Kingdom Civics

Abraham: The Barest Glimpse

Abraham had some experience of earthly kings, and it wasn’t all that great.

Kingdom Visionaries (2)

“No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” Genesis 17.5-7

No king but God

Abraham had some experience of earthly kings, and it wasn’t all that great. Shortly after his appearing in Canaan, two episodes involving earthly kings must have colored Abraham’s view of such people in something of a negative light.

In Genesis 12 Abraham – then, Abram – fled to Egypt to escape a famine, an event God had sent to test and strengthen Abram’s faith, but a test which he failed. Abram feared for his life before the king of Egypt, and, to secure his own wellbeing, jeopardized his wife’s purity. For this he was soundly rebuked by Pharaoh and sent packing back to Canaan. The embarrassment caused from this incident must have stung deeply.

Shortly after that, four kings and their armies came marauding through the land, defeating five local rulers and, in the process, carrying off Abram’s nephew, Lot. It took a bold rapid-strike effort on Abram’s part to gain back both Lot and all the spoil captured from the local rulers.

When the defeated kings wanted to settle-up with Abram, he would have nothing of it. He insisted that God only was his King, and he would not allow himself to be put in the position of being beholden to or appearing to have been enriched by anyone other than Him (Gen. 14.17-24). Abram must have reflected that earthly kings can be a greedy, self-indulgent lot.

At the same time, Abram acknowledged the legitimacy of an earthly king who was a priest of God and ruler of a kingdom of peace. Melchizedek, whose name means “King of Righteousness”, was the ruler of Salem – which means “Peace.” He was also a priest of God Most High, the same God Who had made such precious and very great promises to Abram, inducing Him to seek the Lord in the land of Canaan (Gen. 12.1-3; cf. 2 Pet. 1.4). To Melchizedek Abram gave a tithe of everything he had taken from the marauding kings, but only after Melchizedek had blessed him in the name of God Most High. Abram’s tithe to this mysterious earthly king was a way of honoring both Melchizedek’s stature and rule, and of betokening his continuing commitment to know the promises and blessings of God.

A vision of kings to come

When God appeared again to Abram in Genesis 17, it was for the express purpose of enlarging the patriarch’s understanding of the divine purpose. Abraham must learn to think about God’s covenant and promises more broadly than simply his immediate family. Abram would become the father of “a multitude of nations.” Thus he was to be called Abraham, rather than Abram, from this point forward.

Over those nations kings would be set, kings perhaps like Melchizedek, who ruled in righteousness and peace, and were dispensers and administrators of divine blessing according the covenant promises of God. Abraham knew something of what it meant to enjoy the promises of God, to see an earthly kingdom administered by one who was divinely appointed and had divine approval. Thus, the prospect of becoming the father of perhaps many such kings must have further added to Abraham’s determination to seek the promises of God according to whatever God required of him at the moment.

We can only wonder how Abraham must have contemplated this further development of his covenant relationship with God, what it portended, and how the promises he had come to believe and seek at one level were now to be greatly enlarged, both geographically and historically.

One additional pair of incidents must have reinforced Abraham’s growing sense of what God intended to do through him. In Genesis 20 Abraham repeated his mistake with Pharaoh before the pagan king, Abimelech. He explained his duplicity by saying that he didn’t think the fear of God had reached this place, and so he feared for his own life.

But God had spoken to this pagan king, revealing Abraham’s true identity and warning him not to harm this man or his wife, since he was a prophet. This time, instead of merely fleeing back to Canaan with his tail between his legs, Abraham blessed Abimelech in the name of the Lord (v. 17) and brought restoration and healing to his kingdom.

This was followed in Genesis 21 by the same Abimelech coming to Abraham, acknowledging his greatness and the fact of his friendship with God (v. 22), and seeking defense from God’s power in a covenant with Abraham! What a strange and wonderful turn of events! The same king Abraham had feared, then blessed and restored, now came to Abraham, fearing the God in Whose Name he had been blessed and restored, and seeking friendship and protection from the one who had dispensed the blessings of the Lord.

A vision enlarged?

Was Abraham’s vision of what God had promised enriched and enlarged by these events? Could he see, through the corridors of history, earthly kings seeking the blessing of God in the context of His covenant, coming to know restoration and healing in their kingdoms through those who are friends of God, and living at peace with, and on the terms of, those who possessed the promises of God?

We do not know, of course. But surely Abraham, thinking about his own relationship with earthly kings, and reflecting on God’s promise and the events which followed his change of name, must have considered that God intended the earth to include nations ruled by kings who knew the blessings of God, who entered into covenant relationship with Him and sought His promises and protection, and who would become dispensers of those same promises to the people in their charge.

But precisely how this would come to pass, and what wonders God would accomplish along the way – none of this was made clear to Abraham. He trusted in what he had heard from God and seen in his experience, and this was enough for him to continue seeking the promises of God in his day.

This also must be our own commitment in ours.

 Consider:

  1. Review the promises God made to Abraham in Genesis 12.1-3. Can you find all six of them? Summarize these in your own words. Why are they so “precious and very great” (2 Pet. 1.4)?
  2. How do you think Abraham’s view of earthly kings changed from Genesis 12 to Genesis 21? Should Abraham’s view of kings have any affect on how we think about earthly rulers?
  3. How can you see that Melchizedek was a “type” – or real person who foreshadowed or pointed to a later work of God – of the Lord Jesus Christ? In what sense is Jesus King of Kings?

T. M. Moore

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore