Abraham returned from the war against the kings, bringing back a great deal of booty.
The speaker in verse 20 is Melchizedek, and the "he" who gave Him tithes refers to Abraham, as Hebrews 7 clearly states. This occurred around 430 years prior to the making of the Old Covenant. Tithing is not stated here as a law but is introduced into the flow of the story of the Bible as an already ongoing practice, which Abraham already knew. How did Abraham know to give ten percent?
How did Abraham know God's laws, which were formally written 430 years later? By God's own testimony, Abraham kept them and was faithful (Genesis 26:5). There are two possible answers.
First, in James 2:23, Abraham is called "the friend of God," indicating a close relationship. He is the only one in the Book who is called God's friend. In John 15:14, Jesus said to the apostles, "You are My friends. And, do you know what? Because you are My friends, I am going to tell you what I am going to do."
God told Abraham His laws! God says Abraham heard and obeyed in Genesis 26:5. How did he know about tithing? God told him about it. Abraham was God's friend, and God wanted Abraham to act righteously. Because God did not want his life to be a mess, He instructed him in His way, His laws, and commandments!
Secondly, God told Adam and Eve His laws, being their Father. What kind of Parent would He be if He sent them out into life without instruction? That is a parent's responsibility, and God instructed His children.
Consider Genesis 4, in which Cain and Abel made their sacrifices. How did Cain and Abel know what to sacrifice? Did it just pop into their minds? Adam and Eve, who had walked with God in the Garden, told Cain and Abel what the appropriate sacrifices were. When the time came to sacrifice, Abel was obedient, while Cain was not. In Romans 4:15, Paul said that where there is no law there is no transgression. God spoke harshly to Cain, and pronounced a curse on him. If Cain did not know better, then God would have been unjust in His punishment.
Abraham knew God required tithes. If we follow tithing through the Bible, it does not even appear as a law until the book of Leviticus and Numbers 18 for the priesthood.
Next, Jesus Christ commands tithing in Matthew 23:23. Our Lord and Savior was in favor of tithing. He should be, because He gave it at the beginning. He told Abraham about it. He assigned it to the Levitical priesthood. Then, by very strong implication in Hebrews 7, tithing is assigned to the church. There has never been any deviation. Tithing has always been God's manner of financing His educational service.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 19)
This exchange with Melchizedek, right before the Passover evening, occurred on the heels of Abram returning victorious from a fight against multiple kings and their armies. Protection and deliverance from enemies are conclusive themes in the biblical use of the title, “Most High.”
Christians should consider this in relation to their enemies. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that our fight is not with the peoplearrayed against us, but with the principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, and spiritual hosts of wickedness. These are the enemies who sow division within the church, who encourage offense to be given and taken, who fan the rumor mill, who stir the pot of circumstances, who work in the background to distract God's people from what truly matters.
The fiery darts of the wicked one fly and find their marks on any whose armor is deficient. These principalities often try to convince God's people that they are not good enough, that they are not worthy. They hold up sins as evidence, trying to blackmail Christians into giving up.
The Most High, though, blesses us with protection, if we ask for it. He blesses us with forgiveness, if we ask for it. Is there any righteous work God will not perform or any good thing He will not provide for His people?
Another enemy is the one we all face within: the carnal man, the old man, the flesh. This part of us will probably never completely die until we are incorruptible spirit beings, but we can hold it at bay through God's strength. All of our human efforts and setting of our wills would be useless without the Most High giving the victory.
In Romans 7, after Paul bewails the continual struggle he finds within himself, he asks, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (verse 24). He answers his own question: “I thank God—[He will deliver me] through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (verse 25). Once again, we see Christ, the Lamb, being provided as a blessing from the Most High as a means of deliverance.
The last enemy is death (I Corinthians 15:26). It will not be overcome until everything else has been overcome, and this does not happen until the resurrection from the dead. Our resurrection—our victory over death—is possible because our Captain went before us and blazed the trail (Hebrews 2:10). He is called the firstborn from the dead, showing that others will likewise rise from the dead. Thus, we see the Most High providing the life, death, and resurrection of His Son as a blessing to us so that we can follow in His footsteps, and even have the great enemy, death, delivered into our hands.
David C. Grabbe
Passover of the Most High God
Melchizedek seems to appear out of nowhere, without any warning. Aside from a prophecy in the Psalms, this is the sole reference to Him until the book of Hebrews. Not only is this the Bible's first appearance of Melchizedek, but it is also the first time that a priest is mentioned. Furthermore, despite Melchizedek being called a priest, the text makes no mention of sacrifices—understandable since, as the One who would later be called Jesus Christ, He had no need for propitiation to come before God on another's behalf.
Notice also that the priest approaches the man on behalf of God, and not the other way around. This illustrates that God initiates the relationship and not man (John 6:44). It is impossible for man to worship God properly without His involvement first. We see Melchizedek bringing bread and wine, the symbols of the New Testament Passover, rather than a lamb and bitter herbs that were used in the Passover in Egypt. (As an aside, “bread” here is a general term in Hebrew, referring to either leavened or unleavened bread.)
This is also the first time God's title of “Most High” is used. It is used four times in this section on the eve of this Passover. Understanding how and where this divine title is used will help us realize how much of a blessing the Passover is to us.
Both Melchizedek and Abram tack on the description, “the possessor of heaven and earth.” We should consider the nature and the character of that “Possessor.” A landlord may possess a piece of property yet not care a whit about the tenants so long as the rent is paid. This, however, is not the way the Most High feels about His possessions. It is apparent from the rest of the Book that His ownership includes more care and concern for His possessions than we can fathom. His governance in the affairs of men springs from His will and purpose, which, despite human failure to understand them, can be described only as good.
Melchizedek ties the title “possessor of heaven and earth” with the fact that He delivered Abraham's enemies into his hand, showing just how interested the Most High God is in the affairs of men. He is interested enough that He will show Himself strong on behalf of His people and will judge the unrighteous. Without exception, whenever “Most High” is used in Scripture, God is shown blessing His people with whatever is needed for His perfect will to be accomplished, whether that blessing is of knowledge, physical provision, or especially defense and deliverance from enemies. He blesses His people with His perfect personal involvement.
The New Testament records a striking example of this. In Luke 1, the angel tells Mary that her Son will be called “the Son of the Highest,” the New Testament equivalent of “the Son of the Most High.” It is the same title. Just a few verses later, the angel tells Mary that this would take place because “the power of the Highest”—or the power of the Most High God—“would overshadow” her.
Again, we see God's people being blessed with His involvement in order to bring His perfect will to pass. In this case, His blessing includes the supernatural conception of the Son of God, which, as God promised Abraham, will end up being a blessing to all of mankind (Genesis 12:3). This sort of implication is made whenever the title, “the Most High,” is used.
David C. Grabbe
Passover of the Most High God
Notice that Melchizedek was king of Salem. That is the city of Jerusalem. "Salem" comes from the Hebrew word meaning "peace." That would make Melchizedek the "King of Peace" (Hebrews 7:2). The Hebrew name Melchizedek itself means "King of Righteousness" (Hebrews 7:2). The same individual is mentioned in Psalm 110:4. Speaking prophetically of Christ, David stated: "The Eternal hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." This verse is quoted again in Hebrews 5:6, 10.
Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986)
The Mystery of Melchizedek Solved!
Jacob must have been taught about tithing by his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac. Genesis 14 succinctly reveals several principles of tithing. First, the tithe goes to God through His representative, the priest. Second, the Bible repeats that it is one-tenth. Third, this law was in effect long before God commanded it through Moses. Fourth, Abram, blessed for his faithfulness to God, gave tithes in recognition of God's rulership and providence.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Melchizedek (Christ) offers bread and wine to Abram. Working back from the events of Genesis 15, the understanding of "the selfsame day" of Exodus 12:41 and Christ's institution of the bread and wine during His final Passover, this likely occurred at the beginning of the 14th, perhaps even at twilight.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Countdown to Pentecost 2001
Abraham is the father of the faithful. He is a type of God the Father; Isaac was a type of the Son, Jesus Christ. Humanly, he is the head of the family—of those who are loved by God, who love God, and are obedient to Him.
Abraham is the patriarch. He is the leader and elder. He is the primary example among men. Considering the way God speaks about him, there has been nobody on earth as great as Abraham, except for Jesus Christ. What an example we have here!
If we are Christ's, we are Abraham's seed and no other's (Galatians 3:29). Because we are Abraham's children, we are heirs according to the promise.
In Abraham, we are looking at one of the prime examples in all of mankind. In Genesis 26:5, the promise is repeated to Isaac, and God says to him, "Because that Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws." That covers everything, does it not? Consider this in reference to Genesis 18. This is God speaking:
Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him [meaning "by experience I know him"], that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He has spoken to him. (Genesis 18:18-19)
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Nineteen)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 14:20: