The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eschol and Mamre; let them take their share.” Gen. 14:21-24
This is a fascinating passage. To get the full picture we must remember the scene laid out in the previous verses: Abram defeats several armies with just 318 men by attacking them at night; the king of Sodom, who apparently survived falling into the tar pits (v. 10) comes to the King’s Valley to meet Abram, and Melchizedek, king of Salem and a priest of God Most High shows up with bread and wine and blesses both Abram and God, crediting God with Abram’s victory. This backdrop which begins to form an interesting dynamic between these individuals.
We see two people – the king of Sodom, and Abram – standing before this priest Melchizedek. By what is said and done in this passage of scripture, we can see who has allegiance to whom, and get a glimpse of earthly valuation versus Godly valuation in terms of worthiness. This is laid out in such a way that we can see it unfold.
First, we see Melchizedek blessing God and acknowledging that God delivered Abram’s enemies into his hand (v. 20). Next we see Abram, without saying a word, giving a “tenth of all” to Melchizedek (v.20). Now bear in mind that: A) many scholars say this is referring to the spoils of the war, which may well be true, but we also know that Abram already owned much, and was given even more by Pharaoh not long ago when he went to Egypt; so it may be that Abram gave much more than just the spoils of the war; and B) by virtue of Melchizedek being a priest of God, by Abram giving to Melchizedek he was actually giving to God, just as later under Levitical law those who brought their tithes and offerings for the priests were giving to God.
Seeing this act of giving and not willing to be upstaged, the king of Sodom declares “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself'” (v. 21) But the king of Sodom has a fundamental misunderstanding of what is taking place in Abram’s giving; Abram isn’t merely giving to Melchizedek, but ultimately to God. So both Melchizedek and Abram give God the credit He deserves, but the king of Sodom decides he should give to Abram. This may make sense on a human level as the king of Sodom sees Abram as the person who saved him and his people, but the fact that Melchizedek and Abram just both gave God the credit for this victory, now we see the heart of the king of Sodom begin to emerge. For at this point he was forced to decide whether his giving should be to God or merely to another human.
Who knows how the story of Sodom and Gomorrah may have turned out if this encounter had ended with the king of Sodom choosing to give instead to God. For we know the men of Sodom were wicked (Gen. 13:13) and the final fate that they face in Genesis 19.
And so Abram rejects this offering from the king of Sodom, as 1) he is not acknowledging Abram’s God; and 2) Abram is ensuring that no one can attribute his greatness and possessions in any way to his helping the king of Sodom (v. 22-23) as Abram swore beforehand to God – possibly before he even went to war.
It is interesting to note that Abram did accept possessions from Pharaoh, which I wrote about in my posting “A Word on Pharaoh”, which may indicate that Pharaoh was not truly the wicked man we make him out to be, whereas we are specifically told the men of Sodom were “wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD.” (Gen. 13:13)
In is also worth noting that Abram did not impose his own spiritual convictions concerning giving and taking upon those who helped him in battle (Aner, Eschol and Mamre) as he said “let them take their share.” (v. 24) Mamre himself was an Amorite, one of the peoples defeated by Chedorlaomer’s armies.