So last week I read this story about guy named Mike DeMar, who back 2008, as he was visiting Key West, Florida, he doing some diving off the coast with his metal detector, and he came across what looked like debris on the ocean floor. He said at first he thought he had just found a crumpled beer can, but then after he dug around it and pulled it out, the beer can was actually a golden chalice. And come to find out, the golden chalice belonged to a Spanish fleet that shipwrecked in the area back in September of 1622. Reports from back in that time period said there was a hurricane and the entire fleet was lost.
So read about this and thought it was interesting. I like history, I like this story — but maybe the most fascinating thing about the story is the simplest part: It’s that a guy comes across something of immense value when at first he doesn’t recognize it. That’s what stands out to me. At first this guy finds what seems to be the typical, old aluminum can at the bottom of the ocean, but then it ends up being a pound of gold worth over a million dollars.
And I’m telling you this story because I think that is what happens for us in Genesis 14.
Genesis 14 is the chapter we’re looking at today, and this is how we’re going to get through it. There are basically just two things we’re going to do. First, we’re going to just walk through the text and try to understand what’s going on. I want to just tell you the story. And then second, we’re going to dig into the part that’s most valuable, which is probably not what we’d recognize at first. So just those two parts. This is the way we can say it: First, we’re going to see the story. Then second, we’re going to behold the treasure.
Let’s pray and will get started.
[Father, we ask this morning that the unfolding of your word would give us light. Open our eyes and cause our hearts to burn for your glory. In Jesus’s name, amen.]
#1. See the Story
I think the best thing to do in order to understand what’s going on here is to just take it from the top in verse 1, but instead of reading every verse, I’m just going to summarize what’s happening, and there are really three keys things we need to see.
- This is the first global war.
- Abram gets dragged into it.
- Abram displays his faith.
Let me explain starting in verse 1.
1. This is the first global war.
Right away we read about this king. “In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar” — and if we’re keeping track of the names of these places, Shinar is mentioned back in Genesis Chapter 10, verse 10, and Chapter 11, verse 2 — and lo and behold, Shinar is in the east. This is the area of Babylon, and right away in verse 1 we read about four kings from this area who have combined their forces.
And these four kings from the east went to war against five other kings mentioned in verse 2, and among these five other kings is the king of Sodom. These five other kings had also joined forces, the text says in verse 3, around the Salt Sea (which is the Dead Sea). That’s where they were located, south of the Dead Sea, in the Valley of Siddim. And so we’re talking about a world war here. In that time period, this would have been a global conflict.
A confederacy of nations from the east came over to fight against a confederacy of nations southeast of Canaan, and they’re at war — a real change of power is up for grabs.
And it’s four kings against five kings. The text is very clear about that. It’s four versus five, and the four kings destroy the five. They march all the way from the east, and they are just leveling everyone they come across (that’s what verses 5–7 are saying). And then they make it down to this five-king confederation, which includes Sodom, and the four kings destroy the five. And they just don’t defeat them, but they sack them. They take everything. Then the text in verse 11 focuses in on Sodom and tells us that this combined army from the east took all their possessions and all their provisions.
And this is how Abram gets dragged into this thing. Remember Abram’s nephew Lot. Look at verse 12.
2. Abram gets dragged into this.
In case we forgot what Lot did in the previous chapter, we’re reminded again here in verse 12. Verse 12 says, “They [speaking of this combined army from the east] also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.”
So to be clear: when these kings from the east defeated Sodom and took all their stuff, that means they also took Lot and all his stuff. It was his misfortune by association.
Meanwhile, Abram is many miles away, still settled up by the oaks of Mamre, and someone escapes from the battle and comes and tells him what has happened. They tell him that his nephew was captured.
And this is where we learn that Abram is a boss.
Verse 14 says that after he hears about Lot’s capture he assembles his own militia of just 318 men and he goes out to fight against these four kings from the east.
And this is really important I think, because as we’re reading this story, this part is supposed to stand out to us.
Now, on one hand, it is Lot’s fault that Abram gets involved in this. In Chapter 10 Lot chose to settle in Sodom, and now Lot is suffering for that decision, and so he ends up dragging Abram into this conflict. That’s one way to look at it.
But on the other hand, it really is remarkable, regardless of Lot, that Abram — little Abram up by the oaks of Mamre — becomes an influence in a conflict that is international. This war has global implications, and Abram’s right in the middle of it. And it’s not just that Abram has an influence, but he takes his little army and conquers the enemy of four kings, which is amazing.
Abram, who was practically a nomad, and an old man, and who was promised children he didn’t have yet, formed a grossly outnumbered militia to fight against a confederation of four kingdoms that had been decimating everything in their path. Five kings couldn’t beat these four kings, and now Abram thinks he’s going to do it with 318 men.
So this can only mean one of two things.
Either Abram is crazy, or he believes that God will keep his promise. God told Abram that he’d bless him, and make him a blessing, and curse those who dishonor him, and that he’d give him the land of Canaan with as many children as the dust on the ground (Gen 12:1–9; 13:14–18). And because God said that, but none it had happened yet, Abram must have figured he’d do okay in a war.
3. Abram displays his faith.
Abram’s actions are remarkable here. This is his faith on display. He went against this four-kingdom army from the east with only 318 men. And if we were to keep reading in the Bible, we come across a story a little later in the Book of Judges Chapter 7 about a man named Gideon. And in one story, Gideon was commanded by God to fight against the enemies of Israel with only 300 men. God actually commanded Gideon to reduce his army down to 300 men because God wanted Israel to be sure to know that God was the one who gave them victory. And I think the story of Gideon alludes back to this story about Abram.
Abram was fighting this battle with faith. That’s what’s going on here. Abram knows the promise of God. Abram already knows, I think, what God says to him in Chapter 15, when he says, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield…” (verse 1). Abram knows that God is the one who will deliver his enemies into his hands (which is exactly what’s said a little later here).
And so Abram defeats these kings from the east, and pursued them all the way back north of Damascus (we’re talking he ran the enemy completely out of the land of Canaan). Then we read that Abram brought back all the captured possessions and people, including his nephew Lot. And as he was returning, this is where it gets really interesting. Two kings go out to meet Abram.
Verse 17 says the king of Sodom goes out to meet Abram. And then in verse 18 the king of Salem, named Melchizedek, goes out to meet Abram, and he brings bread and wine. And based upon how this passage is set up, we readers are supposed to compare these two kings. Abram doesn’t say anything until verse 22. Until then, the text just shows us these two kings, basically side by side.
Melchizedek, king of Salem, in the first time he’s ever mentioned, brings Abram a blessing. He brings him “bread and wine” — which might sound like a snack, but this wasn’t a snack. This expression referred to something more like a feast. This is a royal banquet. And then we read, verse 19, that Melchizedek speaks a blessing on Abram, and then Abram, we’re just told in verse 20, gave him a tenth of everything.
And in contrast, the king of Sodom comes to Abram, and doesn’t bring him any kind of gift, but instead tries to work a deal. This king of Sodom owes Abram everything — he had literally lost everything until Abram went and got it all back for him. Which means he has no leverage for a deal here. But he tries to make one in verse 21. He tells Abram to leave him the people and just take the goods.
And then Abram speaks up and says No, I don’t want any of it.
Abram had made an oath with God that he wouldn’t take anything that belonged to Sodom, so when Sodom tries to deal with Abram, Abram says keep it — I don’t want your stuff.
Now why? Why does Abram do this?
Well, I don’t want to get too far ahead. Pastor Joe is going to preach Chapter 15 next week, God willing, but verse 1 in Chapter 15 answers our question. Look there real fast. Peek ahead.
The verse starts with “After these things” — meaning after Abram’s response to the king of Sodom. After these things God came to Abram in a vision and says to him, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (15:1).
In other words, God says to Abram, I am your payday. Which means Abram didn’t need the stuff from the king of Sodom because the promises are God were enough.
What Abram does at the end of Chapter 14 shows us that believed that. He didn’t now how exactly. He didn’t know the details, but Abram is trusting in the promises of God. Abram’s faith has been on display.
And that’s basically the story. That’s what is going on in Genesis Chapter 14. And this an important part of Abram’s life. Abram has lots of big milestones in his journey, and this is one of them. Chapter 14 is rich.
But now within this chapter, what is the most valuable part? Now that is a sort of a strange question because again the whole thing has meaning, but there’s one part that stands out, even if just for its strangeness, and it has to do with Melchizedek, the king of Salem. So now’s when we’re getting into the treasure.
#2. Behold the Treasure
Melchizedek is maybe the most important, mysterious person in the entire Bible. He only shows up here within the biblical narrative, and then he is mentioned just two other places throughout the Bible, first in Psalm 110, and then in the New Testament Book of Hebrews a whole chapter is devoted to him. And in both those places Melchizedek is very important. He is loaded with meaning.
So we should ask why. Who is this man, and why is he important? He only shows up in Genesis 14, verses 18–20 — now why is he so valuable?
Well, I have about 20 reasons why, but instead of listing each one, I’m just going to bunch them together into three reasons. These are three reasons why Melchizedek is so important in this story.
1. Melchizedek intrigues us.
Look back at verse 18. Remember that Abram is on the way back from his military victory, and at first we read in verse 17 that the king of Sodom came out to meet him. And that makes sense. We’ve already heard about the king of Sodom, and Abram has just rescued his entire kingdom. So we get this.
But then in verse 18 the text says, “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.” And if we’re read closely here, we have to stop and say timeout: Who is Melchizedek and where is Salem? Because there were a lot of names and places mentioned in the first part of this chapter, but nothing was said about Melchizedek and nothing was said about Salem. And it’s like the writer here expects to be caught off guard, so he includes a little parenthetical about Melchizedek. The writer tells us at the end of verse 18 that “Melchizedek was the priest of the Most High God.”
And this is really interesting, because we haven’t heard anything about priests yet in the book of Genesis, but apparently Melchizedek is both a king and a priest. This is intriguing.
The Meaning of His Name
First, this man comes out of nowhere. He is not connected to any of the genealogies that we’ve read about so far in Genesis. He’s not part of the kings from the east, and he’s not part of the five kings south of the Dead Sea. Instead, he is the king of Salem, and we don’t know even exactly where that is yet, but in Hebrew “salem” is the word for peace. So Melchizedek is king of peace
And also, for what it’s worth, later in the Bible this place Salem is going to be called Jeru-salem, which is only the most important city in the world.
And since I already mentioned the Hebrew here, Melchizedek’s name is pretty interesting too. The name Melchizedek translates literally as “king of righteousness.” Melek means king. Tsedeq means righteous. Put them together and you’ve got Melchizedek. Literally, “my king is right.”
So therefore, you have Melchizedek, king of righteousness, the king over peace, and he comes to meet Abram and bless him. What he says in the blessing is really important, but just that he blesses him is intriguing enough. Once again compared to the way the king of Sodom treated Abram, this really stands out. This mysterious king-priest, with an amazing name, comes out of nowhere and blesses Abram, and Abram doesn’t say anything back, but verse 20 says that Abram gave him a tenth of everything he had.
Abram Is Subordinate
Now compare that to how Abram responded to Sodom. Abram doesn’t want to deal with Sodom at all, but he gives a tenth of his own wealth away to Melchizedek, and in case it wasn’t clear up to this point, this little note about Abram’s tithe to Melchizedek at the end of verse 20 is meant to tell us that Abram understands himself to be subordinate to Melchizedek.
Ant that is fascinating, because Abram is a kind of a big deal. I mean we’re talking about Father Abraham — and as we keep reading in Genesis he just becomes more and more important. This is the man of faith, this is the one God chose, this is one through whom all the families of the earth will be blessed! What man is greater than Father Abraham?
Well he meets his superior in Genesis 14 . . . in Melchizedek.
Melchizedek intrigues us.
2. Melchizedek instructs us.
This has to do with the details of the blessing Melchizedek speaks in verses 19–20. We know by verse 19 that Melchizedek is the priest of God Most High. And we, today, understand him to be talking about God — the real God. We read this and assume that he’s talking Yahweh (which is right). But the phrase “God Most High” is pretty generic. We wouldn’t know exactly who he’s talking about until he says a little more. That’s what he does in verse 19. Melchizedek says, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth.” And the word for “possessor” also means “creator.” That’s the way the NIV translates it.
Yahweh Is the One
So this God Most High is the one who created heaven and earth, and we know now for sure who he is talking about because we have read about this God — that’s Genesis 1–11. Melchizedek worships the God who created heaven and earth. He worships the one true God. And Abram understands this. When Abram speaks to the king of Sodom in verse 22, he uses the exact same phrase as Melchizedek but there’s one addition. Abram refers to God as “Yahweh, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth.”
Yahweh is the Most High God. He is the one true God. Yahweh is the one who has chosen Abram and made him the amazing promise that he will bless him — which is literally what is happening right here. Melchizedek blesses Abram by God’s name.
Yahweh Is at Work
And then Melchizedek praises God in verse 20. “… blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And here he tells us what we’ve already seen. Remember, now, that Abram took 318 men to fight against a four-kingdom confederation, and Abram defeated them. Now how’d he do that?
It’s because God fought for him. It’s because God keeps his promises. It’s because, as Melchizedek says to Abram, “[God] delivered your enemies into your hand!” — which again, is what God promised in Genesis 12:3 when he said “him who dishonors you I will curse.” Which means, if you stand against Abram you don’t stand a chance. And Melchizedek here is connecting the dots for us. He’s instructing us.
Yahweh Is a Global God
And there’s more. Melchizedek also shows us here why Abram was involved in this conflict to begin with. It goes deeper than his connection to Lot. The real reason Abram has such an important role to play in this global conflict is because Abram worships the global God.
Tribalism was a big thing back in this time. Peoples and kingdoms were isolated from others, and they had their own tribal deities and gods. And yet here you have Melchizedek talking to Abram — Abram, the nomad staying over by the little oak of Mamre — and Melchizedek says that Abram’s God is the creator of heaven and earth. Abram’s God owns heaven and earth.
So yes, Abram plays a part in international issues, and he will continue to play such a part because Yahweh is an international God. Melchizedek shows us that.
So he intrigues us, and he instructs us.
But then, lastly, and most importantly . . .
3. Melchizedek points us to Jesus.
And maybe that isn’t very obvious on a first read through Genesis, but that’s why we have a whole Bible. Scripture helps us interpret Scripture, and later in the Bible, in the New Testament Book of Hebrews, we hear all about Melchizedek again. The author of Hebrews looks back at Genesis, and he explains how all these amazing things we’ve seen about Melchizedek are actually meant to create categories for us that help us understand the glory of Jesus.
The word for this in Bible interpretation is called typology. It means that there are instances in the Old Testament when certain things prefigure or foreshadow Jesus in the New Testament. And Melchizedek is on the top of that list. Let me show you how the author of Hebrews talks about him in Hebrews 7.
I’m just going to read the first few verses, but I want you to notice how Hebrews is picking up on all the intriguing facts about Melchizedek in Genesis 14. For context in Hebrews, he has been talking about how Jesus is a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” and he says it’s because Jesus is in the same priestly order of Melchizedek. So then he explains who Melchizedek is. Here’s what he says. Hebrews 7:1,
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything.
[he is taking us back to Genesis 14. Then he says …]
He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.
And that’s a really important line. Hebrews says that Melchizedek in the Old Testament, from thousands of years before Jesus, resembles Jesus — Jesus doesn’t resemble Melchizedek, but Melchizedek resembles Jesus. Which means, Melchizedek, back in Genesis 14, is pointing beyond himself to Jesus.
And the main way, according to Hebrews, that Melchizedek points to Jesus is because of his priesthood. There are other ways, glorious ways, that Melchizedek resembles Jesus, but the main way is how he was a priest. And that’s because Melchizedek was a different kind of priest than all the priests who came later in the Old Testament. The other priests were descended from Levi, called the Levites. They were the old covenant priests. But Melchizedek didn’t descend from Levi. We don’t where he descended from. He doesn’t even have a genealogy. Instead he is a priest by “the power of an indestructible life,” verse 16 says.
That’s because in Genesis 14 not only does Melchizedek come out of no where, but don’t read anything about his death. And Hebrews picks up on that. It means, that as a category, Melchizedek’s priesthood doesn’t end. The priesthood that he represents continues forever. And that’s how he resembles Jesus.
And this is where we behold the treasure.
Because Jesus is a priest, too. And he is not a priest because of his human lineage — he descended from Judah, not Levi. But Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek because Jesus too has the power of an indestructible life. Except we did read of his death. The Bible is clear about the death of Jesus, in fact, the New Testament makes the death of Jesus central. Jesus died on the cross in our place. He was dead and buried in a tomb. The Bible is clear about that.
And, the Bible is also clear that Jesus didn’t stay dead. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead. The power of his indestructible life defeated the power of death, and Jesus being raised, and ascended is now seated at the right hand of God where he reigns as our king, and more, he intercedes for us as our priest. In fact, that’s what he is doing right now. Hebrews 7:25 says that Jesus now, as our priest, “always lives to make intercession for us.”
So in this very moment, Jesus our priest, is taking action for your everlasting good. And look I know it may not feel like that. Because of what you’re going through, this might sound so strange to you. But the word of God says it. Right now, in this moment, right now, Jesus your priest is commanding and working in reality for your eternal joy.
That’s what Genesis 14 is about. And that’s what brings us to the Table.
At this Table we remember the death of Jesus for us. Which means, Jesus who is now our priest, praying for us, was also our sacrifice. Who could have imagined that? That Jesus our king, is also Jesus our priest, and Jesus the lamb who was slain. He is grace upon grace, and at this Table he take it all in. We swallow down. That’s what the bread and the cup are about.
So if you’re here, at you’re united to Jesus by faith. If you trust in him, if he is your priest, and your sacrifice, we invite you to eat and drink with us.