Believe Jesus: When Abraham Met Melchizedek
Since its re-establishment as a political entity in 1948, the nation of Israel has garnered a reputation for daring military exploits. Perhaps the most famous example was the Entebbe Raid in which 100 Israeli commandos flew 2,500 miles to Entebbe, Uganda, to rescue 102 hostages held on an Air France plane. In the course of this operation all the hijackers and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed, and thirty Ugandan aircraft destroyed. The Entebbe Raid is in many ways seen as having written the playbook for hostage rescues, but in reality it was simply a modern replaying of what Israel’s founding father had previously done – a story of derring-do that is obliquely introduced in Hebrews 7.
The full story is told in Genesis 14 when one bunch of ‘kings’ (we would probably recognise them more as tribal warlords) goes to war against another bunch of kings. In the process they capture Abraham’s nephew Lot and Abraham then gathers up 318 of his own men and sets off in pursuit. Abraham fights the kings, beats them, and brings Lot and the loot back.
Abraham was a tough guy – the prototype Israeli commando!
The scene of Abraham’s triumphant return is easy to imagine. I’m sure it would have involved a lot of whooping and hollering, chest pounding and general beefy manliness. And in the midst of the party Melchizedek – like a figure out of the mist – appears to pronounce a blessing upon Abraham; a blessing so valued that Abraham hands over a tenth of the loot.
This event happened in about 2000BC and then there is no further mention of Melchizedek until about 1000BC, when he makes an appearance in Psalm 110. Psalm 110 is of course a messianic psalm, in which the one being spoken to is declared to be (mysteriously), “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
Scripture then falls silent about Melchizedek until the author of Hebrews sees the connections and pulls it all together. For the first time the connection between Genesis 14 and Psalm 110 is made clear – that it is all about Jesus.
Sometimes it takes a long time for God’s plan to be made plain, and the significance of the time when Ab met Mel is shrouded in mystery until we get to Hebrews 7. The point of revelation our author sees is that the whole story demonstrates the greatness of Christ. Here’s the logic: the Levitical priesthood is great, with a greatness that comes from father Abraham. However, Melchizedek’s priesthood was even greater than that of Levi, and now Christ has this greater priesthood. Melchizedek was pretty special, and the whole point of his appearing in Genesis 14 was to point to one who would be even more special.
Melchizedek’s special role and name
Mel is the first person to be called a ‘priest’ in the Bible and because he is described as priest of ‘God most high’ the implication is that he is no pagan, but serves the same God as does Abraham. Melchizedek’s priestly action is to bless Abraham and he does so as king of righteousness and peace. The messianic connection is immediately clear – Jesus is the righteous one who gives his people peace – a righteousness and peace that is greater than that available through Abraham.
Melchizedek’s special status
We have no record of Melchizedek’s ancestry, and normally in ancient cultures a lack of ancestry was a source of shame. The point being made is that Melchizedek did not need the right ancestors or descendants to legitimize his priesthood: He simply was priest of God!
The Levitical priests served for a period of twenty years, between the ages of thirty and fifty, but Melchizedek has an eternal priesthood, not dependent on ancestry or succession. In this Melchizedek points to the kind of priesthood that Christ has, one which is continual and eternal. Whereas the Levitical priesthood was always bounded by death this is not so with the priesthood of Christ. He is a superior priest.
Melchizedek’s special privilege
When Abraham had received the blessing he tithed the spoils to Melchizedek. (Literally, “Father Abraham gave him the top of the heap!”) Abraham was the greatest figure in the history of God’s people, and this was one of his greatest moments, but Melchizedek was greater. Go figure!
Tithing is an act of gratitude, an act of worship, and in this account Melchizedek represents God. In Israel tithing was established in the law and the priests received tithes on the basis of legal authority. But Melchizedek did not need the law to authorize his receiving of the tithe – he received it as an act of worship.
Similarly, when we tithe it is an act of gratitude to Jesus. It is not given as law, but offered as worship.
Melchizedek’s special blessing
One of the really odd things about this whole story is that it is Mel who blesses Ab. Surely it should have been the other way around? After all, Abraham was the greatest blesser God had put upon the earth, the one who was blessed and through whom blessing would come to all peoples. Moreover, in this incident Abraham has come back in triumph having accomplished an astonishing feat of arms. Surely this victory was a sign of his blessing. If anyone is going to be handing out blessings we would expect it to be Abraham. Yet Hebrews 7:7 makes the astounding assertion that Mel was superior to Ab, so it was right for the blessing to flow in that direction.
What this is meant to show us is that Christ is the ultimate source of blessing. If we want to know blessing we need to come to Jesus – even someone as great as Abraham cannot bring us into the blessings that Christ has for us!
Abraham was great, but Jesus is greater. (Imagine how shocking that would have sounded to Jewish ears – or just read John 8.) Let’s come to Jesus. He is our righteousness and peace, our priest, the one worthy of our worship, and the source of our blessing.