Just over four thousand years ago, when Lot lived in Sodom with his family, and his uncle Abraham lived in the plain of Mamre, four kings came along and attacked five cities, including Sodom. Things did not go well for the coalition to which the king of Sodom belonged, and soon he, along with the king of Gomorrah, fled, and fell in the vale of Siddim, an area “full of slimepits” (Gen 14:10). The four kings took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and “they took Lot … and departed” (14:12).
Although many had been slain, one man escaped and quickly took word to Abraham that Lot had been taken captive. He armed his trained servants, 318 of them, and pursued them unto Dan. Amazingly, we would say, he “smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah,” and was able to bring back all the spoils, as well as Lot and all his goods, the women and the people (14:15-16). The king of Sodom was grateful to Abraham, and went out to meet him upon his return, at the valley of Shaveh.
It is here that there is a sudden insertion in the story that is of utmost importance. The flow of the story would continue unhindered without the story of this man, but the introduction of the first priest mentioned in the Bible, Melchizedek, teaches us many lessons.
Think first about his identity. Melchizedek is called “king of Salem” and “the priest of the most high God.” His name means king of righteousness; “Salem” means peace. In Hebrews 7, we learn additional details about this king-priest. He was “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life” (Heb 7:3 KJV). Remembering that Genesis, where we find him, is a book that is very focused on genealogy, this is rather astounding! Genesis 5:1 says: “This is the book of the generations of Adam,” and then gives us not only the names of the “descent,” or descendants of many men, but also a timeline. When we come to Melchizedek, however, there is no mention of his parents nor any possible descendants, and no mention of his birth nor his death. This is not to say he didn’t have them, but rather gives us a beautiful illustration of “the Son of God,” as he was made like unto Him.
What did his intervention accomplish? The king of Sodom is about to meet with Abraham, and will have a proposition for him: “Give me the persons, and take the goods unto thyself” (Gen 14:21). Abraham will refuse the offer, knowing the king could later say, “I have made Abram rich,” but what helped Abraham come to this important decision?
The instruction that Melchizedek gave to Abraham about God in this short blessing would quickly be learned and used by Abraham as he made a crucial decision in a moment of crisis. Remember the words of this blessing: “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” (14:19-20 KJV).
As Melchizedek blesses, or invokes the divine favor upon Abraham, he speaks first of the immeasurable God, and then about the immensity of His riches. He is “El Helyohn,” the Most High God, above all others, without peer. He is also the “Possessor of heaven and earth,” or as the psalmist says, “Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills … the wild beasts of the field are mine … the world is mine, and the fulness thereof” (Psa 50:10-12 KJV). He then says, “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High” (50:14), using the same title Melchizedek uses when blessing Abraham. So when the king of Sodom offers Abraham a few material blessings, “the goods,” Abraham recalls and repeats that his God, “El Helyohn,” the Most High God, possesses all things in heaven and on earth, and that he has no need to accept anything from this earthly king. A small token of God’s immense provision was seen in the bringing forth of bread and wine. It was a material blessing- physical sustenance after a time of great exertion. Remember that our sustenance and satisfaction, too, are found in the One who freely supplies all our needs, not in what this world offers to us.
Melchizedek then reminds Abraham about God’s involvement in this battle – “this victory came about as a result of God delivering your enemies into your hands” (Gen 14:20). Moses wrote about this truth years later in Deuteronomy 20:1-4. The priest was responsible to remind the people when they were going to battle, seeing the enemies were a people greater than they, that “the Lord your God is He that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (KJV). Abraham did not have those words written down, but he learned them from a great priest. We too need to remember that our battles are not fought by our own strength, but that we need to rely on the presence and power of God with us.
That Melchizedek was an important figure is shown by the fact that he is mentioned in Genesis 14, Psalm 110 and Hebrews 7. The writer to the Hebrews says: “Consider how great this man was” (7:4). Abraham, too, was a great man, but the “less [Abraham] is blessed of the better [Melchizedek]”(v7). Remember we have a “great high priest, that is passed into the heavens” (Heb 4:14), far greater yet than Melchizedek, and who has blessed us far more abundantly than Melchizedek could ever have blessed Abraham. He also received “tithes of Abraham” (Heb 7:6), teaching us that we too can give – offering the sacrifice of praise to the One who is infinitely worthy, and far more important than Melchizedek.
In a crucial moment, when Abraham had obtained a tremendous victory, God graciously sent a priest, Melchizedek, to bless him. The timing was perfect, as God’s timing always is. This blessing not only provided for his physical need at the moment, giving him bread and wine, but perhaps more importantly, in words fitly spoken, taught him lessons about God and about himself. God is the Most High One; He is the Possessor of heaven and earth; He is the One who gives the victory. As this priest met Abraham’s need, we see our needs being met by our Great High Priest, who comes alongside us in moments of trial, temptation, infirmities, despair, as well as in those lofty moments of seeming great success. At the throne of grace, we find the blessing of help in time of need (Heb 4:15-16).