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Genesis 14:17-24 by Robert Dean
Series:Genesis (2003)
Duration:58 mins 37 secs

The Truth About Tithing, The Test of Gratitude. Genesis 14: 17-24

 

Abraham is functioning as a blessing to everybody that has lived along the path of these invaders. He has now defeated their forces which are not going to be an issue any more internationally, so this is a major international victory. It ends the military power of this coalition for at least two or three hundred years. The point of all this is that Abraham is learning to function as a blessing, and he passes that test. But as soon as he passes that test and is now enjoying that victory he immediately moves into the next test. That is how it is in life. As soon as we pass one test we don't have time to just sit back on our laurels because often these tests contain the dynamics for the next test. The next test for Abraham is the test of gratitude, outlined in Genesis 14:17-24, and it has to do with money.

 

One thing about the Word of God: it always steps on our toes. One thing that always steps on the believer's toes is when it starts meddling with his money. But the Word of God meddles with our money more than it meddles with anything else in our life. There are more passages in the Scripture that have to do with how the believer is to handle money than just about any other subject in the Bible, because money is something that is such a distraction to out lives and something that we can easily slip over into and put all our hopes and dreams into. That is why in Timothy Paul says it is the love of money which is the root of all evil. Money is important and there is nothing wrong with accumulating wealth. The test of gratitude at the end of this chapter is going to give opportunity to talk about the truth about tithing. Tithing is one of the most misunderstood subjects regarding money among churches today.

 

Genesis 14:17, "And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale." So the first to come out to meet Abraham was Bera the perverted king of Sodom. He is about as poor a leader as a person could be in the ancient world, a picture of everything that was bad and evil in terms of a fallen, decadent culture, one that he allowed to just continue. They are now approaching Jerusalem and are tired but there is a test. Often tests come when we are tired at the end of a victory that has taken a lot out of us. Now Abraham is met by another person. It would be difficult to imagine two men in all of history who would be more opposites than the king of Sodom and Melchizedek, the king of Salem. 

 

Genesis 14:18, "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God." It is interesting that when the king of Sodom comes out we are not told that he brought anything. He is probably just interested in getting the people back and maybe some more slaves. But Melchizedek shows up and he brings bread an wine, and bring logistical sustenance for Abraham and the troops that are with him. We read in this verse that he is the king of Salem. Melchizedek itself is not a name, it is title. It is the Hebrew word melek with the construct ending i, plus the Hebrew noun tsedek, from tsadak the verb meaning righteous. It literally means the king of righteousness, or you could translate it "the righteous king." This is a title that has been put on him. We don't know the name of the individual, we just know this name which characterizes him. He is the righteous king in contrast to Bera the king of Sodom who is the evil king. Bera may not have been the king of Sodom's name either but may have also been some sort of title hung on him because the last syllable, ra, is the Hebrew word for evil. So we have this contrast between the evil king and the righteous king. Melchizedek is not only the king of righteousness he is the king of location Salem. Most scholars believe that Salem is known by its modern name of Jerusalem, the last two syllables, salem, being the same and from the Hebrew root shalom, meaning peace. So he is called the righteous king and he is the king of peace (king of Salem). And he brings out sustenance. He is concerned for taking care of the troops whereas the evil king is not, he is just concerned about what he is going to get out of this. We are told further that Melchizedek is a priest of God most high. The name for God here in the Hebrew is El Elyon. El is a generic name for God, not a personal name. The personal name for God in the Old Testament was based on the sacred tetragrammaton which was YHWH, usually thought to be pronounced Yahweh. That was His covenant name. But El was more of a Gentile designation for God, and Elyon emphasises the meaning of El, this is the Almighty God. The implication is that this is the same God that Abraham worships. Abraham worships the God that he knows by his personal name Yahweh. So this was the Gentile name and we find that on the one side there is this figure who comes out of Ur of the Chaldees, Abraham, and he is chosen by God the be the father of this new nation, this new group of people who are going to be a counter movement to all the degradation that is happening among the Gentiles.

 

On the other hand we now meet this other Gentile who has a designation as the righteous king, and all the trappings that seem to be associated with him in this passage set him up and raises a number of questions, not the least of which is the fact that he is the priest of God [with the definite article]. So he represents some kind of priesthood but is also a king. What we learn is that he is at this time a representative of a category of priest known as priest-king. Their origin is somehow shrouded in the darkness that surrounds the events after the flood. We don't know where this came from, the Old Testament just doesn't give us that information. But he is in a line of royal king-priests and this is going to have a tremendous significance later on. Melchizedek is arguably the most theologically significant Gentile in the Old Testament because of the way he is used in the New Testament. His past and his present are shrouded in mystery. Salem was a Jebusite town. The Jebusites were not defeated and run out of town until David was in the early years of his monarchy and were just another part of the idolatrous, pagan Canaanite tribal groups that inhabited the land. So this raises questions. Where did Melchizedek come from? How did he get into this position of ascendancy and power in a pagan Canaanite town? What was his relationship to Abraham? Abraham would have known about him already but we are not told about him. This is the only time we see him. That suggests that he is a representative of an order that is passing away and that Abraham is the representative of a new order, and what we are witnessing here is the changing of the guard in history.

 

Melchizedek's position as the royal priest king becomes the type or the shadow image for a priestly role of David later on, but ultimately for the Lord Jesus Christ. If we think ahead to 2 Samuel 8 when David is bringing the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem he dresses himself in an ephod, a priestly garment, and he has this enormous procession where they bring the ark into the city, and all along the route David dances before the ark, before the Lord. But there is no basis in the Mosaic law for a priest from David's tribe, the tribe of Judah. David is not a Levite and in Israel only Levites were priests. So on what basis can David function like a priest? It can only be if he is functioning according to the priestly order of Melchizedek rather than the priestly order of Levi, and this is fundamental to understanding a number of things that are going on and which we will look at in due course. But that lays the basis for what Jesus Christ is going to be as the royal priest king, because he is not qualified to be a priest either because He is from the tribe of Judah, so His qualification as a priest doesn't fall under the umbrella of the Mosaic covenant because the Mosaic covenant restricts the priesthood to the tribe of Levi. But the priesthood that the Mosaic covenant is talking about is the priesthood of Israel in terms of allowing the Jews to worship God. To understand that we are driven back to understanding that the Mosaic covenant was a contract between God and the Jews. It was a temporary contract never designed to be permanent—the argument in Hebrews chapter seven is that because there is a new covenant introduced in Jeremiah 31 just the very terminology of new versus old indicates that the Mosaic covenant was never ever intended to be permanent. It was temporary, so it had a temporary priesthood. What is the permanent priesthood? The permanent priesthood is a priesthood that is valid for all of the human race and not just for Jews. This is why Jesus goes to the order of Melchizedek because Melchizedek is that early order of king-priests that functioned in relationship to the entire human race. So Jesus Christ, then, is a priest not according to the order of Levi but according to the order of Melchizedek, this order of Gentile priest-kings. This is laid out in Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6; 5:10; 6:20; Hebrews 7:1-21.

The New Testament seems to also make Melchizedek even enigmatic than what he appears to be, and it is making a point. This is found in Hebrews 7:2, 3, "to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all {the spoils,} was first of all, by the translation {of his name,} king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually." Note: If you are going to study tithing you'd better understand this or you're toast on the subject. That is, what is happening in Hebrews chapter seven is merely a rehearsal, a narrative, a reminder of what happened in Genesis chapter fourteen. There is no prescription (commandment or mandate) in Hebrews 7, it is merely rehearsing what happened in Genesis 14 to make a theological point related to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 7 is not talking about giving in the church age or the post-cross era.

The solution to who Melchizedek is may be found in ancient Jewish tradition which has its roots back as far as before the exile. It is that Melchizedek is Shem, the son of Noah. This makes sense. Shem was born two years after God warned Noah that there would be a flood, so we can track Shem's age. Shem died ten years before Abraham did. Even though Shem was born nine generations before Abraham, he is still alive. He is the father of the Semitic line that ultimately ends up in Abraham, and in the Jewish tradition he is passing the torch to Abraham. But what is happening in the text is that there is a meal between Melchizedek and Abraham and there is a focal point, a shift, that this king of righteousness who is a Gentile priest-king is meeting the progenitor of the Jewish race and there is some sort of passing-the-torch taking place at this point.

What happens is that in verse 19 Melchizedek does something to Abraham, "He blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." He gave him a tenth of all." Why is it important that Melchizedek is blessing Abraham? What did God tell Abraham back in Genesis 13:3? I will bless those who bless you! You can't just go into this story without plugging it in to the entire structure of what God is doing to Abraham. "Possessor of heaven and earth" is a really interesting term. We would expect to see the word "Creator of heaven and earth," not "Possessor." The Hebrew word means to acquire, to purchase, to buy. It is the ideas of transferring ownership or gaining possession of something. So the picture that Melchizedek is making of God, and the emphasis, here is that Abraham is worshipping the God that owns everything. He just didn't make it, He owns it; He has the title deed ultimately to the earth. It is an ownership issue, and this drives us to some degree and idea of material possessions. That is integral to understanding the theme of this whole meeting between Melchizedek and Abraham. The word "delivered" is the Hebrew word which means to deliver or to hand something over as a gift. So here is God being presented as the owner and possessor of everything, including the pagan kings and all the plunder, and He is the one who is giving this to Abraham. That is the dynamic here. It is very material. He is reminding Abraham that everything that he owns, everything that he got, came from the God who really owns it all. Abraham just has temporary rental agreement. That is the backdrop for understanding the past sentence, "He gave him a tenth of all." This is the first time the word "tithe" is used in the Old Testament.

1)  The first time the word for tithe is used is in Genesis 14:20; the last time the word is used in the Bible is in Hebrews 7:2-6. What is interesting to note is that in neither passage is there an imperative. The first question we should ask is why does Abraham give ten per cent to Melchizedek? We don't know because there is no command. There is no mandate any where prior to this that if a person is a believer he needs to give ten per cent to the local priest. Interestingly, there is no command in the first thirteen chapters of Genesis to perform a sacrifice either. In the last reference to tithing in Hebrews chapter seven it refers to the Genesis 14 episode, but there is no imperative verb in the first 10 verses of the Hebrews chapter related to tithing. In other words, both Genesis 14 and Hebrews 7 are describing what happened. They are not saying to follow the example; they are not saying this is the pattern.

2)  The Hebrew word is maasar, which is based on the preposition ma, meaning from or out of and asar which is the word for ten. So literally it means from ten or a tenth. The Greek word used in the New Testament is DEKATOS [dekatoj] which is the genitive form of the word for ten and means basically the same thing.

3)  The first use of tithing is found in Genesis 14, about 700 years before the Mosaic law. This is not a legal context. So when we come along and say that tithing is legalistic we need to back up a little. If it is legalistic then there would be law in Genesis chapter fourteen. There is no law here, so why is Abraham doing this? He is doing this out of his own volition.

4)  There was not a legislative mandate to tithe, it is a free will offering. Abraham is making this decision out of his own spiritual life, expressing gratitude to God who gave him this victory and he is giving out of what he has taken to Melchizedek. And that is the passing of the test. The first part of the test was whether he would be a blessing and go out and defeat the five kings and rescue Lot and everybody else. The second part was whether he would let it go to his head and hoard everything or whether he would operate on the basis of grace and gratitude and give from what he gained for the Lord. Why did he give ten per cent? It was a good round number, which is all that can be said about it. It seemed to be a standard in the ancient world.

5)  Are there parallels in the ancient world? Yes, there are. There is an example from Ugarit of a royal land grant from the king, along with its tithe, its custom duties and gifts. In other words, there is a certain monetary income that is going to come with this piece of property and part of that income is designated as a tithe. From this we see that the way the word "tithe" is used in the ancient world was similar to a tax, and it was a ten per cent tax. There is another example which comes from about 1500 BC, some 600 years after Abraham. We do know is that the normative cultural practice from all these surrounding cultures was to give ten per cent taxes. Tithing cannot be used as a synonym for giving. In the ancient world it had to do with taxation. The word "tithes" or "tithing" are only found about four times in the Gospels, and every time they are Jesus is talking about how the Pharisees are applying the Old Testament tithe laws in a legalistic manner.

6)  There wasn't one tithe under the Old Testament system, there were three. In Numbers 18:21-24 there is a tithe for all Jewish citizens, believer and unbeliever, totally unrelated to anything spiritual. What we have to recognize is that in the Levitical law it was a constitution, a contract between God and Israel. Nobody else was required to follow any of these laws. If you were a Gentile believer it did not apply because you were not a party in the contract. Three mandated tithes were given, two of which were every year. There was ten per cent that went to the support of the Levites. The administration of the kingdom was done through the priests and the prophets. A second ten per cent tithe for all Jewish citizens helped to take care of the cost of sacrifices and other aspects of the temple. This is outlined in Deuteronomy 14:22-24. Again, it is related to the Mosaic covenant and the support of the sanctuary in Jerusalem. It has nothing to do with today. Every third year Israel required the payment of another tithe designed to support the widows and the orphans. In conclusion, the tithe as it was used in the Pentateuch and all throughout the major and minor prophets all relates to the function of the bureaucracy in Israel.