Melchizedek & the Loins image

Melchizedek & the Loins

Hebrews 7 is not an easy chapter for the casual Bible reader: who is this Melchizedek? But, for the non-casual reader, Melchizedek is a figure of fascination and importance (Don Carson once gave the best talk I’ve heard on this).

The point of Melchizedek is to point towards the superior greatness of Christ, but the writer to the Hebrews does this in a way that feels circuitous. The greatness of Melchizedek is demonstrated by how he was honoured by Abraham, culminating in Abraham’s offering of a tithe to Melchizedek. This tithe, says the writer, shows that Melchizedek’s priesthood was superior to that of the Levites, the descendants of Abraham, because, “Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor” (Heb. 7:9-10).

Much could be said of this but of particular interest in light of contemporary discussions around ‘identity’ is the bodily connection envisaged between Abraham and his great-grandson Levi. Levi is ‘in the loins’ of Abraham and so, somehow, directly engaged in Abraham’s offering. In this worldview identity is tied to ancestry: Levi the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah… What counts is not so much who Levi is, but who is father is.

In such a worldview the idea that personal psychology could determine identity is literally unthinkable. It is a very biological view of identity: the son springs from the father’s loins – there is no way the son could then imagine himself to really be female. It is also a very hierarchical view of identity: the son does not get to choose to be anything other than his father’s son and has to carry forward the familial identity and responsibility that go with that. There is no self-defined ‘my truth’. Identity is objective and given, not self-realised.

Such a view of identity has been the traditional one, the ‘normal’ one. It is certainly the view that has characterised the institution of the Royal family – an institution that depends for its survival on heredity. That Harry has so deliberately sought to cut against this tradition is what has led to the widespread ridicule of his and Meghan’s narcissism. By seeking to invent a new, personal and subjective ‘truth’, Harry has denied his birth right.

The thing about subjective truths is that they are not really true: Harry can no more deny who he is than a man can become a woman. The tragedy to come is when the Montecito fairy-tale begins to crumble, as it surely will: when Harry wants to return to the fold will he find the earth too scorched and all possible bridges burnt?

As we approach Christmas we think of the one who was like Melchizedek: the one who was greater even than Abraham. Yet in his greatness he condescended to empty himself, taking on the nature of a servant (Phil. 2). In this we see that Jesus was constrained – he didn’t attempt to write his own destiny, but rather,

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission (Heb. 5:7).

True greatness, and in the end true freedom, won by true obedience. That is the place to find our true identity.


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