Monday, April 15, 2013

M is for Melchizedek

Today I decided to cover one of the lesser known figures of the Bible.  He's only mentioned in three places:  Genesis, Psalms and Hebrews.
If you read my last post about Lot, there was a part when I talked about Lot getting carried off when some kings attacked and Abram sent his impressive army of private soldiers to get him back.  And then this happened:
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 14:18-20)
At first glance, this would just seem to be a irrelevant side note.  Melchizedek means "king of righteousness" and Salem is a shortened version of Jerusalem.  This makes Melchizedek the king of Jerusalem and a priest.  It's possible that Melchizedek was a priest of the Canaanite gods, however, Abram's reaction to his blessing indicates that Melchizedek did worship the true God (not to mention that God used him as an example later in the Bible).
Then, Melchizedek shows up randomly in Psalm 110:
The Lord says to my lord:
“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”
The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
    “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
 Your troops will be willing
    on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy splendor,
    your young men will come to you
    like dew from the morning’s womb.
The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.
The Lord is at your right hand;
    he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
    and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook along the way,
    and so he will lift his head high.
"Order of Melchizedek," you ask?  This psalm is a prophecy about Jesus and Jesus is often referred to as our "prophet, priest and king."  Melchizedek was also a priest and king at the same time.  In Old Testament Israel, the high priest and kings were entirely different people from completely different tribes of Israel.  Priests were from Levi and the kings that Jesus was descended from were from Judah.
To get an even better understanding, we have to look at the book of Hebrews.  If you're not familiar with Hebrews, it was written to the Jews after the ascension of Jesus to explain how Jesus fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies.  The treatment about Melchizedek is found in Hebrews 7.
The writer of Hebrews (who has never been positively identified, but is often thought to be Paul), starts by giving some background about Melchizedek and explains that the "tenth of everything" that Abram/Abraham (remember he had his name changed by God) gave to him, was the same as "the tenth" that Levite priests collected from the people of Israel.  He also explains that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham because Abraham gave the offering to Melchizedek and Melchizedek blessed Abraham.  Since Abraham was the great-grandfather of Levi, this makes Melchizadek greater than the priests of Levi.
The people that Hebrews was directed toward would have been confused.  All they knew was the Levite priesthood.  So, as Hebrews 7 continues, it begins to explain things.  The Levites were part of Old Testament law so if a new priest came (Jesus, who was not a Levite), the laws would have to be changed.  Jesus, because he was priest and king, was able to save the people because he lives forever since he is both God and Man.  I'll let the last few verses of Hebrews 7 explain things.
 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.  For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.
If you have the chance, I recommend reading the entire book of Hebrews, but especially chapter 7.

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