic extraction raid, conducted under the cover of darkness in a skillfully planned attack – but it was anything but a “quick-in, quick-out.” After his attack Abraham and his small force continued to engage the enemy over an extended distance – a further fifty miles from Dan to Damascus. These men did not just hit and run – they stuck with their mission until it was successful and Lot was rescued. Abraham’s men probably did not carry much food or supplies in order to travel quickly and catch up with the enemy force, but they travelled a considerable distance of at least 153 miles (247 km ) – from Hebron to Damascus and beyond – and then returned to the Dead Sea Plain.
Abraham and his men gladly gave credit to God for their victory against a vastly superior force (Genesis 14:20), but we should not forget the part these men played in the conflict and the things they did that were militarily sound. Even apart from the successful tactics Abraham employed in utilizing a night attack to maximize confusion and with divided forces closing from different directions (14:15-16), we see three key factors aiding the mission’s success.
Abraham didn’t set out unprepared. His men were properly trained and ready, as we have seen (14:14). He didn’t try to go it alone. He involved his allies, the men of Mamre, Eshkol and Aner (14:13,24). These men were not just his neighbors – the Hebrew says they were “sworn allies” (literally “possessors of the covenant of Abram” – so these were allies Abram could trust. Once the fighting began, Abraham and his men persisted – they “went the distance” till their mission objective was fulfilled. Simple as they may sound, these three principles are fundamental to our own spiritual warfare. Warriors of the Way need to train well to be prepared for the battles we will inevitably have to face. We then need to utilize the allies we are given in the form of fellow-believers – allies we can trust. And when the battles begin we need to proceed with a warrior’s attitude of persistence till we have fulfilled the task we have been given. The very characteristics so clear in Abram’s victory over physical enemies are ones we need in our spiritual lives too.