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2. (O.T.) The Tithe of Abram


The Tithe?

2.  Old Testament
The Tithe of Abram
(Please read previous articles on tithing first)

The first mention of any sort of tithe goes back to Genesis 14:17-20 where Abram (later called Abraham) paid tithes to Melchizedek. The timing of this period was approximately 1913 B.C. - about four hundred years before the Mosaic Law. To help understand this passage more clearly, it is important to do a little research on its history.

King Chedorlaomer's War

Around this time, five small city-kings from the southern end of the Dead Sea area in Canaan had been conquered by several kings from the area of Mesopotamia. The defeated kings and their people were forced to serve King Chedorlaomer of Elam and pay tributes (forced taxes) to this king who resided at the west end of the Fertile Cresc.ent


The Fertile Crescent was lush fertile soil that followed rivers in an arc that extended from Mesopotamia in the east to Egypt in the west. The land of Canaan, having the Dead Sea in its southern portion, was at the downward swing of the center point of the crescent, which marked it as a pivotal spot for travelers and trade.

After twelve years of forced servitude and paying tributes, the defeated kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and other nearby cities south of the Dead Sea began to rebel against their conqueror. In response, King Chedorlaomer, along with three other ruling city-state kings around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, traveled 700-900 miles up the crescent to re-conquer their rebels. Along the way, they also conquered other territories. According to Genesis 14, they defeated and re-conquered the armies of these fives small city-kings at the southern end of the Dead Sea area, capturing many and gained great wealth from the spoils of war. King Chedorlaomer was again the conqueror.

The Capture of Lot

The Scriptures tell us that Abram had so much land and cattle to where there was not enough room for him and his nephew Lot to house their livestock. Abram chose to divide his property and give Lot half of what was his. He then gave Lot the opportunity to choose which area he wanted to live in. Lot chose the area close to the wicked city of Sodom. Abram stayed further out on the plains, in the outskirts of Hebron. Lot got caught in the midst of the war with Sodom and Gomorrah and King Chedorlaomer and was captured. He, along with his family, servants, and all of his cattle and possessions were taken away. The spoils of war were tremendous for King Chedorlaomer. Through an escapee, Abram found out what had happened to his nephew Lot. Abram, being a man of means, took 318 of his servants, along with allied Amorite friends and pursued King Chedorlaomer and his army.  Abram divided his forces against Chedorlaomer by night, pursuing and attacking his army as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. Abram was able to retrieve his nephew Lot, along with his family, servants, friends, goods and livestock. He was also able to retrieve all the people, food and goods of Sodom and Gomorrah. His gains of the spoils of war were tremendous.

Salem – A Pagan City

On their return journey home, Abram, Lot and his family, along with his servants, and the spoils of war, traveled through the Kings Valley just outside of the pagan city of Salem.

Archaelogists claim that Salem, dating back to 2000 B.C. (the time of Abram's tribute to Melchizedek) was originally referred to the high hill of Melchizedek's pagan temple beside the Valley of Zedek.  Centuries later the area was captured by Jebusistes, and by 1000 B.C. King David captured it, calling it the City of David, or Jerualem.


The Giving of the Tithe to Melchizedek

There, just outside of Salem, Abram was greeted by the new king of Sodom and other kings of the area. Following right behind them was Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of El Elyon. Melchizedek brought bread and wine to feed Abram and the people with him. Then Melchizedek conferred a blessing upon Abram, of which Abram then honored him back by giving him a tenth (10%) of all the spoils of war that had been stolen from Sodom and Gomorrah. 

It is important to note that the practice of bringing tithes to a “god” was a common practice in many ancient cultures – Jewish and pagan alike. After Abram brought the tithe to Melchizedek, the king of Sodom then told Abram to keep the rest of the spoils (90%) for himself, but only return the people who had been taken captive. Abram responded by telling him that he had promised the LORD (Yahweh, Jehovah) whom he recognized as his El Elyon (Most High God) that he would not take any of the spoils, claiming he did not want the king of Sodom to boast that he had made him rich. Abram then returned the 90% to the kings of Sodom and Gommorah, keeping Lot and his people and goods.  Abram was a hero of the people and favored among the kings of their land. He then traveled south to the Dead Sea area to return back home to normal living.

This was an isolated event – there is no other reference of Abram tithing to anyone after Melchizedek throughout the rest of Scripture. It is evident that this was not a normal practice for Abram or any of his family.

TAccording to the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, “El” is a word in the group of Semitic languages, and was a common word for diety. El Elyon was “Baal” (Babylonia used the name of “Bell”) the supreme Canaanite god who used the ancient title of the most high god, who was also called “Lord,” “master,” and “possessor of heaven and earth.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary states that Melchizedek, king of Salem, means either "king of righteousness," "my king is righteousness," or "my king is Zedek." Zedek is the Hebrew word for "righteousness." It also is the name of a Canaanite deity.

The scripture passage in Gen 14 does not claim anything other than Melchizedek was the king of Salem and the priest of the most high god. Deeper research would be necessary to help clarify this mysterious man. Regardless, this article is not about the genealogy of Melchizedek, but on tithing. 

There are several important things to note from this event of Abram giving a tithe to Melchizedek:

  • This is the only mention of any “tithe” in Scripture that preceded the Law of Moses.
  • This tithe to Melchizedek was an isolated one-time event. There is no other acknowledgement that Abram ever tithed again.
  • God never told Abram to tithe to Melchizedek - it was a custom of the land at that time.
  • Abram did not tithe from his personal property, but from the spoils of war to the king of Salem and a priest of unknown origin.
  • The king of Sodom offered the remaining 90% of the plunder for Abram to keep for his own. Abram, however, gave the full 90% back, except for his nephew Lot, his family, and goods, to the king of Sodom, not Melchizedek.
  • This episode cannot be the Old Testament understanding of a biblical tithe.

Nothing is stated in Scripture as to what Melchizedek did with the 10% from the spoils of war. If it were a legitimate tithe unto the Lord, wouldn’t the proceeds go to godly things and possibly reaching the poor?

It is also noteworthy to mention that tithing did not originate in the Bible. It was a well-known pagan practice from Phoenicia, Egypt, Canaan, Mesopotamia and lands around the Fertile Crescent area. It was a mandatory customary tax to a pagan god or ruler. Simply stated, as was custom in the land, Abram was obligated to pay a tithe tax of the spoils of war to the local priest-king, while the 90% belonged to the victor. In this way, Abram was probably following a mandatory custom of his day when he handed over the tithe to Melchizedek.

This one instance in history leaves one asking several questions:

  • Why would Melchizedek be joined together with the king of Sodom? Were they allies together?
  • Was Melchizedek the king of Salem and high priest of the Most High God, meaning Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, when history acknowledges that at this time Salem was a pagan city whose people worshipped the Canaanite gods. 
  • As a high priest, shouldn’t have Melchizedek led the procession instead of follow after the king of Sodom? Is it possible that the king, who was pagan, served as an ambassador to Melchizedek?go to them. It leads one to believe that Abram was simply paying his dutiful tax to give back the spoils of war and honor the high priest of the land.
  • Nothing is stated throughout Scripture what Melchizedek did with the 10% tithe from the spoils of war. If it were a legitimate tithe unto God Almighty, wouldn’t the proceeds go to godly things and possible reach the needs of the people?

To continue on to section #3 on tithing, click here


[i] Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible. New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1991

Written by Pastor Joyce A. Erickson

Believers Bible School, Founder https://believersbibleschool.com/