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.