In our “Our Heritage” article for this issue we have an interesting and significant exposition of the  Melchizedek Priesthood by Brother John Carter. It is taken from a series he wrote entitled “Many Parts  and Many Ways”. It was first published in The Christadelphian in June 1957, so it’s fifty years old. It is  significant because to our knowledge it was the first exposition in which the phrase, “but made like unto  the Son of God”, concerning Melchizedek, is fully appreciated and explained.

We are sure you will read it with interest.

DIVINE revelation may take hold of  immediate circumstances and yet so shape  the record that some information entirely  beyond the writer’s view is included. To quote  again Peter’s words: “The prophets searched what  or what manner of time the Spirit… did signify,  to whom it was revealed that not unto themselves  they did minister the things they wrote” (2 Peter  1:11,12). Every typical item of history involves a  divine shaping of the record so that it takes on the  outline of the thing to be signified. Only so could  they be written as “types” (1 Cor 10:11 margin).  Such a record involves foreknowledge of things  to come, and this could only be possible in an  inspired writing.

Perhaps the most striking piece of typical  history is found in the account of Melchizedek.  He comes into the narrative of Genesis abruptly;  three verses only in our English version are given  to the story of his meeting with Abraham. We can  imagine how a modern news reporter would have  touched up the scene, describing the arrival of  the priest-king of Salem and his meeting with the  victorious Abraham with the recovered captives  and spoil, the obsequious withdrawal of the king  of Sodom in the presence of one recognized as a  very important person, the religious rite in which  the priest-king and Abraham engaged, and then the  departure of the priest-king, after which the king of  Sodom again comes forward to make his proposals  to Abraham. The Scriptures tell of the meeting with  a surprising reticence.

The revolt of five city states of the Jordan  plain against their Mesopotamian overlord after  twelve years of service and payment of tribute  brought reprisals. In a successful lightning advance  Chedorlaomer and three confederates swept along  the eastern side of the Jordan valley to Mount Seir  and then advancing north administered a sharp  lesson to the rebels of the cities of the plain. Lot, who was living in Sodom, was taken with the  captives.

Abraham’s skill and resourcefulness was seen  in his decision when news reached him of his  nephew’s fate. His camp was a large one, for he  could muster 318 trained men. With these and  some men from a friendly tribe, by a surprise attack  he routed what must have been a force larger in  strength and better in equipment, and continued the  pursuit as far north as Damascus. He then returned  with recovered captives and the stolen goods.

The King of Sodom, whose disasters strikingly  contrast with Abraham’s successes, went to meet  Abraham. Before, however, anything was said,  Melchizedek was seen approaching. He must  have been known to both Abraham and the King  of Sodom. The latter withdrew, while Abraham  engaged in an act of worship with Melchizedek.  The record with a remarkably sparing use of words  describes him as King of Salem, and priest of the  Most High God. He brought forth bread and wine,  and blessed Abraham in the name of the Most High  God who had delivered Abraham’s enemies into his  hand. Abraham then paid tithes, and Melchizedek  departed; and the King of Sodom advanced and  made a proposal that Abraham should have the  captured goods if the captives were restored to the  King of Sodom.

The meeting with Melchizedek bore fruit  immediately. Abraham had been blessed in the  name of the Most High God. Now in the name of  that God he refuses anything that Sodom can give  him: “I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord the  most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,  that I will not take from a thread even to a shoe  latchet, and that I will not take anything that is thine,  lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abraham rich”.  It is clear from Abraham’s words that in the worship  of God in company with Melchizedek Abraham  had made a solemn dedication of service to God.  Some intimate words had passed between priest and  worshipper, and some great resolve registered. The  meeting had set Abraham’s course and had given  him the moral earnestness to follow it, though it  meant refusing the overtures of the King of Sodom  and offering a repulse to him that could make him  an embittered enemy. But the character of the King  of Sodom and that of his citizens is shortly revealed  as so corrupt that divine vengeance fell. From what  possible contaminating associations was Abraham  saved by the little time spent in what almost appears  to be a chance meeting with the priest of the Most  High God?

Although Abraham’s history takes up thirteen  more chapters in Genesis, we hear no more of the  Priest of Salem. Did Abraham turn aside in his later  journeys for further worship with him? While it  is possible, we do not know. The account where  Melchizedek is concerned is limited to the one  occasion, and sacred history adds nothing more.

From the record itself we should not conclude  there were lessons of vital importance inwrought  in the story. The possibility that it has great  significance emerges from the only other reference  to Melchizedek in the Old Testament.

To David had been covenanted the throne of  Israel as a permanent possession together with an  immortal descendant of his family. This coming  King had to be a builder of a house of prayer for  the worship of God. Clearly the question of the  priesthood, when an immortal reigns, is a vital  one—for David could not think of a house of God  without priesthood. Who could the priest be but the  immortal King himself? That such would be so is  revealed in an inspired Psalm.

Psalm 110 is the most quoted in the New  Testament of any Old Testament scripture. Jesus  built an argument upon the first verse which  depends for its validity upon David being the author.  With such supporting evidence we can well accept  the title of Psalm 110 as being a Psalm of David.

It is impossible to say how far David could  understand what was involved in the divine  invitation to his Lord to sit at God’s right hand.  If it was a legitimate argument for Jesus to quote  the fact that David called Messiah Lord as proof  that Messiah was more than David’s son, and the  opponents of Jesus did not dispute the validity of his  argument, then it is in order to conclude that David  could understand that the Psalm was Messianic.  He would connect the words of the covenant, “I  will be his Father and he shall be my son”, with  the reverential term “My Lord”. In some way the  Messiah had to be at God’s right hand for a period  which would end with the establishment of God’s  Kingdom and the Lord’s rule in Zion. David then  describes the associates of the King. They are a  multitude endowed with perpetual youth; “thy  youth” is not a description of the monarch but of the  body-guard of youthful associates. They are clad in holy attire, robed as priests; and they are free will  offerings, even as the gifts that were made for the  tabernacle of old. They are a dedicated and sanctified  army of kings and priests who are revealed as the  dew of the morning light. This recalls the figure of  Isaiah who likens the dead arising out of the earth  to the dew of lights (Isa 26:19). The cortege of the  King are a royal immortal priesthood raised from  the dead and radiant in the light of the millennial  dawn. What then is the status of the Messiah  himself? The answer is given in verse 4 : “The Lord  hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for  ever after the order of Melchizedek”. The Messiah  himself is a priest-king—a ruler in Zion like his  prototype of Abraham’s day.

Prophecy thus hints at the reason for the  inclusion of the episode of Melchizedek in the  record of Genesis. It could, of course, be the fact  that Melchizedek’s history as recorded simply  provided the Psalmist with a parallel, the connection  between history and prophecy being purely  adventitious. Such an idea, however, is dispelled  when we come to the application of both the history  and the psalm to the office of Jesus as Messiah in  the letter to Hebrews.

The preparation for the argument is skilfully  made. The opening verses which epitomize the  theme of the epistle quote the words “sat down on  the right hand of the Majesty on high”, thus linking  Jesus with the Lord of David of the Psalm. The  same verse (Psa 110: 1) is again quoted to show the  superiority of the son over the angels (Heb 1: 13);  while angels minister, he sits with the Father on His  throne. Another step leading on to the application of  the Psalm may be seen in the reference to the work  of Jesus as High Priest (2:17; 3:1), and a thought  link with the Psalm emerges in the reference to the  “great high priest that is passed into the heavens”.  These allusions lead on to a detailed discussion.

First the essentials of priesthood are established.  No man takes upon himself the office: Aaron  was called: so also was Jesus, and the proof is  in God’s declaration, “Thou art a priest for ever  after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:1–6). His  qualification of compassionate sympathy is set out:  his obedience under trial had been a preparation,  and this had “perfected” him for the priestly duty  of intercession. To this he was called, and again  Psalm 110:4 is cited. An exhortation follows, but  with marked ability the digression circles back to  the office of Jesus. He has entered into the veil as  a forerunner, “made an high priest after the order  of Melchizedek”. For the third time the application  of these words is made to Jesus. The stage is set for  the development of the argument.

It is regrettable that the chapter division breaks  up the argument. Chapter 7 opens with a long  involved statement, of which the principal parts  of the sentence are: “For this Melchizedek . . .  abideth a priest continually”. Truly the prophecy  says Messiah is a priest for ever after the order  of Melchizedek, but it is Melchizedek himself of  whom it is here declared that he abideth a priest  continually. It is a startling statement, did it stand  alone. It is qualified, however, by the last phrase  of intervening clauses: “for this Melchizedek.

. . made like unto the Son of God , abideth a  priest continually”. “Made like unto the Son of  God.” How, when and where? The answer is that  Melchizedek is so made in the record of Scripture.  When that Scripture was penned an overruling  hand determined its limits, fixed what should be  included and what left out. Only the mind that  reached forward to Christ, and saw his work and  arranged his office, could have delineated the form  of the historical record that foreshadows it. We can  now see that the prophecy in Psalm 110 had no  accidental association with the history in Genesis  14 . The history was written with a purpose which,  however, was not evident until the Psalm linked  the record in Genesis with another King of Salem  who also will be a priest. Then when the Son  of God had come, had offered himself, and had  assumed the office of priest, the time had come  for the unfolding of the hidden meaning of the  sacred record.

We must now trace out the argument of Hebrews  chapter seven. There is first the statement of the  facts. Melchizedek was:

  1. King of Salem
  2. Priest of the Most High God
  3. who met victorious Abraham and received tithes from him.

Then comes the interpretation of both what is  written and what is omitted in the sacred record. The  very order of the name and office has significance.  Melchizedek means King of righteousness: and Salem  means peace: the divine order is first righteousness and  then peace, and had the record said King of Salem,  Melchizedek, this would have been reversed and the  lesson lost. Four omissions are noted:

  1. without father,
  2. without mother,
  3. having neither beginning of life,
  4. nor end of days.

Clearly this is not literally true of the man  himself. All four things are essentially part of  a mortal man: he has parents, and there is a  beginning and an end to his life. But these things  are not recorded of Melchizedek in Genesis, and the  argument is that their very omissions are divinely  intended so that a picture is drawn of the Son of  God. Melchizedek is without these things in the  record because he is there “made like unto the son  of God”. He owes nothing to his ancestry—for  we know nothing of his parentage. He stands  alone in Scripture without a peer: he had neither  ancestor nor successor in his office, but stands in  splendid uniqueness, as the one through whom  Abraham received God’s blessing. After these bold  affirmations there follows a detailed examination of  the teaching of the history and the Psalm.

  1. (Heb 7:4–7)—Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek. Upon what basis? Levi also took tithes, but his right to do so was conferred by  God’s commandment which fixed the duties  of both Levi and his brethren, who gave the  tithe. It was by external sanction and not  by intrinsic right that Levi was permitted to  take a tenth from his brethren. In contrast,  Melchizedek received tithes as of superior  right, which again was shown by his blessing of  Abraham. Melchizedek thus was “better” than  Abraham, and inferentially better than Aaron  who descended from Abraham.
  2. (Verse 8)—Levi was the first of a succession of priests—each dying and giving place to another as Scripture witnessed. But the same Scripture  bore no witness to the death of Melchizedek,  “of him it is witnessed that he liveth”, but the  witness is in the record, in this case in a silence  which is significant.
  3. (Verses 9,10)—By a figure (“if I may so say”) Levi paid tithes since he was unborn when Abraham paid the tithe to Melchizedek.
  4. (Verses 11–14)—The very fact that another order of priesthood was contemplated was  evidence of the insufficiency of the Aaronic  order. The change of priesthood involved a  change of law. The Mosaic system was vitally  associated with the tribe of Levi; its functioning  was based on the Aaronic priestly system. Its  discontinuance, then, is evident since Jesus was  of the tribe of Judah, and the Mosaic system is  not based on that tribe.
  5. (Verses 15–17)—The change of priesthood is even more evident from the character of the priests. The Levite functioned because of a  law, the Mosaic, which commanded that by  physical descent the office should continue in  that tribe. It was a “ carnal commandment”—  concerned with the flesh, and fleshly descent.  The Melchizedek priest differed fundamentally  since the office was based upon “the power  of an endless life”. Power is intrinsic; law is  external. The flesh is weak and its life has only  a short term: endless life has no term, and the  high priest’s possession of endless life at once  establishes his title and ensures continuance in  office. Christ is a priest for ever .
  6. (Verses 18,19 ; see RV)—This disannulling of the law is necessitated by its own inherent weakness: but the end of the law prepared for  the introduction of a better hope by which men,  held at a distance by the law, can draw near to  God. This better hope is connected with the  better priesthood of Melchizedek.
  7. (Verses 20–22)—The appointment of the Messiah to the priesthood was by oath—“The Lord sware.” No such oath was connected with  Levi’s appointment.
  8. (Verses 23–25)—The Aaronic priest was mortal, and the priesthood was continually changing. The priest after the order of Melchizedek is for  ever : wherefore he continueth ever and has an  unchangeable priesthood. Because of this he  is able to save to the uttermost (evermore—  margin) those who come unto God through  him. He ever liveth.
  9. (Verses 26–27)—The Law made men priests who had infirmity, and whose offerings were continually repeated. The word of the oath  makes priest one who is God’s Son, who  offered himself once, who is perfected for  ever more.

It will be seen from this brief setting forth of the  points made by the apostle upon the basis of Genesis  14 and Psalm 110 , that he makes every word carry  its quota of proof. There is one more allusion to the Psalm in a later chapter in Hebrews. It is a  daring deduction from two words. In the tabernacle  there was no seating accommodation—the priests  stood. The word “stand” is used of their service in  Deuteronomy 10:8 . In contrast the Psalm invites  the Son to “sit down”. Paul sees in this a figure of  the unfinished character of the Levitical service  and of the completed work of the perfect offering.  Every priest standeth daily ministering and offering  oftentimes the same sacrifices which can never take  away sins: but this man, after he had offered one  sacrifice for sin, for ever sat down on the right hand  of God (Heb 10:11,12).

There is one item in the history of Melchizedek  upon which any reader of today might quickly lay  hold, but to which no reference at all is made in  the lessons of Hebrews. Melchizedek brought forth  bread and wine, and one instinctively thinks of the  bread and wine by which Christ is kept in memory.  Paul knew the significance of the bread and wine as  the Lord had appointed. Why is this omitted in the  long drawn out list of lessons in Hebrews? Was it  simply that it was not relevant to the argument and  therefore not mentioned? This seems probable, for  it is a part of the type that when the Lord’s warriors  meet him after their worldly conflicts they partake  of the bread and wine as the token of fellowship  with him; and receive from him the blessing.

The history of Abraham’s meeting with God’s  high priest, combined with the prophecy in Psalm  110 , has a significance that is not on the surface.  The full import of what he wrote was beyond  Moses’ knowledge; of himself he could not draw a  picture of the office of the Son of God as priest of  God. Yet in a few words in which order and content  join to make the lesson, he delineates the work of  Jesus. The Psalmist fixes the connection between  the type and the Messiah, while the inspired pen of  an apostle draws out the meaning for the edification  of believers in Jesus generations after Moses and  David.