The Bible's First War

Bible's First Battles    -    Wilderness Wars
Moses' Last Conflicts    -    Promised Land Wars
Joshua's Greatest Victory   -   Early Civil Wars
Israel Battles the Jews
Welcome to the initial installment of our timeline series delineating some of the most important wars recorded in the Old Testament. This article tackles the first series of battles found in the Bible.

c. 1880 - 1875 B.C.
Chedorlaomer's slaughter
Genesis 14

The first Biblical war, with its series of at least eight major battles, is impressive in its size, planning and display of military prowess! It's impact on the land of Canaan will ultimately draw Abraham (Abram) into the conflict.

The first conflict in the Bible centers around a king named Chedorlaomer. He rules over the people of Elam who are located in modern southwest Iran. Elam, one of the sons of Shem (Genesis 10:22), populated an area which later would grow into the Persian Empire. Chedorlaomer leads a military coalition of three other eastern monarchs that include the kings of Shinar (Babylonia), Ellasar and another referenced only as the "king of nations" (Genesis 14:1).

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The four king coalition begin their military expedition by traveling down a path known as the "king's highway." This highway, located east of the Jordan River and Dead Sea, runs south from Damascus to Arabia. The coalition's first victory is over the giants in Ashteroth Karnaim (Bashan). They then continue to proceed south and conquer the Zuzims in Ham (eastern Gilead) and the Emim in Shaveh Kiriathaim (located east of the Dead Sea, Genesis 14:5).

The military campaign then proceeds further south to destroy the Horites in the mountains of Seir (later populated by the Edomites). They then turn west and conquer the people around the area of Kadesh controlled by the Amalekites, along with defeating the Amorites who lived in Tamar (Genesis 14:6 - 7).

A failed strategy

Chedorlaomer, after carrying out six major conflicts that ended in victory, now leads his coalition forces northeast to accomplish his primary mission of punishing five wealthy kings who rebelled against him. These rulers, who refused to serve him after twelve years of doing so (Genesis 14:4), are located in a rich and fertile valley that surrounds the southern end of the Dead Sea (13:10 - 12). It is also the location Lot (Abraham's nephew) lives and raises cattle.

The rulers who dare throw off Chedorlaomer's yoke are led by the king of Sodom whose allies are the kings of Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim and Zoar (Genesis 14:2). Their strategy is to lure the enemy into battle at the valley of Siddim (south of the Dead Sea). Well known for its slime pits (pockets of bitumen that bubble to the surface), the five king alliance hopes to bog Chedorlaomer's forces down in the valley's sticky surface and win the war.

The plan to slow or stop the enemy's advance, however, fails miserably. Chedorlaomer's forces overcome the sticky battlefield obstacles in their way and win the war. The Sodom-led troops, while attempting to retreat, either find themselves stuck in the slime pits or end up fleeing to the mountains (Genesis 14:10). The unprotected cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are then completely looted with many of the inhabitants (including Lot and his family) taken captive (verses 11 - 12).

Abraham gets involved

Abraham (Abram), who is between 80 and 85 years old, is informed of Lot's capture through a survivor of the war (Genesis 14:13). According to the Bible, his immediate response is to arm 318 of his trained servants (roughly the size of Gideon's army) and pursue, along with some Amorite allies, those who have taken Lot (verse 14).

Abraham's army follows the path of the four kings as they head back home by (likely) traveling north on the western side of the Jordan River. They finally catch up with the enemy while they are camped near the city of Dan (called Laish at this time), located 140 miles (225 kilometers) from where the pursuit began (verses 13 - 14).

Abraham then divides his men into small groups and, catching Chedorlaomer's troops by surprise, carries out a successful nighttime attack! His unexpected strike causes the enemy to retreat to Hobah, a city roughly 100 miles (161 kilometers) further north that is a short distance from Damascus (Genesis 14:15). The father of the faithful follows the enemy to Hobah and continues his attack.

Ultimately, Lot and his family, as well as all their possessions, are recovered. The attack also recovers all that was looted from Sodom and Gomorrah along with saving the people taken captive (Genesis 14:16)! Abraham's forces then make the long journey home after their first war victory.

Abraham's stunning victory in war, when so many others had failed to defeat the enemy, was clearly aided by God (Genesis 14:20). Sodom's king, as well as the rulers of his three allies, are the first to congratulate him for slaughtering Chedorlaomer and his army. Another individual, the mysterious priest and king of Salem named Melchizedek, also congratulates him on overcoming the enemy (Genesis 14:17 - 20).

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Timeline References
Bible Knowledge Commentary
Complete Book of Bible Lists
Holman Christian Standard Bible
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


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