Monday, July 03, 2006

Genesis 14

Genesis 14: Abram rescues Lot, and Melchizedek is introduced

Synopsis

In this chapter, Lot gets caught in the middle of a war between a number of different kings. Which kings, you ask? Well, it was Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goiim, against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) (verses 1–2). I hope that clears things up for you.

In the battle, the first four kings beat the second five kings. When they left, they looted Sodom and Gomorrah, and took away all of the goods and food. They also carried off Lot, and all of his possessions, since he was living there. (Keep in mind, when reading that they took all of the “possessions”, that this usually included the women and the children, not just the silverware and the fine china. Not just here, but throughout the Old Testament.)

Someone escaped, and came and reported all of this to Abram. When he heard about it, he rounded up the troops, and went after them. (Verse 14 says that he had 318 trained men.) He beat them, rescued Lot (and his possessions), and brought them all back to Sodom.

When everything has been returned, we are introduced to Melchizedek:

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.

And blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

(verses 18–20)


At the end of the chapter, the king of Sodom tells Abram just to return the people he rescued, and that he can keep the goods for himself, but he says… well, he says this:

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share.” (verses 22–24)

Thoughts

A couple of things spring out at me, in this chapter.

First of all, Abram battled against four kings, and their armies, with 318 men. The Bible doesn’t say how many men were in those four armies, but I’m thinking it’s safe to say that there were more than 318. This happens fairly often in the Old Testament, however—especially when we get into the nation of Israel, later on. God likes to send His people into battle when they’re greatly outnumbered, so that people will give Him the glory; they’ll see the outcome, and think to themselves “these people couldn’t have won the battle on their own, so their god must have been fighting for them.”

Second, I honestly don’t get the whole Melchizedek thing. I don’t understand who he was, and I don’t understand why he’s important, but he apparently is. He only appears three times in the Bible:
  • In this chapter, in the verses I quoted above
  • In Psalm 110—which most Christians believe is written about Jesus—it is said that the Messiah will be “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (verse 4)
  • In the New Testament book of Hebrews, chapters 5–7, Jesus is compared to Melchizedek. The book of Hebrews, if one were to sum it up in a sentence, is a comparison between the old Jewish religion, and the new relationship with God we have now that Jesus has died for our sins; various aspects of the new “religion” are compared with Judaism, and shown to be better. (Jesus is better than angels; Jesus’ sacrifice is better than animal sacrifices; etc.) In these chapters, Jesus’ priesthood is compared to Melchizedek’s, and shown to be better.
My problem is that the book of Hebrews seems to assume that the reader already understands who Melchizedek is, and what he represents, but the early Jewish readers of Hebrews would have had more context than I do. Their oral traditions—along with other books they studied, which didn’t make it into the Christian Bible—may have had more information about him, but all I have are these few verses in Genesis 14.

So, someday, a thousand days in the future, or however long it takes, I’ll be getting to the book of Hebrews, and trying to understand these references to Melchizedek, that all start with these scant verses, and unless I learn more about him between now and then, I may not have any clearer picture than I do now.

(Of course, that applies to Psalm 110, as well, but I haven’t decided if I’m going to blog through the books of Proverbs and Psalms; I might decide to skip over them.)
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