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 that God blessed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob materially as well as spiritually, and that Jacob vowed to give back to God a tenth of all that he would give him (Gen 28: 20–2). However, his vow to give God a tenth 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 this 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 king-priest who worshipped the true God. Let's look at the evidence.

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). We can have peace with God only through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1).

Heb 7:2 also says that the name 'Melchizedek' means 'king of righteousness', and Jeremiah tells us that Jesus would be known as 'The Lord our Righteousness Saviour' (Jer 23:5–6). Since the fall, only one perfectly righteous man has walked upon 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 immortal, without beginning of days or end of life. So I believe Melchizedek must have been a manifestation of Jesus Christ, he couldn't have been anyone else.

Abraham and Jesus

If that is true, then Abraham met Jesus 1,900 years before he was born. And what did he bring with him? 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). It 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

Returning to Gen 14:20, Abram gave Jesus (Melchizedek) a tenth of what God had given him, and 150 years later Jacob vowed to give God a tenth of everything he 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 was Abram merely copying the practices of the nations around him? I don't think so. I believe Abram and Jacob tithed to God because they were led to do so by the Holy Spirit.

Michael Graham
September 2005
Revised September 2020

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

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