February 21, 2014

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe                    

Lesson II.B.4: An Interview with Melchizedek and the King of Sodom. (Gen. 14:17-24)     

                                                               

Genesis 14:17-24 (KJV)

 

17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale.

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.

19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:

20 And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.

21 And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.

22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,

23 That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:

24 Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.

Commentary

 

17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale.

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.

19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:

 

When Abram returned from battle, he was met by two kings at the “the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale,” which tradition says is the Kidron Valley immediately east of the city of Jerusalem: Bera, king of Sodom, and Melchizedek, king of Salem. The two kings could not have possibly been more different. Bera offered Abram all the spoils in return for the people (v. 21), while Melchizedek gave Abram bread and wine for him and his weary warriors. These refreshments were tokens of friendship and hospitality. Melchizedek praised El Elyon his God (the most high God) for granting Abram the power to achieve the victory. Abram recognized Melchizedek’s El Elyon as Jehovah, the God he served. I think there may have been a higher reason for why Melchizedek brought Abram bread and wine. It is because the Scriptures say, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). Melchizedek is anticipating the death of Christ here! On that basis he blesses Abram: “Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth”—EL Elohim, the Creator. This man was the high priest of the world in that day and the king of ancient Jerusalem. His superior status in Abram’s day is evidenced by (1) the king of Sodom, the first to meet Abram returning in victory, deferring to Melchizedek before continuing his request (vv. 17, 21) and (2) Abram without express doubts, both accepting a blessing from and also giving a tithe to this priest-king (vv. 19-20). Melchizedek is the only person whom Abram recognized as his spiritual superior. The interaction between the two godly men shows how humble and unthreatened Abram was, even after a victory. He recognized that God’s revelation was not limited to him. The Lord Jesus is the great high priest for the world today. The Lord Jesus is after the order of Melchizedek—not Aaron—as set forth here. Aaron was just for Israel and just for a tabernacle. In His person, Christ is after the order of Melchizedek.

 

Abram rejected Bera’s offer (vv. 22-23), but accepted the bread and wine from Melchizedek and gave him tithes from the spoils (v. 20). Melchizedek also did something even more beneficial, he strengthened him for the victory. The Lord knows the temptations we face after we have defeated the enemy. Abram had met the Lord before the battle and promised to take nothing for himself from the spoils of victory (vv. 22-23). He was single-minded as he led his army, and the Lord gave him the victory.

 

Abram had to choose between two kings who represented two opposite ways of life. Sodom was a wicked city [“But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly” (Gen. 13:13). They were very great sinners, guilty of the most notorious crimes, and addicted to the most scandalous and unnatural lusts that can be thought of; and these they committed openly and publicly in the sight of God.], and Bera represented the dominion of this world system with its appeal to the flesh [“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:1-3). The word translated course means a long series of times, in which one corrupt age follows another.]. Bera means “gift,” suggesting that the world bargains for your allegiance. But Sodom means “burning,” so be careful how you choose! If you bow down to Bera, everything you live for will burn up some day. That’s what happened to Lot.

 

Melchizedek means “king of righteousness,” and Salem means “peace.” Hebrews 7 and Psalm 110 both connect Melchizedek with Jesus Christ, the “King of peace” and the “King of righteousness” (Ps. 85:10). Like Melchizedek in Abram’s day, Jesus Christ is our King-Priest in heaven, enabling us to enjoy righteousness and peace as we serve Him [“And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isa. 32:17).]. Certainly, we can see in the bread and wine a reminder of our Lord’s death for us on the cross.

 

I wonder how the King of Salem found out about “the Most High God?” He found out somewhere. El Elohim is the Most High God, the Creator of Heaven and earth, in other words, the living God, the God of Genesis 1, the God of Noah, and the God of Enoch. This is the One—he is not a local deity. This reveals there was monotheism before there was polytheism. In other words, all men had knowledge of the living and true God. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21). Paul goes on to say that men continued to go down to the point where they began to worship the creature more than the Creator.

 

Yet, back in Abram’s day there was a man who was high priest for the world of that day. He has a knowledge of the living and true God. He is a priest of the living and true God. He comes out, bringing bread and wine to Abram—those are the elements of the Lord’s Supper! I wonder what he had in mind. How much did Melchizedek know?

 

Melchizedek is mentioned three times in Scripture. In addition to this passage in Genesis, he is also mentioned in Psalm 110:4, which is prophetic of Christ; “. . . Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” Finally, he is mentioned several times in Hebrews. After reading Hebrews, I know why nothing is said about his origin in Genesis. Nothing is said about his parents, and that is strange because the book of Genesis is a book of families. It tells about the beginnings of these families. Every time we see mentioned a man who is important in the genealogical line (as this man Melchizedek is), his parents are mentioned. “He is the son of So-and-so,” or “these are the generations of So-and-so.” But we do not have the generations of Melchizedek. The writer to the Hebrews makes it very clear that there is no record of Melchizedek’s father or mother, or the beginning or ending of his days, because the priesthood of Christ, in its inception, is after the order of Melchizedek. In service—in what our Lord did in the sacrifice of himself and in His entering the Holy of Holies, which is heaven today—Christ’s priesthood follows the order of Aaron. But in His person, our Lord had no ending or beginning of days, and His priesthood follows the order of Melchizedek. As king, Christ is son of Abram, He is son of David—the Gospel of Matthew tells us that. But in the Gospel of John we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). He had no beginning or ending of days as far as creation is concerned—He is the eternal God. He came out of heaven’s glory, the Word was made flesh, and we beheld His glory. We have in Melchizedek a marvelous picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. His use of El Elyon (Sovereign Lord) for God’s name indicated that Melchizedek who used this title two times (vv. 18-19), worshiped, served, and represented no Canaanite deity, but the same One whom Abram also called Yahweh El Elyon (v. 22). That this was so is confirmed by the added description “Possessor of heaven and earth,” being used by both Abram and Melchizedek (vv. 19, 22). It appears from this meeting between Abram and Melchizedek that during Abram’s sojourning in Canaan a settled community of true faith existed under the priesthood of the king of Salem. Melchizedek was greater than Abram, but the messianic seed of Abram would be greater than Melchizedek.

 

Melchizedek had something better to offer Abram; the blessing of the “Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth.” Abram lived by the blessing of the Lord, not the bribery of the world.

 

Some have supposed that Melchizedek was the Son of God Himself, thinking that no mere man could be superior to Abram. But this is contrary to what the apostle says of Melchizedek being made like unto the Son of God; and it cannot be supposed He would be a type of himself. Melchizedek is also spoken of as king of Salem, which is supposed to be the place afterwards called Jerusalem [So Abram is linked already with what was to become the Holy City and the center of his people’s life.], and his meeting with Abram is not spoken of in the same way as the appearances of the Lord to the patriarch is recorded in other instances. It is evident that he was a mere man, but a very holy and good man. He had a father and a mother, a beginning and an end to his life, and he had a genealogy; they are just not recorded in the Bible.

 

20 And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.

Melchizedek correctly gave credit for the victory over a superior military force to the sovereign Lord (El Elyon), “Which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand,” and not to Abram’s prowess. To Melchizedek and to Abraham too this amounted to true worship of the true God.

 

Here is the first mention of tithing in the Bible. To tithe is to give God 10 percent, whether of money, produce, or animals. (The Hebrew word means “ten.”) When we tithe, we acknowledge that God owns everything and that we are grateful stewards of His wealth. The Jews paid an annual tithe to the Lord [“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD'S: it is holy unto the LORD. And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof. And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD. He shall not search whether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it: and if he change it at all, then both it and the change thereof shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed” (Lev. 27:30-33).], as well as a tithe every third year especially for the poor (Deut. 26:12-15). They could also tithe the remaining 90 percent for a special “festive offering” to be enjoyed in Jerusalem (Deut. 12:5-19).

 

The practice of tithing predated the Law of Moses, for not only did Abram tithe, but so did Jacob (Gen. 28:22). For this reason, many Christians believe that God’s people today should begin their giving with the tithe. The New Testament plan for giving is outlined in 2 Corinthians 8-9, but tithing is a good place to start.

 

We must be careful to give out of the devotion of our hearts, and not as a “bribe” for God’s blessings. Abram provides us with a good example for giving. He brought his gifts to Jesus Christ in the person of Melchizedek. (See Hebrews 7:1-10) We do not give our tithes and offerings to the church, the pastor, or to the members of the finance committee. If our giving is a true act of worship, we will give to the Lord; and for that reason, we want to give our very best (Mal. 1:6-8)

 

Abram was prompt in his giving. His stewardship principles were firmly fixed in his heart so there was no reason to delay. I wonder, though, how did he know about paying tithes? Obviously, he had a revelation from God concerning this—as well as concerning other matters.

 

He was also proportionate in his giving, a policy encouraged by the Apostle Paul [“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come” (1 Cor 16:1-2). Everyone is to give, rich and poor, young and old; and they are to give willingly and joyfully an amount that corresponds to how much the Lord has blessed them.]. Tithing is a good place to begin; but as the Lord blesses, we must increase that percentage if we are to practice the kind of “grace giving” that is described in 2 Corinthians 8-9.

 

Abram gave because he loved God and wanted to acknowledge His greatness and His goodness. What a contrast between “the Most High God” and the heathen idols! Abram’s God is possessor (Creator) of heaven and earth (v. 19; See Isa. 40). He deserves all the worship and praise of all His people!

 

21 And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.

The King of Sodom placed a grave temptation before Abram. The temptation came when he said, “And take the goods to thyself.” Before Abram could take the spoils, he had to agree to restore the people of Sodom to their king who said, “Give me the persons.” Had he taken the king up on his offer, forever after, when anyone would say, “That man Abram is certainly a wealthy man. God has blessed him.” I think that the king of Sodom would have said, “Blessed him, my foot! God didn’t bless him, I gave it to him; I’m the one who made him rich!” Abram knew that, and that is why he answered the way he did (see verse 22). Just as God wants to use human bodies for His glory [“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:1-2). The death of the one "Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world," has swept all dead victims from off the altar of God, to make room for the redeemed themselves as "living sacrifices" to Him who made "Him to be sin for us.”], so the enemy wants to use human bodies for evil purposes [“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:12-13). The organs and appetites of the body must not be turned over to sin to use as instruments of unrighteousness. These have all been consecrated to God, by our rising to a new life in Christ, and we, as alive with the divine life, living to God, should use them all as instruments of righteousness unto God.]. The enemy said in effect, “Give me your body,” to Joseph (Gen. 39) and Daniel (Dan. 1); but they said, “No!” But when the enemy said the same to Samson (Jud. 16), David (2 Sam. 11), and Judas (John 13:27), they said, “Yes!” And what a price they paid.

22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,

23 That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:

Abram is still under the influence and the blessing of Melchizedek, and it is a good thing he met Melchizedek. God always prepares us for any temptation that comes to us. He says that He will never let any temptation come to us that we are not able to bear (See 1 Cor. 10:13). God had prepared Abram for this one. Abram’s reply makes it clear that this God worshiped by Melchizedek was none other than “the Lord”—the God who had appeared personally to him.

 

Before the battle, Abram lifted up his hand by faith in a solemn vow to God that he would take nothing from the spoils. Now Abram tells this to the king of Sodom as a witness to him. Abram could have said, “I worship the living and true God. I have taken an oath that I will not take anything. You can’t make me rich. I won’t let you give me a shoestring or a piece of thread, because if you did even that, you would run around and say that you made me rich. If I get rich, God will have to do it. He had a single heart and mind as he led his army. So, when Abram rejected Bera and accepted Melchizedek, he was making a statement of faith, saying, “Take the world but give me Jesus.” Lot should have made the same decision, but he chose to return to his life of compromise.

During the battle, Abram wielded his sword by faith and trusted God for victory. After the battle, Abram closed his hands to the King of Sodom but opened his hands to the King of Salem, receiving bread and wine and giving tithes.

Why would it have been wrong for Abram to take the spoils? After all, didn’t he risk his life and the lives of his servants to defeat the invading kings and rescue the prisoners? Legally, Abram had every right to the spoils; but morally, they were out of bounds. Many things in this world are legal as far as courts are concerned but morally wrong as far as god’s people are concerned.

 

After rejecting Bera’s offer, it is likely that Abram gave everyone he had rescued the opportunity to come with him and trust the true and living God. Abram was a powerful Sheik and his neighbors knew about his tent and his alter. But there is no indication that any of them (including Lot’s family) accepted his invitation. Except for Lot and two of his daughters, they all perished in the destruction of Sodom.

 

Abram did not want anyone to think that the world made him rich. Even a small thing like a shoelace might affect his walk! Too many servants of God have weakened their testimony by accepting applause and gifts from the people of the world. You cannot be a servant of God and a celebrity of the world at the same time.

 

“And this is the victory that has overcome the world.—our faith” (1 John 5:4).

 

24 Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.

 

Abram did not impose his convictions on his allies—Aner, Eschol, and Mamre. If they wanted to take part of the spoils, that was their business; and he would not criticize them. Nor did he expect them to give tithes to Melchizedek. Abram was a pilgrim and stranger, while his allies were men of the world, whose conduct was governed by a different set of standards. “Others may—you cannot.” Like Abram, we must not do anything that looks unkind or mercenary, or that tastes of covetousness and self-seeking. Abram wanted something more durable than possessions and wealth; he wanted the fulfillment of God’s miraculous and enduring promise. Faith looks beyond the riches of this world to grander prospects God has in store. Abram can trust in the “Possessor of heaven and earth” to provide for him without being beholden to the king of Sodom.

 

His servants undoubtedly observed their master’s reaction and heard his testimony (vv. 21-24); it overcame many of the negative aspects in their memory of the earlier exit from Egypt (See Gen 12:20 and 13:9).

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