Spiritual Warfare 101
Genesis 14 / Hebrews 7
April 21, 1996
On Friday a friend called and asked how my week had gone. After I told him, he said, “You won’t believe what’s happened to me this week.” First of all, he owed thousands of dollars in income tax that he hadn’t expected to pay. On top of that he had one catastrophe after another at work. Personnel problems, contractors who botched up major jobs, long-time customers who decided to take their business somewhere else, legal problems, pressure from every side. It was the worst week he had ever had. So he asked me a question I’ve wondered about but never asked out loud: “Do you think Satan has singled out Oak Park for a special attack?”
Before I could answer, he reminded me of the long string of incredibly bad decisions made by our local leaders, the most recent example being the National Day of Prayer fiasco. After three years of meeting for a one-hour prayer meeting in the council chambers on the National Day of Prayer, the Village Trustees have kicked us out. That decision resulted in a wave of negative publicity, including a cartoon in the Chicago Sun-Times that proclaimed “Welcome to Oak Park. No prayers allowed.”
Then last Wednesday a local columnist wrote in favor of restricting religious liberty for evangelical Christians because we want to share our faith with others. It was the single most outrageous attack on Christianity I have seen in the seven years I have lived in this village.
President Clinton’s Shameful Veto
My friend went to speak of the problems we face on a national basis. He mentioned the shameful decision by President Clinton to veto the ban on partial-birth abortions. That veto will go down in history as one of the most heinous decisions made by any president in American history. I wish to go on record as supporting not only the ban, but also the National Conference of Catholic Bishops who issued a stinging rebuke to our president. They were exactly right.
When a nation forgets God, anything is possible.
Let me remind you again that in the words of Chuck Colson there is a culture war raging in America. It is not a war between Republicans and Democrats or between liberals and conservatives. It is rather a war between those who believe in the concept of truth and those who don’t. One group believes in the concept of absolute values that apply in every situation while another group believes that truth is in the eye of the beholder.
As Erwin Lutzer points out in his new book Hitler’s Cross, the ovens of Auschwitz were not dreamed up by the military leaders in Berlin, but in the classrooms of German universities.
Germany had its philosophers, brilliant men who gained a wide audience through their teaching and writing. Germany was the hotbed of liberal scholarship that stripped Christianity of its uniqueness. The War Department in Berlin did not create the ovens of Auschwitz. They were dreamed up in the hall of learning where God was abandoned. When a nation forgets God, anything is possible. After God died in the nineteenth century, man died in the twentieth. When God is dead, man becomes an untamed beast.
A World At War
We live in a world at war. Ever since Lucifer attempted to overthrow God (see Isaiah 14:12-15) a war has been raging in the universe. A generation ago Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote a book called The Invisible War in which he traces the battle lines from the beginning to the end. It is a war between
Light and Darkness
Good and Evil
God and Satan
Angels and Demons
Ladies and gentlemen, we are on the battlefield! And may I suggest that when you visit Oak Park, you have come to the front lines. I think what was said of ancient Pergamum (see Revelation 2:13) could also be said of us: “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne.” How else can you explain the moral laxness, the widespread capitulation to homosexuality, the ridicule of biblical Christianity, the worship of tolerance, diversity and multicultural pluralism? Indeed, it is one of the ironies of our day that although Oak Park founded as a Christian village meant to be a “city set on a hill,” it has become a center of spiritual darkness.
Welcome to the battle, fellow soldiers.
Welcome to the battle, fellow soldiers. It’s time to put on the whole armor of God and stand against every attack of the enemy. Our weapons are not carnal but spiritual, meant for the pulling down of strongholds. Our adversary is cruel and cunning, with many weapons at his disposal and many soldiers ready to do his bidding.
This morning the battle rages all around us. If we do not see it or hear it, it is only because the battle is being fought in the realm of the spirit. And that, by the way, is why this is not primarily a political issue. President Clinton is not our enemy. Nor are the Village Trustees our enemy. We are to love them, honor them, and pray for them even while we disagree with some of the things they say and do. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood and we do not seek a political victory.
The First Battle
With that as an introduction, we turn to our text—Genesis 14. Immediately it grabs our attention because this chapter records the first battle in the Bible. This ancient story, which may at first seem to have no relevance to us, actually contains the basic principles of spiritual warfare.
It tells us how to fight and how to win.
It reveals Satan’s diabolical strategy.
It teaches us crucial truths we need to know.
I. Abraham Rescues Lot (v. 1-17)
This chapter falls into two parts. The first sixteen verses go into great detail describing the first war in the Bible. Let me briefly summarize what they say.
In the days of Abraham (ca. 1850 B.C.) five pagan kings lived near the southern end of the Dead Sea. Two of the kings ruled over the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. (By the way, whenever you see those two cities mentioned in the Bible, they are always connected with gross moral evil. By time of the New Testament, they come to symbolize the moral evil of this world.) Those five pagan kings were conquered by 4 pagan kings from the east—roughly the area of Iraq and Iran. For 12 years the five kings paid tribute to the four kings. In the 13th year they rebelled, refused to pay, which caused the four kings to declare war against them.
In telling this story I have emphasized that all the kings involved were pagan. That’s important because when the pagans fight each other, there is normally no reason for God’s people to get involved. Abraham (who is living in Canaan) at first has no reason to care one way or the other. As they say down in Tennessee, he didn’t have a dog in that fight.
Should I Get Involved?
But things changed when he learned that his nephew Lot had been taken captive when Sodom (where he was living) was overrun by the kings from the east.
Now Abraham faces a moral crisis. What should he do about Lot? There were at least two reasons for Abraham not to get involved:
1. It wasn’t his fight.
2. Lot had brought this on himself.
The second point has particular value since Lot had foolishly chosen the “well-watered plains” while leaving the scrub land to his uncle. But just as one wrong decision soon leads to another, at first he is merely living near Sodom, soon he is living in Sodom. No doubt Lot justified living in the midst of moral compromise by saying, “I’m strong enough. This won’t affect me. We’ll be a light in the midst of the darkness.” Unfortunately, moral compromise never leads to anything good. In this case, it led to Lot’s capture by the four pagan kings.
Genesis 14:13-16 tells how Abraham responded when he heard the news. He led 318 trained fighters from his own household. Leading a daring nighttime raid his tiny band routed the four pagan armies and chased them north of Damascus. In the process he recovered enormous booty and rescued Lot and his family.
From this story we may deduce four important principles of spiritual warfare:
1. The Danger of Compromise
If Lot hadn’t been in Sodom in the first place, Abraham would never have had to rescue him. When will we learn that nothing good comes from compromises our moral values? Every time we try to set aside our Christian values in order to get along with the world, we are the ones who end up suffering for it.
2. The Loyalty of Love
Here we see Abraham risking his own life in order to save his wayward nephew. Sometimes love will cause us to do things that seem odd to outsiders. We may have to expend our resources in ways we didn’t expect. Tough love? Sure, but what about risky love? As C. S. Lewis says, love anything and you risk having your heart broken. The only way to spare yourself the pain is to live inside a casket, cut off from everyone and everything around you.
Love doesn’t just sit there and go “Well, he’s finally getting what he deserves.” No, love cares enough to get involved even at the risk of being hurt.
3. The Importance of Preparation
When the moment came, Abraham could instantly call forth 318 trained men. Who had trained them? He had. They were his personal Delta Force, ready to go into battle on a moment’s notice.
The same holds true in our spiritual warfare. Since we never know where Satan will attack next, we must be ready to respond at a moment’s notice. That means being prayed up, studied up, with our armor on, and with the Sword of the Spirit in our hands. It means being sober at all times, watching for the “fiery darts” of the enemy. Sleeping soldiers will soon be dead soldiers.
4. The Courage to Fight
Here we see Abraham’s courage at its finest. He didn’t hesitate to go into battle, even against a much larger force. He had the courage to fight because he knew his cause was just. In this he models for us the true meaning of Ephesians 6:12, “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
During the Civil War the soldiers would sing “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” Such should be rallying cry for every Christian soldier.
II. Abe Meets Melchisedek (v. 17-24)
As we move into the second half of Genesis 14, one battle is over but another one is about to begin. As Abraham is returning home, two kings come out to meet him—the king of Sodom and the king of Salem.
These two men could hardly be more different. Bera king of Sodom rules over the most vile, perverse, morally corrupt city in all the world. He represents the ultimate end of mankind as it turns away from God.
The king of Salem is a mysterious man named Melchizedek. Verse 18 tells us that he was the “king of Salem” (a reference to Jerusalem—the “city of peace”) but his name in Hebrew means “king of righteousness. He is called a “priest of God Most High.” So here is a gentile king who somehow has come to know the one true God. The particular name for God used here is El Elyon, the Most High God. It refers to the God above all other gods, the supreme Ruler and Lord of all the universe. He is God who reigns far above the false gods of the pagans.
The Mysterious Mechizedek
Somehow Melchizedek has come to know this God and has become his priest even while serving as the king of Jerusalem. All of this is rather mysterious to us and there are many questions that remain unanswered. But of greatest interest are the words this mysterious Melchizedek says to Abraham in verses 19-20,
Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And blessed by God Most High,
Who delivered your enemies into your hand.
Melchizedek Does Two things for Abraham: He blesses him in the name of the Lord and he reminds him of the true source of his amazing victory. It’s as if he is saying, “Abraham, how do you think you managed to defeat those four armies? Did you think it was your brilliant military strategy? Forget it! You took that tiny handful and you defeated a much larger army only because God himself gave you the victory. He delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Here Comes the King of Sodom
At this crucial moment the king of Sodom speaks with what seems to be a very tempting offer: “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” He is tempting Abraham to keep the spoils of victory. No doubt this meant a chance to become super rich, the Bill Gates or the Ross Perot or the Warren Buffet of his day.
Before we go any farther, let’s remember that Abraham had the right to keep the spoils. After all, he’s the one who risked his own life to rescue Lot. We’ve all heard it said that “to the victor go the spoils.” No one could criticize him for saying yes to such an offer. He might even rationalize it by arguing that accepting the spoils would allow him to give even more to God.
But he didn’t. He just said no. He turned down the king of Sodom without even batting an eyelash. No long wait, no “Give me some time to pray about it,” no doubts, no inner hesitation.
He Just Said No
Listen to his answer to the king of Sodom in verses 22-23: “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or a thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’”
Abraham knew all about Sodom, knew what kind of people lived there and what kind of sin took place there. He wanted nothing to do with it. Because he had sworn an oath to God, he had the moral courage to say No to temptation—even when others might have said Yes.
Why Didn’t Abraham Keep the Spoils of War?
1. Because they came from an evil source
2. Because he wanted no alliance with Sodom
3. Because he knew that God was enough
4. Because he wanted Sodom to get no credit whatsoever.
5. Because he wanted God to get all the glory
Humility, Generosity, Purity
This little episode leads me to suggest three characteristics of victorious faith:
The first is humility, seen in the fact that Abraham voluntarily offered a tithe to Melchizedek (v. 20). As Hebrews 7 points out, you only make an offering to someone you regard as greater than yourself. Even though he had just won an impressive victory, Abraham realized that Melchizedek was greater than he was—and so he offered his one-tenth of all everything he had taken in battle.
The second principle is generosity, seen in the fact that while Abraham would take nothing for himself, he offered part of the spoils to the men who were with him (v. 24).
The third principle is purity, seen in the fact that Abraham would not compromise his values because he knew that the king of Sodom, in offering the spoils, was essentially like a Washington lobbyist trying to buy influence with dirty money.
Two Battles in One Chapter
When you stand back and look at Genesis 14 in perspective, you realize that there are really two battles here: one between Abraham and the pagan kings and the other between Abraham’s godly conscience and the pull of moral compromise.
Is God Enough?
This ancient story forces us to confront some very penetrating questions: Is God enough for you? Or do you also need what the world has to offer?
On Friday I had the privilege of meeting some very special people. Early in the morning I met a fine-looking couple from the Philippines who lived for 17 years in Oak Park. She is an educator with a Ph.D. and he is a distinguished lawyer. Although they were quite successful in their respective careers, something was missing. That something was a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. When they met him, he transformed their lives to the point that they felt called to do something to help the poor in their native land. A few years ago they moved to Southern California where they direct a ministry of compassion aimed at the Philippines. Now they spend over half their time in the Philippines in direct mission work among the poor. As we talked I was impressed by the fact that even though they could have stayed in America and lived at the top of the ladder, they have chosen to sacrifice for those at the bottom.
I met them at 9 AM on Friday. At noon I ate lunch with a man who also enjoyed the best that life had to offer. By the time he was 22 or 23, he was on the fast track to success. At one point he was the youngest CFO of any major company in America. He had it all—the money, the cars, the big home, the nice clothes, all the outward marks of success. And he was on his way to the very top.
In 1982 he came to Jesus Christ. Inwardly his life began to change, but outwardly he devoted himself to money and success. Four years later as he sat in church, he felt God calling him to leave his profession and serve the Lord full-time. Even though he knew what God wanted, for seven years he fought the call, all the while making more and more money and fighting a battle within his own heart. Three years ago God literally knocked him flat on his face as he took a shower one morning. That was the turning point of his life. A year later when he resigned his position, the news made the front pages of the local paper. He enrolled for a year’s Bible training at the Torchbearer’s training center in Colorado. Five months from now he and his wife and their two daughters leave for Ireland. Why Ireland? Because God has called him there to spread the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. He is going by faith, putting aside a promising career to obey the call of God. He has no doubts, no worries, and no regrets.
As I think about the couple living in the Philippines and the family going to Ireland, I am impressed by their joy. Don’t talk to them about sacrifice. Don’t pity them for setting aside their careers. God’s call is their career and if it happens to take them overseas, then so be it. If it brings them back to the states later, then so be it.
So let me ask those questions one more time: Is God enough for you? Or do you also need what the world has to offer?
Four Enduring Principles
It’s almost time to wrap up the message. Before I do, let me draw four principles that stand out from Genesis 14:
1. There will be continual conflict in the Christian Life. No one ever arrives. If Romans 7 teaches us anything, it is that even the best Christians will struggle earnestly with sin till the day they die. If Paul had to fight with sin, so will you and so will I.
2. Great temptation often comes after a great victory. That’s precisely what happened to Abraham. The king of Sodom came to him after his great victory, not before. The same thing will happen to us. Have you have a great victory lately, seen a marvelous answer to prayer, won a major battle, finished a big project, accomplished a personal goal, passed an important test. If so … beware! Temptation often comes in the afterglow of a great victory.
3. As we grow, we will be continually tested regarding our ultimate choice in life. Abraham had to decide whether God was enough or if he also needed the treasures of Sodom. Don’t be surprised if you are tested this week.
4. Only when you glimpse the greatness of God will you have the strength to withstand temptation. That’s what happened to Abraham. It was only because he had lifted his hand to “God Most High” that he had the inner strength to resist the king of Sodom. Some of us spend too much worrying about temptation when we ought to spend more time contemplating the Lord. When your God is big enough, temptation will be small enough that you can win the battle.
III. Melchizedek Pictures Jesus Hebrews 7
One final question and we’re done. Who is Melchizedek? It may interest you to know that he is only mentioned three times in the Bible—Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and in the book of Hebrews. In fact, Hebrews 7 tells us more about him than Genesis 14 does.
This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever. (vv. 1-3)
The key phrase is in verse 3. Melchizedek is “like the Son of God.” Some people have wondered if Melchizedek actually was a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ, but that’s necessary to this passage. The point is, just as Melchizedek has no recorded genealogy (meaning we don’t know when we was born or when we died) and thus remains a priest forever (i.e. because no one can prove that Melchizedek ever died), Jesus remains also remains a priest forever because we know he died but then rose from the dead—and remains alive in heaven to this very hour.
King and Priest
And like Melchizedek, Jesus is both a king (having the authority to help us) and a priest (having a heart that is sympathetic to our needs). Here is the writer’s conclusion of the matter in Hebrews 7:25, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
Everything hinges on that last phrase—”he always lives.” If Jesus is dead, we have no hope and our faith is in vain. But if Jesus is alive, then he is able to save us completely (the word means both completely and forever. The King James uses the phrase “to the uttermost.”)
Because Jesus is Alive
That leads to three crucial conclusions:
1. Because Jesus Christ is alive, our salvation is completely sure and eternally secure.
2. Because Jesus Christ is alive, our needs completely met today, tomorrow and forever.
3. Because Jesus Christ is alive, our ultimate victory is guaranteed.
That brings me back to the question a friend asked this week: “Do you believe that Satan has singled us out here in Oak Park?” My answer is yes. I think we live in a place where he has many friends doing his work and where the spiritual atmosphere is very dark indeed.
Flee or Fight
But that fact should not discourage us in the least. The darker the night, the brighter the light. The greater the test, the greatest the opportunity for seeing God’s power at work.
I know these are difficult days for all of us. Satan attacks on many levels. The way he attacks me may not be the way he attacks you. But I do know what he wants to do. He wants to Divide us! Discourage us! Defeat us!
In the day of battle you only have two options. You can fight or you can flee. Abraham was willing to fight and that’s why he won the victory.
Our only hope is to turn our eyes on Jesus. Hebrews 12:1 exhorts us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. He faced the same battle and because of it, he went to the cross.
When you feel yourself growing weary, keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t look to sinful men or fallible leaders but focus on the Son of God. He has not brought us this far to cause us to fail. He will give us the strength to keep on going and to bring us safely home in the end.