It would be a serious mistake to take the position that because God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and into the land of Canaan in order there to establish His covenant with him, Abram, Sarai, and Lot were the only believers in the whole land of Canaan.
The whole land was given over to idolatry. It contained some desperately wicked cities such as Sodom and Gomorrah. But there were dwelling within it also devout children of God. How many we do not know. But that they were there is evident not only from Genesis 14:13, where we read of men who were confederate with Abram, but also from Genesis 14:18 where we read of Melchizedek king of Salem and priest of the most high God. We may be sure that Abram would not be confederate with unbelievers. He, who would not buy or fight for one square inch of the land, because God promised to give it all to him, would not do anything but that which is recorded of him in Hebrews 11, namely, live as a pilgrim and stranger. And that means that he lived according to the principle of the psalmist in Psalm 119 when he declares, “I am a companion of those that fear thee.” Abram did not join himself to the ungodly of the land.
Melchizedek is another matter. He is literally called priest of the most high God, and is mentioned again in; Hebrews 7. In this chapter he is called the better who blessed the lesser, namely, Abram. And all this after Abram had returned victoriously from his battle with the four kings of the north and east who had taken Lot captive together with the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. He, Melchizedek, lived thirty and more miles from Sodom and Gomorrah. For he was king of Salem. And today we know that city with the addition to it that makes it Jeru-salem. To him Abram gave tithes of all that which he had taken from the four kings that was beyond the possessions of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The attack upon these cities together with three others was due to the fact that they rebelled against the four kings from the north and east. Although they had come from far—as far as the place where the tower of Babel had been partially erected, and Ur of the Chaldees from whence Abram had been called—they had direct connection with these inhabitants of the five cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim and Zoar.
This is a rather interesting item to note. Although after the confusion of speech Ham’s descendants had moved away from the plain of Shinar and gone to Canaan and down into Egypt and Africa, all connection between them and Shem’s descendants who remained in the area where the tower of Babel was built was not broken off and ended. It may quickly be added, however, that it was not a friendly relationship. But those of Shem’s descendants who had come out of Mesopotamia to attack the descendants of Ham in Canaan had sought to lord it over Ham’s descendants. They subjected them to taxation for twelve years. This was not, however, a fulfillment of Noah’s prophecy that Canaan’s children would be servants unto their brethren. The explanation of this subjection may perhaps be found in the fact that-between Sodom and Gomorrah and the Gulf of Aqaba there were rather rich copper mines which were under the control of these five cities. And the envious, and at that time superior, forces of the descendants of Shem subjected these peoples and taxed them to get a share of the wealth that was mined out of the earth. It is the old story of greed. And the effect of the confusion of speech is here in that no friendly relation exists, but one of bitterness, which manifests itself in rebellion on the part of the descendants of Ham and a campaign of war on. the part of Shem’s descendants to punish those who rebelled.
Abram, for the sake of Lot, his spiritual brother and physical nephew, went to fight these four kings of the north and east and restored to Sodom and Gomorrah the inhabitants with their goods, including Lot.
A gift from the king of Sodom Abram refused, lest he should boast that he had made Abram rich. But a blessing he did receive from Melchizedek. Now Melchizedek stands here on the pages of Holy Writ as an unique figure. And if we are of the opinion that God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and brought him into Canaan “to preserve the true religion,” we had better revise our thinking. For here is a priest of God in the land of Canaan who was king over a city that undoubtedly feared God. He was certainly not a lone figure that believed in God and was priest of the most high God. A priest serves people and sacrifices and prays for them.
And why should we think this to be strange? At a much later date we also find a Jethro in Midian who is a priest of God. Even in the days when deacons were appointed to insure the support of the Grecian widows in the early New Testament church there is an Ethiopian eunuch who had come all the way to Jerusalem to worship; and, if you please, he had a copy of the prophecy of Isaiah in a day when the Word of God was precious and men did not have the scrolls of the Old Testament books in their homes as we have Bibles today. Then even before this there was the Queen of Sheba, who came to Solomon to enquire concerning things spiritual as well as material of his reign.
But the striking thing is that Melchizedek is called “better,” and Abram in Hebrews 7 is called the “lesser.” Melchizedek appears very briefly in this account; he is mentioned almost in passing. And yet in Hebrews 7 he occupies a position higher than Abram. We read, “Consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And verily they that are the sons of Levi who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.” Hebrews 7:4-7.
Now the idea is not at all that Melchizedek individually and personally was of superior spiritual strength over Abram. The word “better” in the text does mean stronger, more powerful and better in that sense. But it must not be applied to Melchizedek personally, as though he outshone Abram in spiritual strength. Nor does it mean that those who are in office in the church of God today are naturally superior in spiritual strength and faith. They should be men of faith. They should walk a strong life of faith. But the mere fact that they are in office does not make them superior. You may find some very strong women, for example, who are never in the office in the church, whose faith is unusually great. These women according to God’s ordinance will never serve in any office in the church; and yet they shine in the congregation as brilliant lights, manifesting tremendously strong faith.
In his office of being priest of the most high God and King of Salem Melchizedek was above and over and better than Abram. Abram also recognized this fact and therefore gave him tithes of what he had captured from the four kings who had attacked Sodom and Gomorrah. Abram was conscious of the fact that he owed Melchizedek tithes of all that which he had gotten. It was not a gift to this priest-king. It was an obligation which he had to fulfill.
And consider once that Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, and not after the order of Aaron who came out of the loins of Abram. That is why we read of Melchizedek that he was without father and mother. This refers to his office and means that, he obtained his office as priest without consideration of who were his father and his mother He certainly had an earthly father and mother. Only Adam and Eve had no such earthly parents. Even Jesus had an earthly mother. But Melchizedek’s priestly office was his even though he was not—and how could he be?—of the seed of Levi, the son of Jacob whose descendants became the priests after Israel’s sojourn at Mt. Sinai. Neither Melchizedek nor Jesus came out of the loins of Levi. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah concerning which God gave no commandment about serving in the priesthood. He was in the line of the kings of Israel. Melchizedek, born years before, yea, generations before Levi ever appeared on the scene, before Abraham begot Isaac and Isaac begot Jacob and Jacob begot Levi, was priest of the most high God. And this means that he sacrificed and offered up sacrifices to God for his people in Salem.
It is a mistake to think that only after Mt. Sinai did the Israelites begin to sacrifice burnt offerings to God and have a priesthood to do this. God taught man in paradise already to come before His face with a sacrifice. Adam taught this to his sons, and that is why we find Cain and Abel sacrificing to God, Abel by faith and in the God-ordained way of coming with the life of an animal, Cain in unbelief with the fruit of his garden. We read of Noah using the clean animals to sacrifice to God after the flood. Of Abram it is recorded that when he came into the land of Canaan he built an altar unto God, and that is the same as to say that he sacrificed burnt offering unto God. And so it is not strange to find Melchidezek at this point of history as a priest who sacrifices for His people and is priest of the most high God.
Being priest he also blesses Abram. This is part of the work and duty of a priest, and certainly is an important part of Christ as our only High Priest. Because the priest was the one who brought the atoning sacrifice (only typically, of course) that spoke of the blotting out of sin, he was also the one through whom God would speak the blessing of salvation and of His covenant. The priest after the order of Aaron and from the line of Levi would not only receive the sacrificial animal and slay it and offer it up. In the name of God he would also bless the one who brought that sacrifice and assure him that his sins were blotted out and that God’s blessing rested on him. And when Abram brought tithes to Melchizedek, he, in the name of the God Whom he represented, pronounced God’s blessing upon Abram for this work which he had accomplished of rescuing Lot.
And then Melchizedek fades into the background again while Abram stands forth on the foreground. He was the “better” in his office. But he was not the one in whose seed God would establish his covenant. In that respect Abram was the greater and the better. And Abram became the father of all believers. To Abram this was a rare privilege even as Abram. We have repeatedly spelled his name that way because he does not become Abraham until Isaac is born. Then he begins to be the father of many nations. Up to this point he is childless. But he is not without a rich and wonderful promise which God will soon begin to fulfill. And it is while he is still Abram that Melchizedek is presented as the “better” that blesses him in the name of God