17¶ And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale. 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. 19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: 20 And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
In verse 10 the king of Sodom fell along with the king of Gomorrah. But this second king, which I mentioned earlier, met Abram as he returned with the people and goods that he rescued from the invading kings. The word slaughter is used here underscoring the complete and utter destruction of the invading forces. Certainly, back in those kingdoms they would have realized that they needed to send a larger army to subdue their former tribute ‘cities’ in Canaan but then, the most important of these cities are about to be destroyed by God, which we will learn in a few chapters.
Melchizedek, king and priest (remember what I said before about ancient kings) of the most high God, rather than one of the minor deities, gods, or demons of the Canaanite cities, blesses Abram publicly as God’s man doing God’s work belonging to God. He does this in the name of the God who owns all things. He also acknowledges that it was God who delivered Abram’s enemies into his hand. Abram gave him a tithe or a tenth of what he had taken.
In Psalm 110, a prophecy of Christ who is to come, the psalmist speaks of Melchizedek as a special priest of God of which the Messiah to come will be.
Psalm 110:4 The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
Paul quotes and alludes to this in his argument in the Book of Hebrews in chapter 5, 6, & 7 to point out how Christ was of the order of Melchisedec. Here is Melchizedek, in a world that has moved away from the worship of God the Creator to worship of the devils of paganism, a high priest and king who still holds onto the worship of the true God. Here is a king and a priest who is true and faithful to God and is honored as such. Christ is our king and our high priest, offering up Himself as a righteous sacrifice to God, yet king over all as well.
Paul recognizes the authority of this righteous king of Salem in a special way in his letter to the early church, predominantly Jewish. Read Hebrews, chapter 7. Paul uses this typology, or similitude (Hebrews 7:15) to explain to the Hebrews that Christ is God, having neither beginning or ending, neither mother or father, without descent, God in the flesh (Hebrews 7:3). This would be important to reinforce to a people whose belief system was rooted in the temporal existence, blessings, and judgments of an earthly life, some who may have seen Christ in the flesh. They needed the reassurance that Christ was who He said He was and Paul pinned this to an historic personage they all understood. Paul’s argument is clever, subtle, and very deep and certainly a lengthy treatise can be written on it, but not here. It is not necessary and even dangerous to assert that Melchizedek was himself immortal or that he was Christ as God only came one time in the form and flesh of a man. Unless you are arguing that Melchizedek was an angel, or appearance, of God, which the text does not say, do not contradict the Bible, as Christ was the only begotten Son which refers to Him as God born in the flesh, not Alexander the Great who claimed to be the son of God or the emperor Augustus who signed his orders in that way or many of the other various leaders who claimed that honor.
Here is also mention of a tithe, or tenth, given to God through His high priest. This is a custom and it is also found under the Law given to Moses. This rule or custom is not found in the New Testament passages given to we Gentile Christians. Once a great many of the church were driven from Jerusalem by persecution they met in people’s homes in small groups and the only indication we have of collections taken up were special ones for the physical needs of their own widows and fatherless and the needs of other churches suffering want for various reasons. Pastors often use the tithe as a way of forcing their congregations back under the Law and making the less fortunate members of their church feel guilty. Certainly, one of the most prominent arguments that people, even believers, have against attending modern churches is their constantly placing a collection plate under their noses. Were churches to stop this practice and simply place a box in the rear of the church for voluntary donations, not forcing people already living on credit to feel like parasites, perhaps attendance to hear God’s word would go up. But, conservative churches are often run on an early twentieth century business model rather than the Bible so it is not likely that such a thing will happen.