First of all, let me say that this is an historical document. In the first eleven verses, it is recorded that the kings of the east defeat the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. For quite a few years, the critical, radical scholars rejected this, saying that these men’s names do not appear in secular history at all and that this is a rather ridiculous story. But did you know that the names of these kings have been found on monuments and tablets, showing that they did exist? In fact, Amraphel is now known to be the Hammurabi of other secular history. The record that we have here is tremendously significant.
Thirteen years before the main events of this chapter, Chedorlaomer, king of Elam (Persia), had conquered various kings in the plains adjacent to the Dead (Salt) Sea. In the thirteenth year, the five captive kings rebelled against Chedorlaomer. So he allied himself with three other kings from the region of Babylon, marched south along the eastern side of the Dead Sea, then north on the western side to Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain. The battle took place in the Valley of Siddim, which was full of asphalt pits. The invaders defeated the rebels and marched north with their booty and captives—including Lot, Abram’s backslidden nephew.
When Abram received the news, he assembled a fighting force of three hundred and eighteen trained men and pursued the victors to Dan, in the north. This is startling, and it reveals something of the extent of Abram’s possessions. This gives you some conception of the number of servants Abram had. In his own household, he could arm 318. How many did he have that he could not arm? For instance, there would also be women and children and the old folk—but he could arm 318. To have that many hired hands indicates that Abram was carrying on quite a business of raising cattle and sheep.
He finally defeated them near Damascus, in Syria, and rescued Lot and all the spoils. Backsliders bring not only misery on themselves but trouble on others. Here Abram delivered Lot by the sword. Later he delivers him through intercessory prayer (chaps. 18, 19).
As Abram was returning home, the king of Sodom went out to meet him, just as Satan often tempts the believer after a great spiritual victory. But Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High, was on hand with bread and wine to strengthen Abram. I know why Melchizedek does this. It is because the Scriptures say, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). Melchizedek is anticipating the death of Christ here!
We cannot read this first mention of bread and wine without thinking of these symbols of our Savior’s passion. When we consider the price He paid to save us from sin, we are strengthened to resist every sinful temptation.
Names in Scripture have meanings. Melchizedek means king of righteousness and Salem means peace. So he was king of righteousness and king of peace. He is a symbol of Christ, true King of righteousness and peace, and our Great High Priest. When it says in Hebrews 7:3 that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life,” this is to be understood only in connection with his priesthood. Most priests inherited their office and served for a limited tenure. But the priesthood of Melchizedek was unique in that, as far as the record is concerned, it wasn’t passed on to him from his parents, and it did not have a beginning or an end. Christ’s priesthood is “according to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:17). It is also interesting that Melchizedek combines the roles of KING and HIGH PRIEST. In the history of Israel, the kings were from the tribe of Judah, and the priests from the tribe of Levi. However, in Jesus Christ we see that He is BOTH “King of Kings” AND “Our Great High Priest”.
Melchizedek blessed Abram, and Abram in turn gave to this priest of God a tithe of all his captured prizes. In Hebrews 7:1-10 we learn that there was a deep spiritual significance to these actions. Because Abram was the progenitor of Aaron, he is seen as representing the Aaronic priesthood. The fact that Melchizedek blessed Abram means that Melchizedek’s priesthood is greater than Aaron’s, because the one who blesses is superior to the one who is blessed. The fact that Abram paid tithes to Melchizedek is seen as a picture of the Aaronic priesthood acknowledging the superiority of Melchizedek’s priesthood, because the lesser pays tithes to the greater.
The king of Sodom said, in effect, “Give me the persons; you take the material things.” This is the temptation. According to the Code of Hammurabi of that day, this man Abram had a perfect right to the booty and even to the persons. But the king of Sodom is clever; he says, “Give us the persons, and you take the booty—it’s yours.” That was a temptation to Abram. Forever after, when anybody would say, “That man Abram is certainly a wealthy man. God has blessed him,” The king of Sodom would have said, “Blessed him, my foot! God didn’t bless him. I gave it to him; I’m the one who made him rich!” Abram knew that.
So Satan still tempts us to be occupied with toys of dust while people around us are perishing. Abram replied that he wouldn’t take anything from a thread to a sandal strap. Abram is still under the influence and the blessing of Melchizedek, and it is a good thing he met Melchizedek first. God always prepares us for any temptation that comes to us. He says that He will never let any temptation come to us that we are not able to bear (see 1 Cor. 10:13). God had prepared Abram for this one.