Genesis 14:17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet (Abram) at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed (Abram) and said,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
maker of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything. 21 Then the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the LORD, God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their share.”
Abram returned from victory in battle over the king of Sodom and a few other kings. You know what they say, “To the victor goes the spoils”. It would have been customary for Abram and those with him to have kept the people and property (valuables, slaves, livestock, and so forth) of the defeated kingdom for themselves. In our passage the king of Sodom asks for a concession – that Abram keep only the goods, but return the people. Abram says he will keep neither, and in fact will make an offering to God via the priest Melchizedek.
“And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything”
I believe this is the first instance in scripture where we see the practice of the tithe – returning to God 10%. What I appreciate about this story is how Abram offers to return 10% before he’s even asked. And there are no commandments or law of Moses yet so it’s not required or expected. To me it appears to be a spontaneous expression of Abram’s gratitude. I mean, let’s be honest. He’s an amazingly wealthy man and he owes it all to God, so he certainly has every right to be grateful – as do I. As do you. We may not be amazingly rich in terms of money, but we are incredibly fortunate and owe to our God a debt that can never be repaid.
I believe this is also the sort of thing the apostle Paul has in mind when he writes many centuries later, “God loves a cheerful giver”. In other words, God wants us to practice the tithe because it’s our privilege not because we have to. Lord, let it be so. Amen.