By Ron Bailey
Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man
Chapter Four: New Beginnings
Melchizedek; revealer of God
Last week we began to think about Abraham's encounter with the priest Melchizedek and we began to ask our questions. Who was this man and why did his meeting with Abraham have such a profound effect on Abraham? We made ‘communion' or ‘fellowship' our focus; this week we will consider another aspect of priesthood.
There's that word again, priest! Every time I use it I almost feel compelled to say but ‘not what most people understand as priests'. It has been one of Satan's most successful strategies to obscure Bible truths by producing counterfeits of them. A heresy is just an idea pushed past the limits of Biblical revelation and without regard to complementary truths. Faith which is not based on true revelation is superstition; it matters little whether pagan, catholic or evangelical. For most people ideas of church are bordered by the ideas of priests, pulpit, pews and fixed services. It can be very disturbing to be told that true biblical Christianity needs none of these and that often they are more hindrance than help. However, men do make counterfeits of things which are authentic and every fake pound or dollar note is based on a genuine one. When Christ said He was the True Bread and True Vine, He was contrasting the True with the Fake. Where there is a counterfeit, it implies that a genuine may be found, if we search.
Fake priesthood always develops into priestcraft; the control of the people. The priest holds information or powers which enable him to control those who are without that information or those powers. The fake priest then dispenses these things to the people on condition of their submission and obedience. He has become a mercenary; in return for honour or cash or obedience he will dispense his wares. The man who was intended as a gift from God becomes parasitic; his gifts are only available... on condition. In Melchizedek we see how differently a true priest functions; his gifts are genuine gifts which cannot be purchased. The true priest makes possible things which would be impossible without him: fellowship with God, blessing from God, and revelation from God and again, in the opposite direction he becomes the route through which man gives to God. We have already given some thought to the priest as the conveyor of blessing, and the mediator of fellowship now it is time to consider the priest as a channel of a revelation of God.
Melchizedek is the possessor of a revelation of the nature and character God; he knows God in a way that Abraham does not. Let's pause to be sure we are appreciating Abraham's developing walk with God; he is learning. He began as part of a family that ‘served other gods'; Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods. (Jos 24:2 NASB) There is a link in this verse between god and geography. It was the way in which ancient people often thought and lived. There is a classic example in the wonderful story of Naaman; When he returned to the man of God with all his company, and came and stood before him, he said, "Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel; so please take a present from your servant now." But he said, "As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will take nothing." And he urged him to take it, but he refused. Naaman said, "If not, please let your servant at least be given two mules' load of earth; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering nor will he sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD. (2Ki 5:15-17 NASB) Naaman wants to continue to serve Jehovah but links Him inseparably with the land of Israel. However, Naaman has a neat solution; he will take a little bit of Israel's land with him. As Jehovah is linked with the land this will mean that Jehovah will still be able to have some jurisdiction in Syria even though it isn't His land. The Assyrian empires expatriates expressed a similar feeling; So they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, "The nations whom you have carried away into exile in the cities of Samaria do not know the custom of the god of the land; so he has sent lions among them, and behold, they kill them because they do not know the custom of the god of the land." (2Ki 17:26 NASB) Of course we are much wiser now; we wouldn't think of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, or to Toronto or Pensacola to be closer to God... would we?
Bible scholars like to call Abraham's faith ‘incipient monotheism'. By this they mean that Abraham was a practical monotheist but that he probably still believed that other gods had jurisdiction over other geographical areas. We won't defend ‘incipient monotheism' here but I do want to make the important point that Abraham had not read Calvin's Institutes or graduated from a prestigious Bible college; intellectually he knew much less than you and me about God. He was ‘walking' and learning with every step. He will learn something from Melchizedek in this encounter; something that came to Abraham as a revelation. Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God, speaks to Abraham in the name of the ‘Most High God' who is ‘possessor of heaven and earth'. 'What is so special about that' you say 'the children in the Sunday School know that'. They do, but Abraham didn't and it was through the ministry of a genuine a priest that it was revealed to him. But then this is part of true priesthood, to bring revelation from God, freely and without price.
Later in the Bible story we will see the development of Israel's priesthood and we will see the same themes of things made possible through priesthood which would be impossible without it: fellowship with God, blessing from God, and revelation from God etc. In the prophecy of Malachi God brings his final Old Testament accusations against Israel and it is the failed priesthood that he holds responsible; "For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. "But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi," says the LORD of hosts. (Mal 2:7-8 NASB) It is an accusation that God brought against His people on more than one occasion; Cause Me to remember; let us enter into judgment together; sum up for yourself, that you may be justified. Your first father sinned, and your interpreters transgressed against Me. And I will defile the rulers of the sanctuary, and will give Jacob to the curse, and Israel to reviling. (Isa 43:26-28 LITV) The KJV has ‘teachers' here but the Hebrew word ‘lûts' is frequently translated ‘interpreter'. What a privilege and responsibility it is to be an ‘interpreter' for God. I have some personal experiences here. I have preached through ‘interpreters' in more than 20 countries and it is interesting to see how different the experience can be. For what it is worth, here is my advice. I prefer interpreters to translators; I want my message to pass through the soul of the man (or woman) at my side. I have experienced translators of technical brilliance and I expect every word was translated perfectly. I have also experienced ‘interpreters' whose language skills were not nearly so polished but through whom the message flowed. Here is some more advice for those who will use interpreters; let ‘him' get to know you. Spend time together; let him see how you live. He will need to be able to trust you; be in fellowship with him. (If you would be God's interpreter my advice is the same.) Let me illustrate; if I am in a new setting where the people hardly know me I will sometimes begin by saying 'don't believe a word I tell you...' Most translators can't cope with this; they don't know me, they don't trust me implicitly. I returned from Poland two days ago, my interpreter has done the job for almost 20 years; he knows me and will trust me. He will convey just what I said so that I can add '...unless this Book says the same'. His interpretation flows from his relationship with me and our mutual trust.
True interpretation is not a mechanism, it is a relationship. Did you ever notice this little gem; And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, (Mar 3:14 KJV) We can only really interpret to others what we have learned by being with Him. The priest-nation of Israel was expected to interpret the will of God to the nations; they loved the privilege but failed in the responsibility; Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. (Rom 2:17-20 KJV) But Melchizedek was a faithful interpreter of his revelation. Abraham immediately built the revelation into the foundations of his understanding of God as we see from his later reply to the new king of Sodom; And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, (Gen 14:22 KJV)
There is an important truth to understand here in the whole area of revelation. Abraham received this truth and immediately risked his life upon it. Biblical truth is usually moral revelation; it must always have a consequence in the way in which we live our lives. Paul writes We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; (2Co 4:13 KJV) Faith is our necessary response to revelation, but faith will never stand alone in this; there will always be a ‘therefore'. A change in behaviour must always follow genuine faith; it is a logical next step ‘therefore'. I am an Englishman and I believe that the Rolls Royce is the finest car in the world, but this ‘belief' has never affected my life or behaviour in the slightest degree. This kind of ‘belief' is not biblical ‘faith'; it is mental assent. Sadly, there are many who give mental assent to Bible propositions and their lives have no ‘therefore'. Revelation must precede response, but life-change must accompany genuine faith. Abraham received the revelation by means of the priest Melchizedek and it altered his whole way of thinking. He abandoned his defence covenant with the Amorite brothers and forfeited his right to the plunder simply because of this revelation. Faith based on revelation will result in new relationships and dependencies.
There is another priest of which Melchizedek is only a dim-reflection. Part of His work is to reveal God; No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (Joh 1:18 NASB) This word is used in Greek literature of one who unfolds or interprets truth. To receive His testimony is to receive Him. The scriptures make this point frequently too. To ‘receive Christ' biblically is to receive His testimony/words; His unique revelation of God. Trace the word ‘receive' through John and test the truth of this. To refuse the revelation is to put ourselves in the condemned cell; He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (Joh 3:18-19 KJV) To refuse the revelation is to choose condemnation. Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore doth my soul keep them. The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple. (Psa 119:129-130 KJV) It is the entrance of His words that give light; refusing them brings inevitable condemnation.
Abraham is learning these truths in his own way and his own day. Each right response to revelation from God brings him closer to the next revelation. And so he grows step by step, day by day, into Abraham, My Friend... and so may we.