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Genesis 14 (10/8/00)
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to Genesis chapter 14 and follow along as I read the chapter. Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
1 And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations;
2 That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar.
3 All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea.
4 Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
5 And in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, and smote the Rephaims in Ashteroth Karnaim, and the Zuzims in Ham, and the Emims in Shaveh Kiriathaim,
6 And the Horites in their mount Seir, unto Elparan, which is by the wilderness.
7 And they returned, and came to Enmishpat, which is Kadesh, and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, that dwelt in Hazezontamar.
8 And there went out the king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar;) and they joined battle with them in the vale of Siddim;
9 With Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and with Tidal king of nations, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings with five.
10 And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain.
11 And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and went their way.
12 And they took Lot, Abram's brother's son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.
13 And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram.
14 And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.
15 And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus.
16 And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.
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.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
GN14 begins with the first war, at least the first war mentioned in bible. Then it introduces us to the mysterious priest-figure of Melchizedek.
As to the war, Chedorlaomer king of Elam had ruled the area around what is now the Dead Sea for twelve years. In the thirteenth year, the local kings, the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim and Bela, revolted against Chedorlaomer and refused to pay his taxes. Now, of course, nothing stirs up a government like a refusal to pay taxes. It may have been also that the rebellion blocked the main trade route to Egypt, and that trade route had to be reopened. So, Chedorlaomer assembled an army, and set out to put down the rebellion.
This first war was like most others, there was a lot of killing and pillaging. The battle of the slimepits was the climactic battle. The slimepits were asphalt pits or tar pits. The armies of Sodom and Gomorrah and their allies were defeated and fled, and fell into these tarpits, and were slaughtered. The conquerors then proceeded to loot the cities of everything that was valuable, including people, for this was a slave society and people could be valuable commodities.
That is where Chedorlaomer made his mistake. One of the people that his army carried off was Lot, the son of Abram's brother. The previous chapter described the strife between Abram's herdsmen and Lot's herdsmen. To keep the peace they had separated and Lot had "pitched his tent toward Sodom"(12). Now Lot had not acted very well toward Abram, and Lot had made a bad choice in going to live in Sodomwhich was one of the wickedest cities of all time--but he was still Abrams nephew, and Abram loved him dearly, and was not about to allow him to be sold into slavery. Abram gathered up his people, followed Chedorlaomer, and launched a daring night attack. The invaders were caught by surprise and routed. Abram recovered not only Lot, but all the goods and prisoners that Chedorlaomer had taken.
Then as Abram returned with his victorious forces, he met Melchizedek, "king of Salem" (18). Salem by the way was Jerusalem. Now that might not mean much to us. Earlier in this chapter, we read of nine different kings. A king at that time was simply someone who ruled a city, any city of any size. At that time, Jerusalem was not much of a city, and so it is easy to pass over this reference to Melchizedek without much notice. But we are also told that Melchizedek was "priest of the most high God," and then we keep meeting the man--if he was a man--in the oddest places.
In PS 110:4 we read, "The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." In the gospels, Jesus referred to PS110 [MT 22:41f, MR 12:35f, LK 20:41f] as a psalm about the Messiah. In that Psalm, God spoke to the Messiah and proclaimed him an eternal priest "after the order of Melchizedek"--Which leads us to ask, "What is an eternal priest 'after the order of Melchizedek? HB5-7 is devoted to answering this question.. So we have a king who is mentioned in only three verses in GN who suddenly becomes the subject of three chapters in HEBREWS. That ought to tell us that something important is going on here.
Hebrews begins its discussion of Melchizedek by talking about what a priest is. HB5:1 "Every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God." A priest is appointed for our benefit to deal with things concerning God. We are immersed in all the turmoil of everyday living. The priest comes to us in the midst of this turmoil to bring us a word from God. The Latin word for priest is "pontifex" which means literally "bridge-builder." The priest was a person whose function was to build a bridge between God and people. In the OT, this was done by the sacrificial system. In Israel, the priest had one main function. He offered sacrifices for the sins of the people. Sin disturbs the harmony that should exist between God and his people. It creates a chasm that separates us from God. The sacrifice of the repentant sinner was intended to bridge this chasm. The priest made the sacrifice that created that bridge.
The way that it was supposed to work in the OT was that if we broke the law and realized that our fellowship with God was interrupted, we could go to the priest with our sacrifice, and he would make the sacrifice for us, and thus restore us to God. That was the theory, but in fact, that was not what happened. The OT sacrifices and the OT priesthood did not succeed in restoring our fellowship to God, and so the book of HEBREWS tells us that we need a new priesthood and an effective sacrifice. Otherwise, we are barred from the presence of God forever. Hebrews assures us that Jesus Christ is the only high priest who can open the way to God. He does so because he has a different priesthood, a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek.
The regular priesthood of Judaism in NT times was called the Aaronic priesthood. The law of Moses following the exodus from Egypt had established the Aaronic priesthood. This priesthood had failed in that it was incapable of restoring the repentant sinner to full communion with God. Any high priest that comes from that priesthood is going to fail.
Even Judaism today admits by default that the Aaronic priesthood failed--in that there is no longer a priesthood operating in Judaism. Jews today have rabbis not priests. They have not had a priesthood since the Romans destroyed the temple in A.D. 66, so the Aaronic priesthood is now defunct. It failed. But if that priesthood failed, how shall we bridge the chasm that our sins have caused between God and us? By depending upon a different order of priesthood.
The NT say only in Jesus Christ do we find this different order that is capable of restoring us to God. The book of Hebrews uses the figure of Melchizedek to make this essential point. Hebrews teaches that Melchizedek was in some mysterious way no less than Christ. For example, HB7:3 says that the Melchizedek who appeared in GN 14 was a man who had no genealogy. He was "Without father, without mother, without descent." Now this may seem like a strange argument to us. We might say that just because no genealogy is mentioned for Melchizedek that does not mean hat he had no genealogy. That is because we are twenty-first century Americans. That is not the way the author of GN operates. Genealogies are a feature of Genesis. In ancient society, a person's genealogy established what he was. But Melchizedek arrives out of nowhere.
And he arrives out of nowhere as a priest. That was the exact reverse of the Aaronic priesthood. The priesthood of Aaron depended entirely upon ancestry. Under Jewish law a person could not become a priest unless he was descended from Aaron. So the first difference between the priesthood of Aaron and the priesthood of Melchizedek was that the Aaronic priesthood depended upon genealogical descent and the priesthood of Melchizedek depended on personal qualification. Now it is true that Jesus comes to us with a human genealogy to establish that he is of the line of David, from which line prophecy had said that messiah would come. But in the NT it quickly becomes obvious that no genealogy can explain who or what Jesus was. The point of the Virgin Birth was that Jesus appears among us as mysteriously as Melchizedek, that he is of that spiritual priesthood and not subject to ordinary human ways of reckoning.
Also, Melchizedek was a king. His was a royal priesthood, and this was different from the old priesthood of Aaron. Aaron and his descendants came from the tribe of Levi, and hence could never be king. Judah was the royal tribe. David was the royal line. It was well known that Messiah would be from that tribe and that line, and the genealogy of Jesus established that he was of Davids tribe and family. Thus, Melchizedek king of Salem becomes Jesus Christ, king of kings.
HB7:3 says that this mysterious Melchizedek was one "having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually." The Aaronic high priest was an ordinary man who lived and died like other people, but Melchizedek is immortal, or as the verse says, "He bideth a priest continually." Only Christ does this. Jesus Christ by his resurrection and ascension has proved that he is Melchizedek. Ps110 had declared that the messiah would be a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek, and only one whose life could not be destroyed by death could fulfill that, only the resurrected Lord could fulfill that. Thus, Jesus is our great Melchizedek, who gains access to God for us not once but now and forever.
Melchizedek who appeared to Abram in GN14 was Jesus. We say this because nothing else makes sense. In Abram's time, Jerusalem was a Canaanite city. Suppose then that Melchizedek was an ordinary Canaanite king. It makes no sense to suppose that a Canaanite would be greater than Abram in the things of God. Yet HB7:4 says Melchizedek must have been greater in religion that Abram because Abram gave him the tithe. Again, we are told that Jesus shall be priest after the order of Melchizedek. It makes no sense that Christ should be a priest after the order of any mere human being, or that any Canaanite priesthood should so superior to that of Aaron. The only explanation is that Melchizedek was not an ordinary man at all. He was Jesus Christ.
That being true then, it is important for us to look at what Melchizedek did in GN14. V18 says, he "brought forth bread and wine to celebrate the victory won by Abram and his warriors. This has a spiritual meaning. The bread and wine represent the Lord's Supper. In Holy Communion, we find spiritual food to strengthen and rejuvenate our souls.
Moreover, V19 tells us that Melchizedek blessed Abram. This is part of Holy Communion. When we celebrate the Lord's Supper, we receive the blessings of Christ, and having received those blessings, we are well blessed indeed.
Not only did Melchizedek bless Abram, in V20 he blessed God for Abram. Thus, in all our prayers, we should praise God. We should offer up to God our hosannas and hallelujahs every day. We should praise God not only for our successes but also for the successes of others. When good things happen to us, it is easy enough to praise God for his goodness. But the example of Jesus in Melchizedek, teaches us that we should go beyond that and praise God when good things happen to others.
In blessing Abram and blessing God for Abram, Melchizedek demonstrated that he was mediator between Abram and God. Even so, Jesus is mediator both of our prayers and praises. Through Christ, our prayers rise up to God as the sweet incense of sacrifice.
This then is the ministry of Jesus Christ our high priest, our great Melchizedek. Our question then is if that is what Jesus does for us, what should we do for him? What did Abram do in GN14 when he met Melchizedek? "He gave him tithes of all." Of all the spoils of war that had fallen to him as a result of his victory over Chedorlaomer, Abram gave an offering to Melchizedek. The lesson to us then is that when we have achieved some victory in life, it is appropriate that we express our joy and thankfulness by some special act of giving.
Further, Abram's giving of the tithe teaches us that the tenth of our income is an acceptable portion to be set apart for the honor of God and the service of his sanctuary. Now I know when we talk about money, some people get all turned off and upset. I suspect that is because when we talk about money, we are talking about their real religion--and they do not want the preacher meddling with their real religion. It is easy to talk about how Jesus appeared as Melchizedek in Genesis. We could even speculate upon whether there have been other appearances of Jesus that are not recorded in the Bible. We could speculate endlessly, and it would all be very interesting, but God wants us to get beyond that and to apply his Word to our lives. In GN14 the application is made to that most sensitive part of our lives--namely our pocketbook. Abram accepted Melchizedek as high priest of God. How do we know that? Because he gave him the tithe. We say that we accept Jesus as our high priest. How do we know that? Look at our giving. That is the answer.
I recently heard about a church that was doing some remodeling and they were worried about where they were going to get the money to pay for it. They debated the issue at length in a congregational meeting. The next week, the minister received a letter from a young boy in the congregation. The letter said, "Dear Sir, I know that you are trying to fix up the church so here is my dollar to help. The letter was signed with the boy's name, and then this PS was added, "If you need any more, just let me know." Now we might smile at that, but don 't you love that child's willingness to give to the Lord. And don't you just know that that is the kind of willingness we ought to have. And every one said, Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Asssociate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified October 7, 2000