This life altering, or altar-like, experience of Abraham’s seals and settles his priorities. In this instance his approach was much like our own altar-focused commitments, in that he did not build a literal altar.
As we continue to look into the eight altars in the pilgrimage of Abraham, we come to the intriguing story of Genesis 14. It would sound exciting to entitle this “When Pagan Kings go to War,” but we would be a long way from the point of the story. As a result of these conflicts, Abram’s nephew Lot is abducted from Sodom along with all of his possessions. Why is he living there anyway…? After receiving this news, Abram takes 318 of his trained men from his household and rescues Lot. (Who counted them, and how many more were there?)
After this victory, Abram was approached by two kings, and his response to them was very different. When approached by the pagan King of Sodom, whose name means “burnt” or “scorched,” Abram adamantly refused his terms. He was willing for Abram to keep all the spoils from his victory, but the king wanted to maintain rule over all the people. One version says, he wanted the “souls” of the people. We can see Abram beginning to set priorities. You will remember Sodom as the city destined for devastating, divine judgment.
We still have not reached the mysterious climax of this altar-commitment! Abram was also approached by Melchizedek, the King of Salem. The name Melchizedek means “King of Righteousness,” and Salem is an early name for Jerusalem, meaning “peace” and “wholeness.” He was described as a King Priest of the Most High God. Knowing that God had not yet instituted the structure of the priesthood, we ask ourselves, “Where did this guy come from?” Knowledge of the Scripture would suggest two options. He is either a type of the coming Messiah, or he is a theophany, an Old Testament appearance of Christ. No matter how we view it, there must be multiple ramifications and implications to both prophecy and the present! When he came to Abram, Melchizedek did not wield instruments of war, instead he brought out bread and wine and began to bless Abram! (vv18-20)
Compared to these actual encounters, our application to an altar may seem anti-climactic. But it was these experiences that prompted Abram to seal and settle his priorities for the remainder of his journey. His response was to worship, through communion with Melchizedek, and then to dedicate himself by committing his resources to the King.