Genesis 14:16-24

16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.

17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.” [1]

Last week we saw Abram rout the combined forces of four powerful kings from modern-day Iran, Iraq, and two regions in Turkey who descended into the central and southwestern regions of the Fertile Crescent and destroyed all opposition to their military and political authority. As the victor, Abram owned all the people and property he had captured. Technically, all those like Lot who had been enslaved to foreign captors now belonged to Abram to do with as he pleased. All the livestock and all the gold, silver, jewels, and weapons belonged to Abram. Abram was the conquering king with the right to distribute all he now owned to whomever he pleased.

He returns with his coalition army of his 318 warrior slaves plus those of his allies Mamre, Eschol, and Aner, and makes his way south back toward Hebron and what’s left of the Dead Sea pentapolis. In doing so, he passes by the city-state of Salem where he meets two very different kinds of men – one was God’s priest-king and one was a potentate of the ultimate City of Man, Sodom, a city of wicked, great sinners against the Lord.[2] The setting of this great meeting is the Valley of Shaveh, or King’s Valley, west of the City of David in Jerusalem.[3] Both Salem’s king and Sodom’s king come out to meet Abram. Sodom’s king saw Abram’s victory as an impressive human accomplishment. Salem’s king knew this victory was an act of the One True God. Sodom’s king made a rude demand of Abram. Salem’s king brought food and drink for Abram and his army, then gave a blessing from God. Abram gives tribute to both kings. To one he gives a priestly tithe. To the other he returns what the petty king had lost – his material wealth and his subjects. Abram practiced what Jesus would later command, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” [4]


What an interesting meeting! God’s patriarch encounters God’s priest-king and a potentate ruled by the prince of evil in the Valley of Kings. Two give glory to God. One wants back the glory that never belonged to him in the first place. The priest-king is the mysterious Melchizedek, king of Salem. He was the king of the city that would come to be known as Jerusalem, the City of David (Abram’s descendant). His name means, “king of righteousness” or “my king is righteous.” Either meaning speaks to his right standing with the Covenant Creator God he serves. He is both a priest of God AND a Canaanite.

Like his Arabian contemporary Job, he was someone outside the blessed line of Shem. Like the king of Sodom, he was Canaanite from the cursed line of Ham. He was not a physical descendant or relative of Abram. Melchizedek is a foretaste of God’s ingathering of people from every tribe and tongue and nation. He is a picture of what John the Revelator writes to the Church, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.[5]

St Author of Hebrews considered Melchizedek to be even greater than Abraham (Heb. 7:4-7). He is only briefly mentioned here in Genesis 14. Yet, one millennium later, he receives an impressive mention in Psalm 110:4 where he is linked with God’s anointed Messiah who will rule over Zion as a priest-king. “The union of king and priest at Jerusalem was to move David (the first Israelite to sit on Melchizedek’s throne) to signal of a greater Melchizedek to come (Ps. 110:4)”[6]

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” [7]

Then, after another 1,000 years, he is discussed at length in Hebrews 5-7, where St Author challenges us to “Just think how great he was” (Heb. 7:4). Melchizedek is one of the people in Scripture who understand something of God’s work through a chosen line of people from whom the Promised Seed will come – “like Abimelech (21: 22), Rahab (Josh. 2: 11), Ruth (1: 16) or Naaman (2 Kings 5: 15). Similarly, he may be seen as a forerunner of the Magi (Matt. 2: 1-12), centurions (Matt. 8: 5-13; Mark 15: 39; Acts 10), or the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7: 26-30), let alone the multitude of Gentile converts mentioned in Acts. They are those who have discovered that in Abram all the families of the earth find blessing.”[8]

What did this mysterious priest-king do? “18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.” If we just brush over it, bread and wine doesn’t sound particularly filling or refreshing. But, the “combination is a merism for a full dinner, a royal banquet (see 2 Sam. 17:27–29; Prov. 9:5).”[9] The Lord’s Supper is, in a sense, a merism as well. The bread and wine the Lord Jesus provides is a foretaste of the divine eternal life where everything (first to last) we need is provided as God fully becomes our God and dwells with us as His people. God himself comes out to meet us and dines with us at the great Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). It also brings to mind David’s great song of God’s protection, “You prepare a table before me /in the presence of my enemies; /you anoint my head with oil; /my cup overflows.[10]

In addition to providing a royal banquet to Abram and his troops as the overcomers, Melchizedek gave Abram a priestly song of blessing. “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, /Possessor of heaven and earth; /20 and praise be to God Most High, /who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” God had promised Abram (12:1-3) that all the people groups of earth would be blessed in him. Here is the first recognition of that portion of God’s covenant with the patriarch. God’s gentile priest pronounces blessing upon Abram and praises God for Abram’s victory over the alliance of pagan kings. “Noah’s doxological benediction on Shem (see 9:26) is now specified to Abraham: the Japhethites will find salvation in him and the Canaanites will become his slaves.”[11]

His blessing calls us to take creation faith out of the realm of origins and view it instead as the source of life-giving joy in the trials of earthly existence. God’s cosmic power is the ground of saving faith.[12] Melchizedek pictures God not merely as Creator, but as being intimately sovereign over creation. This mysterious Canaanite knew by trust what the king of Sodom was blind to: that the source of Abram’s wealth and might was the Covenant Creator God. Abram recognized the priest-king’s blessing as being the voice of God from the mouth of a man of faith like himself. “And Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (20b). Abram both validates Melchizedek’s priesthood and offers his gift back to God in this one act.


Watching the exchange of banquet and blessings, the petty king of squalid Sodom now speaks. Abram has begun dispensing the spoils of war and Sodom – without any thanks or praise to Abram or the God he clearly rejects – wants his share. “21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.’” As a “king,” Sodom might have been entitled to a portion of the spoils as tribute. Even if such were the local custom, Abram, as the conqueror, had the right to decide what and how much tribute to pay. Sodom’s demand was arrogant and greedy. The two men who owned God as their inheritance gave freely and joyfully to one another. The one man who lost the merely material possession he could claim now commands to be given what is not his. In a rude fashion for such a polite and hospitable culture he says, “Give me the people and keep the swag.”

It’s a command to one who is not his subject. Abram is not a citizen of Sodom. The king of Sodom is dishonoring Abram. He is one who despises God’s chosen representative. In effect, he “curses” Abram by commanding Abram to give him back his subjects. Later, he will be visibly cursed to death by Abram’s Covenant Creator God when YHWH wipes his city-state off the map by raining down fire upon it.

Arguably, Abram owed the king of Sodom absolutely nothing. Sodom made his choice not to pay protection money to the four greater kings. Sodom lost the war decisively. Yet Abram gives the petty pagan king back absolutely everything, minus the tithe to Melchizedek, the soldiers’ rations, and their fare share of the booty. Why? After all, didn’t he keep all of Pharaoh’s gifts when he slinked out of Egypt, caught out in the open shame of his horrible sins?

Abram has grown in trust. His sins have made him wiser. He knows more of God as his rescuer and provider. So, he says to Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”

This was Abram’s declaration that he was dependent upon the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth. As one writer notes:

He was at that moment a victorious king. His faith had made him so. This closing oath was a militant statement of faith and also a polemic against the perspective of the king of Sodom — and all who trust in the things of this world.[13]


We can’t leave this passage without circling back to this mysterious priest-king, Melchizedek. This is the ONLY historical mention in the Old Testament of Melchizedek. So puzzling is this character that ancient Jewish writers believed he was Shem, Abram’s blessed ancestor. Luther took this view as well. According to exact consecutive ages in the Genesis 11 genealogy, Shem would have lived thirty-five years beyond the death of Abram. If Melchizedek was actually Shem, we could better understand his knowledge of the true God. Unfortunately, this view can’t be warranted in the text. Additionally, St Author of Hebrews says that Melchizedek’s ancestors are unknown (Heb. 7:3). This would not be true if he was Shem. “Origen thought that Melchizedek was an angel. Ambrose and some modern commentators suggest that he may have been the Lord Jesus Christ appearing here in a preincarnate form. But in this case, it would be strange that Hebrews calls Jesus “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” instead of saying simply that he was Melchizedek.” [14]

Abram found the priest-king to be a true spiritual brother and accepted his provision and blessings— and then gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything. In effect, Abram bowed before Melchizedek in paying him tithes. Abram bows only to Melchizedek in a story filled with kings. Abram honored the one who was holding the place for the future Davidic dynasty and its ultimate son, Messiah Jesus.[15] All this took place around 2,000 B.C. and for another 1,000 years no further mention is made of Melchizedek – no references to any of his ancestors, no retrospectives, no flashbacks. But in the tenth century B.C., when the psalmist David became King of Israel and made Jerusalem the royal city (making his house, in effect, the successor to Melchizedek’s earlier dynasty of priest-kings), David gave the famous oracles of Psalm 110:

The Lord says to my Lord: /“Sit at my right hand, /until I make your enemies your footstool.” …The Lord has sworn /and will not change his mind, /“You are a priest forever /after the order of Melchizedek.” [16]

David is singing of his own rise to the throne. But he’s also singing of someone greater because David calls him “my Lord” (YHWH says to my Adonai). David announces that YHWH was going to bring a priest-king like Melchizedek. Only, this priest-king would rule forever and subdue all his enemies. That announcement was guaranteed by a divine oath. Then, for another 1,000 years, there is no more mention of Melchizedek until St Author of Hebrews writes his commentary on Psalm 110 (which is the basis for the entire book we know as Hebrews). St Author is writing primarily to encourage the persecuted church (which is why he doesn’t attach his name to it) by showing them the primacy and supremacy of Christ as he is portrayed in Old Testament types. One type or foreshadowing of Christ St Author picks up on is Melchizedek, about whom he says in 7:1-3

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 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. [17]

St Author notes that Melchizedek’s titles foreshadow Christ’s character: king of righteousness and peace. Melchizedek was both a priest and a king, something no Levitical priest could be because under the Mosaic Law the two offices had to be separate. But Jesus became the ultimate priest-king, fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy that God’s righteous Branch “shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.[18] Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of righteousness and peace promised in Melchizedek’s name. As the psalmist sang, “righteousness and peace kiss each other[19] in Christ.

Pushing deeper, St Author notes how Melchizedek foreshadowed Jesus’ qualifications. Of the ancient priest-king he wrote, “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.” St Author is using the rabbinical method of interpretation from silence. All Levitical priests had to have a genealogy traceable to Aaron. But Melchizedek existed long before Moses and Aaron; he was called to his office directly by God. In the same way, Jesus (who was from the tribe of Judah, not Levi) lacked the genealogy to qualify for the Levitical priesthood. Both Christ’s and Melchizedek’s priesthood were based solely on God’s call.

Second, Moses neither records the birth or death of Melchizedek. Literarily speaking, he has no beginning or end to his story. All Levitical priests served a limited term of office; they could only serve for 30 years. But in a literary sense, Melchizedek is eternal. No end to his reign as king or his priestly office is found in his brief Genesis story. The writer of Hebrews summarizes his thoughts at the end of verse 3, saying, “resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever”; or more exactly, “but being made like the Son of God he remains a priest continuously.[20]

Whereas the Levitical High Priest could only enter into the Most Holy Place of the Temple once a year to make atonement for Israel’s sins, Jesus lives in the heavenly Holy of Holies where he perpetually prays for his people. He never stops pleading his perfectly-lived life and sacrificial death as our perfect defense and perfect hope for rightness with God the Father. Just as the sun does not exist for one moment without pouring out its light, so our Lord Jesus, our Priest, cannot exist a single moment without interceding for his children — “he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb.7:25).[21]

Jesus fulfills Melchizedek’s character, his qualifications, and his blessings offered to Abram. St Author argues that Melchizedek was superior to the Levitical priesthood in Hebrews 7:4-10. In the ancient world, paying tithes to someone was a way of recognizing their superiority. Though the Jews of St Author’s day would have recognized Father Abraham as the greatest of men, St Author says Melchizedek was greater since Abram tithed to him. He further argues that since Abram was the ancestor of the Levites, technically when Abram tithed so did all his descendants. Therefore, the Levitical priesthood is inferior to Melchizedek. Further, Levites received tithes from the Israelites because the tithe was built into the law. People had to pay. But Abram was under no such law. He simply recognized the superiority of Melchizedek and voluntarily tithed to him.

St Author’s point is that Melchizedek is superior in every way to Abram. But the priest-king is only a type, a picture of the eternal priest-king to come. The fulfillment of the Melchizedekian Priesthood is the true righteousness and true peace with God that comes from trusting into the perfect law-keeping life and sacrificial death of the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus Christ. “First, he is righteousness incarnate— ‘Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John 2:1). He is intrinsically righteous, the essence of righteousness, the source of righteousness, the sum of righteousness. Second, Jesus is the bestower of righteousness. ‘But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe’ (Romans 3: 21, 22; cf. Romans 1: 17; 1 Corinthians 1: 30; Philippians 3: 9).”[22]

Christ is also the King of Peace. His peace always comes because of righteousness – not ever before righteousness. As the King of Peace, he is the source and sum of the essence of peace. He is the giver of peace. When he came to earth the angels sang, “peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2: 14). On the eve of his death he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14: 27). And after his glorious resurrection, he came to his disciples again with the words “Peace be with you” (John 20: 19). And finally, as our eternal priest he mediates our growth in peace as he prays for us. Jesus, our High Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek, is praying for our shalom— our wholeness and well-being. He is praying for it now!

That is the gospel of Abram and Melchizedek. It was what the king of Sodom rejected, equating righteousness and peace with his status and his wealth – two things he absolutely did not have when he demanded his people back from Abram!

Righteousness and peace are what Messiah Jesus offers to every person who comes to him in trust. He gives HIS right standing with God the Father based upon his perfectly lived life so that we too can become the very righteousness of God. Because we enter into his perfect righteousness, we have his peace as well because he will never love us any more than he does right now, and he will never love us any less – no matter how bad we screw up our lives. The Father looks at our Great High Priest, His Son, and sees not our mess but Christ’s perfection.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 14:16–24.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 13:13.

[3] Waltke and Fredricks, 233.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 12:17.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 1:5–6.

[6] Kidner, 132.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 110:4.

[8] Hughes, 210. Kindle Edition.

[9] Waltke and Fredricks, 233.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 23:5.

[11] Waltke and Fredricks, 234.

[12] Hughes, 211. Kindle Edition.

[13] Hughes, 212. Kindle Edition.

[14] Boice, 501.

[15] Hughes, 215. Kindle Edition.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 110:4.

[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 7:1–3.

[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Zec 6:13.

[19] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 85:10.

[20] Hughes, 217. Kindle Edition.

[21] Id., 217-218. Kindle Edition.

[22] Id. 220. Kindle Edition.