Sorry I didn't get this up immediately. Someday I'm quick. Other days, not so much.
I want to look for a minute at Melchizedek. Not literally. There's not any pictures or representative artwork that shows us what he looked like. You're best guess is to picture a Middle-Eastern man. Probably shorter than average these days, but about right for those days.
Instead, let's look at what happens here. First, remember the historical situation. Abram has fought and delivered Lot as well as others taken captive because of the rebellion of the King of Sodom against Chedarlaomer. He has now brought back the people and the goods, and he's met by the King of Sodom and the King of Salem.
Abram rebuffs the King of Sodom and accepts bread and wine from the King of Salem. The King of Salem? Melchizedek is his name. He's recorded as a "priest of God Most High."
And he's one of the Bible's semi-enduring mysteries. The book of Hebrews points back to him as an example of Christ in Hebrews 7. Some take that passage as identifying Melchizedek as a theophany, that he is a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, akin to the "Commander of the Army of the Lord" in Joshua 6.
Some, primarily Jewish, sources identify Melchizedek as Shem, the ancestor of the Semite lines and son of Noah. If the chronologies and genealogies are to be taken literally, then Shem is still alive at this point in history.
Then there's a third possibility. Here it is: Melchizedek is just a guy. He's the ordinary king of the city of Salem, but he also happens to be a worshiper of the One True God, God Most High. Exactly how this is the case is hard to trace, but it's possible. If this is the case, then the author of Hebrews simply uses Melchizedek as an example, since he's a recognized king and priest but has no clear genealogy.
I only recently encountered the Shem theory, so I'm more familiar with the first and third possibilities. I like the third, personally. Why? Because the other times that are clear theophanies in Scripture, times when God shows up looking human, the humans are terrified. There's none of that here.
Rather, I think the presence of Melchizedek is better understood as he stands in contrast with the King of Sodom, Bera. (His name is given in 14:2, but he's referred to by title the rest of the time.) Look at how Abram reacts to both of them. From Melchizedek, Abram receives food and gives gifts. From Bera? Abram refuses a share of the treasure, refuses even a shoelace (well, sandal thong) and is really rather blunt with Bera.
The message? No matter the situation, don't get mixed up with Sodom. Don't take from or give to those who oppose God. Bear in mind the contrasting kings here: Melchizedek and Bera. One acknowledged as serving the Most High. The other, silence regarding his beliefs.
The further message? This mainly rehashes a recent sermon, but here it is: the people Abram has just delivered have seen the strength of God Most High. They've met a king and priest that serve this same God. This is a picture of grace and opportunity: Lot and the others are here, looking at the Bera who couldn't protect them and Abram who delivered them. They see Abram stiff-arm Bera and fellowship with Melchizedek.
Some of them, I'd like to hope, went home with Melchizedek. Perhaps that was part of what Melchizedek did with the tithe he received: helped establish the new converts to the worship of God Most High. Perhaps not--but the people there had a choice.
Unfortunately, many (or perhaps all) took the new lease on life, their newly recovered freedom, and went right back to Sodom. That's what we're going to see a lot of: people take freedom to do whatever and do, well, whatever...
All there is for us to do is be faithful and put the choice there. Abram meets Bera and Melchizedek and refuses to put the people directly into Bera's custody. He also doesn't demand the people become his. He leaves the scene, right there: the people, the kings, and a choice to make.
How about you? Do you have a choice to make?
The occasional thoughts of an ordinary man serving an extraordinary God. Come with me as we learn, teach, and laugh along the way.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Genesis 14 Part II Melchizedek
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