Returning to Hebrews, Part 5.
It happens in the early chapters of Genesis, the story of God’s work of salvation on behalf of mankind barely beginning to be told. Abram, whom God later renames Abraham, has a nephew who has made a dicey choice. Lot wants to move into Sodom, a city known for its wickedness — “now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD” (Genesis 13:13 ESV). With this decision, Lot reveals his heart. After strife between Lot’s men and Abram’s herdsman, the two part ways. Down into the valley goes Lot, returning to city life.
The world is ancient, and life is tribal in this cradle of civilization, the swath of land covering modern-day Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, what we typically called the Middle East. In the sliver of land along the Mediterranean Sea where modern-day Israel is situated, life is tenuous. Towns are small and walled. Life is lived in tents on the move.
Of course, wars and raids and thefts of flocks and goods are common. Policing is done by one’s own armed men, all of the males old enough to ride and to fight. Abram and his wife Sarai are barren, yet God has just made a puzzling covenant with Abram, promising him that one day his offspring will be as many as the dust of the earth and that all of the land he sees will belong to his offspring forever.
“So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron (the middle of Israel), and there he built an altar to the LORD” (Genesis 13:18 ESV). This becomes “home base” for Abram’s family.
A battle arises in Lot’s valley, four kings against five. The coalition of four kings fighting against the alliance of Bera, king of Lot’s new hometown of Sodom, are winning. People are running for their lives, fleeing before the conquering kings. Heedless, some fall into the local tarpits. The rest flee ahead of the victors, yet Lot and all his possessions, the women of his family unit, and all of his servants and herdsmen are taken captive.
Of course, Abram goes after them. He has cared for his dead brother’s son since he was orphaned. He won’t allow Lot to be carted away into obscurity, and, besides that, Abram has a covenant with God. The Lord has promised an offspring and a burgeoning family, and Abram hasn’t reproduced yet, so he knows he will not die. He is a man of faith (Hebrews 11:8-12). He knows he will live long enough to fulfill God’s promise. He is invincible.
Against all odds, because that is usually how God works, Abram, his allies, and his own 318 men bring back not only Lot, his goods, his people, and the women unharmed, but also all the other captives and all their possessions.
Bera, the king of Sodom, grateful for the assistance, goes out to meet Abram and offers him all the booty, intending to take only the people back with him. But, Abram refuses. “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.’ 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” (Genesis 14:21b-24 NLT). Here, Abram clearly states his allegiance to God, regardless of the fallout.
Another man also goes out to meet Abram, a man placed here by God for a significant purpose. This man brings out bread and wine to refresh Abram and his people. His name is Melchizedek. Off the charts, he is a man of God, in fact, a priest of God Most High, a worshiper of Yahweh much like Job, a man whose roots are unknown, whose lineage is not recorded.
Yet, there he is, vital to the human story, invisible in the historical archives, but incredibly significant. In fact, Hebrews 7:4 tells us to examine him closely, to look into the details, to truly see him, and to do this often.
Offering the bread and the wine to Abram and his weary men, Melchizedek blesses him, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” (Genesis 14:19b-20 ESV)
To Melchizedek, Abram tithes, giving a tenth of the booty he has just won in battle, while refusing the king of Sodom’s offer. He already knows and recognizes Melchizedek as a servant of YHWH, his God, the Lord God Almighty. Probably, this man was a great encouragement to Abram as a fellow worshiper of the true God.
So, why is this story significant? Why is this recorded at all? Why are we to examine this man and each place he is mentioned in Scripture?
Here is why: The next Biblical mention of Melchizedek is prophetic, contained in Psalm 110, a Messianic prophecy about the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ:
The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies,
making them a footstool under your feet.”
The Lord will extend your powerful kingdom from Jerusalem;
you will rule over your enemies.
When you go to war,
your people will serve you willingly.
You are arrayed in holy garments,
and your strength will be renewed each day like the morning dew.
The Lord has taken an oath and will not break his vow:
“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”
And then the Lord explains even more fully why that man of mystery met Abram in the early pages of Genesis, bringing us to Hebrews chapter 5. The rest of the mentions of Melchizedek within the Scriptures occur here in this letter. Seventeen uses of his name are recorded in the book of Hebrews.
In ancient times, in the cradle of civilization, thousands of years before Christ, God placed this man Melchizedek, a man who also knew him and who served as his priest, a Gentile, for he was not descended from Abram, who had no descendants at this time. And thus, Melchizedek was outside of the lineage of the Levitical priesthood as a contemporary of Abram. Melchizedek demonstrated God’s choice of Jesus as Messiah, One who would likewise come from outside the Levitical priesthood, though a Hebrew, but a descendant of Judah, its Lion, the Root of Jesse.
This is the mystery of Christ with us, barely beginning to be uncovered in the ancient annals of time recorded in the opening chapters of Genesis. God has worked all of creation and all of human history for the purpose of achieving our salvation, the salvation of a race he knew would sin before he even placed Adam and Eve in the Garden and gave them the command not to eat the forbidden fruit. In ancient times, only God knew his plan, and so the Holy Spirit nudged the writer of Genesis to record these details.
God has worked all of creation and all of human history for the purpose of achieving our salvation, the salvation of a race he knew would sin before he even placed Adam and Eve in the Garden. Click To Tweet
God orchestrates all of history around his Christ, the ancient past, the Lord’s advent as a man, the current church age, and his future return and reign as the conquering King, also detailed later in the same Psalm, Psalm 110.
Like Abram, are we centering our lives upon our Lord? By faith, are we walking in his ways? Are we choosing the provisions and the blessings he has to offer, or are we enticed by what the king of Sodom presents to us? Are we keeping our eyes on God Most High? Ponder on this.
Like Melchizedek, are we fulfilling the role God has given us, even though it may seem small and anonymous? Even if we don’t understand its significance at all? For most assuredly, there is meaning we can only imagine at this point. By faith, are we tending to the ones God has given us, worshiping him with a humble heart, and walking in his ways? Ponder on this.