Do you remember life before email? Before junk mail? Before Gmail? Before instant messaging? Before the internet? Before mobile phones even? As a child the highlight of my day was the sound of letters plopping through the letter box on to the door mat, especially around birthdays or Christmas. The more plops the better. And a day without letters was a sad day. Most of all, I longed to receive letters addressed to me. I remember even posting a letter to myself with Green Shield stamps on it. I addressed it to Master Stephen Robert Sizer, 117 Beccles Road, Oulton Board, Lowestoft, Suffolk, England. And I still have it… My identity – my self esteem – was in some sense, bound up with something as simple as receiving an occasional letter. Now we are rather more sophisticated, but we all crave recognition, we hunger for affirmation, we long for recognition. Because these feed our need for meaning and purpose.
In our series “What Abraham Discovered” we are focussing on the discoveries Abraham made about God and his purposes for Abraham and his offspring. As the children of Abraham we are discovering more of God’s purposes for our own lives too. Please turn with me to Genesis 14. Here we read about two kings – two very different kings – Bera was the king of Sodom and Melchizadek was the king of Salem. The contrast is stark. Between Sodom’s decadence and Salem’s decency. Between King Bera’s opulence and Melchizadek’s holiness. Abraham encounters these two kings following a regional conflict involving numerous tribal alliances and battles for control of the area around the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea. Having discovered that his nephew Lot and his relatives had been taken captive when Sodom was defeated and plundered, Abraham took 318 of his own men, hunted down the enemy and rescued his family. We pick the story up in verses 17.
“After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.” (Genesis 14:17-18)
Both Bera, king of Sodom and Melchizadek, King of Salem claimed Abraham’s homage. Both expected his loyalty. Abraham was forced to choose and he chose well. This is a story that is repeated in every day, in every community, and in every one of us. It is a story of power and pride – of subtle persuasion and overt temptation. We must also choose how we will live. Will we live to gain for ourselves or live to serve others? To help us choose like Abraham, here are three questions to have in mind. What is my goal in life? Whom will I serve? What is my reward in life? From where will I seek blessing? Where will I invest my life? To whom do I bring my worship? Let’s see how Abraham answered them.
1. Abraham’s Goal: Serving God Most High
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High.” (Genesis 14:18)
Melchizedek offered Abraham bread and wine – emblems of the body and blood of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Abraham accepted them and in so doing became the first person to take communion. Bread symbolizes life. It is the nourishment that sustains life. In the wilderness, God provided a daily, saving provision of manna, or “bread from heaven,” for the children of Israel.
And Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry.” (John 6:35). Wine represents God’s covenant in blood, poured out in payment for mankind’s sin. Jesus said at the Last Supper, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20).
Though Abraham probably had no idea of the significance, the bread and wine would have first in the Passover and then in the Lord’s Supper, there was something about this mysterious priest-king, Melchizedeck, that compelled Abraham to partake of the elements offered and receive the blessing given. So, just who is this mysterious figure and what is so important about him that God included this short story about him in the Scriptures for us?
1.1 His Name
Melchizedek is a compound of two Hebrew words. “Melek” is the Hebrew word for “king.” “Zadok” means “righteousness.” So, Melchizedek was literally the king of righteousness.
1.2 His Domain
Melchizedek was the King of Salem. Salem is believed to be one of the ancient names for the city of Jerusalem. The Hebrew contains two words – Yeru = city and Salem meaning completeness or peace. So Melchizedek was not only the King of righteousness but also the King of peace.
1.3 His Genealogy
Nothing is said about Melchizedek’s parentage, his ancestry, his descendants, his birth or death. He reigns as priest and king without beginning or end. Melchizedek is not mentioned again in the rest of Genesis or anywhere else in the historical books of the Old Testament. The writer to Hebrews explains:
“Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” (Hebrews 7:3)
The kingship of Israel could only trace their roots back to David. The priesthood of Israel could only trace their roots back to Aaron and the tribe of Levi. But Melchizedek preceded both. He was both the king and priest of Jerusalem, the city of God, long before the giving of the monarchy or the priesthood. And Abraham knelt before him.
Abraham received communion from him. Abraham received a blessing from him and Abraham gave him a tithe or tenth of his possessions. What are the implications of all this? Perhaps Melchizedek was actually none other than the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. At the very least he was a type of Christ. In John 8 Jesus made an astounding claim to his critics,
“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:56-58)
Only Jesus openly claimed to have existed before Abraham. Only He can be the one without beginning of days or end of life. No wonder Abraham rejoiced. Abraham understood who he served. Abraham’s Goal: Serving God Most High.
2. Abraham’s Reward: Blessing of God Most High
“[Melchizedek] blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” (Genesis 14:19-20)
Melchizedek pronounced a blessing over Abraham. God had clearly blessed Abraham by enabling him to rescue Lot and his family. What is a blessing? When you bless someone you speak well of the person. You praise and honour them. Blessing in a spiritual sense is when you call upon God to bestow his favour on others.
There are three ways to bless a person. You can bless a person by speaking directly to them and pointing out the good in them. You can bless a person by speaking to others about that person and the good that is in them. And you can bless a person by speaking well of them to others in their presence. What gives value to a blessing is the one giving it. It doesn’t matter to me nearly as much what you think of me as what my mother, my wife, and my children think of me. But what God thinks matters most of all. Whose blessing are you seeking?
Abraham’s Goal: Serving God Most High.
Abraham’s Reward: The Blessing of God Most High.
3. Abraham’s Tithe: Worship of God Most High
“Then Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. The king of Sodom said to Abraham, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” But Abraham said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abraham rich.” (Genesis 14:20-24)
This is the first reference to tithing – giving a tenth – in the Bible. It is not a command but an example. The giving of a tenth isn’t about money. It’s about worship and service. The two are linked. You cannot separate them. Whatever you serve you will worship. Whatever you worship you will serve.
Abraham gave a tenth because He worshiped God Most High. That’s why it is a proportion rather than a fixed amount. It is about the devotion of life. Abraham gave a tithe because God Most High is the only person worthy of worship. The tithe or tenth is really a matter of trust. It is a matter of your trust of God with a significant piece of your life. It’s not primarily about the money. It’s about worship and trust. It’s about faith. Do you tithe your income to God through his church? Many of you do. But if you don’t, you have yet to understand the true nature of worship or to experience the full blessing of God’s provision. You can never out-give God. Here is where the contrast between the two kings is most apparent. They both came to Abraham.
Bera, king of Sodom came to get. But Melchizedek, king of Salem, came to give. Melchizedek gave Abraham God’s bread and wine. He gave Abraham God’s blessing and Abraham responded by giving a tithe back to God of all the goods he had recovered. Bera on the other hand, came to get back his subjects. Without them he was not a king. Bera offered to allow Abraham to keep all the spoils if he gave back Bera’s subjects. But Abraham understood the implications. To do so would have accepted an “obligation” or submission to the King of Bera. It was a most appealing deal. It sounds similar to the offer Satan made to Jesus in the wilderness, “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:9).
If Abraham had accepted the possessions gained in war he would have given the impression that his blessing came from the King of Sodom. And Abraham would have none of that. Abraham wanted something far more enduring than possessions and wealth; he wanted the fulfilment of God’s miraculous and enduring promises. Faith looks beyond the riches of this world to the grander prospects God has in store. Abraham remembered his decision to serve God. He wanted God’s blessing more than he wanted Bera’s goods. Abraham would not compromise. He knew he could not serve both God and Bera.
“But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abraham rich.” (Genesis 14:22-24)
This incident was a test of Abraham’s faith after a great victory. That is often when the tests come. But it could have been just as easily in a time of great defeat. But Abraham passed the test because,
Abraham’s Goal: Serving God Most High.
Abraham’s Reward: Blessing of God Most High.
Abraham’s Tithe: Worship of God Most High.
You also live in a world with two kings. The king of Salem and the King of Sodom. You must choose which you will serve. You cannot serve both. You cannot abstain. You cannot serve one and then the other. You must serve one or the other. No decision is a decision. And your decision influences every other decision you make in life. We all have to serve somebody. Bob Dylan put it well in his song, “Gotta Serve Somebody”
You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.
You may be a business man or some high degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief.
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name.
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
So, the beginning of a new year is a good time to make or answer these questions. What is my goal in life? Whom will I serve? What is my reward in life? From where will I seek blessing? Where will I invest my life? To whom do I bring my worship? Let us pray.
With sincere and grateful thanks for inspiration and content drawn from sermons by Rick Stacy and Amy Bickel on Genesis 14 to be found on www.sermoncentral.com and commentaries by Joyce Baldwin and F.B. Meyer on Genesis.