Not a whole lot of detail is given to us concerning Abraham’s involvement in the war between the five kings of the cities of the Plain of Jordan and the four kings from the East. In fact, we have the first 13 verses of the Fourteenth Chapter of Genesis that tell us how the war began, what it was about, and how the campaign of the Eastern kings under Chedorlaomer played out. Abraham’s victory over them, however, is summed up in just two verses: 14 and 15. But in those two verses we see three very peculiar “tactics” employed by Abraham that are counter-intuitive and contradictory to accepted military strategy. This is the first of many instances throughout the Bible where we see that the methods used in battle by God’s people are quite distinct from conventional, human wisdom.
Few Against Many
“But while superior tactics are usually important in determining the shifting scales of engagement or battle, they are not necessarily sufficient for success in a campaign or war. A tactically or technically advantaged force may be beaten by a tactically inferior but numerically superior enemy.” (Taken From The Oxford Companion to Military History as quoted from answers.com)
According to conventional military strategy, superior numbers in combat is to be preferred even over superior tactics and technology. In other words, the army with the most soldiers on the battlefield has a distinct advantage over the enemy. While the ability of a simple, nomadic herdsman like Abraham to be able to muster a fighting force of 318 men (from his own household, no less. That was definitely some household!), it is inconceivable that his little militia was in any way comparable to the huge army deployed by Chedorlaomer. We read in verses 4 and 5 that about a year went by before Chedolaomer responded to the rebellion of the kings in Canaan. It very likely took many months for him to arrange the logistics of deploying the huge force that he brought with him. We also know that his army was vast and powerful because in verses 5-12 we read of the swath of carnage that they plowed through the land, utterly annihilating every tribe of people in their path.
“One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the LORD your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he hath promised you.” (Joshua 23:10)
There is a saying, “One plus God equals a majority.” We see the truth of this statement again and again throughout the Bible as the armies of God’s people waged war when they were greatly outnumbered by their enemies. But when God fights for us, it doesn’t matter how many others are fighting by our side. The Lord will underscore this to Gideon in Judges 7 as He whittles Gideon’s army down to just 300 men against a multitude of Midianites. 300 was enough because it was God Who saved Gideon and delivered the enemy into his hand (Judges 7:7).
Dividing His Own Forces
The second peculiar thing about Abraham’s attack against this enormous army of the kings of the East is that he chose to divide the little fighting force that he had. It is usually the opposing army’s strategy in combat to “divide and conquer” their enemy, a smaller army will usually seek to stick together as much as possible for defensive purposes. Already greatly outnumbered, it would seem logical to make a show of force by closing ranks against the enemy allowing for a sort of “back to back” fighting that would prevent them from being divided and flanked. The Greek phalanx and the Roman legion of ancient times found their strength in their tight formations that would prevent the enemy from cutting through their ranks. Even when vastly outnumbered by barbarians, the Roman legions would employ their classic “tortoise shell” formation, each man’s overlapping shield protecting himself and his comrades while every third soldier would raise his own shield overhead providing a similar covering atop the formation. The result was an impenetrable wall of iron shields that the enemy was unable to break through from any direction, including from above!
But Abraham takes his already thin ranks and divides them further. This intrepid tactic is used again and again by God’s people throughout the Old Testament and seems to lead to confusion and surprise on the part of their enemies as they become convinced that they are up against a much greater sized force. Dividing a smaller army up like this seems to be illogical from a human standpoint, but the psychological results are quite effective!
Attacking By Night
This particular strategy actually makes a great deal of sense for a smaller army fighting a much larger one: get ’em while they’re sleeping. Of course, this has been done often throughout history by armies seeking to take advantage of the element of surprise. But the image of Chedorlaomer’s army, fresh from a string of unbroken victories, their camp filled with the lamentations of their captured slaves, their coffers overflowing with the booty from their conquests; being drunken with the celebrations of their swift and merciless routing of their enemies; certainly convinced that they were now free to return to their homeland at their own leisure – having no one else to contest their superior might – paints a very vivid picture of God’s judgment coming upon the wicked:
“For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:3)
The wicked are most at ease and comfort under the shadows of darkness. The evil feel safe under the cover of night. But the judgments of God are something that no one can hide from indefinitely, and His vengeance for the iniquities of the depraved falls suddenly. When the space for repentance has been exhausted, only swift and sure judgment remains.
The “Tactics” Of The Lord
“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;” (2 Corinthians 10:4)
Like Abraham, when we enter into conflict (though ours is usually spiritual, not physical), we do not use the methods, tactics, and strategies that the world uses. If we are trusting and relying on the Lord to fight the battle for us, He will show us what to do and how to do it. Often, the methods that God chooses for us to use are very different from those used by those who are not His own. But even when we are greatly outnumbered we can be sure, as Abraham was, that when God is with us and we are in His will, we are on the winning side!