(This study is an expansion of the worship section in my book, “A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality,” Fifth Estate Publishing, 2007)
What happened to the true worship of God when the waters receded on the earth and Noah made the first sacrificial offering to God? Did Noah’s sons and wives and their children and their children’s children continue to follow God as Noah did? The families born after the Flood rebelled against God and tried to regain their position in the world through their own strength. They refused to worship God through offerings. They refused to obey God’s plan for them to move across the earth, take possession of the land and be His people. Instead they all moved together toward the place where the Garden of Eden had last been seen before the Flood and built a tower toward Heaven so they could “make a name” for themselves. Their name was more important to them than God’s Name – the worship of self continued. They did not want to be “scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth,” so they conspired together under the leadership of Nimrod and other rebellious leaders (who were under the spiritual leadership of Satan) to run from God’s Will for their lives to what they thought would be their salvation. Well, God would have none of that. He confused (Hebrew balal – mix up so as to confound through the mixture) their language so they could not understand each other’s speech, and in doing so the people did just what God had planned for them to do.
“So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” Genesis 11:8-9
God stopped the construction of the tower instantly. The people were thrown into a great panic by the confusion of language – apparently giving each family its own unique language (since the list of families in Genesis 10 & 11 is unbroken even after the confusion of language). If God also changed their genetic appearance at the same time, it was even more reason for families to scatter (Hebrew pus – disperse what was before united) over the face of the earth. They had a strong reason for getting as far away from each other as they could. Each family deeply feared the other families because of how God had changed them. I can imagine that panic fights may have broken out on and around the tower after God confused the languages. Family members would have found each other and run from the tower to find a safe place where they could regroup, try to make sense of what had changed and decide what they would do next. They could no longer count on support from the rest of the world’s population. Safety and support were up to the leaders of each family to provide.
You might think that this amazing demonstration of God’s Power would have humbled people and brought them to their knees to worship Him and ask for His forgiveness, but instead they all went their own way and did what was right in their own eyes rather than obey God. Nimrod and other leaders of that time built fortified cities for protection and for worship of self. Within a short time the population of the world had developed a sophisticated system of idol worship based on gods of their own creation – often based on worshiping their own image rather than the True God who had created man in His Image. Families built their own system of gods and worshiped them in the form of idols – images of what they wanted their gods to look like. Pride in family, village, city, regional and national gods led to many of the wars recorded in early history. The Sumerians, led by Nimrod and his family, were the first people to write in their own language. Language became – like now – a factor of pride for people and they wanted to promote and protect it in a world filled with languages. Other families wrote in their language as well and the battle for historical supremacy was born.
So, back to our primary question – what happened to the true worship of God? Every family on earth was worshiping gods of their own making. This was no surprise to God. He knew what would happen even as He promised Noah that He would not destroy the earth by water again – “Then the LORD said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21) God knew the heart of man was evil from birth. That’s the sin nature we all know so well. Even faced with something as amazing as the Flood and the confusion of languages at Babel, the human race turned away from God to worship the work of their own hands.
Even as there were ten generations from Adam to Noah, God would reveal His plan for worship and the promised Seed after ten generations from Noah. The total rebellion of the human race against God did not keep God from accomplishing His purpose.
“Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3
God reached into the heart of Nimrod’s wicked rebellion against Him and chose a man to follow Him and carry the Seed forward. Abram lived in Ur of the Chaldees about 4,000 years ago – a large and powerful city-state. The primary pagan god of the people of Ur was Nanna, the Sumerian moon god. The Akkadians also worshiped the same moon god and called his name Sin. What did God ask Abram to do? Leave the wicked country of his birth, leave his father and go to a place God would show him. This new worship God was going to introduce to Abram would be established hundreds of miles west of Ur to a land known as Canaan. Canaan was not a land of people who worshiped the One True God of Heaven. The Canaanites worshiped many pagan gods that Abram and his family would have to deal with through the years – including Baal, Mot, Anat, Yam, Asherah, Dagon, Moloch, Chemosh, Tammuz, and Yarikh. Remember that the whole world had gone after false gods. So, what was special about the land of Canaan? Why would God choose to send Abram there to re-establish true worship on earth?
Think for a moment about where Eden was located. God created Adam in Eden and placed him in a garden “eastward in Eden.” We know the approximate location of Eden because of the rivers Moses listed in Genesis 2. Scholars disagree on the exact location because of the modern understanding of the names of rivers and land masses, but we have a general idea.
“Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one which goes around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Hiddekel; it is the one which goes toward the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates.” Genesis 2:10-14
There are many theories about the original location of the Garden of Eden. Some think it was located in Iraq, others in Turkey. One thing we know for sure is that it was “eastward in Eden” (literally “the way of the east”). We know that God removed Adam and Eve from the Garden and placed them east of the Garden – “So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:24) We also know that Cain moved east when he left his family after murdering his brother – “Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden.” (Genesis 4:16) The Hebrew word for “Nod” means “wander.” It made sense for Cain to move his family eastward since to go westward would have meant heading toward the Garden of Eden and facing the powerful angels that would have killed anyone who attempted to gain entrance there. The Garden of Eden was a continual reminder of man’s sin and God’s righteousness. The sin nature of man would move the human race in the opposite direction of the location of God’s judgment and curse.
This continual movement to the east begs the question, “what was west of the Garden of Eden?” We know God created Adam in Eden and placed him in a garden “eastward in Eden.” We know that after He created Adam and Eve, He would walk with them in the Garden. Eden (delight) was where God lived on earth. We might think of it as the place of God’s earthly Throne. God is on His Throne wherever He lives and Eden was the place He created for Himself. He created the Garden for Adam, Eve and their children. What land do we know now that was west of the probable location of the Garden of Eden? Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah – who knew the original location of the Garden -led the human race straight for the plains of Shinar and built a tower at what is now known as Babel (in western Iraq). Look west from Babel and what do you see? The Land of Canaan. That’s where God sent Abram to establish a land for the people of promise.
Think about the power of this statement – “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) God was going to rescue (save) many members of the human race from the final destruction of our planet that is to come and He chose Abram to be the one who would become the father of those people. Where did God send Abram? He sent him to the birthplace of Adam – to Eden. What was that area of the world known as during Abram’s time? Canaan!
“So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.” Genesis 12:4–6
The first mention of Canaan in the Bible is Genesis 9:18 – “Now the sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Ham was the father of Canaan.” Canaan was a grandson of Noah. His father, Ham, had been on the ark with his mother during the Great Flood. He was born soon after Noah and his children left the Ark to live again on dry land. Ham sinned against his father Noah and Noah cursed the line of Canaan and said they would be servants of the line of Shem (Genesis 9:26). Abram was from the lineage of Shem. God sent Abram directly into the land that the children of Canaan had taken for themselves. Why? Because the Canaanites were living on God’s land and He was sending Abram to take it back for the people of God.
Having this background gives us a better understanding of the importance of the land of Israel. When God rescued (saved) the people of Israel from the land of Egypt, He gave them specific instructions about what to do when they entered the Land of Canaan. Here’s what God told Moses to tell the children of Israel:
“Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you have crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places; you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land and dwell in it, for I have given you the land to possess. And you shall divide the land by lot as an inheritance among your families; to the larger you shall give a larger inheritance, and to the smaller you shall give a smaller inheritance; there everyone’s inheritance shall be whatever falls to him by lot. You shall inherit according to the tribes of your fathers. But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell. Moreover it shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them.” Numbers 33:50-56
God told Israel to drive all of the Canaanites out of the land, destroy all of the pagan idol worship, and possess (Hebrew yaras “take possession by driving out”) the land. God warned Israel that if they did not drive out the Canaanites from the land and destroy their idol worship, then the people they allowed to remain would be irritants in their eyes and thorns in their side and would harass them in the land. God went on to say that He would do to Israel what He was going to do to the Canaanites if they didn’t obey Him. As we know from the history of Israel, they did not drive out the Canaanites, they did not destroy the pagan worship, the Canaanites were irritants in their eyes and thorns in their sides, and God did to Israel what He would have done to the Canaanites.
These words that God spoke to Moses 3,500 years ago still ring in the ears of our planet. Have you ever wondered why the little country of Israel would be such a flashpoint of emotion in our world today? What’s the big deal about this one tiny country having a little bit of land. The land surface of the Earth is more than 57,000,000 square miles. The land surface of Israel is about 8,000 square miles – and more than half of that is desert (Negev – 4,633 square miles). That means that Israel, counting its desert, is only .0001% of the land mass of Earth. So, what’s all the fuss about? Why does anybody care about this tiny little country that’s mostly desert?
The answer came to the forefront of the news recently when one of the best-known American journalists of our time said what millions of people around the world believe about Israel. This journalist was asked to comment about Israel. Her response was – “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” The person interviewing her on camera asked where the people of Israel should go and she answered- “They go home.” When the interviewer asked her where Israel’s home was, the journalist answered, “Poland, Germany … And America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries? See?” This journalist is of Lebanese descent and believes as many do that Israel stole land that belonged to the Palestinian people. What she and so many others don’t realize is that God gave that land to Israel four-thousand of years ago. It is because of the disobedience of Israel that non-Israelites are still in the land. God punished Israel harshly in 70 A.D. when He allowed Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple 0f God. It’s estimated that as many as a million Jews died during the Roman siege. Most of the Jews who survived were taken into Roman captivity and transported to other countries where their descendants remained until Hitler killed more than six million Jews during his campaign to annihilate the Hebrew race. That campaign drove tens of thousands of Jews from Europe back to Israel to join together for safety against those who might try again to exterminate them. About 40% of the world’s Jewish population now lives in Israel. The State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948 – almost 1,900 years after Rome destroyed their country and drove them from their land. Jews returned at the end of World War II to again possess the land God had given them.
With that as our historical background, let’s return to Abram’s arrival in the Land of Canaan to see what we can learn about the importance of that land to God. The first time we see God speaking to Abram after he crossed into the Land of Canaan is in Genesis 12. The first named location was Shechem, which was about 30 miles north of Jerusalem and nestled between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. The first thing God said to Abram was, “To your descendants I will give this land.” Abram built an altar to the Lord at Shechem, then traveled south another 20 miles and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. Abram built another altar to the Lord there and called on God’s Name. Abram continued on his journey south and because of a famine in the land traveled all the way to Egypt to find food. Abram became wealthy during his time in Egypt and returned to the place between Bethel and Ai where he had established an altar and called again on the Name of the Lord.
It was at that place between Bethel and Ai that Abram’s nephew, Lot, left Abram and moved his family close to the wicked city of Sodom (Genesis 13). God spoke to Abram soon after Lot moved away. The Lord gave Abram more detail about the land He was going to give him and his descendants.
“And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from 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. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.’ Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the LORD.” Genesis 13:14-18
By walking great distances, Abram and his family began to get an idea of the magnitude of God’s gift to them. Looking at all the dust beneath his feet gave Abram some idea about the great number of descendants he would have. What happens next has tremendous significance about why God chose to send Abram to take possession of the Land of Canaan. The kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam and Tidal “king of nations” made war with the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela (Zoar). This war was not Abram’s battle, but it became personal to him when his nephew lot was taken as part of the spoils of the war. Abram took 318 of his trained servants and chased the armies north as far as Dan and attacked them. Abram and his servants won the battle and took back Lot and all the goods the armies had stolen from Sodom. Abram and his servants, along with Lot, made their way south to go home. As they passed near the ancient city of Salem, someone came out to greet them.
“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
Who was Melchizedek? If God had called Abram to be the father of true worship, who is this priest of God Most High? The Old Testament doesn’t give us much information about Melchizedek, but we do find a mention in one of the Messianic Psalms.
“The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies! Your people shall be volunteers In the day of Your power; In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth. The LORD has sworn And will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.” Psalm 110:1-4
We have to look to the writings of the New Testament to get a better understanding about Melchizedek. The Book of Hebrews mentions the name of Melchizedek 9 times in chapters 5 – 7.
“So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’ As He also says in another place: ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek’; who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest ‘according to the order of Melchizedek,’ of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” Hebrews 5:5-11
“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:19-20
“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated ‘king of righteousness,’ and then also king of Salem, meaning ‘king of peace,’ without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies: ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.’ For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him: ‘The LORD has sworn And will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek’), by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant. Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who isholy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.” Hebrews 7
Many people believe that Melchizedek was the Pre-Incarnate Son of God. That’s because Melchizedek was the King of Righteousness, King of Peace and High Priest of the Most High God. Who else but God’s Son could have met all those qualifications? And then there’s Abram giving a tithe of the spoils to Melchizedek. So, here’s the question – if Melchizedek was the Pre-Incarnate Son of God, why was God’s Son identified as the King of a real city in the Land of Canaan? What was He doing there and what was the significance of His appearing to Abram with bread and wine?
Ancient Salem has been identified as the location of Jerusalem that would centuries later become the capital city of Israel. Some archaeologists believe that artifacts found in the area prove that the city of Salem was established between 3,000 and 2,600 B.C. The larger area was known as the Land of Canaan because the people who settled there were from the lineage of Canaan – son of Ham, son of Noah. The Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites, and Hamathites came from the lineage of Canaan. The people who settled Salem were the Jebusites. Why would Melchizedek, King of Righteousness and Peace and High Priest of the Most High God, be the King of the Jebusites? The line of Canaan was cursed to be servants to the line of Shem, so why would God’s High Priest be involved as the leader of a Canaanite clan?
I don’t believe Melchizedek was a king of the Canaanites. He is not mentioned again in the Bible as having another historical encounter with God’s people. He appears once to Abram, then is gone. It may be that Melchizedek was King of Salem for just this encounter with Abram, or as I think is more likely, it may be that the name King of Salem (Hebrew Melechitzedek – righteousness is my king) was a title or designation of honor rather than a political position. We know from God’s Word that Jesus Christ is a Priest forever “According to the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek bringing bread and wine to Abram represented the salvation of God that would come more than 1,900 years later through the Sacrifice of Christ. What a beautiful picture of our Lord offering His Body and Blood to Abram – who was ancestor to all who would be saved through Christ’s Death and Resurrection.
Jerusalem (Hebrew Yerushaláyim – abode or teaching of peace) plays a pivotal role in the Plan of God. The next time we see the name Jerusalem in the Bible after Melchizedek is centuries later in the Book of Joshua. Joshua, the great leader of Israel after the death of Moses, captured and killed Jerusalem’s king, Adoni-Zedek (Joshua 10). The Tribe of Judah fought against the people of Jerusalem after the death of Joshua and burned the city (Judges 1). The Benjamites were supposed to drive the Jebusites from the land, but they didn’t and the Jebusites remained in Jerusalem for many generations. Jerusalem is where David defeated the Jebusites and established the Kingdom of Israel. Jerusalem is where Solomon built the Temple of God. It’s where Jesus died and rose again for the sins of the world. It’s where Jesus will return in the future to establish His Throne in a new Temple and rule the world for a thousand years.
Why Jerusalem? Why Israel? The Land of Canaan was west of Babel and could have been the location of the original Eden. It may be that Jerusalem is on the site where God created Adam and Eve and had His earthly Throne. There is something special about God’s Throne being permanently located in Jerusalem. Even after the united kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon divided, Jerusalem continued to be the capital city of Judah. Even after Judah was conquered and the people were taken into captivity, they returned to rebuild the City of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple. Even after almost 1,900 years of being away from the land, dispersed around the world, Jews by the thousands and thousands returned to Jerusalem after World War II to rebuild the national identity of Israel with plans to build a third Temple. And what is the name of the great city of God that will come down from Heaven to the new Earth?
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband … ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God … But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” Revelation 21:1-2, 9-11, 22-27
And to think it all began with these simple words to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.”
(You can read more about our ancient ancestors – including Noah, Abraham and his sons – on pages 14 – 17, 474 – 483, 496 – 507, 510 – 521, and 532 – 586)
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”