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 – 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, the King Most High.
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. Abram must learn to think about God’s covenant and 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 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.
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 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.
What vision was Abraham beginning to “see” concerning earthly kings and their kingdoms, an the eternal and most High King?
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.