When Your Life is Stuck on Pause: Glorify God in Your Victory Part 1 (Gen. 14:17-20b)
When our lives are stuck on pause, it is easy to be self-absorbed and become passive in our waiting. There is a time to be still and know God is God, but often we are passive because we are cowards, afraid to make decisions, assuming that God cannot give us the necessary grace to carry us through whatever decisions we make. Abraham is not passive or self-absorbed, but courageous, as he risks everything (his own life, the land, etc.) to save his conceited and foolish nephew, Lot. Lot’s worst nightmare came true when he lost his “well-watered garden.” But Abraham is his brother’s keeper, unlike Cain. Abraham is able to make the right decision regardless of the danger and the consequences. That is the definition of courage! But Abraham here is really pointing to the ultimate Courageous and Humble One, Jesus Christ, who faced our Ultimate nightmare of answering for our cowardices and sins, thus freeing us and giving us power to handle our small nightmares.
Abraham is victorious against powerful kings. He only had 318 men and was able to defeat them. That is encouraging. Remember that the life stuck on pause is not all death, hell, gloom and doom. Abraham is growing in his faith and God blesses him, though he does not see promises fulfilled. Sometimes the greatest victories when we are stuck on pause is not just getting the thing at the end of our pause, but God helping us to replace our fears with faith, removing the idols that are stuck on our heart and for us to find courage to persevere. That’s victory! It is not always about getting to the destination, but learning something along the journey. So remember that if you are stuck on pause right now, God is in the business of giving you overcoming life as you overcome in the “pause.”
So Abraham has this moment of victory. People love a winner: they love the victor, the hero, the successful, the achiever. Thus, when a person wins, people usually honor him/her. So here is where we see the real test. It is not always how we handle adversity that counts, but how we handle success. Sometimes the greatest dangers come after the battle. How well do we handle victory? Elijah had an amazing victory on Mt. Carmel, but right after, he panicked and ran away wanting to die (1 Kings 19). Remember David’s fall to Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 happened when he knew no defeat and was living in victory. Jonah’s self-pity party in Jonah 4 happened after a huge revival in Nineveh in Jonah 3. We saw it in Nehemiah where it took Nehemiah 52 days to build the wall (Neh. 6:15), but a lifetime of having to build the people of God.
Many times we can become careless and after winning the war, but afterward lose the victory. No wonder the saintly Scottish pastor Andrew Bonar (1810–1892) said, “Let us be as watchful after the victory as before the battle.” Times of victory are vulnerable times. Therefore, yes, be diligent to pray for a successful wedding day, but be even more diligent to pray for the lifetime of marriage. I have rarely heard of an ugly wedding, but heard plenty of ugly marriages. Pray diligently about that particular job, house or car or child, but pray more about being a responsible and faithful steward once you get that prayer answered.
Today Abraham will be tested yet again, this time with success. In his moment of victory, he will be confronted with two options: once again, it will be whether to live by faith or to live by sight? Once again, it will be the choice between going the way of the seed of the woman or joining the seed of the serpent. And really how he chooses here will be more significant than how well he defeated the kings of the east. Let’s start like this:
I. In victory, let God replenish you (Gen. 14:17-18)
Abraham is amazingly victorious. Pastor Kent Hughes says, “So when Abram returned to his home after the defeat of the kings, he was a hero at the pinnacle of martial success. Can you see him proudly astride his lumbering mount, smeared with the dirt and blood of battle, leading his 318 proud men plus Lot and all the captives and all the plunder through Salem?” A 75-year-old man, with war paint on his face, now rides back, hailed as the first ever underdog victor ever.
It must have been exhilarating. Abraham was thankful, since he has his nephew back. Lot is now like how Abraham was in Gen. 13, making the silent trip back after a time of failure. As Abrahama returns, he notices from the distance that King Bera, the King of Sodom was coming to meet him. I wonder if he was one of the kings that fell in the pit (Gen. 14:10)? If so, it would be funny to picture him humiliated and dripping with tar, approaching like he’s something great. It’s funny how people stuck on their egos can be humbled, only to get a bigger ego. The valley mentioned here is south of Jerusalem. I can picture this King so excited with arms wide open, as though he had something to do with this victory and that he was the one who sent Abraham on this mission. King Bera is ready to throw a ticker-tape parade for this Abraham, but with a catch.
Simultaneously, all of a sudden, another person comes into the picture. As King Bera is smooching Abraham, Melchizedek, known here as the King of Salem comes as a servant, one who brings Abraham and everyone with him bread and wine. Bread and water would have been the staple diet. Bread and wine is royal fare (1 Sam 16:20)…Here [Melchizedek) is portrayed as “laying on a royal banquet for Abram the returning conqueror.”
We will talk about who this Melchizedek character is, but take note here God knows how to replenish His servants after battle. God sends Melchizedek at the same time this King of Sodom comes. God is letting Abraham know that he always has the choice to go to the right place for his needs. Eventually this idea of bread and wine will be used symbolically of communion. Most importantly, this act would have re-energized, encouraged and refreshed Abraham.
Sometimes we are moving from battle to battle and burning out and we don’t let the Lord minister to us. Abraham was coming from battle, selflessly pouring himself out for his nephew. What he needs now is encouragement. God doesn’t just tell you to keep going like a drill sergeant and leave you there. He washes the feet of the weary. He meets us in the valley, encourages our spirit, fills you with His peace and joy, pours grace into your soul, so you can keep serving Him.
I love Elijah’s story. He has an amazing ministry in one chapter. Then all of a sudden, he has this pity party. He says, “I want to die.” He ends up falling asleep under a tree. But God doesn’t wake him up. He doesn’t say, “Get up and serve me! I have some things to show you! You are so ungrateful!” Sometimes the godliest thing we can do when we have been fighting some battles in our lives, when we have been persevering in the service of others is to get some sleep. When he woke up, the angel comes to him and says, “Arise and eat, the journey is too great for you” (1 Kings 19:7). Sleep well. Eat right. Elijah was exhausted. God replenished him.
I also think of Peter, in John 21, who, having denied Jesus three times, ends up on boat, trying to go back to his old life. He catches nothing after toiling all night. In the Gospels, isn’t it funny that the disciples never seem to catch anything if Jesus is not around? Anyway, Peter comes ashore cold, shivering, wet, tired, weary, broken and empty-handed. What does he find when he comes ashore? Jesus with His arms crossed, shaking His head with a whip in His hand ready to beat Him? No, a Jesus who serves him. He is cooking for them! A friend of the weary. A humble King, a greater Melchizedek. A sympathetic High priest, a greater Melchizedek. Tired, cold, hungry disciples don’t get a beating, but breakfast. Why doesn’t Jesus do that? Because He took the beating for us. He was beaten up and the wrath of God poured on him, so we can be filled with grace. Once Peter ate, warmed up, Jesus, full of grace, but also full of truth, takes Him aside and asks him some painful questions, which we all know.
One of the lessons I learned from studying creation and rest in Gen. 1 and 2 was that God is a God of rhythm. We need to have rhythms in our lives of work and rest if we are going to live. I used to think my times of prayer and in the Word was just to please God, but the more and more I am in ministry, I realize I need it to live! It’s God’s plan to move me from self-sufficiency to God-dependency. Life is hard. Family is hard. Jobs are hard. Marriages are hard. Parenting is hard. There is brokenness everywhere. This can be so draining. Paul Miller says, “Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart.” It is not about how busy our lives are, but how busy is our heart?
Have you ever been on an airplane and heard the fight attendant say, “For those of you traveling with small children, in the event of an oxygen failure, first place the mask on your own face and then place the mask on your child’s face”? That is brilliant. What they are saying is, “You are no use to anyone if you are dead.” I am suffocating if I am not breathing in His Word and His love, while trying to put oxygen masks on everybody else. Parents, the best thing you can do for your kids is to have a good marriage. The best thing you can do for those you serve is to let the Lord serve you when you have depleted your resources and are running on empty.
In our times of greatest triumph, let the Lord replenish you. Sometimes that might mean we start sleeping better. If you want to have a good time with the Lord the next day, prepare your body and your heart and mind the night before. Pray your anxieties. Emote your emotions with the Lord and with others. Have a Sabbath. Let the Lord fill you. Secondly
II. In victory, give God the glory (Gen. 14:19-20b)
Now we meet this guy named Melchizedek. This whole scene is very mysterious. The title (so it was not his name) “Melchizedek,” means “king of righteousness,” and the title “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” His identity is a mystery because he comes in suddenly and leaves quickly. We don’t hear about again until Ps. 110 and then parts of Hebrews 5,6 and most of 7.
Some have said he is Jesus, i.e. a pre-incarnate Christ. However, the author of Hebrews simply says Melchizedek was “resembling the Son of God” (Heb. 7:3), not that he was the Son of God. Could he have been an angel or some heavenly being? He seems to be a King of an earthly city though. Most likely, I think he is a real, historical King who somehow became a believer and recognized Yahweh as the true God. There is also a strong possibility that he might have been a Canaanite. If so, God is already saving the cursed Canaanites (Gen. 9:25) as He will save Rahab the Canaanite later. Interestingly, he is a priest long before the priesthood was established. We do not know how he carried out his priestly duties.
When we look at the other passages that talk about Melchizedek, it seems like the Jews looked for a King-Priest like him to come one day as the Messiah (Ps. 110). Jews revered Melchizedek, because even Abraham here recognizes greatness about him. Interestingly, the author of Hebrews says to Jewish believers who were tempted to go back to Judaism that Melchizedek is actually pointing to a greater Melchizedek, Jesus Christ (Heb. 7). Jesus is a Superior King and Superior Priest.
There is a lot more to say about this, but for us here, look at what Melchizedek says. He glorifies God. Abraham could have started to believe his own press. But before Abraham could think anything about himself, Melchizedek puts things in perspective. Melchizedek worships God as “Possessor” and “Deliverer.” In other words, he declares God as owner of it all (not Abraham) and God as the true Warrior (not Abraham). Melchizedek is claiming for Abram’s God the exalted place of Lord of the universe. Pastor Mark Driscoll adds, “Melchizedek looks at it and he says, ‘Abram, I know why you won…I know that it’s not ’cause you had a great plan, it’s not ’cause you’re a tough guy, it’s not ’cause you had good allies…it’s not ’cause your 318 men are good. Ultimately, you were outnumbered, you were surrounded, you shouldn’t have won. The reason you won is this, Abram. God blessed you. God protected you. God gave you a great victory.’”
Because of sin, we are always tempted to steal God’s glory instead of giving Him glory. What does it mean to steal God’s glory? Well first of all, glory means, “weight.” It is the immensity of all that God is. So when we talk about God’s glory, we mean that, compared to anything else, God alone is permanent, God alone is important and God alone is real. God alone matters. But when we seek our glory through selfish ambition, we are saying, “I am all that matters and I am what is ultimately important. I am beautiful and need everyone to pay attention and value me.” And in seeking greatness for ourselves, we become smaller than larger.
We are all glory seekers. Whatever we prize, chase after or pursue is what we glory in. We pursue what we value. Glory grabs us. It captures our heart. Dave Harvey in Rescuing Ambition writes, “We’re awed by great comebacks, heroic efforts, sacrificial endurance, and extraordinary gifts. Glory arrests our attention. My friend Paul Tripp describes us as ‘glory junkies’:
Admit it. You’re a glory junkie. That’s why you like the 360-degree, between-the-legs slam dunk, or that amazing hand-beaded formal gown, or the seven-layer triple-chocolate mousse cake. It’s why you’re attracted to the hugeness of a mountain range or the multihued splendor of the sunset. You were hardwired by your Creator for a glory orientation. It is inescapable. It’s in your genes.’”
The question is not if we love or if we pursue glory, but what type of glory are we pursuing? Is it a desire to make the weight of who God is in Jesus Christ (John 1:14—we have seen HIS GLORY, GLORY AS OF THE ONLY SON FROM THE FATHER) a permanent, real and most important reality in your life? What do you pursue in your heart? Whatever you pursue is what your prize. Harvey goes on to look at his own heart to see if he is a “glory thief.” It is so subtle that often we don’t recognize it in our own hearts. Let me share some of his “glory thief” indicators:
- “Great-in-your-own-mind” glory thief. This thief thinks great thoughts—about himself. He has wonderful plans—for himself. He can always think of a way to do it better than the other guy. He’s ready to offer his valuable opinion about anything. Just ask. Sometimes you don’t even need to ask. Do you look at others and even though you wouldn’t say it, you think they could have a lot to learn from you? Do you have a hard time staying quiet as others speak because you’re pretty sure you have the right answer?
- “Potentially-great” glory thief. This is the person everybody says could really do something if he/she put his/her mind to it. This person has the tools; but just needs to put it all together. But he/she fears success and the responsibility that comes with it. Better to always “have potential” than to risk anything—just keep pushing success out there into the future, and nobody can criticize you for how you achieved it. If anything, you tell yourself, you have too small a view of self; you need more ambition, and more belief in yourself. Here’s the question: do you fear failure so deeply that you would rather remain ‘the person with potential’ than actually try and fail? Your greatness is so precious to you, it’s such an idol, that you won’t even risk trying because failure would absolutely destroy you. And so you put value in yourself and in pursuing yourself, you steal the glory that God deserves.
- “Formerly-great” glory thief. This person is one that has been there and done that. This is the “back in the day” glory thief, caught up in all the achievements of the past. As a result, nothing is done today in the present for the Kingdom of God.
- “Comparatively-great” glory thief. This person realizes he may not be the John Piper of theology or Chris Tomlin of worship, but at least he’s better than the average person. This person is extremely conscious of the competition. He knows what it takes to stay ahead of the average guy. This person doesn’t appreciate somebody being promoted over him. It messes up his comparison index. He loves to win, hates to lose.
- “The I’d-Be-Great-If-Others-Would-Just-Notice” glory thief. This thief “would never claim to be great, but would sure appreciate it if others would perceive his effort. He knows what people like, and he’s good at delivering it. If he had to choose between some great success that only God noticed and some small success witnessed by others, he’d choose the latter every day and twice on Sunday. It’s not that he doesn’t care whether God notices; it just feels better when other people do.” This thief wants man’s approval and as a result, responds in anger or bitterness when lack of approval goes on for a long time. In the process, God’s glory is stolen.
He mentions others, but I will leave you with those. We are all glory thieves. What do glory thieves need? We need a Melchizedek, but a better one. We need a better priest and a better King. We need a priest to forgive us for our stealing of God’s glory and a King to rule over us, to re-center our pursuits. We don’t simply need refreshment. We need redemption. And we find that in Christ, He came into the world to save us from self-centeredness glory stealing. How did He do it? He died in our place as a criminal. He loved us without any benefit to Himself, so our disgrace can be replaced with His glory (John 17:22). Our hearts cry, “I will ascend. I am important,” but Jesus says, “I will descend, I will go low, for their sakes” (Phil. 2:4-10). He lost all power and served, to save us. He is the priest that we need, that also became the sacrifice for our redemption. He is the King we need not just to rule over us, but to live through us and be the object of our affection, the goal of our pursuits and the glory we seek. And if you let Him capture your heart, you will live to give glory to God.
Iain Duguid notes, “Like Abram, we need Jesus, not only in our hour of failure, but also in our hour of greatest triumph. We need to run to the cross, not only when we have sinned against God and man, but also when we have faced our greatest temptation victoriously. For Jesus is our great High Priest, whose sacrifice paid not only for our sins, but also for our righteousness, which even at its best is still woefully inadequate. There on the cross he replaced both with his perfect righteousness, the only garment in which we may stand in the presence of the all-holy God, our Creator and Redeemer.” Even our greatest triumphs are miniscule in light of the Lord Jesus, who defeated our selfish glory-grabbing hearts to transform them into glory-giving hearts to the right source.
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Harvey, D. (2010). Rescuing Ambition (22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Duguid, Iain M. (1999). Living in the Reality Gap Between Promise and Reality: The Gospel According to Abraham (51). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&P Publishing.