Friday, October 24, 2014

Hebrews 6:20-7:3 Who is Melkizedek and Why Should I Care?

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,  where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him,  and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.”  Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. (Hebrews 7:1-3 NIV)

I have backed up one verse before starting in chapter 7, because we need the context. The author has just stated that our hope is secure because Jesus is our high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. This begs the question, who is this Melchizedek? He is a mysterious person, given only four verses in Genesis 14, who appears, then is barely mentioned again.

First I need to set up the background. When Abraham was traveling around with his nephew Lot, they settled in a place called Bethel. However, the land wasn’t large enough for both of them with their herds and people, so Abraham suggested they part. Abraham selflessly suggested that Lot choose the land he wanted, and Abraham would take what was left. Lot looked out and saw the plain of Jordan, in the east, and found it was perfect, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt (Gen 13:10). So Lot headed east and pitched his tents near Sodom, where the people were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD. (vs. 12-13) This would not be a good move for Lot! He thought he was getting the best deal, but not so much.

If you know the story of Sodom and Gommorah, you know that angels had to forcibly remove Lot and his family from Sodom before God destroyed it. Even then, his wife, having been ordered not to look back, couldn’t help herself from gazing back at her precious home, so she turned into a pillar of salt. Well, even before the destruction of Sodom, Lot found himself in trouble there. There was a war between several local kings, and Lot and his family were carried off with all of their possessions as a result of this war. When Abraham heard what had happened, he gathered 318 trained men from his household, and they routed the men who had taken Lot and rescued his nephew and all of his family and goods. On his way home from this victory, Abraham met Melchizedek:

After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, 

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

    Creator of heaven and earth.   
And praise be to God Most High,

    who delivered your enemies into your hand.” 
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:17-20)

That’s all that we know about Melchizedek. He was the King of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” and his actual name means “king of righteousness.” His name is mentioned one other time in the Old Testament, in what is considered a prophetic word, spoken by God the Father to Christ, the Messiah: 

“You are a priest forever,

    in the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)

Melchizedek was both a king and a priest of the Most High God. It was not permissible under Jewish law to have both roles. Yet, Melchizedek did. And he blessed Abraham, and Abraham gave him a tithe. The author of Hebrews indicates that this man had no beginning or ending, no father or mother, and he was like the Son of God, a priest forever. So who was he, and why is it important that Jesus is called a priest in the order of Melchizedek? Well, many commentators believe that Melchizedek was actually a Christophany - an appearance of the Son of God before his incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth.

The significance of linking Jesus to the priesthood of Melchizedek is that it shows His superiority over Abraham, the revered father of the Jewish nation. The argument is that Jesus is even superior to the founder of the Jewish faith, which would be noteworthy to these Hebrew believers, who were in danger of going back into slavery to the law and tradition. But for now, note that Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe, a tenth of EVERYTHING! Tithing preceded the giving of the law. It is a natural response of worship. Abraham was acknowledging that God had brought him this miraculous victory, and in gratitude He gives back to God what was really God’s anyway. More about that next.  

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