But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”
This passage from Genesis 14:22-24 in the Bible describes the words spoken by Abraham (aka. Abram), the great historical figure throughout the ages. The ‘Abraham’ we are referring to here is not the American president, Abraham Lincoln, who led the American Civil War in the 19th century. This ‘Abraham’ (i.e. Father of All Nations) can be considered as the ancestor of all Israelites, a devout religious leader leaving world influences. Here’s the historical background of the passage:
Four Kings vs. Five Kings
Around the area of Babylon lived four kings. In order to expand their current territories, these four kings became allies and declared war against some five kings living near the Mediterranean Sea and the River of Jordan. Originally, the Five Kings were in fact submitted to Kedorlaomer who is the leader among the Four Kings. State harmony was maintained for 12 years while the Five Kings offered tributes to Kedorlaomer as well as the other kings. However, perhaps feeling suppressed for too long, the Five Kings finally rallied together and waged war against the Four Kings. The revolt was certainly unacceptable for Kedorlaomer, so he quickly called in the other three emperors sending joint troops to subjugate and ransack the five cities. After a long time of struggle, the Five Kings were eventually defeated by the Four Kings. Their armies fled while their people scattered.
Abraham Saves His Nephew
The Four Kings took away all the possessions of the Five Kings, including their riches and people. Among the captives was Abraham’s nephew, Lot. As soon as Abraham found out about the news, he immediately gathered his friends, i.e. Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre, as well as 318 trained men to pursue Kedorlaomer and the other three kings. To everyone’s surprise, Abraham and his men won a great victory over the Four Kings’ forces and took back all the captives and treasures taken from the Five Kings.
Fig. 1. Abraham Rescues Lot. Abraham and his companions rescue Lot (Genesis 14:14-15). French manuscript illumination, c1250. Granger Historical Picture Archive. Web. 27 September 2019.
Abraham Meets the Credit Taker
When Abraham came back with great triumph, one of the five kings who abandoned his people earlier—King of Sodom—came to meet Abraham and said, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” By rights, since Abraham was the man going to and winning the war, he definitely deserved all rights to decide what he likes to do with his captives and riches. Yet, this King of Sodom unabashedly intervened in the decision-making and requested Abraham to give him the people he forsaken earlier. Normally, if we were Abraham, we probably would have ordered our trained soldiers to have King of Sodom decapitated. Abraham, however, did the opposite and said, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”
Dear readers, you’ve probably also noticed the divine characters of Abraham. Let’s now get to the detailed analysis of Abraham’s remarkable response and discover the three relational management tips that are set to change our lives.
I. Give Out More and Quibble Less
Faced with such a terrible freeloader as King of Sodom, Abraham showed us his sense of clemency and tolerance. Neither did he rebuke the king for his insolence, nor did he seize all the goods to himself. Further, he willfully offered all his gains to this man. The thread and strap here signify all the trivialities we encounter in our relationships and everyday lives. Yet, as little and unimportant as it can be, our relationships often fail due to our overemphasis on these issues. We fight and vex in anger over the particular piece of “shoelace/shoes strap” as if a pair of shoes will be made tight by a single piece of shoelace and not two.
All round, and in its joyous rest reposing.
--Empedocles from the Meditations
II. Commit to Your Promises
According to a psychological research, although adults hold very different views toward “promise-breaking” and “lying”—the former is still believing something will happen but at a different point of time while the latter is not believing the thing will take effect at all—children aging 5 to 7, however, see these two as essentially the same (Hussar & Horvath, 2013). That is, when we promised to do something and failed to act accordingly, we are Pinocchio the great liar in the eyes of our kids. Period. Even though Abraham never really promised before King of Sodom to return his people and treasures, he committed to his promise to God and never said a word further.
Promises may get thee friends, but non-performance will turn them into enemies.
III. Reciprocate Others’ Kindness
When do you usually think of your friends? When you bump into a crisis that needs their assistance? Or do you call to tell them that you appreciate their time, effort, and emotional giving spent on you? The final words spoken by Abraham to King of Sodom were, “I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.” These words reflect the spirit of a true friend. Aner, Eshkol and Mamre are three friends going onto a battle with Abraham without a second thought, even if it means “death” before them. Meanwhile, Abraham remembered their truthfulness and was willing to share all the possessions he earned with them. Many social psychologists point out that people in a two-way, reciprocating relationship tend to experience higher levels of intimacy and security (Almaatouq et al., 2016). Apart from sharing his goods with his friends, Abraham was also using this response to obliquely praise their ability and kindness. It reflects a level of self-certainty or self-content that he is able to appreciate others’ strengths.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.
- Abraham Rescues Lot. (c1250). Abraham and his companions rescue Lot (Genesis 14:14-15), French manuscript illumination. Granger Historical Picture Archive. Retrieved from https://www.granger.com/results.asp?inline=true&image=0033797&wwwflag=3&itemx=4
- Almaatouq, A., Radaelli, L., Pentland, A. & Shmueli, E. (2016). Are you your friend’s friend? Poor perception of friendship ties limits the ability to promote behavioral change. PLoS ONE, 11(3), 1-13. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151588
- Aurelius, M., & Epictetus. (1956). Meditation [of] Marcus Aurelius. Chicago: Gateway Editions.
- Hussar, K. & Horvath, J. (2013). But you promised: Children’s judgments of broken promises. Scientific Research, 4(12), 1046-1050. doi: 10.4236/psych.2013.412152
- Zondervan. (1984). The Holy Bible: New International Version