We have gone for many pages about Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek, trying to clarify what it was, and what it was not. I hope I have provided abundant information to indicate how anomalous and strikingly dissimilar this event was to any tithe described in God’s Law. We have also seen that it basically stands alone as the one and only scripture that records a tithe actually taking place outside of the Mosaic/Levitical tithe paradigm.
The Genesis account provides no particular reason as to why this tithe took place, or guidelines as to when, where, or how we could possibly engage in this activity using this story as a guideline; or if in fact it even should be engaged in by anyone else based on this incident. Without other supporting scripture to clarify the circumstances, we cannot realistically infer from it any kind of example to follow. We certainly cannot apply it as an excuse to force some people to tithe to others.
This is true particularly in light of Hebrews 7 which calls attention to this event, but in a manner which is totally absent any pro-tithe implications.
The Book of Hebrews chapter 7 which illuminates Genesis 14:20, is all about Melchizedek, not about the tithe. The subject of tithe in that chapter is just the means of communicating the real point of that writing. That point apparently being to identify the social superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham, evidenced by the fact that he was the one who was being tithed to.
The tone of Hebrews 7 leaves the definite impression that Abraham’s tithe was optional, and done by his own choice. This being a voluntary act, it had a much greater meaning than compulsory tithing did in the days of Moses.
Hebrews also reminds us of two commonly held thoughts: the lesser person tithes to the greater, underscored by the greater person blesses the lesser. Both of which took place in Genesis 14.
Any significance attached to Jacob’s vow to tithe also lies in the fact that it was of his own volition. In neither of these two cases was the act due to the compulsion of any known law, as would be the case with a Levitical tithe or other mandatory type of tithe tax. The voluntary nature of these two acts is what
gives them any real meaning at all.
I mean, if there was a law requiring gentlemen to lay their coat on a puddle so a lady can walk across without getting mud on her shoes, then Sir Walter Raleigh’s alleged act of doing so for the Queen of England would not have made him famous, would it?mandatory type of tithe tax. The voluntary nature of these two acts is what gives them any real meaning at all.
The point of that whole story is that he went the extra mile; he did more than was expected of him. It was a voluntary gesture that displayed extraordinary thoughtfulness, gallantry, sacrifice, and in his case perhaps some strategic showmanship.
Likewise with the tithe – If Abraham had paid a routine mandatory tithe (such as the Levitical tithe), or a tithe for political reasons, then to be consistent Hebrews would also have to state how great a man the Egyptian king was, just as emphatically as it did about Melchizedek, because Abraham tithed to both of them.
But there is something else going on here; something fundamentally different. The difference has to be in why Abraham tithed in each case. In Egypt, Abraham tithed because he had to. He had no way to successfully
resist the Egyptian guard. This type of tax-paying is not noteworthy one way or the other. It is not particularly good or bad; you just do it to avoid punishment, not because you are honoring or willfully submitting to the ruler or the taxing authority.
For example, Jesus had Peter catch a fish to pay a temple tax, but we do not hear about “how great that taxing entity was, because Jesus submitted to it” or anything else to that effect. They just paid it to avoid unnecessary trouble.
Moses as well, had to tithe to someone, presumably Aaron, because Moses was a Levite, but Aaron was a Levitical priest. Yet we never hear about how great Aaron or any other individuals were just because a great personage like Moses tithed to them. That is because it was a requirement under the Law of God, not a choice made by Moses.
A more succinct example would be to ask yourself if you consider the clerks at the tax office to be of a higher class than you, simply because they are receiving your tax payment. Are you giving them the money to honor them, or because you have to under threat of harm to yourself or your property by the government?
So from these examples we see that just because someone has obtained a position as a cog in the governmental authority machine, this does not mean that they are necessarily held in a position of honor by those who acquiesce to the requirements of the ruling power structure. Paying taxes today, or tithes to the Levites are both simply societal obligations done under various degrees of duress.
However, a voluntary tithe for honorary purposes, along with the implied submission that goes with that act was a big deal, particularly in light of the fact that expressing honor, appreciation, respect, and sometimes submission was the whole reason for many of the tithes of that era in the first place.
For a man of high stature like Abraham to offer a tithe to someone was especially noteworthy, and Hebrews 7 identifies it as such. Doing God’s Will carries more weight than just following His Law, and the difference between a mandatory tithe and a freewill tithe-offering is as significant as it is between being drafted into the army and volunteering for hazardous duty. It indicates two totally different levels of commitment.
That is the whole thrust of what Hebrews chapter 7 is talking about. It is calling attention to the greatness of the first Melchizedek, because of Abraham’s willing act of honoring him, and tying it in with the fact that Jesus Christ is the second of only two Melchizedek priests known in the history of the world.
Abraham was revered and honored by the ancient Hebrews, perhaps as much as Jesus Christ is by Christians today. Well, maybe not quite. Can you imagine if there was an account of Jesus honoring and deferring to someone on Earth that was greater than Himself? We would want to kind of sit up and take notice as to who that person was that the King of Kings was voluntarily submitting to, wouldn’t we? That was also the desired effect that Hebrews 7 intended: “open your eyes people, there is a new Melchizedek King and Priest in town”.
Hebrews 7:5-6 “And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.”
So this scripture points out the anomaly; a distinct deviation from normalcy. To understand these two verses correctly, tithing to the Levites was done as a result of God’s commandment; tithing to Melchizedek was not. A gift is a gift, but a gift of a tithe (like Abraham’s) in the context of that time period, was an act of submission. It was Abraham’s choice to make this exceptional offering or gift; that was the whole point. He made his gift in what at that time was the much more symbolic form of a tithe. The fact that it was not his property does not seem to matter to the point being made by that scripture. The main point was that Abraham submitted to Melchizedek as being greater than himself.
A simple, mandated tithe to God does not seem to be the issue here, because that would not be a big deal since everyone knows that God is sovereign over all. We all know that Abraham submitted to God and had on occasion made offerings/sacrifices to Him. So if Abraham was just fulfilling a requirement to tithe to someone who was ordained by God to receive it, that would not particularly impress anyone as to the greatness of Melchizedek, because it only would have made him an authorized tithe recipient like the Levites were.
Hebrews 7 indicates that any realistic theory about what was happening at the Valley of Kings on that day has to necessarily include the concept that Abraham’s presentation of this tithe was done voluntarily, and with the intention of honoring Melchizedek. This was clearly a willful act of fealty to Melchizedek, otherwise the point of Hebrews Chapter 7 would not make any sense.
Additionally, the Bible records this as a unique event, and gives us no indication that any similar event has ever taken place at any other time, before or since. These basic facts alone are all we really need to know in order to realize that even though Abraham’s tithe was notable for the purpose of glorifying Melchizedek, it cannot be used prima facie as any kind of evidence for us to tithe today to any preacher.