Abraham, Part 4 (The Covenant & the Cross #50)

Today’s passage of Scripture is Genesis 14:18-20 which reads: “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.”

Allow me to share with you some further commentary on this passage from the Reformation Study Bible by Dr. R.C. Sproul:

The introduction of Melchizedek emphasizes that he was a king as well as a priest. As such he is a type of Christ, who is our Prophet, Priest, and King. Salem was apparently an ancient name for Jerusalem.

That Melchizedek blessed Abraham is understood by the author of Hebrews to indicate that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham.

El, the supreme god in the Canaanite pantheon at the time of Abraham, had similar titles. The patriarchs used these titles for the Lord, the true God, Creator of heaven and earth. Abraham interpreted Melchizedek’s praise in this way, repeating the same titles but adding the covenantal divine name Lord (Yahweh). Though a Canaanite, Melchizedek had come to know the true God—a pagan priest could not meaningfully have “blessed” Abraham, nor would Abraham, who was consecrating the land to the Lord, have given “a tithe” to the priest of the depraved Canaanite god El.

The practice of paying a tenth to a king or to a god was widespread in the ancient Near East, and predates the Mosaic law. Abraham’s gift to Melchizedek was probably not the payment of the “king’s tithe”, but rather was an offering that reflected Abraham’s regard for Melchizedek as a priest of the true God.

Today’s quote about the Bible is from C.S. Lewis. He said: “In most parts of the Bible, everything is implicitly or explicitly introduced with “Thus saith the Lord”. It is not merely a sacred book but a book so remorselessly and continuously sacred that it does not invite — it excludes or repels — the merely aesthetic approach. You can read it as literature only by a tour de force… It demands incessantly to be taken on its own terms: it will not continue to give literary delight very long, except to those who go to it for something quite different. I predict that it will in the future be read, as it always has been read, almost exclusively by Christians.”

Our topic for today is titled “Abraham” (Part 4) from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Dr. Michael A. Harbin.

A painting of Abraham's departure by József Molnár.

A painting of Abraham’s departure by József Molnár.

Melchizedek, whose name means “king of righteousness”, was king of Salem (an earlier name for what is now known as Jerusalem). He was a Jebusite, that is, from one of the tribes that had moved into the land. He was also a priest of El Elyon, the Most High God, another title for the same God that Abram worshiped. Abram had sworn not to keep for himself any of the goods that he recovered, a reward he was certainly entitled to; however, he was more than willing to give a tithe (one-tenth) of the entire bounty to Melchizedek as God’s representative. This act shows that Abram had high regard for Melchizedek’s role as priest and his spiritual state. It also gives us a little insight into the relationship between Abram and the inhabitants of the Promised Land.

After the heady victory, Abram evidently felt somewhat depressed. Perhaps he was starting to have second thoughts about Lot’s spiritual state. He was certainly struggling with the fact that he had no children. He then receives a second promise, and this promise relates specifically to the children, although the issue of the land is also involved. At the end of chapter 15, we see a ceremony where God validates his promise. This ceremony correlates with what we see in other documents from this period regarding treaties. Normally, the two parties to the treaty would walk between the split animals, indicating their willingness to be destroyed if they should violate the agreement. In this case, God alone passed through to show the promise to be unilateral.

The next event recorded after this tremendous promise is another failure on Abram’s part. Sarai got frustrated in her childlessness and offered her maid Hagar as a surrogate mother. We have legal documents from Mari (an ancient city in the Euphrates Valley) that reflect a similar situation, for they contain the provision that the child of a main belonging to a barren wife would become the legal heir of the husband fathering the child. Despite the apparent legality and social acceptability of the act, however, it clearly represents another slip in Abram’s faith. Key to our understanding of the incident is the fact that we have no record of him asking God about the matter — he merely took action.

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