There’s an odd tense in the opening verse of the text from The Daily Bible today (Genesis 12-14): “The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” When had He said this? We’re not told the when or the where or the how or – most importantly – the why. Abram was a reasonably wealthy shepherd, son of Terah, son of Nahor, son of Serug, son of Reu, son of Peleg, son of Eber, son of Shelah, son of Arphaxad, son of Shem, son of Noah, son of Lamech, son of Methuselah, son of Enoch, son of Jared, son of Mahalalel, son of Kenan, son of Enosh, son of Seth … son of Adam and Eve. (Ever wonder why daughters are hardly ever mentioned in the genealogical tables of scripture?) Perhaps some of Shem’s and Seth’s good blood had found its way into Abram’s veins. Maybe he had demonstrated a devotion to God. Possibly God just chose him out of the blue for this pronouncement: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”
Maybe the key to God’s choice is in the first three words of the next verse, though: “So Abram left ….”
He trusted God. He left his father’s house, took all of his own assets and servants and even his nephew Lot, plus his babe-of-a-wife Sarai. Even at advanced age, she could still turn heads. And that fact put a limit on Abram’s trust. Fearing that their journey would take them to lands of kings who would kill him to add her to their harems, Abram asked Sarai to tell them a half-truth: that she was his sister. (She was his half-sister; also a child of Terah.)
But she neglected to tell Egypt’s Pharaoh that she was also Abram’s wife. Pharaoh treated him well as he courted her, but only disease and pestilence resulted in Pharaoh’s house. When Pharaoh saw through the ruse as the cause of his misery, he evicted them both, but let Abram keep the wealth given as her dowry.
Abram believed God … but not quite all the way.
Returning to Bethel where God had first appeared to Abram and he had built his first altar, the herdsmen of Abram and Lot quarreled over possessions. Abram gave his nephew a choice of lots for grazing their flocks and herds. Lot chose the choicer lot, which included territory near Sodom – apparently known for its wickedness. Abram separated and settled in Hebron, “where he built an altar to the Lord.”
In time, the chief-kings of local tribes went to war, five against four, and the raiders carried off most of Sodom – including Lot and his possessions.
I wonder if the first thought that went through his head was, “I should never have lied to protect my own life in Egypt. I should have trusted God. I became rich with possessions, but now it will cost me dear blood.” I wonder if he had considered his nephew Lot to be his adopted son, the only offspring he had to inherit God’s promise.
Whatever went through his mind, Uncle Abram quickly mustered 318 trained warriors among his servants and routed the raiders in the night, rescuing Lot and recapturing the wealth of Sodom. Abram seemed to have no desire to accept tribute from Sodom’s king, having sworn before God not to accept more than food, possibly of a feast in his honor.
But there was another king present, neither of the four nor the five: Melchizedek of Salem, who brought out bread and wine. Scripture calls him a “priest of God Most High,” who blessed Abram and praised God, “who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
“Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”
The legend is that Salem eventually became Jerusalem … that the tribute of Abram the rescuer to the host presaged tithing … and that the priest who was also a king set a precedent for a Descendant of Abram who would praise God and bless all nations.
But at the time, it must have seemed pretty unusual for the rescuer Abram to give tribute to the priest-king neighbor of the rescued kings of the area.
Maybe Melchizedek had reminded Abram of something important; something worth more than all the tribute he could have shared:
That he had not won the battle by his own skill and choices as a shepherd-general. That his 318 shepherd-warriors had not won the battle by their own cunning and courage and craft.
That the battle belonged to the Lord.
That the Lord was not slack concerning His promise.
That the LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.