Who’s your source?

April 29, 2023

Building People of Substance for Works of Power

And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And 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.” And he gave him a tithe of all. Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.” But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’—except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”

Genesis 14:17-24 NKJV

The argument that tithing is not for us today usually begins with something like, “Tithing’s not for the Church. Tithing was under the Law.” They rightly note that tithing was included in the Law of Moses. They make the point that Christ redeemed us from the Law, and we are no longer bound by its requirements. True. However, there are lots of things in the Law that existed before Sinai and continued after Calvary. Think, for instance, of restrictions on idolatry and homicide. Let’s hang on to those. In that vein, let’s ask, “Is there any evidence of tithing prior to Moses?” The answer is “Yes.”

The word “tithe, ” or tenth is recorded in three episodes prior to the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. When God includes a story, or uses specific terminology in telling a story, we should ask, “What was God trying to teach us by including this?” and “What would the people of that day have understood from this story?” In the Ancient Near East of Abraham’s day, bringing tribute to a sovereign was common. In many of those cultures, that tribute is described as “a tenth.” For most, the king was believed to be the representative of deity, or even an actual god. Why did the Lord include these stories in the history of His redemptive plan? Let’s look at the first one and see if we can figure it out.

Genesis 14:14-24 contains the first mention of a tithe, or a tenth part. It’s also the first use of El Elyon to refer to Yahweh. The first reference to a Bible subject often contains hints of the nature and purposes of that subject. As we study and meditate on it, we begin to see threads of meaning that will connect to form a tapestry as the narrative proceeds. The First Testament is not so much a history as it is a series of meditations pointing us to spiritual reality. So what strands do we see in this episode?

Abram was returning from a God-given victory over a superior force, and bringing with him the spoils. He is met by the King of Salem who also served as Priest of El Elyon, the Most High God. This character, Melchizedek, has no other hint of who he is or where he came from. He speaks blessing over Abraham and gives credit for his victory to El Elyon. This is a direct announcement that this God is above all gods. He has granted Abram victory, and He is the Possessor of heaven and earth! We find out in verse 22 that this God Most High has a name: Yahweh.

When Abram gives a tenth to the priest of the Most High he is not just borrowing a common practice from the Canaanites around him. He is making a clear declaration of Yahweh’s pre-eminence over all the Canaanite deities. Everyone present, pagan or Yahweh worshipper, would have understood the significance: this tithe was given as tribute to the God of Abram, God Most High, who personally defeated the other gods involved and delivered their captives. Yahweh is the God above all gods.

Melchizedek is a bit of a mystery. We don’t know any details of his identity. We do know that he was both a king and a priest, and that he worshipped El Elyon. He apparently has received his office directly from the Most High God, as at that time there was no “official” priesthood as there will be under the Law. Unlike the later Levitical priesthood, he didn’t receive his office because of his family lines. In fact, he apparently wasn’t even in the lineage of Abram, but was a ruler of some kind in Canaan.

The covenant overtones are hard to miss. Melchizedek brought bread and wine. He spoke blessing to the Sovereign (El Elyon) and blessing to the subject (Abram). In his conversation with the King of Sodom, Abram made it a point to raise his hand to Yahweh and make an oath before Him, emphasizing to the king that Yahweh was responsible for his recent deliverance. These are all actions familiar to his audience. He is a servant of this Yahweh, The Possessor of heaven and earth, and sees himself as having a covenant relationship in the area of provision. Abram is literally proclaiming the Name of the Lord.

Here’s the Point:

In this first use of the term “tithes,” God is introducing us to a wealth of information and making some bold statements to the people of Canaan and their pagan deities:

  • Yahweh is God Most High. This is not lost on the Canaanite kings who understand the significance of presenting a tithe to the representative of deity. This God has just demonstrated that HE is Most High!
  • The tithe is offered in tribute to the God who brought the victory.
  • The tithe is presented to the priest of the Most High God. This thread runs from here, through the era of the Law, into the earthly ministry of Jesus, and finally to the throne of grace.
  • Melchizedek is specifically identified as both a king and a priest. This is significant in that the two offices will be separated under the Mosaic Law, then reunited in Christ at His resurrection. He is King of Kings and our priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:9-10)
  • The tithe is connected to covenant. The first covenant-style statements were made to Abram in chapter 12. Now, in conjunction with the giving of tithes, we see the bread and the wine, the speaking of blessings, and the lifting of the hand in declaration of fealty.
  • The tithe makes a statement about our source. I am in covenant with Yahweh. I bring Him the tenth, I lift my hand to Him, and He is my shield and exceeding great reward:

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

Genesis 15:1 NKJV

It is certainly no coincidence that Chapter 15 begins with the words, “After these things.” The covenant theme continues with a visual encounter with “the word of Yahweh.” The covenant ritual is enacted and the promises are expanded and codified. Abram lifted his hand, Yahweh extended His. That covenant is still in force today, and we are parties to it. With my tithe, I choose my source.

Pastor Virgil

3141 W. Ironwood Hill Dr.

Tucson, AZ 85741


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