By Ron Bailey
Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man
Chapter Four: New Beginnings
Melchizedek; time to sit and eat
In our previous devotional we gave an overview of Abraham's encounter with kings, confederates and a priest. We can take time now to think a little more about his remarkable meeting with that priest, Melchizedek. Who was this man and why did his meeting with Abraham have such a profound effect.?
Melchizedek is an enigma. We just don't have enough evidence to answer the question, although that often has not hindered the attempt. He bursts upon the scene without warning or explanation. He is not the only Old Testament character to do so; Elijah is another. But we know something of Elijah's origins, his ‘terminus a quo'; he is Elijah the Tishbite. We know his origins; he came from Tishbeh in Gilead. We also know his end, his ‘terminus ad quem'; he is carried up into heaven by a whirlwind. Elijah's life is bordered by known points; not so Melchizedek's. He is, to use the language of the letter to the Hebrews, without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life. (Heb 7:3) Does this mean that Melchizedek was eternal and consequently an uncreated being? I think not. It is the ‘type' of Melchizedek which is being expounded in Hebrews. We need to distinguish between the ‘type' of the thing and the thing itself. For example, there is a remarkable ‘type' of the truth that ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son' in the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. Abraham, the Father, takes His only son whom thou lovest to the place of sacrifice. The wood for the sacrifice is laid on the shoulders of the sacrifice as the two go both of them together in perfect agreement to the place of death which became the place of hope and promise. It is a heart-stopping picture of Calvary. (I remember sitting ‘stunned' the first time I saw it.) But Abraham was not the Father, and Isaac was not the Son, and Moriah was not Calvary; they were ‘types' of those things. If you make an absolute equation of 'Abraham = God' we shall end with by trying to ‘join all the dots' for the rest of Abraham's life; this will include subterfuge, lying, disobedience etc. It is the Biblical account of Melchizedek which is the ‘type', and that account is an enigma. Abraham had a meeting with an enigma; in our pilgrimage we must all have our meeting with an enigma; Someone that in our beginnings, we may only see ‘dimly'.
What is an enigma? It is a person or event without an explanation; it is a puzzle, a question without an answer. The word is used in its original sense in our Bible; For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1Co 13:12 KJV) the word ‘darkly, is literally ‘in an enigma'. The Good News Bible captures the sense in its paraphrase What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete---as complete as God's knowledge of me. (1Co 13:12 GNB). Melchizedek was not the reality; he was a ‘dim image'. Ancient mirrors were notorious, not at all like our modern variety. The blemishes in the metal meant you could never see with absolute clarity; the overall impression, the shape, any notable features; these you would see, but a crystal clear image, this was not available. It is important to remember this in our use of the Old Testament; its notable features are vitally important and to be observed carefully but it is only in Christ that we see clearly the One who being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; (Heb 1:3 ASV)
So whose image is it that we ‘see dimly' in the mirror of the historical Melchizedek? Hebrews 7:3 tells us that Melchizedek was 'made like the Son of God'. It could be translated 'modelled on'. The model for the Biblical revelation of Melchizedek was Christ Himself. According to our information given in Genesis 14, Melchizedek is an eternal moment. It neither began nor ended. As such the brief glimpse will supply an important feature that will later be seen in clarity in Christ Himself. The writer to the Hebrews will expand this to illustrate that Christ's role is now unchanging, never fading; he remains a priest continually (Heb 7:3)
This is the next feature of our ‘dim image' that God is drawing attention to; Melchizedek was a priest. In fact, he is the first priest mentioned in our Bible. He was, literally, ‘a priest unto God, Most High' (Gen 18) Often in Bible teaching we have to begin with demolition before we can begin the construction; Peter began in a similar way on the day of Pentecost. Due to the almost universal misunderstanding of what a priest is and does, we have to begin by saying what a priest ‘is not'. It is not a licensed practioner of a religion or denomination. The Hebrew word is ‘Kohen', and beyond that there is little to tell. It is a verb-participle which does tell us that the emphasis is not on the role but the function. This comes as a surprise to many, but the KJV has led us along a thought process with almost 30 references to ‘the office of...';none of which are justified. We now, almost inevitably think of ‘offices' and ‘roles'. We might get the sense better if we invent a verb ‘to priest'. This is not a role or office but a way of life. Melchizedek priested God, Most High. Melchizedek served God in a unique relationship/function. We would need to read much more of the Bible to see the way in which that relationship/function operated. Earlier in our ‘weekly devotionals' we thought about the way in which Levitical priests were authorised to ‘bless the people'. One of the facets of ‘priesting' is that of ‘blessing'; it presupposes that the blesser has something that the blessee does not have; but from where does he get that ‘something'? Melchizedek ‘priested' God; it was this relationship which made it possible for him, as a priest, to bless another.
He had brought forth bread and wine. (Gen 14:18) These are more than simple symbols of sustenance. In all Semitic cultures hospitality is a high virtue and to take on the task of hospitality was a very great responsibility. There are at least two terrible stories of the importance of hospitality in the Old Testament; to non-Semitic cultures they seem barbaric. (Gen 19:8, Judges 19:24) On each occasion the overriding responsibilities of hospitality caused a householder to offer the surrender of his daughter/s for sexual abuse, rather than default on his duties as host. The guest became the supreme responsibility of his host, and the guest's safety was non-negotiable, even at the cost of the lives of his family. David's decree that Mephibosheth should eat bread at my table continually (2 Sam 9) is not just a promise of free meals; it shows he would have a permanent place in David's home and heart, and had come under David's personal protection. Our Communion Meal of Bread and Wine is not just a convenient picture of sustenance; it is the Lord's Table and the Lord's Cup (1 Cor 10:21), and He is the host. We are under His personal protection. Originally, your safety was the responsibility of your host as long as his ‘bread was in your stomach'. Melchizedek's offer was not of a picnic but of fellowship and consequent safety. It is true of Melchizedek's ‘model' too; as long as we have his ‘bread in our stomach' we are His responsibility. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (Joh 6:51 KJV)
Abraham now has ‘relationship' with someone who has the relationship of ‘priest' with God, Most High. Can you see the consistent pattern? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (Joh 14:6 KJV) or even more precisely in Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. (Heb 7:25 KJV) Salvation is the consequence of being rightly related to God through a priest; salvation/safety is the consequence of a relationship not an experience. This is why the ‘once saved, always saved?' question is really the wrong question. Melchizedek's offer to Abraham is not the offer of an experience but of a relationship, typified in the communion/fellowship meal of bread and wine. Into what were we called? God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1Co 1:9 NASB) Here is the test, not have I had this experience or that but ‘am I in fellowship with His Son'? Everything else will flow from this, including my continuing safety.
We have seen before that when a properly authorised ‘priest' blesses someone in the Name of God that blessing will ‘stick'. In other words this not just the speaking out of correct words but the imparting of something given by God Himself through His designated channel. Melchizedek ‘blessed' Abraham and you may be sure that Abraham was blessed! Last week we noted the Sodom Deal; it is typical of all religious deals in that the offerer offers something on condition that he receives something; The king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself." (Gen 14:21 NASB) All the world's religions fit into this pattern; give something to me, and get something for yourself. But Melchizedek asks for nothing. He offers fellowship and blessing, but he asks for nothing. This is grace; God's undeserved gift. Actually there is ‘something' required of man. It is highlighted in one of the Psalms; What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD. (Psa 116:12-13 KJV) What shall I give? I will give my ‘amen'. I will agree with God, I will take what He has offered. Grace must be received. George Herbert saw it long ago.
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked anything.
'A guest', I answered, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he'.
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.'
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
'Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat:'
So I did sit and eat.
George Herbert 1633