The Victor Never Claimed Ownership
by Ronald W Robey
(written June 15, 2019)

Genesis 14:16-23 And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people. And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale. And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all. And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself. And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:

Genesis 14:16-23 appears to be more about a meeting between Abram and Bera in which Melchizedek interjected himself, than a meeting between Abram and Melchizedek.

The text begins with Bera going out to meet with Abram. Then, we see Melchizedek serving refreshments; blessing Abram; being blessed by Abram; and receiving the tenth of the goods that Abram had recovered…all this happening in the presence of Bera, the owner of the goods.

From the biblical text, it appears that Melchizedek, though said to have been the Priest of the Most High God, humbled himself before Abram and Bera. He served bread and wine during Abram’s meeting with Bera.

When Abram gave ten percent of the goods he recovered in battle to Melchizedek, Bera did not tell Abram that he had no right to give away ten percent of the goods to Melchizedek. He simply told Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.”

It is as if Bera was acknowledging that Abram had the right as the victor in battle to give a tenth of the spoils of war to whichever king or deity Abram chose to give the tenth to, and Bera had the say-so of what was to be done with the remaining ninety percent of the goods. If the goods were the property of Abram, as many people purport them to be, then Bera’s statement, “Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself” would have been an unjust demand.

Notice in the biblical text, Abram did not reply, “This is my property now. I won it in battle.” No, Abram answered, “I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:”

The fact that Bera said, “Give me the persons, and keep the goods to thyself” proves that Bera was not being demanding. Rather, it shows his authority as owner of the goods to give a portion, (or all) of the goods away at his discretion.

Abram laid no claim to the goods he had recovered. He knew that they belonged to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. So, why did Abram tithe from property that did not belong to him? Ancient history answers that question…

Giving a tenth of the spoils of war recovered in battle to kings and deities had been practiced for centuries prior to Abram giving tithes of war spoils to Melchizedek. The ancient Babylonians would often give tithes of war spoils to their kings and gods as early as 2200 BC. (see “The Struggle of the Nations” by Professor Gaston Maspero, ©1896, Oxford) That’s 285 years prior to Abram tithing to Melchizedek.

Since the giving of a tenth of war spoils had been a custom of the land, Abram would have been familiar with it.