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. (Gen 14:18–20)

In the previous study we saw how God made Abraham, Isaac and Jacob rich people: he blessed them materially as well as spiritually. We finished by looking at the vow Jacob made to God in Gen 28: 20–2. However, as our opening text shows, Jacob's vow to give God a tenth of his income is not the first reference to tithing in the Bible.

Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham) had just returned from defeating four kings and their armies and from rescuing his nephew Lot, whom they had taken captive (Gen 14:1–16). When he returned, Melchizedek brought out bread and wine for him. He then blessed Abram, who gave him a tenth of everything—ie a tenth of the plunder.

Abram's victory had been achieved with the help of God. He and the men of his household had defeated four kings and their armies. Those four kings had previously defeated five other kings, but Abram defeated them with only 318 men.

That was a miracle and was typical of how God helped his people in the Old Testament. V20 says: '…blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.' It was God who had delivered his enemies to him, and Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything God had given him from that victory.

Mysterious Melchizedek

At this point we should ask ourselves who Melchizedek was. There are two schools of thought on the subject.

Some believe he was a pre-incarnate manifestation of Jesus Christ (Jesus appearing on earth prior to his birth at Bethlehem), and others believe he was a Canaanite priest-king who worshipped the true God. Let's look at the evidence.

So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, 'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.' And he says in another place, 'You are a priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.' (Heb 5:5–6)

Gen 14:18 tells us that Melchizedek was priest of God Most High, and Heb 5:6 tells us that Jesus is a priest for ever in the order (or rank) of Melchizedek. That would suggest that Melchizedek and Jesus are different people and that they are both priests for ever. The following verse would confirm that view:

Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he [Melchizedek] remains a priest for ever. (Heb 7:3)

The Greek word translated 'like' is usually used to compare two different people. If Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate manifestation of Jesus, then why does the Bible compare him to the Son of God as if he was a different person?

However, Gen 14:18 tells us that Melchizedek was the king of Salem and Heb 7:2 says that 'king of Salem' means 'king of peace'. One of our Lord's titles is the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6). Some would argue that a prince is not a king, but still a prince is a king in waiting.

Jesus said:

'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.' (Joh 14:27)

I cannot accept that Melchizedek is the King of Peace and Jesus is only the Prince of Peace. I personally believe that Jesus Christ is both King and Prince of Peace.

Heb 7:2 says that the name 'Melchizedek' means 'king of righteousness' and Jeremiah tells us that Jesus will be known as 'The Lord our Righteousness' (Jer 23:5–6). Since the fall, only one perfectly righteous man has walked this earth, and that man was Jesus Christ. It certainly wasn't a Canaanite king.

And finally, Melchizedek could not have been mortal because Heb 7:3 says that he had no father or mother. Only God is eternal, without beginning of days or end of life, so despite the difficulty of the wording in Heb 5 & 7, I believe that Melchizedek must have been a manifestation of Jesus Christ; he could not have been anyone else.

Abraham and Jesus

If that is true, then Abraham met Jesus 1,900 years before Jesus was born. And what did he bring with him? He brought bread and wine, the symbols of his sacrifice on the cross. 'This is my body that will be broken for you, Abram. This is my blood that will be shed for you.'

Paul's letter to the Galatians tells us that the gospel was announced in advance to Abraham when he was told that all nations would be blessed through him (Gal 3:8). The gospel was also announced in advance to him when the King of Righteousness brought him bread and wine.

The Bible doesn't tell us, but I'm sure they would have eaten together, just as Jesus ate with his disciples before his crucifixion.

A tenth

Going back to Gen 14:20, Abram gave Jesus (Melchizedek) a tenth of what God had given him and, 150 years later, Jacob vowed to give to God a tenth of everything God would give him.

Why do you think they did this? Historians say that the giving of a tenth of the produce of the land and of the spoils of war to priests and kings was an ancient tradition among nations. So were these men merely copying the practices of the nations around them? I don't think so. I believe Abram and Jacob tithed to God because they were inspired to do so by his Spirit.

Michael Graham
September 2005
Revised April 2019

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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