The bad news arrived out of the blue. Along with other inhabitants of Sodom, Abram’s nephew Lot had been taken captive and spirited away to the north country by a motley group of marauding kings. What should Abram do?
We find the answer in Genesis 14, which describes how Chedorlaomer defeated the King of Sodom in battle and absconded with both the people and the spoils. Abram had no liking for the men of Sodom, but his errant nephew was a different matter. Like Christ, the Good Shepherd, he was prepared to ‘go through the desert to find his own’.
Consider, firstly, how Abram was surrounded by problems. Bear in mind that Abram (his name was changed to Abraham later) was living in the far south of Canaan, near Hebron, a significant distance from Sodom and the plain of Jordan.
He was already an old man. He had heavy responsibilities as leader of a nomadic ‘tribe’ consisting of many hundreds of men, women and children, together with great herds of cattle.
Furthermore, Abram was a man of peace. Only here in Genesis 14 do we read of him engaging in any kind of conflict. He lived in harmony with the people of the land, and when strife arose between Lot’s herdsmen and his own, Abram’s solution was to walk away from it, giving Lot first choice of habitat (Genesis 13:5-13).
And now Lot was in trouble. Surely Abram owed nothing to his selfish relative – who had spurned his uncle’s seniority, chosen the best land for himself and made his home in wicked Sodom? In Abram’s place, would we not have washed our hands of Lot?
But like his God and Master, Abram had a shepherd heart. Lot, though utterly unworthy of Abram’s help and compassion, was about to benefit from it in ways he could not have imagined.
Do we have such a heart towards the lost and erring people of our generation? Do we care enough to find and rescue them from their own folly? And what of believers who go astray? Do we feel any responsibility towards them, to seek them out and restore them in a spirit of gentleness, considering ourselves lest we also be tempted? (Galatians 6:1).
If we do, like Abram, we shall have divine assistance and power from on high to carry out such ‘impossible’ tasks.
Power from on high
Secondly, Abram was sustained by power. We should not underestimate the task he faced. Once he had gathered his small army – 318 of his own men plus an unspecified number loaned by Eshcol and Aner – he had first to arm them, and fast! (Genesis 14:13-14. Clearly, they did not habitually carry arms).
He then had to pursue the kings who had a fifty mile start and a lead of several days. And his pursuit went on for no less than 150 miles, until he caught up with them at Dan! No doubt he used camels for transport, but it remained a daunting task.
He had no spy-satellites to trace the whereabouts of his enemy, but trusted alone in the guidance of his God. Even when he had located the kings at Dan, he chased them for a further fifty miles to Damascus and beyond – in all a 200-mile marathon!
Strategic wisdom was also needed. The logistics for such a long expedition would have been complex.
Then, at Dan, Abram employed strategies more common in modern warfare than in tribal combat – a pincer movement by night! How could an octogenarian handle such physical and mental demands?
Melchizedek supplies the answer: ‘Blessed be God Most High who has delivered your enemies into your hands!’ (Genesis 14:20). Very simply, Abram was led, sustained and vindicated by the power of God. This was the Lord’s victory, not Abram’s own.
Likewise, in our own gospel ‘rescue mission’ we must rely both for wisdom and strength upon the God of Abraham – upon Christ, who is ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24). As we do, we shall ‘run and not grow weary … walk and not faint’ (Isaiah 40:31).
Thirdly, Abram was surprised by provision. Victorious but surely physically and mentally drained, Abram returns southwards with the rescued company. As they approach Salem (later Jerusalem) something completely unexpected happens.
Someone approaches – none other than the King of Salem, bearing bread and wine (Genesis 14:18). It is common, I think, to imagine this scene as a kind of prototype ‘communion service’ but it was probably something entirely different.
Bread and wine were basic foodstuffs and it is more likely that Melchizedek and his servants were actually bringing out much-needed provisions for the travel-weary throng. This would account for the fact that the writer to the Hebrews, in his lengthy commentary on this event, reads into it no sacramental significance (Hebrews 7).
This does not make it wrong to see the Lord’s Supper foreshadowed here, but it does bring out a different emphasis, namely, that God often surprises us with unexpected sustenance and joy.
Believers know that Jesus will never leave or forsake them. Indeed, he dwells within them by his Spirit. But none will deny that we easily grow weary and discouraged in our Christian walk and service. The smoke of battle and the dust of pilgrimage cling to our garments and our feet begin to drag (see Hebrews 12:12).
At such times God delights to appear with refreshing provisions, namely, the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ – who supplies all our need ‘according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 1:19; 4:19).
Melchizedek blessed Abram, and in Christ we also are blessed ‘with every spiritual blessing in heavenly things’ (Ephesians 1:3). We should look for, anticipate and receive those blessings with thankfulness and joy.
Let us be sure, then, to frequent the place of prayer and the watering places of the Word of God, both privately and in its public ministry. Many miss the refreshing presence of Christ simply because they are too busy to gather with the saints.
Submission to Christ
Fourthly and finally, Abram was submissive to the priest-king. He best displays his spiritual nature in his response to ‘the priest of God Most High’. This response had two components, one obvious and another less so. First, he gave Melchizedek a tithe (tenth) of all he carried with him. In doing so he honoured Christ, for Melchizedek is a glorious ‘type’ of Jesus, our Great High Priest (Hebrews 7).
The tithe was, of course, only a token. Most of Abram’s wealth remained in Hebron. But by giving such a token Abram was stating a truth – that Christ was his Lord and Master. For, said Jesus, ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad’ (John 8:56). We too should submit in glad obedience to Christ, for only he can truly bless us.
The second response is implied rather than stated. After he bids farewell to Melchizedek, Abram has another, less pleasant, encounter. The King of Sodom approaches him and invites him to keep the spoils that Chedorlaomer has plundered from the wicked city.
‘Never!’, cries Abram. ‘I have lifted up my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing … that is yours, lest you should say, “I have made Abram rich” ‘ (Genesis 14:22-23).
But when did Abram swear this oath to God? Was it not when he met Melchizedek? There is at least a clear presumption to this effect because Abram uses precisely the titles ascribed to the Lord by the priest-king – ‘God most High, Possessor of heaven and earth’ (compare verses 19 and 22).
So those will submit to Christ, spurning the world and its blandishments, who have met him and been blessed by him. They have tasted the Bread of Heaven and the Water of Life, and have no appetite for the rewards of wickedness.
By the cross of Christ they have been crucified to the world and the world to them. Their hearts belong to Christ alone.