Jesus Plus Nothing Bible Studies
Book of Romans: Chapter 4 P1 - Abraham, Melchizedek and the paths of God

by Fraser Gordon
 

In Romans chapter 4 Paul is giving us examples of “justification by faith” and he draws upon the Jewish believers. There were two main people in the Jewish faith, one was Abraham and one was David and Paul is going to use both of these men as examples of what it means to be declared righteous. Is it according to what they had done or is it according to faith? Even in the Old Testament if faith was directed toward God people were declared righteous. So when we get into chapter 4, Paul's example is actually Abraham. Let's have a look.

Romans 4:1-3 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?* (2) For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. (3) For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."

The whole topic here is righteousness. Paul is saying that Abraham has found righteousness, but it is not according to works, it is according to faith. He has found righteousness or a right standing before God, not according to anything that he had done of himself, but by simply believing in God; that God was able to do something for him that he actually couldn't do for himself. So this passage that he quotes from here is from Genesis 15 v 3. We will have a look at the context of this because it is vital.

Back to the story in Genesis

Genesis 15:1-6 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." (2) But Abram said, "Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" (3) Then Abram said, "Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!" (4) And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir." (5) Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." (6) And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

If you go back to the start of Genesis 15 it says “after these things”. I want to talk about what happens prior to this because before Abraham was declared righteous he actually meets the King of righteousness. He meets a person that has an influence on him, and I believe that these two passages are connected. So the context of Romans 4 is actually back in Genesis 12. God had called Abraham when he was 75 years' old to come out from his land to go to an entirely new land that God was going to give him. God was going to make of him a great nation and God was going to bless him. There is a famine that happens and Abraham being the servant of God goes down to Egypt. You have a lot of lapses, even though he is a great man of faith. Just like all the rest of the saints, there are times when he fails to show faith toward God. Whenever he goes down to Egypt trouble always comes. This time he is afraid because his wife is beautiful and God has to rescue him because he lies to Pharaoh about her, saying that she is his sister. God had to deliver both of them from this situation. When he came out of Egypt he brought Lot with him and there is further trouble between the herdsmen. They had such a multitude of livestock that these herdsmen; some belonging to Lot and some to Abraham, started to quarrel over the land.

So Abraham said to Lot “If you go to the left, I will go to the right. You take first pick.” Lot chose the good fertile plains but they bordered the land of Sodom; he chose what he thought was going to be good for himself. Abraham actually allowed God to choose his lot or his portion. God had said to him “I am giving you all of this land”. In the process of time there is a Persian king called Chedorlaomer who comes down and battles against the king of Sodom and the other kings, and the result is that Lot is taken captive. All of Sodom's goods get taken plus Lot his wife and all of his goods because he had chosen to live there. So a servant takes off over to Abraham to inform him and Abraham gathers an army of 300 men together and they go at night and rescue Lot and all his people.

Beware the rewards from the king of Sodom

Genesis 14:15-17,21 He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. (16) So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people. (17) And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him..Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself."

So Abraham has obtained this great victory. He has gone and rescued all of Lot's servants and the king’s entire bootee and defeated them all. When you get to verse 17 you are introduced to the first person who comes to Abraham returning from victory; and sometimes that is when we are most vulnerable, when we have had a victory or on a high from a victory in the Lord. The first person to meet Abraham after his victory is the king of Sodom. Whenever you hear the word Sodom in the Bible, what is it a picture of? Sin, worldly living and God's judgment because of the perverse way people were living. He rained down fire and brimstone in this instance. So Sodom is always a picture of the world, wickedness, wrong living and sin.

The little picture that you have here is one of the king of the world, the king of Sodom coming out to Abraham and he is saying “Look, take the spoil, you deserve it, take some of the goods, take all I have to offer you, you just take it, you have won this great victory!.Just give me the people back that you rescued.” So it is a picture of the king of the world offering Abraham, the servant of God, to take some of the credit or take something of the world. We will look at his response later. But there is another person coming to meet him in verse 18.

Genesis 14:18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High.

Here you are introduced to Melchizedek, ‘and he was king of Salem’, and Salem was later named Jerusalem, so he is the king of Jerusalem. So there are two kings or two ways before Abraham, coming to meet him at the crossroads. Melchizedek is a really unusual character in the Bible, He is really only mentioned here, in Psalm 110 and in Hebrews7. Hebrews probably draws out more about this character than any other place in the Bible. I do not want to get into whether he is a pre Christ figure coming in the flesh before he took on humanity as I am unsure. However, he was a very unique person because he was both king and priest and Christ is of the order of this man, Melchizedek.

Hebrews 7:1-3 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, (2) to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated "king of righteousness," and then also king of Salem, meaning "king of peace," (3) without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.

It says that we don't know anything about his genealogy and we don't know about his mother or his father but he is both a king and a priest; as is Christ. Notice that it says here that his name means “king of righteousness and king of peace” and it is always in that order. It is always righteousness first and peace follows after righteousness. When the righteous standard was met by the Lord Jesus Christ peace flowed to all men according to that righteousness being met. So it is always a right standing with God, or righteousness first and then the peace of God flows from that. Interestingly, the priesthood descended from the tribe of Levi. Christ descended from the tribe of Judah and no one could be a priest who didn’t come from Levi. But He is a priest because he is after the order of Melchizedek. This man, Melchizedek, came before Levi was even in existence. This man pre-dates all of the existing priesthood and Christ is after the order of this man, not after the order of Levi. So he remains a priest forever.

The meeting of the paths

Proverbs 8:1-2 Does not wisdom cry out, And understanding lift up her voice? (2) She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, Beside the way, where the paths meet.

Now there is always a meeting of the paths. Abraham is returning from a victory that day and the first one to come to meet him is the king of Sodom. What Proverbs is saying here is that wisdom, or the truths of God are beside where the paths meet. There is always a meeting of the paths. When the world cries out to us to “take some of this, take some credit, take some bootee you deserve it”. Wisdom is always there, at the same meeting place crying out for its own wisdom in the situation.

Proverbs 8:3-11 She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, At the entrance of the doors: (4) "To you, O men, I call, And my voice is to the sons of men. (5) O you simple ones, understand prudence, And you fools, be of an understanding heart. (6) Listen, for I will speak of excellent things, And from the opening of my lips will come right things; (7) For my mouth will speak truth; Wickedness is an abomination to my lips. (8) All the words of my mouth are with righteousness; Nothing crooked or perverse is in them. (9) They are all plain to him who understands, And right to those who find knowledge. (10) Receive my instruction, and not silver, And knowledge rather than choice gold; (11) For wisdom is better than rubies, And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her.

The king of Sodom comes out and offers you all that the world has got because of a victory that you have just had in God, at the meeting of the paths there is always the word of wisdom. This is pictured in Melchizedek because he comes at exactly the same time, when God's servant is under attack from the king of Sodom. Now it is not an outward attack, it is not a battle, but it is a deceptive attack. The King of Sodom is saying “I want you to take part in the gains of Sodom”, and Melchizedek is like the voice of wisdom that cries out where the paths meet.

So go back to Genesis chapter 14 and we will have a little look at how this played out. No sooner had the king of Sodom come out that Melchizedek also arrived on the scene and what did he bring with him? Bread and wine. And what does the bread and wine speak of? It speaks of communion. It speaks of that deep fellowship by which we are to come unto God and it also speaks of refreshment. Melchizedek also thought about their needs, as they had just come back from a battle. So he refreshes them and sustains their earthly bodies. Notice that Melchizedek didn't go out to meet Abraham when he was going out to battle but he came when the king of Sodom came with his lures. Melchizedek came out, at the time of deception. He came with the voice of reason and the voice of wisdom and the voice of God.

Genesis 14:19-20 And he blessed him and said: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; (20) And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." And he gave him a tithe of all.

He reminds him of who God is. God is the possessor of heaven and earth. It is God who holds all things in His hand. The king of Sodom is offering the best of this world, and Melchizedek is reminding Abraham that God is the possessor of heaven and earth. He is also reminding him that it is He who delivered your enemies into your hand. Now Abraham didn't know any of this. He had just gone out, as you do, with his 300 men, but Melchizedek is saying that the victory you have just won has been given to you because God actually worked on your behalf. So he redirects his thoughts toward the things of heaven and the things of God. This is crucial; this is a crossroads, between the king of Sodom and the voice of wisdom which comes to God's servant. His response is in verse 22.

Will you put God first?

Genesis 14:22-23 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, (23) that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, 'I have made Abram rich'--

He says “I have raised my hand” in other words, I have put God first and I have ordered my life in such a way that it is up to Him to provide for me what He sees that I need, so I won't take anything that you are offering, not even a thread . If you think about it a thread is probably the smallest thing that Abraham could have taken, but he was trusting God. He is the possessor of heaven and He is the possessor of earth. All things are His and I won't have anything to do with what Sodom has got to offer, lest you say I had some part in making you rich.

Now these kings come to us all the time. Think about the opportunities that come to you. There may be an opportunity in employment. You may be in a job one day and next minute someone comes with an offer. It is always for more money and things like that and there are these crossroads happening to us all the time. Just as Proverbs 8 says, it is here, where the paths meet, that wisdom cries out... ‘Is this the Lord's will for you?’ Yes, it may be more money, it might be greater opportunities, but this is the meeting place and Abraham is right there with the King of Sodom and Melchizedek; one offering this world, and the other allowing God to be my inheritance?” God was going to be the One who would bring about everything He had promised. So that is the context of “after these things”.

Genesis 15:1-6 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." (2) But Abram said, "Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" (3) Then Abram said, "Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!" (4) And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir." (5) Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." (6) And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

It is amazing how fear is right there straight after a victory because fear is so much a part of our fallen humanity. Abraham has just defeated this Persian king and yet God knew what was going on in his heart. He still was afraid, he knew that God had provided for his needs in the battle, but would He provide for him seeing that he was childless. Then the word of the Lord came again to him, and said ‘Come out and look at the stars...so shall your seed be.’ Look at Joshua chapter 1, all the time it is all about being courageous, being bold and unafraid. Now why do you think God was continually telling Joshua that? It was because his knees were knocking. He was now the appointed leader. He now had to lead the nation into the new land and he was really afraid. So God kept telling him “don't be afraid, don't be afraid, be courageous, keep going forward”. Fear, it is always right here, it is a part of our fallen humanity. Elijah had just defeated 400 false prophets and then when he heard one threat by a woman he just ran for the hills and said “take my life; I am not better than my father’s”. Fear is always there, even after a victory. So we need to be mindful of that.

There are some tribes who initiate their children to overcome fear by sending them out into the bush for the night. Part of becoming a man was that they had to go out and spend a night in the wilderness or in the forest and the next day come back to the tribe. Every twig and rustle of the leaves to a 13 year old could be a wolf or a bear or a lion or a cougar. Abraham had no idea that God was behind the scenes as a shield to him when he went out to deliver Lot. God was a shield to Abraham, but he didn't actually understand this so God said “I am your shield”. But He is not only a shield to straight out attack; He is also a shield against deception. When the king of Sodom came forth with his lures he was trying to lure Abraham into the deception of taking help from Sodom. But God knew about this and so Melchizedek met him at the same time and rescued him.

Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.

The One who is our exceedingly great reward

Now the second part of this verse says “Don't be afraid, I am your shield” and my version, the New King James, says “Your exceedingly great reward” and when I read that, I thought ‘how beautiful; that really is actually what it is all about’. It is lovely to have God's protection, but the real reward of the Christian life is that the treasure is actually God Himself. And this is what He is saying to Abraham, not only am I your shield, but I am your exceedingly great reward. “I am the treasure”. And the whole purpose for which God has created us is to bring us into fellowship with Him. That He Himself is greater than any gift that he can bring forth. He is greater than any work that we might do for Him. He is greater than anything that Sodom would have to offer, or any interests that we might have. We love to do things, but He Himself, the presence of Christ in the believer is the greatest treasure of all. We get little glimpses of happiness and fulfillment but nothing compares to time in the presence of God. He Himself is our great reward.

I have a friend who is a really good surfer. He shared with me about a time when everything was absolutely ‘pumping.’ The surf was six feet high and he just got barrel after barrel wave. He came home and he was on an absolute high; you just wouldn't believe the thrill of surfing all day and just getting perfect waves and barrels. The next morning when he got up he said that he just felt so empty! The presence of Christ in the believer is something that just doesn't go away. It is He Himself that is the reward.

God is saying to Abraham “Look, I fill heaven and earth Abraham, is it not possible for Me to fill one fearful soul. I possess all of heaven and earth but I also want to dwell in your heart and be your reward, your exceedingly great reward.”

In Ephesians 1:17 Paul prays this prayer, and he is praying for the believers. He says: My prayer for you is that you might know Him....Him, first of all. After that we read of the hope of His calling. His great inheritance in the saints and the power of His spirit to those who believe but it comes back to knowing Him. He Himself is the great reward.

Jesus' response in this test

When I was thinking about this I thought of Psalm 16----a psalm of David, but prophetically it is also Jesus speaking to the Father in His humanity or as a man.

Psalms 16:1-2 A Michtam of David. Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust. (2) O my soul, you have said to the Lord, "You are my Lord, My goodness is nothing apart from You."

Now you have to remember that Jesus laid aside His rights to act as God. He became a man and here He is saying to the Father “My goodness is nothing apart from You”. When you look at the way Jesus lived His life, you see the Father in action. He is saying “It is Your presence in Me that is good”. You could say the same about the Christian life. There is no goodness in us, there is no righteousness in us apart from the standing that we have in our Lord Jesus Christ. My goodness is nothing apart from You.

Psalms 16:3 As for the saints who are on the earth, "They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight."

This is Jesus saying “As for the saints that are on the earth they are the excellent ones in Whom is all My delight”. Now do you realize you are an excellent one? Did you ever get excellent at school? As far as Jesus is concerned you are an excellent one who He delights in.

Psalms 16:5-6 O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. (6) The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance.

David and Jesus are saying the same thing here. Our portion is the presence of God and that is the main thing in our Christian relationship with Him. He is the portion of my inheritance and my cup. You maintain my lot. In other words I put my life completely into His hands and it is up to you to lead me in whatever direction you want to take me. You maintain my lot, the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places. Yes I have a good inheritance. Now could you say that today, “that the lines of your life have fallen to you in a pleasant place, and yes, I have a good inheritance?” That is the most wonderful freeing thing to say; but you can only say that when you recognize that God is your portion. A lot of people have said to me in the past “Oh, you will get a break one day Fraser” and they always mean that someday I will come into a lot of worldly wealth. It is almost like the king of Sodom “Here, come take some of the booty”, things will really work out for you one day. There is that thought and I have said in response “Well, I have already had that break”. On the day that your sins were forgiven, and you took Christ into your life that is the biggest break you will ever get in your life. Taking God as your portion is the greatest thing, greater than any work that you will ever do for Him, He Himself is our inheritance. This is what David is saying “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places”. In other words if you make God your portion then it is up to Him to direct your paths. It is up to Him to place you where He so chooses. If He is your portion you can say “I am happy with where He has got me”. “It is a pleasant place because he is with me.”

The four P's

Psalms 16:11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

There are four words in this passage which begin with the letter P. Now all of these are in an order. If you make the Lord your portion (vs 5), if He is really what you desire and you are happy with His inheritance for you then He will show you the path of life. He will guide you into the path He has for you. His presence will bring fullness of joy and in all of those things are pleasures forever more.

Before Abraham could be declared righteous it was really important, I believe, that he met the king of righteousness, and the king of righteousness had to direct his thoughts to the presence of God in his life; above the lures of the king of Sodom. We have these meeting places all through life where one voice is tempting us; and it is then that we need the Lord's word and to hear His voice saying ‘I am your shield and your exceeding great reward. Come unto Me.

So next time we will look at Abraham's response to what God had said.