“And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he gave him a tithe of all. Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.’ But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’-except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.’”
“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.’”
We have just read Genesis 14:17 through 15:1 for today’s Scripture reading.
At that time Lot was living in the land of Sodom. When war broke out amongst the various allied kingdoms in the land of Sodom, a certain king named Chedorlaomer attacked Sodom and plundered all its goods and took its inhabitants as captives. And amongst these captives was Abraham’s nephew Lot. One of the captives who escaped ran back to Abraham and told him the news saying to him, “Many kingdoms including Sodom were defeated. Lot was also taken captive, and he lost his everything including all his possessions and his family.” Abraham then took an army of 318 trained men who were raised in his house and pursued King Chedorlaomer all the way to Dan, attacked them and defeated his army, and brought back not only his nephew Lot but also his family and all the goods that he had lost.
It’s not explained in detail how exactly Abraham trained the 318 men born and raised in his house; the Scripture only records that Abraham was well prepared, and that when a crisis broke out, he was ready and defeated the seemingly invincible King Chedorlaomer, rescued his nephew Lot, and returned triumphantly with a great deal of war spoils. This is the gist of today’s Scripture passage that we have just read. It shows us that with just a small army of 318 trained men, Abraham was able to attack and defeat the allied forces that were much larger. It’s quite amazing how Abraham could prevail over these strong enemy forces with just 318 men. Abraham’s victory is likely to have been swift, and it’s because Abraham loved his nephew Lot and his people that he could be so courageous like this. He cherished his people more than anything else.
When Abraham returned from the battle after defeating King Chedorlaomer and the other kings who were allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh, also known as the King’s Valley. Of course, the king of Sodom was not the only person who came out to receive Abraham. The Bible tells us that Melchizedek also came out, as it is written: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:
‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’
And he gave him a tithe of all” (Genesis 14:18-20).
The Two Kings Who Received Abraham
Both the kings of Sodom and the king of Salem came out to receive Abraham. Let me take a moment here to explain this king of Salem to you. The name of the king of Salem was Melchizedek, and God said that he was the priest of the Most High God. Referring to Melchizedek, the Book of Hebrews calls him Jesus Christ. Of course, as a man who foreshadowed Jesus Christ to come, Melchizedek can be described as the shadow of Jesus, but at the same time, he is the actual substance of Jesus Christ incarnated since the age of Genesis. It is written, “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18). The author of the Book of Hebrews addresses the importance of Melchizedek to some extent, but he came short of fully revealing God’s profound will, by saying in reference to Melchizedek, “Of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:11).
When Melchizedek, symbolizing Jesus who was to come, brought bread and wine to Abraham and prayed to God to bless him, then Abraham offered Melchizedek a tenth of all the goods that he had brought back with him. What does the bread and wine that Melchizedek brought here really mean? They denote the flesh of Jesus Christ and His blood. This is what Melchizedek brought to Abraham. Today’s Scripture passage describes how Melchizedek blessed Abraham with bread and wine, but my sermon for today is not about this. So just to be sure, let me make it clear here that faith in the bread and wine of Jesus—that is, the water and blood of the Lord—is absolutely indispensable to all the people of faith. Our Lord has saved us all by giving up His own body and laying down His own life. The bread and the wine symbolize the work of salvation, implying that the Lord bore our sins by being baptized, shed His blood to death on the Cross, and has through this saved us perfectly. Therefore, whenever we come across the account of the bread and wine of the Lord, we can’t help but be grateful to the Lord for saving us. From this account we can also realize that no matter what trials may come our way, our hope must always rest with God, and that God Himself is the Lord who has blessed and saved us all. Abraham knew this very well, and that is why the Bible says that he offered a tithe of all his gains to Melchizedek.
Now then, let’s compare Melchizedek with the king of Sodom, the other man who came out to receive Abraham. How did the king of Sodom behave towards Abraham? It’s written in the Bible, “Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself’” (Genesis 14:21). In reality, the king of Sodom had no right to say such things. That is because although Lot had been living in the land of Sodom, he was not a Sodomite by birth, while the king of Sodom was responsible for his own defeat. Yet when the king of Sodom saw the people and the spoils of war brought back by Abraham, he said to him arrogantly, “Give me the persons, and take the good for yourself” (Genesis 14:21).
Now let’s see how Abraham responded to these words of the king of Sodom. Abraham said to him, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’—except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol and Mamre; let them take their portion” (Genesis 14:22-24). The Bible then says in the following chapter, “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward’” (Genesis 15:1). Through these passages, we can clearly see where the center of Abraham’s heart truly rested.
In the intense vortex of war, Abraham fought and defeated King Chedorlaomer, the ruler of the most powerful kingdom of that region. Here we can see that Abraham, a man of faith was also very strong physically. The kingdoms had split into two camps and fought against each other until one side prevailed, and then Abraham fought that victorious side and triumphed over it. Could it not then be said that Abraham was now the king of kings in his days? And since Abraham had now become the king of kings, could he not have done anything he wanted to do? But even though Abraham our father of faith had so much power, when he heard what the king of Sodom was saying to him, he simply replied, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’” (Genesis 14:22-23). If Abraham had taken the goods as was suggested to him, then the king of Sodom could very well have claimed that he had made Abraham rich. That’s why Abraham said to him, “I will not take anything of yours, except for the portion set aside for the young men who went into the battle with me.” Put differently, Abraham was saying to the king of Sodom not to delude himself into thinking that he was actually making him rich.
It is written in today’s Scripture passage, “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (Genesis 15:1). God had revealed Himself to Abraham who had forsaken material wealth, and He had clearly manifested to him that He had now become Abraham’s God.
The Center of Abraham’s Heart Was Rock-Solid
From today’s Scripture passage we can see just how upright the center of Abraham’s heart was. We already know that Abraham treasured God’s righteousness as he believed in God, but here we can once again realize that Abraham’s heart was entirely set on God from the very core, and that he was determined to be blessed by God. From the depth of his heart, Abraham truly yearned to find God’s help, flourish in prosperity thanks to God, and be blessed by God. Abraham offered a tenth of his gains to the king of Salem, who had prayed for heavenly blessings for him even though Melchizedek did not ask for any. In contrast, when the king of Sodom said to Abraham, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself,” but Abraham did not keep anything for himself.
Like Abraham as depicted here, blessed are those who have truly received the Lord as their own God. Those who believe that God is their shield and their great reward—that is, those who believe that God is protecting them, and that they have found grace from God—will indeed be blessed by Him. God revealed Himself to Abraham as his shield and his exceedingly great reward. The Bible writes that God walked with Abraham as his own God not just in his acts, but also in the center of his heart, and that God blessed him in all things.
What about us then? Is the center of our hearts standing upright? Do we really desire to be approved only by God and be blessed by Him alone, having forsaken all our greed for the world? Of course, even if the center of a Christian’s heart is placed like this, it’s not so easy for us to follow this desire in our actual lives. It’s true that the Bible says, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1). But in reality there are still many shortcomings in our acts. The critical question to ask ourselves is this: “Despite all these shortcomings, do we still yearn from the depth of our hearts to be blessed and approved by God?” In other words, do we have the same faith that Abraham had?
We can verify from the Scriptures that God blesses those whose hearts are upright through and through. For us Christians in particular, it’s the center of the heart that must be upright in God’s sight. As shown in today’s Scripture passage, Abraham was upstanding in the center of his heart. There was a time when Abraham had quarreled with his nephew Lot over property rights. This happened because Lot thought that he was unable to become rich because of his uncle. So Abraham suggested to his nephew Lot that if he was unhappy, they should go their separate ways. Lot then left Abraham and went to the land of Sodom, and Abraham was not happy to see his nephew departing from him. Abraham chose not to go to the land of Sodom in obedience to the Word of God. God then appeared before Abraham right away and blessed him by saying to him, “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever” (Genesis 13:14-15). If Abraham’s heart was not upright to its center then God would not have revealed Himself so quickly to him, nor would God have bestowed such blessings on him.
Abraham was blessed by God because the center of his heart was upstanding before God. Before we call Abraham a righteous man, we should first remember the fact that the center of his heart was upright in God’s sight. Abraham had no worldly greed whatsoever. If his heart was even slightly greedy over the things of this world, then he would have tried to make himself the ruler of that region. After all, Abraham had single-handedly defeated the most powerful alliance in that region that no one else had defeated before, and he could easily have ruled over those defeated kings and lived a wealthy life just on their tributes. But Abraham chose not to do so. Far from it, when the king of Sodom offered him to take all the goods, but Abraham simply replied, “I will take nothing that is yours, not even a thread or a sandal strap, lest you should say that you have made me rich. You take all these goods for yourself.” From these words of Abraham, we can see that he truly wanted to be rich only in God’s sight, and that he sought God’s approval alone.
The Lord God Was Abraham’s Shield and His Exceedingly Great Reward
Immediately after these things had transpired, “The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward’” (Genesis 15:1). As shown here, God revealed Himself to Abraham and made it known to him that He had become his shield and his reward.
My fellow believers, to have God as your shield is in itself a wonderful blessing. As you know very well, this world is filled with so many dangerous things. The Bible says that to live in such a dreadful world with the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. To know God and ask for His help is the beginning of wisdom. Anyone who does not seek God’s help whilst living in this world—that is, anyone who does not rely on God—is a fool. Abraham indeed relied on God. And God become Abraham’s shield and reward. Here all of us should realize that God is looking for someone whose heart is upright to its center, and that God works in such people’s lives.
My fellow believers, it’s not because of our own talents, gifts, or abilities, nor because we have everything in this world that we are blessed while living on this earth. Rather, only those whose hearts are truly upright to its center before God can receive His blessings. Although people just look at your outside appearance, God looks at the center of your heart. Whether God becomes your shield and your reward depends on whether the center of your heart is truly upright or not, and this is the truth that God is teaching us through today’s Scripture passage.
Let Us Place All Our Expectations on God from the Depth of Our Hearts
You and I must place all our expectations on God. Resting our hope on God, we must trust in and rely on this God for all things, and even though our acts are full of shortcomings, we must still pray to God, make our request known to Him, and ask Him for His help. It’s such people who are blessed by God.
Do you know just how evil and wicked the human heart really is? When people become even slightly wealthy, it’s in their human nature to rely on this wealth rather than on God. That is how easy it is for the human heart to drift away from God. But remember this: No matter what you have, even if you strike it rich overnight, it is far more blessed to rely on God rather than on this wealth. I admonish you all to realize that if you rely on God from the depth of your heart, God will bless you for sure, but if you instead put all your trust in the things of this world, then you will find yourself completely helpless when these things disappear. The heart that trusts in God relies on Him and fears Him—this is the very heart that is absolutely indispensable to all of us.
Unless we ensure that our hearts are upright in God’s sight, it will become useless for us to try to please Him or to believe in His Word, or to follow Him in obedience no matter how much we desire to do so. In contrast, if the center of our hearts is upright, then it’s only a matter of time for us to get nearer to the Lord and put on His grace, all thanks to Him. In other words, even though we may be weak and full of shortcomings, as long as our hearts are upstanding, we can still walk with the Lord all the time.
Of course, since we are all living in this sinful world, it’s highly probable for our hearts to go astray. However, God will always be with us as long as we ensure that the center of our hearts is fundamentally upright. The most important thing for us the believers is for our hearts to be oriented towards God. You and I must look towards God and rely on Him from the depth of our hearts. I ask you all to realize that if you open your hearts up to the Lord and revere God—that is, if you walk towards God unwaveringly—then God will surely lead you to the good way.
The heart that fears God, the one that is placed in God is the most important thing to us. What would happen if we were to lose this heart? It would be the same as losing the most important element of faith. If we lose our hearts’ love for God, countless sinful things of this world would come streaming into our hearts and defile it completely. Instead of God’s blessings entering our hearts, accursed things would come in and corrupt it.
Therefore, you and I must always have the center of our hearts firmly set on God. No matter what circumstances we face or are shaken by, we must ensure that the center of our heart is upright at all times by saying to the Lord, “I want to live an upright life before You. I want to follow You. Even though I am so full of shortcomings that I am now being shaken, I nevertheless still want the center of my heart to be set according to Your wishes and Your pleasure.” Always remember that when you confess to God sincerely like this from the depth of your heart, God will reveal Himself to you and become your shield and reward.
As shown here setting our hearts on the Lord is extremely important for all of us Christians. When the heart is not standing upright, everything will be ruined. In contrast, when the center of our hearts is standing upright, we can all put on God’s grace despite our many shortcomings. Do you now understand just how important your heart’s condition is? All of us should realize here that if our hearts are not upright, then the consequences of our actions will not be upright either.
There are some believers who, despite having the center of their hearts upright, are misunderstood at first because they are not so good at expressing themselves. But with the passing of time, everyone will be able to see just how upright their hearts really are. But if the center of your heart is misplaced, then all your acts will be ultimately judged to be deficient even if they appear upright outwardly. This is the way God sees us all. This then means that for our hearts to follow after God and relying on Him becomes more important than anything else. All of us have many shortcomings and weaknesses before the Lord. Our acts can therefore be upright sometimes and flawed at other times. But what is extremely important and indispensable for all of us as faithful Christians is that we desire from the depth our hearts to live according to the Lord’s pleasure, to always set our minds on the Lord and follow after Him no matter what, and seek His help so that we may follow Him and live according to His will. So when our hearts are set like this, the Lord will hold us steadfastly amid all the temptations of the world so that we never will drift away from Him despite our shortcomings.
Let Us Keep Our Hearts Honorable and Upright as Abraham’s Heart
Abraham was approved as an honorable man because his heart was upright. His upstanding heart was demonstrated when he and his nephew Lot parted company, and is also shown in today’s Scripture passage. When Abraham’s heart was upright like this, God manifested Himself to him, and because Abraham believed in the Lord, God accounted that to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Abraham indeed kept the center of his heart upright under all circumstances. That is why it’s been said to this very day that Abraham was an upright man before God.
Today, as I continue ministering to God’s Church before the Lord, I think about the ways in which I may fail to keep my heart upright. If my mind were too preoccupied on my possessions, then I would be an insecure man in this world since I own nothing. But it’s because I fear God that I live such a frugal life; if I were instead to go out into the world to make a living, I am sure that I could make my ends meet. It would not be so hard for me to live a comfortable life in this world, with a house in my name and a car in my garage. However, I know very well that it’s my destiny to minister to God’s Church, preach the gospel, follow the Lord and revere Him in this way. Moreover, there is a deep-seated desire in the center of my heart to follow the Lord and serve Him even amid my poverty. And since the Lord knows this heart-felt desire of mine, I have every faith that He will deliver me from all my trials and bless me to preach the gospel to every corner of the world.
No matter what circumstances we face and what trials come on our way, you and I must follow the Lord unwaveringly. We do not seek the Lord just because we are rich, nor do we deny the Lord just because we are poor. Instead, we fear the Lord and this King of the Kingdom of Heaven, and there is no truth apart from the Lord, the Word of the Lord is the only Truth, and it’s this just Lord who gives us every blessing. And we believe with all our hearts that when we thus follow the Lord, He will become the shield and the reward for all the saints who fear Him. We have strong faith that the Lord will bless us all regardless of our shortcomings.
According to a rabbinic tale, Abraham’s father Terah was an idol-maker. But despite this, God saw the center of Abraham’s heart and on account of this God blessed him. Let me remind you all once again that after Abraham and his nephew Lot parted company, and after Abraham returned victorious from the war, God saw that Abraham’s heart was upright, and He became Abraham’s shield and reward because of this.
No matter what kind of person you are, as long as the center of your heart is upright in God’s sight, His peace, love, and blessings will always abide not only with you but also your family, your church and even in your society. It is therefore absolutely imperative for you to set your heart upright before God. So I ask you all to realize here that before attempting to do any virtuous deeds, you must first ensure that the center of your heart is upright. If the center of our hearts is upright in God’s sight, God will surely lead us to the way of righteousness, become our shield and reward us all. If on the other hand, our hearts are not upright to its center, then the only consequence waiting for us is our own destruction. Everything will be ruined if the center of our hearts is not upright. It’s only because God has been our shield that we have been able to walk straight before the Lord to this very day; but without the Lord at our side, we do not know what terrible things might happen to us.
Abraham faced countless enemies in his life. But God approved his faith, and on account of this faith God became Abraham’s shield and his reward. Not only did Abraham live a happy and blessed life, but his descendants also lived amidst God’s blessings.
My beloved saints, I am absolutely convinced that although our number is small, if we set the center of our hearts upright and follow the Lord, God will surely reveal Himself to all of us as our peace, our shield and our reward, and He will bless us all abundantly. There is no denying whatsoever that God’s blessings are ours to receive. What inevitably follows each and every one who has received the remission of sins is none other than God’s blessings. These blessings are so precious that they are on a completely different dimension from any prosperity that can ever be attained in this world. These God-given blessings are bestowed only on those whose hearts are upright to its center. I admonish you all to realize here that God’s blessings follow only those who truly believe in God and obey His Word, just as Abraham who had followed God unwaveringly, was accompanied by the peace and blessings of God.
I am so grateful to the Lord that your heart and mine are upright. But at the same time, we should all be very careful to make sure at all costs that our hearts do not go astray. Are you still interested in only your acts rather than your heart? Do you think that you can act virtuously on your own, believing that you can achieve this by yourself? But your ability to do virtuous deeds means absolutely nothing, just as your inability to do so means nothing. The only thing that matters is that the center of your heart is upright. Remember this is what the Lord actually wants from all of us, and this is the way to reach the Truth.