Genesis 14:22 | The Priestly King

There is so much packed into the brief narrative in Genesis Chapter 14. An entire epic could be told from this one chapter. First there is a war involving that infamous city Sodom where they are overtaken by rival kings. Then there is Lot, Abraham’s nephew, who is captured in this skirmish. Then there is Abraham coming to the rescue with a band of 300 men from his own household. Abraham not only rescues his nephew Lot but the king of Sodom and his people. As if that were not interesting enough after the victory a mysterious previously unheard-of priestly king shows up to congratulate and bless Abraham. In return Abraham gives this priestly king a “tenth” of everything!

There is so much between the lines that we are left to think on. If Abraham had 300 fighting men how many did the kings he defeated have? I imagine that his force was much smaller. Abraham did not live in a city and he was not recognized as a king the way the nations forming around him were building.

In the midst of this narrative I am struck by this interaction between Abraham and the king of Sodom.  

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ Genesis 14:22-23 ESV

The king of Sodom is grateful to Abraham. He wants only his people returned and based on what is right in the spoils of war encourages Abraham to keep anything else he wants. Abraham tells him that he will not keep even the strap of a sandal that belongs to the city of Sodom. Now what strikes me is that Abraham gives us an insight into the preparations he made before marching into battle.

We are given a glimpse into a shrewd leader of his house hold who kept a defense force ready be called up in a harsh lawless world. So, we know Abraham has capabilities physically but we also see that Abraham was prepared spiritually. He tells the king of Sodom that before going to battle he made a promise to God that he would not take the spoils. Was this because of something God asked him to promise? The way Abraham states this is like God has told him he is going to win but he wants him to promise to not take a thing because Sodom is not to be trusted. Success and wealth will be given to him by God not wealth that comes from the world. Abraham “lifted” his hand to God and agreed to the plan.

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. Genesis 14:18-20 ESV

The second thing that jumps out is this mysterious figure of Melchizedek the king of Salem who is recognized as “priest of God Most High”. There are some instant facts that jump out. 1) The first priest mentioned in the Bible. 2) He is both a king and a priest which is significant 3) Abraham gives him a “tenth of everything” with the implication that Abraham gave this priestly king 10% of all of his existing wealth not the spoils of war since we have already recognized that Abraham did not take any spoils of war. Like I stated earlier there is so much packed into this short narrative.

The fact that Melchizedek is both priest and king is significant and worth exploring.

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. Hebrews 7:1-3 ESV

Melchizedek is recognized as a resembling Jesus who is the only other priest and king. In the organization of the nation of Israel the kings and priest were not the same. The priest would appoint a king based on God’s direction. There was a separation of duties. Even today the Government and the Church are separate by design. Christ came to establish a church with his death on the cross but when he comes a second time he will return as a king bringing all nations and people into his authority.

Abraham after the success of war is blessed by a Christ like person and his reaction is to submit to this authority and give him a tenth of “everything”. Melchizedek is a surprise and Abraham recognizes God’s presence. The implication from the author of Hebrews is that Melchizedek has no father or mother and came just for this moment to Abraham to bless him. The implication is that Melchizedek is Christ in a moment before his birth. If this seems to be a surprise it should not because God is always at work intervening and directing the lives of people.

15 [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:15-20 ESV

Jesus is the first of all creation. The image of the invisible God. God made himself into the form of a man Melchizedek, king of Salem which “by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace” (Hebrews 7:2 ESV). And Abraham recognized him as head of the church and glorified him as God. We who live in this moment of grace and peace with God have a clearer revelation of who Jesus is and what he has done for us to reconcile all things to himself than what was available to Abraham. Dear reader if you have not already done so is now the time to be reconciled to the priestly king who created us and gave us life? He is near if you will draw near to him and recognize him.

Jesus Brings a Sword

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Churches should be compassionate and that compassion follows from the example of Jesus who is the head of the church. Jesus came to save the lost and show compassion to those in need. Likewise the Church must be suffering servants of the community. Showing grace through acts of kindness and service to those in need. Most understand this and are rightfully quick to criticize churches that fail in this duty.

On the flip side is Government. Many want Government to replace the church. They want Government to be compassionate and serving the community. The problem however is that Government has a unique authority to bring wrath and Governments have always had the authority to kill and to imprison. Try not paying your taxes and you will by force of the sword be made to pay. Just look to the example of actor Wesley Snipes if there is any doubt. Putting men in charge of compassion through the arm of government will never end well.

The only authority that has the moral right to kill is Government. The death penalty through a court system and also in war are two examples where Governments can take life legally and morally. No Church, citizen, or individual has that right. Jesus while familiar to many as a compassionate Church leader is much less familiar as Jesus the just King wielding the authority of death. Jesus is a King and ruler of a government entity of which we are all subjects. Jesus has the right to wage war and execute a death penalty as His perfect justice sees fit. Jesus welding a sword is a shocking realization to many but this idea is introduced in the Old Testament and then continued by John in his apocalypse vision of the returning Jesus. John writes…

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

John’s vision of Jesus may be shocking to the modern reader but not to those at the time John wrote this apocalypse. The Jewish elite were afraid Jesus had come overthrow Rome, and thereby overthrow their power. That is the reason they had him killed. The Disciples hoped that Jesus had come to overthrow Rome and set up each of the Disciples as rulers in this new kingdom. But Jesus told them that his time to rule had not arrived. Upon realizing that Jesus would not make the Disciples powerful rulers in this current life Judas walked away and betrayed Jesus for silver. Jesus had come not as king but as priest to testify to the truth of God and to reconcile men to God. Jesus came to save the lost to provide a window, a window we live in right now, of mercy and grace to submit to the Creator. However that window will close at some unknown date in the near future. At that time Jesus will return and the name will be written on him “King of Kings”. This vision that John has prophesied was also revealed to others. King David writes in song…

The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand” Psalms 110:1a ESV

David is the king of all Israel. How odd it would be for him to say the “The Lord says to my Lord” when David is the king and lord of an earthly kingdom. David answered to none other than God so who would this other Lord be that David called Lord? David answers the question just a few verses later.

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Psalms 110:4 ESV

Melchizedek is a mysterious figure that is revealed in Genesis. Abraham the kingly patriarch of the promised nation of Israel interacted with Melchizedek. Abraham a man like David who answered to no one but God pays tribute to another Lord at the successful conclusion of a battle.

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. Genesis 14:18-20 ESV

Abraham is the chosen of God to be the father of a priestly nation call Israel. Abraham encounters a man named Melchizedek who is described as “priest of God Most High”. King David tells us that this Lord of Lords sitting at the right hand of God will also be a priest modeled after this mysterious high priest of God. This Lord of Lords will also be High Priest. David is singing about a King who is also a Priest.

Jesus with his sword of Government is coming. We already have witnessed and are living in the opportunity to embrace the Priestly Refuge of this King but when he comes to establish the Kingdom where will we stand?

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. Psalms 2:10-12 ESV

Are you president of the United States? Are you a czar of Russia? CEO of a corporate entity? Master of your home? It does not matter “Kiss the Son” and “rejoice with trembling” all will bow before this Lord and this king. David sings that this Lord is “a priest forever”. His compassion is never ending for those who are saved. He has the authority to both save and kill. Take hold of this promise today while you can and draw near to the perfect Lord of Lords and Intercessory Priest of God.

22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. 23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:22-25 ESV