Kingdom Presence: Old Testament (4)
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. Genesis 14.18-20
“No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.” Genesis 17.5-7
God reigns over the nations;
God sits on His holy throne.
The princes of the people have gathered together,
The people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
He is greatly exalted. Psalm 47.8, 9
No king but God
Abraham had some experience of earthly kingdoms, 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 his faith, a test which he failed. Abram feared for his life before the king of Egypt; so, to secure his own wellbeing, he jeopardized his wife’s purity. For this he was soundly rebuked by Pharaoh and sent packing back to Canaan. The embarrassment of this incident must have stung deeply.
Shortly after that, four kings and their armies came marauding through Abram’s neighborhood, 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. He understood himself to be a servant of the one true King and, thus, of His Kingdom on earth.
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 and sent 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, the King Most High.
We note that Melchizedek—whom most commentators understand to have been a pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ—addressed Abram as “Possessor of heaven and earth”. This phrase refers to Abram, not God (cf. Rom. 4.13). This is clear from the parallel structure of verses 19 and 20, in which first Abram is blessed and described, then God is blessed and described. Melchizedek acknowledged that Abram was heir of the earth and heaven, and his calling was to bring heaven’s presence to the world.
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. God had made and sealed His covenant with Abram, promising that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed. In Genesis 17 God made it clear that Abram must learn to think about those covenant promises more broadly than simply his immediate family. He 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 those kings, as part of God’s covenant, would be 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.
Genesis 22 would prove both the depths of Abraham’s trust and the reliability of God’s promises.
Twice more, for emphasis
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 spoke to this pagan king, revealing Abraham’s 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 within 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.
We can believe that this incident affected how Abraham envisioned those kings and nations, descending from him, who would learn to possess earth and heaven in submission to the King of righteousness and peace. Hopefully, it will help to shape our view of the Kingdom presence as well.
1. The promises made to Abraham are for all who believe as he did (Rom. 4.13-17). How do the promises made to Abraham fit into our calling to seek the Kingdom and glory of God?
2. How does the promise that Abraham would be “possessor of heaven and earth” or “heir of the world” relate to you and your Personal Mission Field?
3. What can you do to bring more Kingdom presence into your life?
Next steps—Conversation: Do you think Christians today believe the Kingdom of God should have any impact on the kingdoms of this world? Ask a few of your Christian friends.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study.