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Salem—The Surprising Lesson We Learn From Abraham’s Visit to Jerusalem

What Motivates You To Give Your Best To God?

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What motivates you to give your best to God? When Abraham came to Jerusalem, he gave his best to a king who was God’s priest. This may have laid the groundwork for when Abraham gave his very, very best to God. 

Salem—What We Can Learn From Abraham's Visit to Jerusalem

(Photo: City of David with Middle Bronze and Iron Age walls. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

We usually associate Abraham with Jerusalem in connection with the binding of Isaac—Abraham’s heroic willingness to sacrifice his son in the region of Moriah—today’s Temple Mount (Gen. 22:2; 2 Chron. 3:1).

But Abraham had come to Jerusalem (Salem) many years earlier. His visit there gives us more than a peek at early Jerusalem.

It gives us a lesson worth pondering.

Why Jerusalem Is Where Jerusalem Is

Jerusalem has had many names. When King David captured the city, it had the name Jebus. But in the days of Abraham, it was called Salem.

Ancient Jerusalem owed its location to two geographic blessings:

  • The valleys that surrounded it on three sides made it easily defensible.
  • The site had a continual source of water, the Gihon Spring. But the spring surfaced near the valley, making it necessary to reroute the flow and to protect the spring.
Old Testament Jerusalem

(Old Testament Jerusalem. Map courtesy of Satellite Bible Atlas)

Long before Hezekiah’s Tunnel rerouted the Gihon spring to the Pool of Siloam, the Canaanites chiseled a tunnel called the Siloam Channel to divert water to a pool south of the city.

Today visitors who don’t want to get wet in Hezekiah’s Tunnel can opt for the shorter, dry walk through the Canaanite Tunnel.

Siloam Channel

(Photo: Siloam Channel. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

In the 1990s, archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron discovered two towers that date to the Middle Bronze Age—which includes the time of Abram.

  • The “Pool Tower” guarded the pool that the Canaanite tunnel fed.
  • The “Spring Tower” sat over the spring and guarded it.
Spring Tower excavations

(Photo: Spring Tower excavations. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Abram’s Meeting in the Valley of Shaveh (the King’s Valley)

Scripture describes Abram’s visit to Salem in simple terms:

After [Abram’s] return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. —Gen. 14:17-18

The meeting took place in the King’s Valley, which is traditionally identified with the Kidron Valley (2 Sam. 18:18). If so, the meeting may have occurred near the towers that covered the water system.

Melchizedek, king of Salem, had a name that means “King of Righteousness.” Melchizedek would mean little to us if he were not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture as being very significant.

(Image: Melchizekek greets Abraham, by Charles Foster. Public Domain)

(Image: Melchizekek greets Abraham, by Charles Foster. Public Domain)

In Psalm 110:4, Melchizedek serves an illustration of the Messiah. The book of Hebrews clearly shows Melchizedek as a picture of Christ.

  • He is both priest and king of Jerusalem. No one else ever served as both.
  • The book of Hebrews points to Melchizedek’s lack of lineage as a picture of Christ as eternal.
  • Melchizedek is not a Levitical priest—and neither is Jesus—showing the temporary nature of the Old Covenant.

What We Can Ponder from Abram’s Visit to Salem

It’s significant that Melchizedek blesses Abram:

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 tenth of all. —Gen. 14:19-20

How did Abram respond? Abram gave a tenth of the spoil to Melchizedek. I wonder if this offering laid the groundwork in Abraham’s heart for his second visit to Salem. At that time he would offer God a greater sacrifice—Abraham’s own son, Isaac—in the area just north, called “Moriah”—what we know today as the Temple Mount.

God’s greatest blessing in our lives has flowed from the one who is “high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:20).

In light of everything the Lord has done for us, how can we not do as Abraham did—and surrender to Him the very best of our lives, including our money, our children, and our very lives?

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