I’ve always heard Abraham portrayed as living in a tent, as if he were a poor nomad. While it is true about the tent, the picture of him given in the Torah is far from someone on a never-ending Boy Scout camp out. Bereshis 13:5 says, “Lot, who went with Avram, also had flocks and herds and tents, 6 so that the land could not support them staying together; for their possessions were so great that they could not remain together. 7 And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Avram’s cattle and those of Lot’s cattle. — The Canaanites and Perizzites were then dwelling in the land.” Between Abraham and his nephew, they had so many possessions; the land could not support the two of them together, so they separated. It is interesting that the Torah says the Canaanites and Perizzites were dwelling in the land. It does not say it was their land, implying that the land belongs to whom God gives it, not to who occupies it. Even though Avram let his nephew have part of the land, it would always belong to the Children of Israel because when God gives an inheritance, it can’t be given away. Israel’s promises from God are sure, because it is God who gives them.
As the story goes, Avram makes a magnanimous gesture, which was part of the culture to do, and gives Lot the choice of what part of the land he would like, and being the selfless person Lot was, he took the greenest, richest part of the land for himself. 13:11-13 say, “So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they parted from each other; 12 Avram remained in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the Plain, pitching his tents near Sodom. 13 Now the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked sinners against the Lord.” Avram had to feel like he had been had. His nephew just took the richest part of what was promised to him. It proves the old adage, “Success is relative; the more success, the more relatives.” Yet it is at that time that the Lord reaffirms his covenant with Avram and that all the land he sees is his, no matter what Lot did. He may have seemingly been left shorthanded, but the reality was, God gave it to Avram and his descendants forever. It could not be given away or taken away. 13:14-17 says, “14 And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had parted from him, “Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west, 15 for I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, then your offspring too can be counted. 17 Up, walk about the land, through its length and its breadth, for I give it to you.”
Later in the parsha, we read that the land of Sodom and Gomorrah are taken into captivity because their kings didn’t want to pay tribute to stronger kings. Avram, living in Mamre, entered into an alliance with his neighbors and takes back Lot, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah from their conquerors. What has to be appreciated here is the fact that Avram had 318 male servants of warrior age, who were born into his household. Do the math. Avram had more male servants at his disposal to go to war than most of us have congregants. If you figure they had wives, and children, it could be well over 1000 people who were Avram’s servants. Not only this, but Avram’s 318, plus the armed servants of his allies, made it possible for them to overtake the kings who carried lot into captivity and defeat them; freeing the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Avram was no righteous man alone in the desert in his tent. He was the head of a large community.
The parsha tells us that after the battle, Avram has two encounters with the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and with another king. In 14:17-20 it says, “17 When he returned from defeating Chedorlaomer and the kings with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh, which is the Valley of the King. 18 And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him, saying,
“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20 And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your foes into your hand.”
And [Abram] gave him a tenth of everything.”
You get the feeling that Avram slighted the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. When Avram turns to the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, his response to them is different from his response to Melchizedek. They offer him the riches, but want the people back. They had just been rescued by Avram and his allies and were in no position to offer him anything. Avram refuses to take anything from them. The Torah says Avram did not want them to say they made Avram rich. This is strange. Avram was already rich without them. Avram had no problem taking many gifts of wealth from Pharaoh when he was in Egypt. Why would he not take from the kings of the plain? In the case of Pharaoh, it was because of the offense to Sarai’s honor. In the case of the King of Sodom, it was because of their great sinfulness which was shown in the king’s offering Avram something he already had. If anything, the king owed Avram and his allies tribute. Avram was not willing to benefit from them.
King Melchizedek comes out with bread and wine, makes Kiddush, and blesses Avram. We are not told anything about this mysterious king. No genealogy is given, no birth or death, yet Avram recognizes his authority as a priest of God Most High. Rabbinic literature speculates that he was Shem, the son of Noach, and the father of all Semites, hence the head of the family. It’s possible from the ages of Shem and Avram. The real question is how does Melchizedek relate to Yeshua, since he is likened to Yeshua in the Besorah? In Hebrews 5:6 it says, “As He also says in another place: “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.” According to some people, Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate appearance of Yeshua, but that is not what the text says. Hebrews is quoting from Psalm 110:4 illustratively to make its own point. Just as Melchizedek appears in the Torah without father or mother, without beginning or end, with a priesthood that was not based on genealogy, so in an ultimate sense, here is Yeshua, our Great Kohen Gadol, whose priesthood was without parentage, and without beginning or end. Melchizedek was a picture or illustration of what Yeshua actually is; a High Priest whose priesthood was not based on inheritance, but on whom he was, and forever.
Avram recognizes Melchizedek as a righteous High Priest and gives him a tithe of all he has. He recognizes that the One whom Melchizedek represents is greater than he.