The Life of Abraham, Part 4: Abraham Meets Melchizedek
In the last lesson, we were met with the ominous words that the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked before the LORD. Yet Lot chose to live in a house there rather than pitch his tent on the backside of the desert. If one were to pick up clues from the narrative, one would conclude that trouble was coming to Lot. And that turns out to be a correct assumption. Lot had chosen his inheritance among wicked men rather than the inheritance of God through Abram. He went down to Sodom thinking he could live the easy life. He had no clue how wrong he was. He was about to find out.
Exposition of the Text
The trouble started when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and their confederates refused to pay tribute to a group of stronger states in the Middle East. Am-Raphel and four other kings went down to Sodom to collect their tribute by force. In the battle that ensued, the confederation led by Sodom lost and their cites were plundered of their valuables. This episode would have little importance in a Middle East which for centuries before and since had suffered through squabbles like this one except for the fact that Lot was taken prisoner to serve as a slave and his goods were taken from him. All of the riches which had caused strife with Abram’s household were gone.
Abraham got wind of this and immediately sought a military alliance with some of his neighbors and marched against the five kings. By this time, we get an idea of Abram’s riches in that he could equip 318 of his servants for war and his influence was at the point in the community that he could enlist help. Abram and his men ambushed these five kings on their way back home by night near Damascus and soundly defeated them. He was able to recover all of the goods and those who had been taken to be slaves. Among these captives was his nephew Lot who is now called a brother rather than a nephew.
The king of Sodom came out from the slime pit that he had been mired in to meet Abraham. By the laws of convention in the Middle East, Abram was entitled to all the spoil but had to return the citizens. If Abram had wished, he could have made himself exceedingly rich. But perhaps Abram had started to learn the trouble that possessions can bring, especially when in great excess of what one needed to live. It had caused strife in his family, and Lot was lost as a result. So when the king of Sodom reminded him of the rules, that he could keep the stuff but had to return the captives, Abram flatly refused to take as much as a dime. He did not want it known that the king of Sodom had made Abram rich. However, the obligation he put on himself not to take any plunder was not binding on his confederates. His choice could not bind their rights to the spoil. So he allows Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre their share of the spoil as agreed with Abram beforehand. This might have been a sizable chunk of the goods of Sodom. Abram though refused his share and returned it. Part of the plunder included Lot’s goods, so Lot could go home again to Sodom with at least a portion of his former estate.
Lot got to go the home he had chosen. However, his troubles were just starting. The city was still extremely wicked before the LORD. A greater king would come later to spoil them forever.
What makes the passage significant, however, is not the king of Sodom, but another king. The text says in verse 18 that a king named Melchizedek met Abram who was the king of Salem. The kings name means “king of righteousness” and He was the king of Salem or Jerusalem which means “peace”. Who was this King of Righteousness and King of Peace? Theologians have speculated for centuries over this king’s identity.
Before going further in speculating over this man, let us see what is recorded about him. It says that be brought bread and wine with him. As bread and wine were staples of the diet in the Middle East, it could mean no more than that he brought lunch. And it says that this king was also a priest to the Most High God, the Lord of Heaven and Earth. As a priest, he pronounced a blessing on Abram for belonging to God as well as blessed God for His deliverance of Abram from his enemies. Abram responded by paying tithes of all his goods.
Christian interpreters have always been fascinated by the parallels between Melchizedek and Jesus Christ. They see the bread and wine as being the elements of communion and pointing to Jesus’ provision of bread and wine representing His body and blood. They also see that what Jesus did was the deliverance of the children of Abraham from the enemies of Satan, sin, and death. Jesus is the prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah 9:6-7 in which He is called “Prince of Peace”. He is the rightful King of the New Jerusalem. He alone is the “King of Righteousness”.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews takes special notice of the comparison. He makes notice that there is no mention of Melchizedek’s birth or death. He was without beginning or end. He also notices the translation of his name and of the city he was king over. He also noticed the payment of tithes which shows that all of Abraham’s children including Levi paid tithes to this priest who is greater than the later one of Aaron. He notices that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham in his pronouncement of blessing on Abraham.
Some see Melchizedek as a type of Christ, a pointer in the Old Testament to the coming Christ. This view sees Melchizedek as a man pointing to a greater fulfillment. However, others see Melchizedek as an Old Testament appearance of Christ. No mere human being, however great, has a right to the titles and privilege Melchizedek has. His superiority to Abraham is pointed out in Hebrews in that the lesser is always blessed by the greater. But Melchizedek also blesses God. Is Melchizedek by that logic greater than the Most High God? This would seem to be a major flaw in Hebrew’s argument except that it would not be a problem if Melchizedek was Christ. We know Him as being equal with the Father and the Spirit. If he can swear by His own name because there is none greater. Then He can bless himself as well.
Jesus records in the Gospel of John that Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day, did see it and was glad. How could this be, the Jews replied to that assertion seeing Abraham has been dead a long time and you are not yet fifty years old? But if this was an Old Testament appearance of Christ, then what Jesus said to the Jews would make sense. Jesus, who is Prophet, Priest, and King revealed himself to Abraham.
We have talked in this study about the fivefold blessing of life, fellowship, land, seed, and dominion being lost in the fall. This was as Milton noted was Paradise Lost. The rest of the Bible talks about the God who seeks to redeem and rescue humankind from the consequences of this fall. Here in this passage we see the rescue of Lot from the consequences of his decision to go to Sodom. Lot did not learn his lesson and returned to Sodom. God would have to deliverer him again, but this time as through fire. Lot would lose everything but his daughters. If Melchizedek is an Old Testament appearance of Jesus, then we see a greater fellowship of Abraham with God and a promise that the inheritance of this great King would be Abraham’s inheritance as well. Because Abraham belonged to the Most High God, he was blessed, which means he is a partaker in the dominion or Kingdom of God.
There will be many more twists and turns in the story of Abraham. He still will show his human weakness even though he has been so abundantly blesses. But it is God who will keep him on the journey and not Abraham’s ingenuity.
What can we apply from this passage in the life of Abraham to our situation today? First of all, we must understand that because we are Christians, we are partakers of the same promise that Abraham was given. We are blessed and restored in Jesus Christ. Like Abraham at this point of his journey of faith, we too have a way to travel before the completeness of the promises are ours in the Kingdom of Heaven. Like Abraham would make some very foolish mistakes in the future, we too will make wrong turns in our life. As much as we would like to think that our sinning is a thing of the past, we have to face every day that we are not yet perfect, even though the price of our redemption has been fully paid for.
So let us not lose heart on our journey. We may even find ourselves like Lot in a bad situation of our own making. Lot too was delivered in the end as one who had lost all reward. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians to take care how we build on the only foundation for our lives, which is Jesus Christ. Although Paul refers this to himself and Apollos, it also refers to us and our work of ministry. We need to completely trust that God who has begun a good work in us will continue it until the day of Jesus Christ. Abraham serves as a better model than Lot, but it isn’t about Abraham or Lot. It is about the Lord who has redeemed us unto himself. We are not blessed because we are good people. As His children, we should reflect His glory by resembling Him in our good conduct. However, what makes us blessed is that we belong to Him. We are His possession and He is our inheritance. Let us always be thankful and glorify God for the great things He has done.