Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. Hebrews 7, verses 4-10.
These verses contain some pretty detailed theology. Let’s sum it all up: give to God. Give to Him generously.
My home church, Water’s Edge Frisco, espouses an idea: live 90. Like any church we want to encourage tithing and giving. It’s a big way to give something meaningful to God from our hearts. We also need to pay the bills, as does any organization. Our leaders have found that the most Biblically centered way to build up giving attitudes is to stick to the Bible. That means encouraging, not mandating, a ten percent tithe. The church likes catchy phrases, so along comes “live 90.” Live on 90% of your income and give the first ten percent to God. That’s ten percent of the gross in your earnings, your possessions, and even yourself. Tithe to God and then watch Him bless you in ways you might not have imagined.
It isn’t a gimmick; God isn’t a Pavlov reactor or a divine wish factory. God doesn’t care whether or not we give anything from our incomes or our talents. God DOES care very much about the heart behind that giving. He wants us to give selflessly. He wants us to want to give to Him “just because.” Just because we can. Just because we want to share with Him some of what He’s shared with us. God wants us to live for Him in an attitude similar to how we live for other people we cherish. God wants us to express that attitude with things that mean something to us, knowing that other believers will use those things we give – like money and possessions – in ways to further His Kingdom.
As you can see, it stems from this passage about Abraham and Melchizedek. Abraham had just won a large battle against pagan Canannite kings and had, accordingly, won great plunder of gold, property, and livestock. Along comes Melchizedek to bless Abraham. God had promised that all people would be blessed through Abraham, and Melchizedek reinforces that blessing. What’s Abraham’s response? He gives generously to Melchizedek. He gives ten percent or more of his boodle to a stranger.
Later, as an expression of the blessing, God institutes the formal priesthood through Abraham’s descendant, Levi. Levi was one of Jacob’s twelve sons (meaning he was Abraham’s great-grandson). Levi’s family formed one of the twelve tribes of Israel, his tribe being the priesthood. It would be the pleasure and the purpose of Levi’s descendants to share God’s message – His promises and His promised blessings – with people forever. That calling reflects the royal priesthood of this stranger, Melchizedek. We’ve already discussed how Melchizedek’s true identity remains unknown; he might have been a Christophany (a pre-incarnate Jesus), or he might have been Shem, or he might have been someone else altogether. Whoever he was, he worshipped and praised the true God and did so in ways that would demonstrate the ministry God wanted instituted among His people. To honor this, Abraham tithed to Melchizedek.
What did Melchizedek do with that enormous plunder, with that selfless tithe given to him by Abraham? We don’t know; it doesn’t matter. We can all decry, sometimes rightfully, the excesses that some of today’s ministers flaunt with tithes from God’s people. Huge churches, lavish lifestyles, rock-star followings: was that what Melchizedek, Abraham and Levi had in mind? Probably not. Yet consider 1 Kings, chapters 2-11, especially chapter 10. In these, King Solomon’s splendor is described. Solomon, a descendant of Abraham, was extraordinarily blessed by God with wisdom, wealth, and success. It wasn’t because of anything Solomon did: it was because of God’s grace, God’s generosity. Solomon started life asking for wisdom and was blessed with it and so much more. Though his life ended in him wandering away in pagan beliefs, God still blessed him.
All that splendor was paid for with tithes from the people. The people gave of their hearts to God’s purposes, and God chose to bless both them and their leaders in extraordinary ways. He still does so today. And it goes back to the precedent set by Abraham and Melchizedek.
So the next time you do your budget, before you pay your bills, say a prayer of thanks to God and then write a check to Him. Consider giving things to others, giving things that are meaningful and that others may need. Give of yourself and your time and give generously without expectation of anything in return. Live happily on ninety percent of what you’re blessed to earn. Give that other ten percent to God’s purposes. Through churches, charities, and ministry activities, God will use this to bless others in extraordinary ways. When you do this, you’re siding with Melchizedek, Abraham, Levi, and Jesus.
For further reading: Genesis 14:18-20, 1 Kings 2-11, Psalm 76:2, Psalm 110:4, , Matthew 4:3, Hebrews 2:17, Hebrews 5:6.
My blessed Lord, thank You for blessing me. Thank You for Abraham and Melchizedek and the practice they began. Thank You for opportunities to still give in those ways today.