The chapter begins with the kings north-east of Sodom, from the Babylonian, Sumerian, Assyrian and Persian area. From there, down through the valley where the cities associated with Sodom, was a major trade route to Egypt, called “the King’s Highway.” The kings from the north evidently dominated the route and subjugated cities such as Sodom along the path. Sodom and its sister cities would have prospered much from this trade, as well as from their fertile land, however, if they could be free from the northern kings, they could earn even more in trade taxes. So they rebelled against these northern kings.
All this lines up with the description of Ezekiel about Sodom: proud, rich, indulgent, at ease, and the sexual perversion inherited from Canaan’s cultural influence in the region. The narrative is so accurate that historians and archaeologists still refer to the bible as the best source. These texts could not have been written in any later period, because the many details could not have been accurately known then. Some specialists though disagree with the text, or with the way it is traditionally understood, claiming we have been misled by the ages of the patriarchs in dating, saying these ages are “honorary.” It is true that old people are often respected by exaggerating their years, but it’s obvious that the biblical text did not intend this. Abraham, the most honourable patriarch, was much younger at death. The age of patriarchs follows real criteria, as mentioned in earlier chapters.
Sodom and her associated cities met the kings of the north in the Valley of Siddim, just south of where the Dead Sea is located today. The battle didn’t go well and as the men from Sodom fled, some fell into tar pits, which refers to the oil pits prevalent throughout that region, as confirmed also by archaeologists today. This may be mentioned for other reasons, but the text is clearly preparing us for the coming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, showing us how this destruction came about. But that is for a later chapter.
The kings of the north looted Sodom and also carried away Lot and his possessions. Abram then mustered 318 men born and trained in his own camp and was joined by three allies from the other tribes where Abram lived. They pursued the kings of the north and regathered the people and possessions of Sodom, as well as Lot and his possessions. On Abram’s return Melchizedek appears in the text with Abram, with bread and wine.
Melchizedek means king of righteousness. He was a priest of God (El) Most High. El was a regional term used for god, magistrate or heavenly being. There were priests of the Most High El (the creator of all things) throughout the region. These were those who didn’t compromise with the idolatry and debauchery of the land, but worshipped God in true revelation and conscience. Job knew God as El, Jethro was a priest of El, and Balaam also was a prophet of El, though he was compromised by money. But this doesn’t mean Melchizedek was a regional priest. The text doesn’t say where he came from. He was king of Salem, which means peace. This is the title for Christ in Isaiah 9. Unlike the other kings mentioned throughout the chapter, Melchizedek is not linked with any region, city or tribe. “Salem” here doesn’t mean Jeruslem, which was known as Jebus in Moses’s time.
So Melchizedek was not a regional king. He was God appearing to Abram in the flesh: The God/ man, like he later came in Christ. His is the superior priesthood, without the fallenness of human priests, so he can represent man perfectly. He appears in the text to make a covenant with Abram, which is the meaning of the bread and wine. In this meal he makes Abram his covenant partner: sharing food in this symbolic way is like sharing their lives, oaths and futures. Melchizedek didn’t sacrifice an animal, or shed blood, although there were animals with Abram. His priesthood was superior to Levi’s’ old temple, sacrifice format. His was a priesthood of peace, not of bloodsheding.
This is telling us that Israel wasn’t superior to those in the nations who worshipped El but was appointed by El to serve them as his witnesses. This was the point of the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews in chapter seven. Israel was not called to take God exclusively as their own, but to serve the whole creation and people of El Most High. By the time of the author of Hebrews, Israel had stolen this universal God and made him their tribal god for their own supremacy. The point of the book of Hebrews was that this bigger picture, this God Most High of all tribes, was greater than Israel’s own temporary system, and the point of their system was that when Christ came, he would lead the whole world back to El Most High in truth.
Abram paid tithe to Melchizedek, again, according to the author of Hebrews, to show (as a human custom in Abram’s time) the subservience of Israel to El Most High’s universal cause. Tithing was to be a ritual of Israel under the law, which Abram was enacting. In Christ, our whole lives belong to one another: “This is my body given for you. Do this, as I have done.” (Paraphrased) The text doesn’t say what Melchizedek did with this tithe. As a theophany, he had no need of a tithe, so presumably either returned it or shared it. Melchizedek appears as the architect of the new city in which righteousness dwells, unlike the greed, empire and debauchery that existed in Abram’s time, calling Abram to follow him to this new creation. Abram then follows his usual custom of refusing to take from the land what belongs to his neighbours and returns the possessions to Sodom.