Genesis 14: Love Language

Genesis 14:1-24

In the days of Am′raphel king of Shinar, Ar′ioch king of Ella′sar, Ched-or-lao′mer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goi′im, 2 these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomor′rah, Shinab king of Admah, Sheme′ber king of Zeboi′im, and the king of Bela (that is, Zo′ar). 3 And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). 4 Twelve years they had served Ched-or-lao′mer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. 5 In the fourteenth year Ched-or-lao′mer and the kings who were with him came and subdued the Reph′aim in Ash′teroth-karna′im, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Sha′veh-kiriatha′im, 6 and the Horites in their Mount Se′ir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness; 7 then they turned back and came to Enmish′pat (that is, Kadesh), and subdued all the country of the Amal′ekites, and also the Amorites who dwelt in Haz′azon-ta′mar. 8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomor′rah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboi′im, and the king of Bela (that is, Zo′ar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim 9 with Ched-or-lao′mer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goi′im, Am′raphel king of Shinar, and Ar′ioch king of Ella′sar, four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits; and as the kings of Sodom and Gomor′rah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the mountain. 11 So the enemy took all the goods of Sodom and Gomor′rah, and all their provisions, and went their way; 12 they also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.

13 Then one who had escaped came, and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks[a] of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner; these were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and routed them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his goods, and the women and the people.

17 After his return from the defeat of Ched-or-lao′mer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchiz′edek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,    maker of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High,    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 

21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me; let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”

Fatherly Love

It may seem strange that we are discussing love language in the context of our first chapter on war in the Bible, yet we see various examples of it through three figures of leadership in Genesis 14.

As touched on in yesterday’s reflection, although Abraham has given Lot the opportunity to become his own man, he also is ready to come to Lot’s aid when he is helpless. Both are fatherly acts. 

Love often presents a challenge as to what the proper action is required, especially when it comes to a parent and a child. A parent sees to a child when they are crying and attempts to address the need. Burp if there is gas, feed if there is hunger, soothe if there is fright or pain. A parent has a responsibility to address the needs of a child given the power dynamic and given the wisdom/experience they hold.

And yet, this cannot be the only expression of love of a parent, or of any individual.

Love also requires us to surrender control, to trust someone else, and give them the space to do for themselves. Abraham didn’t settle all the disputes for Lot, make the decision where Lot would go, or till the land, he was to settle in. Abraham trusted Lot to carve his own path, to let go of that dependency, to endure a bittersweet good-bye so Lot could grow up and do for himself.

It’s a fine line of love to navigate, balancing between doing for someone else and giving space for someone to do for their own. This is not merely a dynamic seen of a parent to their child but occurs also for a child to their elderly parent that is suffering from waning strength or mental capacity. The dynamic plays out anytime there is a temptation to see overfunctioning and underfunctioning relationships, wherein an act of love develops an unhealthy dependency instead of addressing a need in order to help empower that person to later do for themselves.

Kingly Love

What follows in the narrative are tokens of appreciation from some of the Kings who have profited from Abraham’s bold charge into battle. Enter King Bera and Priest-King Melchizedek. 

It should be noted here that often Melchizedek is identified as “King of Sodom” in part because of the disjointed conversation that happens with Abraham and the King of Sodom (Bera) and the King of Salem (Melchizedek). While we may be tempted to reconcile the interruptions at the end of the chapter by saying “the two were one in the same” it doesn’t settle why King of Sodom was named at the beginning of the chapter, why the two kingdoms were named separately, and how could the priestly king that is exalted here and later in Hebrews was also ruler of the wicked city of Sodom.

What is actually more profound about the two kings coming to meet Abraham is to see the difference in their interactions with Abraham, to see stacked against each other their tokens of appreciation.

Melchizedek offers bread and wine and gives a prayer or blessing directed not to Abraham but rather to God. The symbol of the wine and bread is multi-fold, but predominantly the image that strikes us perhaps immediately is that of Communion, of the Lord’s Last Supper identifying bread as His Body and wine as His Blood. We can also see the bread and wine as a sacrifice as in the same verse that the two are mentioned we read that Melchizedek is a priest. A strong case can be made that Melchizedek wasn’t giving this to Abraham, but rather offering these two to God at an altar, on behalf of Abraham for his work. 

Conversely, the King of Sodom comes out without any blessing or prayer, but rather giving him the spoils of war–his own property he lost originally. This is to put it nicely as King Bera seems to almost haggle with Abraham for an undesignated people; we are left to wonder if these people are his own that were taken captive, or if they are prisoners of war from the other side that he’d like to take possession of. Though it sounds like King Bera is pleading/bargaining for some cut of the spoils, Abraham’s response indicates to us that King Bera was looking to gift Abraham for his troubles, to have no discrepancy of what he lost as a token of appreciation–what was his is now Abraham’s.

The reaction of the two kings is a stark difference. A meager offering–not even to Abraham–of bread and wine mingled with a prayer to God versus a great sum of wealth uncontested by a defeated king. Which is the greater offer?

Perhaps Melchizedek’s response was greater considering he gave bread and wine from his own means instead of sacrificing what he lost from the skirmish. After all, King Bera is “gifting” to Abraham what he lost in war, and “to the victor goes the spoils” in such a lawless time–this all rightfully belongs to Abraham without any international law saying otherwise. Moreover, Melchizedek offers prayer to Abraham’s god and purpose, to the Most High God, whereas King Bera makes a pseudo offering that sounds suspiciously like a negotiation.

Love Language

Gary Chapman theorized in his book “The Five Love Languages” in what ways we enjoy most receiving love and in what ways we typically show love. This consists of physical touch, words of affirmation, gifts, quality time, and acts of service. What I find helpful of the term “love languages” is that it puts a microscope under our methods of showing appreciation and establishing connection with others. What I think is required of anyone subscribing to this philosophy is to see the shadow side of some of these love languages and how there might be more languages that we typically don’t think of.

Through the example of Abraham, we have seen how acts of service comes through strongly as a love language. Abraham risks his life and those within his service to save Lot from his circumstances. That being said, we’ve also touched on how Abraham did the opposite of an act of service for Lot as a fatherly act of love: he trusted Lot to make his own decision and to grow. We perhaps don’t think of giving freedom or trust as a love language because it typically involves doing less or something that doesn’t tend to draw people together. And yet, a strong argument can be made how Abraham and Lot grew in longing and grew in appreciation once they were reunited.

King Bera communicates the love of gift-giving, though Melchizedek too to some degree. What King Bera examples vividly, however, is the vanity of gift-giving, the danger that comes with showing appreciation through material relinquishing. We see this in Abraham’s response to the spoils, mentioning how he will not hold a single spoil or piece of Bera’s treasure, mentioning that he would never want to be convicted of being called rich because of Bera’s “generosity”. Abraham communicates what I think many of us might feel when receiving large presents from someone of power, a hesitation to accept a gift when there might be strings attached to a gift, a conviction of guilt that we are in debt to the individual, turning the gift into a quid pro quo of material good for acknowledgment or respect.

We are easily jaded when a gift is guilted against us when a large sum we are given comes with some kind of expectation. The reason for this resentment we feel is because the gift is a mere disguise for a trade we are suckered into. We may find ourselves at the point of throwing out a gift or ripping up a check when we foresee a demeaning consequence to our integrity. These gifts are the true “Gift” communicated in German, a hidden poison that later destroys us.

That being said, not all gifts are awful or unholy. Gifts that are given with discernment and with true good-will overwhelm us. What seems to hold true of these good gifts is that they are not vain, shallow, or insurmountably valuable, but rather they meet our aim in life. Melchizedek’s gift was paradoxical, not something of great or rich in face value–a day’s worth of sustenance at best–and yet it was of insurmountable value considering that the gift was to God on behalf of Abraham. Abraham sees the offering made for him, hears Melchizedek’s prayer, and sees Melchizedek knows what he is about and joins him in that common goal.

Melchizedek’s prayer is also a kind of word of affirmation. Again, we ought to be careful about this love language as too often we pay vain compliments we don’t really mean, lip service to temporarily ease-out someone’s ache for validation or attention. Instead, Melchizedek’s words of affirmation go to God, acknowledging Abraham indirectly through his direct speech to God. Abraham need not feel embarrassed receiving an accolade, for God receives the glory, and Melchizedek in-passing mentions Abraham’s allegiance with God.

Touch & Quality Time

The two remaining of the love languages seemingly missing from this chapter are that of touch and quality time.

Perhaps we can argue that these were still present in Abraham’s love for Lot. By allowing Lot to leave in the first place, he surrendered the proximity–the touch–of his nephew, and then by saving him he restored some quality time with him. 

But where I feel these particular love languages coming through stronger is through Melchizedek’s offering, through their symbolic foreshadowing of what was to come: Eucharist.

God’s love is manifest in this story through the prefiguring of Communion. In Eucharist, there is an actual tangibility with God through the bread and wine, a sacred moment wherein man has the opportunity not just to experience God on the outside with his hands or touch, but for God to dwell within through receiving of Communion.

We are not alone. God is with us.

Lastly, the response to this act of love is for us to set aside time with God. While we might be tempted to say “I do my prayers” and “I go to church” we ought to consider to what degree we are giving God our attention and our heart when we do this. While these are proper and right steps towards Him for our betterment, it takes intentionality on our part to make this quality time. Just as one cannot say they spent quality time with their child by sitting on the couch with them simply scrolling on the phone or watching TV, so too we cannot argue that we have given God quality time if there is some distraction taking our thoughts or heart away from that meaningful time.

Limitations in Love

With all this being said, I think it’s prudent to give a final caution to how we view love.

The love languages are great diagnostics as to how we behave and how we prefer others to behave, though there’s some work on our end to wonder and be curious as to why we tend to give love in that certain way and why we tend to want it in a certain way. If we concede there are even five love languages to begin with, we must consider that our love language will be different from someone else’s, for better or for worse, and therefore we may then need to modify how we expect it of others and how we will give it.

There is a shadow to each of the languages lifted. Gifts become transactions, touch becomes violation, acts of service becomes an overfuncitoning dynamic, words of affirmation become lip service. Unless this is personal bias, I would argue that quality time is of the more innocent manifestations of love, that if true listening, vulnerability, and bonding is occurring that there can be no dark side to being present unto the other.

The other function that identifying these love languages has is being able to get curious as to why and how we show love/appreciation. Do we find gift giving to be our love language because we knew what it meant to be given something during a time of financial uncertainty, or do we lean on this one because it affords us something when it becomes something transactional? Do we prefer touch because we were not shown or were overly shown consolation via hugs as a child, or does the touch itself assure us that others trust us and can be intimate with us? Acts of service is not unlike gift giving in it capable of being transactional or stemming from a time of need or an underfunctioning dynamic we grew up with, and words of affirmation like touch can be something we lean towards when we feel we weren’t verbally acknowledged (or were overly acknowledged) in our growing. Perhaps the quality time we desire also fits into the words of affirmation and touch, an unmet need of being heard or given intimacy.

This is not an exhaustive list of possibilities, but I mention some of these to spur us to consider why we tend to give love and tend to expect it in a certain manner.

It is perhaps also important for us to take inventory of what love means to each of us. In English, there is only one word for love, and it is lacking in its spectrum of manifestations and usage. For some, love is an affinity or a preference. For some, love is an obsession or fixation. For some, love is a duty and stoic. For some, love is doing everything for the other. For some, love is contingent or contractual.

And yet, I think Abraham and Melchizedek example proper manifestations of love in this chapter. Their example does not cover the full spectrum of love, though certainly they show how small gestures can mean the universe, and how difficult a line it is to walk when it comes to doing for the other and letting go out of love.

Today, consider the following:

  • When do I too much for the other or struggle with the theme of control? How might I manage this?
  • When do I fail to do anything for the other when there is a real need that needs to be met? What gets in the way?
  • If I had to pick a love language that I tend to gravitate towards, what might be some reasons for developing that love language and what might its drawbacks be?

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