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Trouble began (in Genesis) when the Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah (and their allies) rebelled against their overlord, Chedoloamer, who swept down on them with an avenging army, killing or capturing everyone they could get their hands on, including Abraham's nephew Lot.

Genesis 14:14: "And when Abram heard that [Lot] was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan."

How was it that Abraham's private army of 318 was more than a match for the presumably thousands that accompanied the victorious enemy king? Was it because the enemy was too heavily laden with the spoils of war?

Or was this one of God's miracle victories like Gideon against the Midianites where a few hundred men were allowed to defeat thousands?

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This is a better fit on Biblical Hermeneutics I think, or maybe the Judaism site (they may have some extra-biblical tradition), because I doubt Christianity has any explicit tradition on this. –  david brainerd Jul 11 at 15:46
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@davidbrainerd: Fine, I would support a migration of this question. –  Tom Au Jul 11 at 15:47
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This does not look like a Biblical Hermeneutics thing. It's not really about a specific text or how to interpret the words, as worded it's very much asking for a doctrinal stance. –  Caleb Jul 11 at 16:05

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Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people. - Genesis 14: 14-16

The earliest battle described in the Bible that involves the Hebrews in The Land is Abram’s rescue of Lot and his people at Dan. In the fewest possible words that still allow for reconstruction and understanding, the battle is described in three verses in Genesis 14. By analyzing them carefully, it is possible to work out what happened, and what strategies and tactics Abram used.

The Importance of Trees

The key to understanding the verses is trees. In the time of Abram, the entire area around Dan was a big forest made up of the kind of trees that can still be seen at the nature reserve near Dan. When the trees are taken into account the entire operation becomes plausible, and not just a mythical story from the Bible.

The Importance of Strategy

Taking the verses point-by-point:

  • he armed his servants – Abram had weapons ready at hand and that means he had prepared for the eventuality of war. He had allocated a part of his wealth (Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold.) to defense and had established an armory with smiths to make weapons or he was able to source his weapons from outside. A basic principle is established – when it comes to governmental budget allocations, life is more important than quality of life. By issuing weapons, Abram ensured that each of his men had an effective weapon and not just a 'knobkerrie' and a kitchen knife.

  • 318 servants – This about a battalion sized force. (Abram could have raised a much larger army from amongst his Amorite confederates). The main advantage of about three-hundred men is that this is the maximum size a single commander can exercise effective strategic control over (that is - feed, organize leave, orderly march, make camp, etc.) and that can therefore operate as a single unit. At the same time, there are enough men available so smaller tactical combat units can be formed. Modern armies are still built around the battalion for exactly this reason – much larger and strategic control is lost, much smaller and tactical division into smaller combat groups becomes impossible.

  • born in his own house – Abram had the loyalty and knew the quality of his men. The key to a good unit of any size is always loyalty from the men, and that means trust in the commander, and the commander knowing what his troops are capable of and therefore being able to trust them to carry out the tasks allocated to them.

  • pursuit as far as Dan – Chedorlaomer the king of Elam (Persia or Iran) might have been able to get his armies straight across the desert to The Land but returning, the captives, animals and goods had to travel following the ‘fertile crescent’, the ancient travel route, and that meant travelling north to Dan.

    From the Dead Sea to Dan is a long slow journey and Abram had time to study the enemy during the trek north, gathering information on how they made camp, how the guards were set and where they concentrated their forces. The morale of the soldiers was low because they had been away from home for a long time; the battles were behind them and the road was slow. General negativity and slackness increased by the day. They saw no signs of danger with guard-duty being done in a slap-dash manner only to prevent the captives from escaping. The murmuring streams at Dan relaxed them even more, and the enfolding trees created a false sense of security.

  • divided his forces – No-one can keep control of an army of three-hundred while they are moving through a big wood full of little rivers at night as the woods naturally splits up the group. Soldiers bump into each other, get mixed up, walk in the wrong direction, get lost, start calling for each other in loud whispers, fall in the water and so on, and so on.

    Woods are one of the ‘control- breaking’ factors in warfare and gaining control over such situations is neatly illustrated by Abram. The trees naturally split the force up, that is the ‘control breaker’, and it is made worse by the loss of control that normally happens at night. By splitting his force before going into the woods Abram mimicked the breaking up in order to get a new form of control.

    Each smaller group moved in under its own leadership, with its own guide, its own plan, its own target destination, and an open time frame. (This was also the complete opposite of the Elamite central-control warfare system.)

    To summarize the concept: Abram deliberately mimicked the result produced by the control-breaking factor, in a controlled fashion, to gain a new form of control. Once he was out of the woods, he could return to central control and concentration, as his forces were organized to do so. The enemy that had been scattered by the trees remained scattered and could put up little resistance to the concentrated follow up action of Abram and his men.

  • against them by night – The main advantage of attacking at night is confusion in the ranks of the enemy. Being able to operate at night in a strange big wood meant that Abram had help from local people who knew the area and provided guides.

  • and he and his servants attacked them – When the leader is also in the battle even if he’s not directly controlling every part of the action the men are comforted that the battle will go well and this gives them confidence. This is pure and simple the ‘daddy’ effect. Troops transfer the security feeling they had as children from their fathers to their leaders. That, and not command and control is the greatest advantage of having leaders in the front lines.

  • pursued them – Once the battle has been won, the attackers must move through and drive the enemy until they are no longer a threat. Failure to do this--and it happens all the time--means the enemy can regroup and counter-attack.

Conclusion

In using the correct tactics to fight amongst the trees, the trees made victory possible for Abram.

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Good job! Interesting "take" on Abram's victory over the kings of the cities of the plain. I've taken the liberty of reorganizing the material. No major changes were made. Further thoughts: as LCIII, above, points out, did the bitumen pits perhaps contribute to Abram's victory? Also, any scholarly sources for your analysis? Don –  rhetorician Jul 12 at 12:43
    
Thank you. I admit I took it directly from an article and pasted without looking at the result - bad workmanship. –  gideon marx Jul 12 at 14:45
    
Could you please give us the source of the article? That would add credibility and allow us to read the original in context, and give credit to the original author. –  disciple Jul 12 at 17:20
    
Oh no! Apologies. It is a rough draft from research I did for an article. The point was to illustrate proof of Biblical accuracy from military angle. Additionally in just two verses everything that needed to be said about a battle can be made understandable and usable by military commanders. Orde Wingate used the Bible extensively for teaching military tactics and used them with incredible success. –  gideon marx Jul 13 at 17:57

No explicit reason for Abram's victory is given, but the surrounding context can give some clues:

Genesis 14:8-11 ESV Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five. Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram's brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.

Key facts:

  • Chedorlaomer's army had just finished doing battle (albeit victoriously) before kidnapping Lot. There may have been casualties, fatigue, POWs, issues with the treacherous lands, and whatever else.
  • The size of the Chedorlaomer's army (and his friends) isn't given.
  • They had just sacked a city and Abram executed a surprise attack at night. This can tip the scale.

With no further details about this we can surmise that this may have simply been a great victory against the odds. It might not have needed any miraculous intervention from God to happen--though I'm sure He helped:

Proverbs 21:31 ESV The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.

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