Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.
This is the first use of “Hebrew” in the Bible.
Hebrew = עִבְרִי ʻIbrîy, ib-ree’; patronymic from H5677; an Eberite (i.e. Hebrew) or descendant of Eber:—Hebrew(-ess, woman).
עֵבֵר ʻÊbêr, ay’-ber; the same as H5676; Eber, the name of two patriarchs and four Israelites:—Eber, Heber.
Hebrew = “one from beyond”
Eber or Heber = “the region beyond”
Who is Eber?
Eber (Hebrew: עֵבֶר – ʿḖḇer; Greek: Ἔβερ – Éber; Arabic: عٰبِر – ʿĀbir) is an ancestor of the Israelites and the Ishmaelites according to the “Table of Nations” in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 10–11) and the Books of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 1).
- Genesis 10:21 Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born.
- Genesis 10:22 The children of Shem; Elam, and Asshur, and Arphaxad, and Lud, and Aram.
- Genesis 10:24 And Arphaxad begat Salah; and Salah begat Eber.
Eber is a great grandson of Shem. Shem -> Arphaxad -> Salah -> Eber The “Hebrews” come through the line of Shem.
13th century Muslim historian Abu al-Fida relates a story, noting that the patriarch Eber (great-grandson of Shem) refused to help with the building of the Tower of Babel, so his language was not confused when it was abandoned. He and his family alone retained the original human language (a concept referred to as lingua humana in Latin), Hebrew, a language named after Eber.
Moving back to the text, and looking at verse 13, the following notation is from Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(13) One that had escaped.—Heb., the escaped; not any one in particular, but the fugitives generally. As Sodom lay at the north-western end of the Dead Sea, the region where Abram was dwelling would be their natural place of refuge.
Abram the Hebrew.—That is, the immigrant (from beyond the Euphrates), but also his patronymic from Eber, who in like manner had crossed the Tigris. It was, no doubt, the usual title of Abram among the Canaanites, and has been preserved from the original document, whence also probably was taken the exact description of Lot in Genesis 14:12.
The plain of Mamre . . . these were confederate with Abram.—Heb., the oak of Mamre (see Genesis 13:18), and lords, or owners of a covenant. Abram had not occupied Mamre without the consent of the dominant Amorites, and probably there was also a league for mutual defence between him and them.
Abram leads 318 men in pursuit of his kinsman against a vast army that just fought and defeated five kings and their armies of giants. The impression given in the text is that Abram used his small force to give a surprise attack in the night.
The Pulpit Commentaries provides some insight about the plan to attack and also some background on the name of the city, “Dan.”
And when Abram heard that his brother—so called as his brother’s son, or simply as his relative (Genesis 42:8)—was taken captive, he—literally, and he—armed—literally, caused to pour forth, i.e. drew out in a body, from a toot signifying “to pour out” (Gesenius, Furst); from a root meaning to unsheath or draw out anything as from a scabbard, and hence equivalent to expedivit, he got ready (Onkelos, Saadias, Rosenmüller, Bush, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’). Kalisch connects both senses with the root. The LXX; Vulgate, and others translate “numbered,” reading later יָּדֵּק for יָּרֵק his trained—literally, initiated, instructed, but not necessarily practiced in arms (Keil); perhaps only familiar with’ domestic duties (Kalisch), since it is the intention of the writer to show that Abram conquered not by arms, but by faith—servants, born in his own house—i.e. the children of his own patriarchal family, and neither purchased nor taken in war—three hundred and eighteen—which implied a household of probably more than a thousand souls—and—along with these and his allies (vide Genesis 14:24)—pursued them—the victorious Asiatics—unto Dan—which is here substituted for its older name Laish, for which vide Joshua 19:47 (Ewald), though regarded by some as not the Laish Dan conquered by the Danites, but probably Dan-jaan, mentioned in 2 Samuel 24:6 (Havernick, Keil, Kalisch); against which, however, is the statement of Jose. phus (‘Ant.,’ 1.10), that this Dan was one of the sources of the Jordan. Murphy regards Dan as the original designation of the town, which was changed under the Sidonians to Laish (lion), and restored at the conquest. Clericus suggests that the Jordan fountain may have been styled Dan, “Judge,” and the neighboring town Laish, and that the Danites, observing the coincidence of the former with the name of their own tribe, gave it to the city they had conquered. Alford is doubtful whether Dan-juan was really different from Laish.
And he divided himself (i.e. his forces) against them, he and his servants (along with the troops of his allies), by night, and (falling on them unexpectedly from different quarters) smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah. A place Choba is mentioned in Judith 15:5 as that to which the Assyrians were pursued by the victorious Israelites. A village of the same name existed near Damascus in the time of Eusebius, and is “probably preserved in the village Hoba, mentioned by Troilo, a quarter of a mile to the north of Damascus” (Keil); or in that of Hobah, two miles outside the walls, or in Burzeh, where there is a Moslem wady, or saint’s tomb, called the sanctuary of Abraham. Which is to the left of (i.e. to the north of, the spectator being supposed to look eastward) Damascus. The metropolis of Syria, on the river Chrysorrhoas, in a large and fertile plain at the foot of Antilibanus, the oldest existing city in the world, being possessed at the present day of 150,000 inhabitants.
Let’s look at the outcome of this fight:
16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.
Abram succeeds where the armies of kings and giants could not. He recovers everything and everyone and appears to have done so without loss on his own side.