Wait - Who IS This Guy? (Part One)
Read Genesis 14:17-24 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.
History holds many tales of mysterious people; someone who comes from nowhere and disappears, leaving behind an intriguing story. Adrianna John compiled a list of 10 Mysterious People Whose Identities Are Still Unknown for Wonderslist.com.
On November 24, 1971, a man, who called himself Dan Cooper, hijacked an aircraft. He demanded $200,000 and four parachutes. After having his demands met, he parachuted from the plane at midnight. He has never been seen again.
In 1963, at the time of assassination of President John F. Kennedy, an unknown woman was seen by witnesses and appears on film taken at that time. She wore a headscarf and she either faced away from the camera or covered her face with her own camera. Who was she was and why she never came forward is still a question.
Green Children of Woolpit
In 12th century, two children, brother and sister, having unusual green skin suddenly appeared in the village of Woolpit in Suffolk. They spoke an unknown language and ate nothing except the beans. Soon, they learned the English language and started to eat other foods. The green color of their skin also gone away with time. The boy was sick and died, but the girl claimed they came from a place called St Martin’s Land which is located underground.
The Man in the Iron Mask
There was a arrested in France 1669 who was kept in number of jails under the custody of same Jailer. He was held in prison for almost 34 years. No one had ever seen his face because it was hidden by a mask.
Today and next Sunday we’ll do a little detective work and look at a similar figure in biblical history. Melchizedek appears for just three verses in Genesis, but his impact is measured by a mention in Psalms and several in Hebrews.
CONTEXT – (v. 17) – Abram had just rescued Lot, who’d been captured by King Kedorlaomer of Elam. After Abram returned from his victory over Kedorlaomer and all his allies, the king of Sodom went out to meet him in the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Apparently, Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek happened while the allies were gathered, but before the King of Sodom made his demand for return of his people who had been captured. It stands to reason that Melchizedek’s blessing – to some degree – influenced Abraham’s actions in vs. 21-24.
At the height of his power, Abraham recognized the higher power of God in Melchizedek.
1. Melchizedek blessed Abram. (17-20)
The text provides us with few details about Melchizedek. He is called the king of Salem. Though king over a city-state, Melchizedek is not listed among the kings who formed alliances on both sides of this conflict (vs. 1-2). Therefore, He may have had a neutral stance and was there to mediate a peaceful end to the conflict. SALEM is a name derived from shalom, so it could be translated as “peaceful place.” It’s interesting how the name reflects how this city-state did NOT get involved in this war involving eight other city-states and a nomadic chieftain named Abram.
SALEM is also an ancient name for Jerusalem (Psalm 76:2). An alternate or later name was Jebus (“trampled place”). The people who lived there were called Jebusites, named after Jebus, the third son of Canaan, the youngest son of Ham, the second son of Noah. They were one of the smaller tribes that settled in the land that was named for their patriarch Canaan. The Jebusites were one of the last pagan tribes to be conquered by Israel, existing independently until King David captured the city and made it his capital.
He is called a priest of God Most High, but this is long before the Law was given to Moses and the priesthood organized with men of the tribe of Levi. Melchizedek served the same as Abram. He must’ve designated himself as a priest, for there was no Law or any other authority to have granted him that title and ministry. King David, who hundreds of years later, would conquer Melchizedek’s city, would declare that his heir would be a HIGH PRIEST FOREVER IN THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK (Psalm 110:4).
His name means “king of righteousness.” In that vein, Melchizedek exercised five priestly functions.
- He brought a covenant meal. The BREAD AND WINE were not intended to satisfy hunger, but were a symbolic meal: sharing it would seal the agreement forged by the meeting of kings.
- He worshiped, blessing Abram, reminding him God is Creator and General of heaven’s armies. “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who has defeated your enemies for you.”
- He exhorted Abram, telling him that God won the victory for him. Centuries later, that function would become part of God’s law in Deuteronomy 20:4.
- He received a tithe of all the plunder that had been taken.
We may surmise Melchizedek’s purpose in coming to the meeting was to bless Abram’s success in defeating an army with just 318 men (v. 14). This reminds us of Gideon’s military victory, obtained with just 300 men in Judges 7:6.
2. Abram acted like a man blessed by God. (21-24)
Abram’s response was gratitude: he gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the goods he had recovered. Abram did this because:
- He recognized that he and Melchizedek served the same God.
- He recognized that Melchizedek was his spiritual superior and showed his respect with a gift.
- He recognized that his victory in battle was supernatural as Melchizedek had said in v. 20, and he needed to thank God. He reasoned that a gift to Melchizedek served as a gift to God.
The tithe was given BEFORE Abram returned the plunder that Kedorlaomer had stolen from the King of Sodom in v. 11. Abram acted faithfully before he had the king of Sodom’s permission in v. 21: The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give back my people who were captured. But you may keep for yourself all the goods you have recovered.” In another five chapters Sodom will be destroyed for its terrible sins. For now, this king seems like a decent fellow; or was there an ulterior motive?
Abram was not seduced by the prospect of a quick profit. He refused to keep the plunder his men recovered in verse sixteen. Abram replied to the king of Sodom, “I solemnly swear to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from what belongs to you. Otherwise, you might say, ‘I am the one who made Abram rich.’” For Abram, it was a matter of faith, honor, and savvy politics.
In terms of faith, it’s possible that Abram swore this oath to publicly align himself with Melchizedek, affirming they both followed the same God.
In terms of honor, Abram wanted the credit for his success and wealth to go to God, not to the king of Sodom who attempted to surrender his plunder to Abram.
In terms of politics, Abram was savvy enough to know that accepting the king of Sodom’s loot would make the two men permanent allies. He already knew what kind of evil was practiced in Sodom and did not want to be associated with it.
Centuries later, God’s law would cover the subject of plunder taken in battle. These rules are recorded in Deuteronomy 20 and Abram observed all of them. In fact, in Genesis 26:5, God Himself testified to Isaac that his father Abraham listened to him and obeyed all His “REQUIREMENTS, COMMANDS, DECREES, AND INSTRUCTIONS.”
Abram was also a practical man, and he took good care of the men who fought with him and of his allies. He said, “I will accept only what my young warriors have already eaten, and I request that you give a fair share of the goods to my allies—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre.” His willingness to think of others at a time when he could have pressed his own advantage is a commendable quality we would do well to practice.
At the height of his power, Abraham recognized the higher power of God in Melchizedek.
Melchizedek held an unusual combination of offices, both priest and king. In the New Creation God has promised to bring into being at the end of time, all God’s people will be kings and priests (Revelation 1:6).
As people like to solve mysteries, there have been many attempts to explain who Melchizedek was. Next week we’ll study Hebrews 7, which is Paul’s use of Melchizedek to help us understand how Jesus is our Great High Priest.
For now, let us observe that Melchizedek faithfully executed his role of priest and king, guiding Abraham to the best possible resolution of hostilities in the region. God used Melchizedek as a peacemaker.
Let us also observe the good example set for us by Abram. A great victory had been won. He could have used that as initiative to take advantage, extending his wealth and power in the region. With Melchizedek’s assistance, Abram realized that was God’s victory, not his, and it was not his role to rule.
Abram acted justly and honorably. Shortly after this incident, God made a covenant with Abram promising protection and great reward (15:1). We will serve God by following the examples set for us by these great men of faith.
Historic mystery figures from https://www.wonderslist.com/top-10-mysterious-people-on-earth/, retrieved on 18 May 2023.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1982, Vol. 2, Jebus, Jebusite, pp. 973-974, Roland K. Harrison.
The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 2008, Vol. 1, pp. 107-109, Genesis, Allen Ross.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 1990, Vol. 2, pp. 120-126, Genesis, John H. Sailhammer
Information about Melchizedek obtained from https://overviewbible.com/melchizedek-facts/, and https://www.preachology.com/the-greatness-of-melchizedek-in-relation-to-abraham-part-2.html, both retrieved on 17 may 2023.