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IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?

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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- PSALMS 1-50--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS

The Order of Melchizedek.

In considering the significance of the Melchizedek priesthood we must first look at Genesis 14. In 14.18 we read 'And Melchizedek, King of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and he was a priest of El Elyon (God Most High). And he said, "Blessed be Abram of El Elyon, possessor of heaven and earth, and blessed be El Elyon who has delivered your enemies into your hand". And he (Abraham) gave him a tenth of all.'

This sudden appearance of Melchizedek of Salem takes us by surprise. If Salem is Jerusalem, although that is not certain, it is not on the expected return route from Damascus to Sodom, and Melchizedek has not previously been obviously involved. There must therefore be something especially significant behind his appearance.

Clearly Melchizedek is seen as involved somehow in what has happened, and sufficiently so to take the trouble to bring victuals to the returning troops. These would be needed as Sodom and Gomorrah had had their victuals taken by the four foreign kings (deliberately stated - verse 11) and the ready food stolen would have already been eaten by the hungry troops returning to their homelands. The obvious answer to the problem lies in a treaty situation.

We have now come to the nub of the narrative. Here in writing is in fact the confirmation of the covenant made between Abram and Melchizedek and the King of Sodom concerning the sharing of the booty, put into writing by Melchizedek's recorder, of which a copy was given to Abram (or copied by his steward). We do not know fully all that lay behind it but it is quite clear that Abram is now called on to pay his reckoning to King Melchizedek of Salem, and that he knew what it was about and was expecting it.

The 'witness' to the agreement is El Elyon (God Most High), the god worshipped by Melchizedek (the superior party), and accepted by Abram who sees Him in terms of Yahweh the Creator (14.22), Who thus was God Most High. The credit for the victory is given to Him by Melchizedek. Abram can agree because he thinks of Him in terms of Yahweh. El Elyon is probably also accepted by the King of Sodom, who would have no difficulty in acknowledging Melchizedek’s god. The payment as far as Melchizedek was concerned was one tenth of the booty.

If we compare Melchizedek's words ‘blessed be El Elyon’ with Genesis 9.26 where 'blessed be Yahweh, the God of Shem' referred to a blessing on Shem, we have here the two main parties mentioned. 'Blessed be Abram' referring to Abram, and 'blessed be El Elyon (the god of Melchizedek)', meaning 'blessed be Melchizedek'. These are the two main parties to the covenant.

There is external evidence of a cult of El Elyon and some support for connecting the worship of El Elyon with Canaanite Jerusalem. He was involved here because Melchizedek was a major player and was the superior in status. (Melchizedek was also a good Canaanite name - compare Adonizedek in Joshua 10.1). The fact that this incident was allowed to stand as it is indicates the essential accuracy of the narrative and its ancient provenance.

But why should Abram hand over one tenth of all the booty? The answer, partly at least, lies in the provision of food. The returning heroes and the captors they have delivered were supplied with necessary sustenance by the king of Salem as he came to meet them on their return. This is confirmed in verse 24 where payment for the food is specifically mentioned. But this in itself indicates some kind of treaty arrangement between Abram and Melchizedek. Why else would he come with provisions? It was all part of a treaty arrangement.

This brings us to two other possible factors that we may need to take into account.

The first is that in some way Melchizedek of Salem was recognised as having treaty rights and responsibilities with respect to Abram and his confederates. This may include the fact that they used his fields for grazing when the harvest has been gathered in, and they may have enjoyed other benefits that they would know of, including rights of use over the area around the oaks of Mamre, which was seen as under the jurisdiction of Salem. This treaty might also include sharing in any booty obtained by the parties involved. There may also have been an agreement for the provision of military help when needed, probably reciprocally. These would be normal provisions in any such treaty in those days.

Salem (compare Psalm 76.2), which would in future centuries become Jerusalem, may well at this time have had great influence and exerted rights over the surrounding area, as it certainly did later at the time of the Amarna letters

Then secondly it could be that Melchizedek had provided mercenaries to assist Abram in the attack in return for a portion of the booty. That they were not mentioned may be because his scribe was writing the account and with true Oriental courtesy was happy to give all the credit to Abram and his men (which would also explain why Abram's confederates have also been ignored in the account, for the agreement was with Abram) while taking payment for his own part in the project.

While Abram had been gathering his own men he could well also have sent messengers to Melchizedek with whom he had a treaty arrangement, calling on him to send him extra troops per the previously agreed terms, agreed for whenever he would need help against attack, and probably vice versa. Now he has to pay the reckoning.

But there is also the question of the remainder of the booty. About what to do with the booty an agreement had to be reached, and this included the King of Sodom. This also was incorporated into this covenant as we see in verses 21-24. Then, once agreed, the contract would be 'signed, sealed and delivered'.

Full credit must be given to Abram, who generously declined his portion in order to bring honour to Yahweh, and also probably to cement friendship with all involved. The tenth part was given to Melchizedek, presumably in accordance with treaty arrangements. Abram's confederates were to receive their 'portion', clearly a recognised amount. And it was agreed that the remainder would be handed back to the representative of the five kings.

(We can compare with all this Abraham's contract for the field and cave at Machpelah in chapter 23. There the impression given was of a gift of the land and an equally generous Abram insisting on payment. In fact what we really have are the terms of a strict contract, again agreed and expressed in true Oriental fashion. The same may be true here).

So Melchizedek was here revealed as the priest-king of Salem, a royal priest who presided over all parties as the superior, seen as having special privilege before God, but not offering sacrifices. This idea became important for the future.

It was taken up in Psalm 110.4. The Psalm would later have Messianic connections but it firstly had in mind the Davidic kingship. We must remember that David captured Jerusalem and made it his own city. That is why the people of Jerusalem always saw themselves as separate from Israel and Judah. Thus he would have conferred on him by the people of Jerusalem the royal priesthood of Melchizedek as the successor to the previous priest-kings. This need not necessarily mean that he offered sacrifices. Indeed he introduced the Levitical priests for that for he was too good a Yahwist to go against the Law. But he may well have taken part in major religious ceremonies in an exalted position, in recognition of his royal priestly connections and status. Later Davidic kings, not so scrupulous, might have gone even further.

The Psalm reveals that this unique position of David also reflected God’s view of him. He swore by an oath that David’s unique privilege as representing his people in a special way before God would stand for ever.

With regard to this we must remember that ancient days kings were regularly seen as representing their people in religious events. They had a special sacral role which varied from the full deity of the Pharaoh, and the semi-deity of Mediterranean kings, to an exalted priesthood of lesser royalties. David too enjoyed this special status. But by taking the Tabernacle into Jerusalem David prevented a division in the mind of the Jerusalemites over which priesthood was the most important cultwise, for he and the Levitical priesthood were thus conjoined in their minds.

The use of the title here ‘priest after the order of Melchizedek’ suggests that it was a recognised part of his royal status. It was seen as making him very much someone who was close to God in a unique non-sacrificing priesthood, having a special religious status before God, and access in prayer, both on his own behalf and on behalf of the people (see 2 Samuel 24.17), without necessarily offering sacrifices. Thus it could be said of him by God, 'You are my son, today I have begotten (by adoption) you' (Psalm 2.7). He was seen as the 'firstborn' of Yahweh, supreme among kings because of his special relationship with God (Psalm 89.27). So the title ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ was representative of his royal priestly status and of his unique position with God as a priest-king. This link is specifically made in Hebrews 5.5-6.

The whole Psalm later became recognised as Messianic, as referring to the future king who would come to bring about God's purposes, who would thus be both priest and king. It was thus particularly apt for application to Jesus. (It was also taken up in later Jewish tradition as referring to a heavenly figure, but there is no suggestion of this in Scripture).

It is these ideas which were taken up by the writer to the Hebrews. Jesus is their depicted as the royal priest of a better priesthood than that of the Mosaic law, both because it continued for ever (which it could not have done had it been only an earthly sacrificial priesthood) and because what he offered was heavenly.

Because Melchizedek king of Salem was described without antecedents and nothing was known about him, for from the point of view of readers he emerged mysteriously and disappeared equally mysteriously, he was a good picture of the eternal priesthood. No birth, no death, continuing for ever. (The writer was drawing out the idea, not expressing a verdict on the original Melchizedek).

We must remember the importance of descent and genealogy to the Jew. Each priest assiduously traced his ancestry back (whether accurately or not) to prove his legitimate descent, and as one generation died so another replaced it. This was what gave him his status. But this Mechizedek was without genealogy, and yet he was of superior status, and there was no record of his being replaced. He stood there as a seemingly eternal figure.

He was also greater than Abraham, for Abraham offered him tithes, whereas Abraham never offered tithes to the Levitical priests, for they came from the loins of Abraham, that is were descended from him, and Abraham was thus their superior. He was a royal priest, associated with righteousness and peace which are royal attributes of good kings (Melchizedek means 'my king is righteousness'. See also Isaiah 11.4-5 for the ‘righteous’ king and compare 'the Prince of Peace' (Isaiah 9.6). See also Psalm 72.7.

So all this indicated that the new priesthood of Jesus as the Davidic heir, had good antecedents, was distinctive from the Levitical priesthood and was far its superior, and yet it had close enough connections for Him to replace the Levitical priesthood as the heavenly royal priest taking over the role of the earthly servants with a better sacrifice than theirs. It signified His eternity, His royalty and His sufficiency to offer the perfect sacrifice, a superior priesthood in every way. Thus also the royal priesthood of His followers (1 Peter 2.9).

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IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?

If so please EMail us with your question and we will do our best to give you a satisfactory answer.EMailus.

Return to Home Page

IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?

If so please EMail us with your question and we will do our best to give you a satisfactory answer.EMailus. (But preferably not from aol.com, for some reason they do not deliver our messages).

FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.

THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- PSALMS 1-50--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS

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El,Elyon,tithes,priest,priesthood,firstborn