April 3, 2014.
“After his 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. He was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”
If you are just reading through the book of Genesis, you might stumble across this passage and not think much of it. Why would you? How important can three seemingly random verses in the middle of Genesis be after all? Yeah, it deals with Abraham, but so does much of the rest of the bible. Who is Melchizedek anyway?
This is one of the reasons that I believe the bible to be an amazing piece of cohesive literature. It honestly doesn’t seem like anything important has transpired here, but in reality, this small passage sets up the basis for the perpetual priesthood of Christ.
Perhaps much of the teaching about Melchizedek is lost in our culture because we did not grow up Jewish. The only other hint we get of Melchizedek before the New Testament is from David’s writing in Psalm 110:
“The Lord has swornand will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest foreverafter the order of Melchizedek.'”
Since this psalm is widely recognized as a Messianic psalm, we can start to get a little clearer of a picture of what is going on here. But we still have very little to go on, and this is the last passage that speaks to about Melchizedek, at least until we get to Hebrews. What are we supposed to gain from these to short passages?
The Hebrew writer lays it out for us. Here’s what we need to know about Melchizedek. As far as we know, he does not have a genealogy. That’s not to say that he just appeared out of thin air, but more of a testament to his authority. It doesn’t seem that he needs a strong family name to secure his supremacy. He is simply a priest of the Most High God, and king of Salem. Second, Melchizedek held a place higher than Abraham did, shown by the fact that Abraham (and all his descendants by way of Abraham) paid a tithe to Melchizedek. This showed that the King and more authority and honor than Abraham did. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The Hebrew writer will go on to say that “the inferior is blessed by the superior.” (7:7) Doesn’t that seem odd? Or maybe this is not making any sense yet.
“So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”
It was no accident that Abraham ran into this king of Salem after returning from a victorious battle. God was going to use this interaction for the glory of his Son years and years later. Here was the problem with Jesus being a high priest- He was from the tribe of Judah. Now, if you know your Old Testament very well, you know that only decedents from the tribe of Levi were allowed to be priests. The tribe of Judah was not given this job. How then could the Messiah, who was prophesied to come from the tribe of Judah, be our high priest. Even if he was a priest, the priestly duties were passed on to their sons once the priest died. How would Jesus become our high priest forever? The answer to all this lies in those three little verses that we opened with. This is how the Hebrew writer explains it:
“Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood for under it the people received the law, what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness for the law made nothing perfect; but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’” This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.”
That was a bit of a lengthy reading, but if you stick with it, you can start to get a feel for the reasoning behind this important event in Jewish history. If Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, then he does not need to be a Levite. God didn’t say “you are a priest after the order of Levi.” It might be confusing why God would not just simply have Jesus come through the line of Levi and not have to do all this, but I think there is a very good reason behind this action. If you read the book of Hebrews through, you will find that it is a book that deals almost entirely with establishing the new covenant with Christ in place of the old covenant that God made with his people through the Law of Moses. For the old covenant could never truly forgive sins, but acted as a tutor until the Messiah came. At that point, Jesus went to the cross to bear the sins of all men, both before and after him. If he was simply from the tribe of Levi, nothing would have changed. He would simply be carrying on the Old Testament as opposed to establishing his new covenant.
Jesus is more that a mere human priest. He is the only one completely holy and able to be a priest, our High Priest, forever, because he rose again to live forever. If you read the suggested reading today, you will find much more information regarding this. Everything was part of the plan. There was a necessity set up in Genesis 14 that would come to fruition when Jesus rose from the grave on that third day. All glory be to our glorious King.
He died once for all. Have you been washed by his blood?
Suggested Daily Reading: Hebrews 4-8.
Blessed be the Lord.