What happens when you and I do not really understand what we have been taught? I read a list somewhere of amusing answers children in elementary Bible school gave when they were asked questions about the Old and New Testaments. These have not been retouched or corrected from the list I read.

1. Moses led the Jews to the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread which is bread without any ingredients.

2. Moses died before he ever reached Canada. Then Joshua led the Hebrews in the battle of Geritol.

3. The epistles were the wives of the apostles.

4. Noah’s wife was Joan of ark.

5. Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt during the day, but a ball of fire during the night!

6. Samson slayed the Philistines with the axe of the apostles.

7. The people who followed the Lord were called the 12 decibels.

There were many more, and they all made me smile—some I laughed out loud! But the point was clear, nonetheless.

You and I need to get this right!

The author of Hebrews was carefully teaching the truth about Jesus, the new covenant, the real sanctuary in heaven and the nature of Christ’s sacrifice so that believers would be able to live by the truth.


Melchizedek

Melchizedek is a fascinating and mysterious figure in the Bible. Here is the sum total of his appearances in the pages of scripture.

After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).  And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    maker of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything. 

Genesis 14:17-20 (NRSV)
Abraham bowing before Melchizedek | James Tissot (1836 – 1902), The Brooklyn Museum, CC0

Melchizedek is mention only one more time in the Hebrew scriptures, and it is in a Psalm the writer of Hebrews has already quoted.

So, the writer of Hebrews drew upon this mysterious figure as a type of Christ.

His name, in the first place, means “king of righteousness”; next he is also king of Salem, that is, “king of peace.” Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

Hebrews 7:2-3 (NRSV)

Melchizedek was a type of Christ in three ways:

  1. By being both a king and a priest.
  2. His name means king of righteousness and his title was king of peace, both depictions given to Jesus in Isaiah’s prophecy  

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:6-8 (NRSV)
  1. Nothing is known of his origins or of his passing, so there is a sense of his eternality—he was not, of course, actually eternal. But, as the writer pointed out, because his genealogy was not recorded, that made him (in a way) a priest forever, as opposed to a priest who had a clear beginning and ending.

Melchizedek was superior to Levi

See how great he is! Even Abraham the patriarch gave him a tenth of the spoils.

And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to collect tithes from the people, that is, from their kindred, though these also are descended from Abraham.

But this man, who does not belong to their ancestry, collected tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had received the promises.

It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.

In the one case, tithes are received by those who are mortal; in the other, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

Hebrews 7:4-10 (NRSV)

Melchizedek showed warm hospitality and friendship towards Abraham, and blessed him as a greater, benevolent priest-king might do for a lesser, but still important leader. 

Locked inside Abraham’s (and Sarah’s) bodies was the genetic code for the entire Hebrew nation, and Abraham knew that. He knew he even carried, in a manner of speaking, Messiah in his seed. 

But for all his future greatness, Abraham responded by offering to Melchizedek a tithe of all he had gained through the Lord’s victory, ten percent being recognized as the king’s rightful share. Abraham acknowledged that Melchizedek was greater, and that Melchizedek’s blessing held great value. 

Even more significantly, Abraham identified Melchizedek’s God as Jehovah God

By the same argument, the Levites were included in this humbling before Melchizedek because they also were represented in Abraham’s body when he offered tithes to and received blessing from the priest-king Melchizedek.

The (Lesser) Order of Levi

There is an ancient story behind this.

When Moses first received the Ten Commandments from God, God warned him the people had raised up a golden calf to worship in Moses’ absence. When he returned, and saw the people were running wild, out of control, he called them to repentance, to reaffirm their commitment to the Lord.

Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me!”

Exodus 32:26 (NRSV)

It was an open invitation to everyone, but only the Levites responded.

x1952-186, The Golden Calf, Artist: James Tissot (1836 – 1902), Photographer: John Parnell, Photo © The Jewish Museum, New York

Way, way back in Genesis, four hundred years before, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi had taken their swords and killed every male in the city of Shechem because the prince had raped their sister Dinah before seeking marriage with her. They then plundered the entire city, took all the flocks and herds, all Shechem’s children and women, all their wealth, and kept it all for themselves. When confronted, both of them told the same story: they had done it to defend their sister’s honor.

But were they telling the truth?

Years later, when Jacob prophesied over his sons, God’s word to both Simeon and Levi held the same forfeiture: their descendants would never have an inheritance in the promised land as a result of the terrible thing they had done.

Now, centuries later, the true nature of the Levites’ fierceness to defend the honor of one they loved would be used for the Lord. The worst golden calf offenders were gathered and put to the sword by the Levites, even if they were part of their own family.

After this grim and awful trial Moses encouraged the Levites,

“Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of a son or a brother, and so have brought a blessing on yourselves this day.”

Exodus 32:29 (NRSV)

Their ancestor Levi had been vindicated through them, for they had proved his true loyalty and honor. And it was that same fierceness and ability to deal with slaughter and blood that positioned them to receive God’s calling to be priests, to offer up all those sacrifices daily to God. The Levites also gladly received their inheritance in God, for above all, their faithfulness was to God, even above their own brothers and sisters.

The Simeonites, on the other hand, were now exposed as dishonorable, and dishonoring. Eventually, as history bore out, their tribe was absorbed into Judah’s inheritance, and the Simeonites were no more.


Levitical priesthood | James Tissot (1836 – 1902), The Brooklyn Museum, CC0

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