Altar and Throne
Text: Genesis 14
Proposition: Jesus Christ is both Priest and King, our covenant and tithe proclaim this truth.
Introduction: There’s a phrase that describes how God created the earth, it’s the term Ex Nihlo, it literally means ‘out of nothing’. Strangely enough that seems to be a familiar way for God to also work in our day to day lives. It seems that He shows up in ‘nothing’ kind of moments, times that don’t seem to have a spiritual tone to them at all. It’s times when God teaches us more about Himself, invites to grow in our faith and worship. Maybe for you it was when He taught you about honesty with a grocery clerk who miscalculated your change, maybe it was how you responded on the phone to the Telemarketer, maybe it was in the words of your children as they spoke a wisdom greater than what they possessed. They were ‘out of nothing’ kind of moments when you least expected God to speak. Genesis 14 is like that, if I can call a battle between 9 kings an ‘out of nothing’ kind of event. As we read this chapter there’s a lot going on but only three verses are what really catch my eye. Turn with me to Genesis 14.
I. The Background Is the ‘Nothing’ That God Uses to Create Glory.
You’ve seen how painters often begin but covering the whole canvas with various tones and colors that will eventually support what it is that they really want to portray. The first 17 verses of this chapter are a ‘wash’ like that. They describe this conflict that arises between kings and their people in the southern parts of Israel that are attacked by a coalition of kings from Persia and Babylon. It is a dispute over who is top dog, who is going to rule and exert taxes. It really had nothing to do with Abram and likely he would not have even become involved with this had not Lot been caught up as a captive.
Kings are killed, peoples’ lives are upturned, lands and houses destroyed and crops plundered. There is defeat and ruin for some and victory and excess for others. Foolishness and greed and sin had attacked other foolishness, greed and wickedness and the fallout from a historians’ point of view was monumental. But let me submit to you that it was the ‘wash’ upon which the main characters were about to be painted. It’s not that God is indifferent to suffering, it’s that ‘nothing’ can often look like it’s the subject of my life when in fact God is using it as a ‘wash’ to set before me what He really wants to make known. If Lot had not been taken prisoner Abram would not have entered into this situation. With 318 men Abram sets out to defeat four kings who have just gone undefeated through seven major battles. He splits his forces into two groups, attacks by night and routes and defeats this massive force. That too is part of the ‘wash’, even great victory isn’t the point that God seeks to make. It isn’t that the background is unimportant, it’s not, it’s absolutely crucial to what occurs next, but it’s not the main point. Have a look at the three most important verses of this chapter, verses 18-20.
II. Melchizedek and Abram, A Response to Altar and Throne.
When you first hear the name of Melchizedek, this king from Salem, we think little of it until we hear it mentioned again by David hundreds of years later in Psalm 110, “The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet… The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (vs1,4). Then in the book of Hebrews there’s an entire chapter spent on describing Melchizedek. Hebrews 7:3 says this about Melchizedek “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.” Earlier in Hebrews 6:20 it says, “where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” So clearly this Melchizedek is an incredible figure and there is all kinds of discussion as to who he might be. The early Rabbi’s say that it is Shem, the son of Noah, some translators say it is a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ, still others hold this was a man whom God used to establish a pattern for what Jesus would one day complete and fulfill. If we were to take this last view and consider the passage of Genesis in a literal way we see two things that are evident regarding Melchizedek; 1. He was the king of Salem, likely Jerusalem. 2. He was priest to God Most High. This King-Priest meets Abram in the Valley of Shaveh, near Jerusalem it was we would call today the Kidron valley. The very name Melchizedek means ‘King of Righteousness’, he reigns over Salem, a word that means Peace. What the terms King and Priest refer to are the merging of political leadership with spiritual leadership. The terms we are more familiar with are church and state and they are considered to be separate areas of jurisdiction. This Priest King brings to Abram bread and wine, he blesses Abram in the name of God Most High and Abram gives tithe, a tenth of all the gain to Melchizedek. The Jewish Rabbi’s have often thought that there would be two Messiahs, the messiah of the kingdom office they would name Meshiach ben David, or Son of David. The messiah of the priestly office they would name Meshiach ben Joseph, Son of Joseph. They never thought that one person would be both and yet that is exactly what Melchizedek was meant to establish. What was begun in him would one day be fulfilled by Jesus Christ. The first coming of Jesus Christ as the Messiah was as the Priest, Son of Joseph, to intercede before God on man’s behalf with the sacrifice of His own blood. His second coming will be as King, Son of David, to establish the fullness of the kingdom of God, even the royal line of Judah. First came the Altar, then comes the Throne. In Exodus 19:5 God says, 'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' It became a quote that Peter used as he wrote to the church many years later in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…”. Now we too are to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
When Abram first met this King Priest called Melchizadek, his response was to take the bread and wine and be refreshed by them. It was to give a tithe of all that he had gained as a tribute to God through this Priestly King. These two figures of Abram and Melchizedek are the center of the painting we call Genesis 14. In them we begin to see what God has done for us in Christ. We begin to see that our response to Altar and Throne is covenant and tithe. What is key is that I acknowledge Jesus as He who intercedes for me as my High Priest through bread and cup and I honor Him as my King by the gesture giving. The widows’ mite that Jesus witnessed in the Temple that one day spoke about the faith that underlay her magnificent sacrifice.
In Genesis 14 God whispers to us through the person of Melchizadek that one day a much greater King will come, bread and wine He too will use and the covenant response to Him will have everlasting effect. The tithe to His church proclaims the freedom He secured by our rescue as He sets us free, no longer in Sodom but now in the everlasting Jerusalem. Righteousness brings us to a place of lasting Peace in Christ. This is the center piece on the canvas, all else is the wash, the background.