When Abraham returned from his rescue mission to free his nephew Lot along with many others from the foreign invaders, he was visited by the king of Sodom. It was from the king of Sodom that Abraham refused the wealth that he was offered in payment for Abraham’s rescue of this king’s citizens.
Melchizedek - A Cameo from an Unknown King
On that same occasion, Abraham was also visited by another local king. This man’s name was Melchizedek, called also the “King of Salem.” This king was not one of those whom Abraham had rescued. In fact, we do not know much at all about this king. Added to our lack of information about this historical figure are the words of the New Testament writer of the book of Hebrews who says of Melchizedek that he was “Without father or mother or genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life” (Hebrews 7:3).
Without explaining much of Melchizedek’s background or even why he would come out to meet Abraham, this “King of Salem” brought with him bread and wine in order to bring blessing to Abraham, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
In turn, Abraham pays homage to Melchizedek by giving him a tenth of everything. The text given to us does not indicate exactly what “everything” is, but it seems not to be the spoils from the battle, since Abraham refused to become enriched by the property of the pagan kings. Whether then it was one tenth of his entire wealth, neither do we know that. Nevertheless, to whatever this is referring, it was a significant amount.
This account of Melchizedek coming to meet and to bless Abraham, and Abraham paying him reverence, is the single time that the King of Salem makes an appearance in the historical account of the Bible. His limited exposure to the pages of the Bible only adds to the mysterious nature of the man.
“What About Those Who Have Never Heard?”
Nevertheless, there is one additional piece of information in the account in Genesis about this king. This fact about him is perhaps the most important of all. We do also learn that Melchizedek was “priest of God Most High.”
Of course this was well before the priesthood that would eventually come from the priestly line of Levi even existed. The presence of the priest Melchizedek before the days of the formal priesthood was established in Israel demonstrates to us that even apart from what we have today as the historical account in the Bible, God was active with the other nations of this area as well.
God never leaves himself without representation. God has always sent his prophets and his witness to all who would be willing to hear—in this case even to the Canaanite people who had received the curse placed upon them as far back as the days of Noah. It is the same for every other nation as well. In one way or another, God has given His testimony to every person.
It is difficult for us to know how to reconcile the fact that the Bible teaches that salvation comes through Jesus Christ, but at the same time knowing there are so many millions of people who have never heard even the name of Jesus Christ.
“What about those people who have never had the chance to hear the gospel?” we ask.
There is much that we do not know, both about the historical record and even in the present. But the presence of Melchizedek among the people of the land of Canaan demonstrates the fact to us that God is active in ways that have not been revealed to us. Our understanding of what God is doing is severely limited by our own narrow experience and exposure to events.
But we must know and understand that God has always been completely just, and in the day of judgment, he will be completely just with every person of creation. It is as the prophet Daniel declared, “For the LORD our God is righteous in all He does” (Daniel 9:14).
Do not accept the contention or the line of reasoning that some people never have had the opportunity to respond to God.
There is so much unwritten history of the ancient world that we are wrong in assuming that God was active only in the little corner of Abraham’s world, and active only with the people whom we read about in the Bible. One future day, when God reveals all of history to us, we will see that the words that the Apostle Paul spoke to the people of Athens to be true:
God made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth. He determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands and intended that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being.
In the past, God let nations go their own way, yet he did not leave himself without a witness. He sends rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. (Acts 17:26-28; 14:16-17)
Also, as Peter began to associate with those outside his bubble of Jewish people, he also came to understand that God was active speaking to other nations as well.
When Peter was in the home of the Gentile Cornelius, the man said to him, “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this, the ninth hour. Suddenly a man in radiant clothing stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been remembered before God. Therefore send to Joppa for Simon, who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, by the sea.’”
Cornelius continued, “So I sent for you immediately, and you were kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has instructed you to tell us.”
This Gentile Cornelius, without knowing about the gospel and the message of God, was praying. To whom was he praying? We are not told specifically, but it certainly was not a pagan idol. Cornelius was a seeker. He was looking for the Truth. In whatever way his prayer was constructed and whatever manner he addressed God; he was seeking the One True God. As a result of his seeking, he was instructed how he could learn of this God.
Peter answered him; “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism, but welcomes those from every nation who fear Him and do what is right” (Acts 10:30-35 BSB).
If a person is sincere and honest in his or her search for the True God and will not settle for empty tradition or for heresy, God will provide the means for that person to hear the truth and to respond to it.
Paul also writes on this quite extensively in the first chapters of the book of Romans, part of which reads: “For what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20 BSB).
There Will Be No Excuses
“Without excuse.” That is the phrase that will resonate on the Day of Judgment. Today, with what we consider our great wisdom, we can come up with many reasons why we believe God is acting unfairly. We see all of the inequities of the world: the inequities of finances and social standing, inequities of race and of opportunity and ability, we see some who have had an easy life and those who have had to struggle their entire lives, and we ask, “Where is God’s justice in all of this?”
But in that Day when we stand before the God of all creation, all of our earthly wisdom will fall to the ground like the dead reasonings that they are. They are empty excuses; they are delusions; they are lies.
Again I quote Paul when he says, “Let God be true, though every man be found a liar. As it is written: ‘So that [God] may be proved right when [He] speaks, and victorious when He judges” (Romans 3:4)
The Faith of Abraham
After rescuing his nephew Lot and the five kings, Abraham returned home. One would think that after a successful rescue mission and a blessing from the priest of the God Most High, Abraham would be feeling enthusiastic about life. But this was not the case. Instead, Abraham seems to have fallen into somewhat of a despondent mood.
Actually, a feeling of despondency after the completion of any major project in life is not unusual. In fact, it is even understandable. It is one of the reasons that soldiers have a debriefing after returning from an overseas deployment, or missionaries have a debriefing after returning from the field. The task was completed, but after it is no longer part of one’s life, an inner emptiness occurs. Even parents may feel this way after their last child leaves the home. The mom and dad are now “empty nesters.” They may indeed have a sense of relief and accomplishment on seeing their youngest leave, perhaps mixed with some regrets, but most of all, they also have the questions about what is next.
Abraham had rescued his nephew Lot plus five kingdoms from foreign invaders. He next withstood the temptation to personally profit from his victory. But now after all of that, he is left thinking that none of this actually brought him any closer to the true desire of his heart.
God steps in to bring encouragement. “Do not be afraid, Abram,” the Lord said to him in a vision. “I am your shield, your very great reward.”
For Abraham, having God tell him that he was Abraham’s great reward perhaps was encouraging, but it still did not address the patriarch’s deepest desire.
“O Lord GOD,” Abraham answered, “What can You give me, since I remain childless…behold, You have given me no offspring, so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
“This one will not be your heir,” God replied to Abraham. “But one who comes from your own body will be your heir.”
Then the Lord took him outside and said, “Now look to the heavens and count the stars, if you are able.” Then God told him, “So shall your offspring be.”
The verse following this one tells us that Abraham believed what God had told him, and because of that belief that Abraham possessed in what God had said, God looked upon him as being “righteousness.”
“Abraham believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
To believe the word of the Lord is a demonstration of a righteous life. It is a statement that is quoted by two of the New Testament writers, Paul and James. It is the great truth of the gospel of grace taught to us by Jesus Christ.
The Covenant with Abraham
God then continued to speak to Abraham, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.”
Abraham’s response to this last statement of God seems almost a denial of the righteousness that he had just expressed. Abram replied, “Lord God, how can I know that I will possess it?”
It was as if Abraham’s earlier expression of confidence showed that he believed God in regards to his promise of offspring, but when it came to the promise of the land, Abraham’s faith seemed to falter: “Lord God, how can I know?”
It is here that we see the importance of the sealing of the covenant. What follows is the account of what God did to give Abraham the confidence that what the Lord had promised would come to pass. In our own day and culture, it may seem a very curious act, but to Abraham it held great significance. More importantly, it held great significance to God.
The Blood of the Covenant
The Lord said to Abraham, “Bring Me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, along with a turtledove and a young pigeon.”
This Abraham did, slaughtering them and then splitting each carcass down the middle—all except for the turtledove and pigeon. Then, presumably according to the instructions of God, he laid them in two rows, the halves of each opposite one another. Some birds of prey sensed the smell of the blood of the dead animals and descended upon them. Abraham kept vigilant, and drove them all away.
The Act of the Covenant
Then as the sun was setting, Abraham fell into a deep sleep. Suddenly in his sleep he was overwhelmed with a sense of “great terror and darkness.” As he was in this state of terror, the Lord spoke to him the following words:
Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will judge the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will depart with many possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a ripe old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:13-16 BSB).
Then, when the sun had fully set beyond the horizon and complete darkness had engulfed the land, a very strange thing occurred. What is described to us as “smoking firepot and a flaming torch” next appeared and passed between the halves of the carcasses.
This “smoking firepot and a flaming torch” was not two separate articles, but a singular portable oven of the type that was used in the tents and homes for some heat on a cold night. Guesses vary widely as to exactly what the smoke and fire symbolized, but the most important significance is that they in some way represented the presence of God, passing between the sacrificed animals.
The Words of the Covenant
From the words spoken while Abraham slept in terror, he knew that mistreatment and enslavement were in store for his descendants, but from the words of the covenant that the Lord now spoke after passing through the bloody carcasses of the sacrificed animals, Abraham could be assured that the ultimate promise of the land remained.
The Lord spoke the words of the covenant: “To your descendants I have given this land—from the river of Egypt to the great River Euphrates.”
God then goes on to list all of the nations that were at that time occupying those lands—ten of them in total. Keep in mind that when speaking of “nations,” we are not to think of them in the same sense as we usually think of nations today, that is, as being large land areas. These ten nations existed in very close proximity to one another, and were in fact, the very lands among which Abraham had settled. With little doubt, they were also some of the very kingdoms that he had just rescued.
The Iniquity of the Amorites
If we consider together these two accounts of these chapters, first the rescue of the kings of the land, and then the covenant by God that promises these same lands to the descendants of Abraham, does it all seem a bit strange? Why does God have Abraham rescue the nations and bring them back to their lands, yet moments later promise those same lands to Abraham’s descendants?
The answer to this apparent conflict lies in God’s own words. At the time of Abraham’s sojourning in those lands, “The iniquity of the Amorites was not yet complete.”
The Amorites were only one of the ten nations whose lands God had promised to Abraham’s descendants, but they were the leading tribe of the area. Their nation is singled out as a representation of the entire region. When speaking of the “iniquity of the Amorite,” we can understand it as the iniquity of all the nations listed.
Despite the work of God in reaching out to these people, the iniquity of the ten nations was deteriorating. This work included the presence among them Melchizedek the priest of the Most High God, but it certainly was not limited to only that. In many ways, God continued to send his testimony to these people, but he could see that they were not on the path to return to him.
Nevertheless, God would give them more time, even though he could see that it would be a lost cause. The fact is, God gave most of those nations hundreds of years more to respond to his testimony.
Why did God struggle with them so long?
It has to do with what we talked about earlier—the justice of God. It has to do with the words of Paul that I also quoted earlier, that in that final day when the works of their lives will be judged, they will be “without excuse.”
They will not be able to say, “If only we would have had more time to mend our ways…”
Even now their iniquities were great, but God would yet give them several centuries as nations before bringing their kingdoms to an end. But for at least two of these, their iniquities were even at that time great enough to merit destruction. Those cites of Sodom and Gomorrah very were soon to experience the righteous judgment of God.
The Iniquity of Our Own Nation
This is Christmas week. Whether or not it is the actual time of the year when Jesus was born, it is the time that we celebrate his coming to live among us. Many of the lessons that we have been studying in the Bible over the past few Sundays actually lead up to and even find their fulfillment in the birth of Christ.
This fact is especially seen in the sacrifices and the covenants. These may have been given as testimonies to the people of Abraham’s day, but they are even given as lessons to us. And like the nations that we have seen in today’s Scripture, we are also seeing the rise of iniquity in our own society. Events and activities that were shocking to us a few years ago, now hardly make the evening news.
Nearly every Sunday we pray in our church for our nation. We pray for revival and we pray for a growing sensitivity of our people to hear the Word of the Lord. God is patient, but his patience will not last forever.
But any nation merely is the sum of the people who live there. It is not an inanimate “nation” that must respond to God, but millions of individuals. Among those individuals of course are you and me. Each of us must also examine how our lives need to change.
To again quote the Apostle Paul, “Do not be deceived: God is not to be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in return. The one who sows to please his flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; but the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life (Galatians 6:7-8 BSB).
This Christmas is already unlike any that we have ever known. There will be less special Christmas events to attend, less time maneuvering through the Christmas shopping crowds. Probably most of us will have more time for contemplation than at other Christmas’s. For those quiet moments that you may have, I would like to suggest something for your times of meditation.
Psalm 111:2 reads like this: “Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them.”
And Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted over the earth.”
For your own meditation, perhaps you would like to add to that verse, “God will also be exalted in my life.”
 Romans 4:22; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23