The King and the Priest (Reflections on Psalm 110 part 3)

In Genesis 14, Abram is established as a strong powerbroker in the land of Canaan when a terrible thing happens. Enemy armies attack and his nephew who has become tied up with the affairs of Sodom is captured along with others. Abram joins a rescue mission and the attacking enemies are defeated.

Later in the chapter, we see Abram stopping at the city of Salam where he meets its king, Melchizedek who feeds him with bread and wine, blesses him and receives a tithe from him.  Melchizedek’s mention in the account of Abraham’s life is brief. To all intents and purposes, he does not at first sight seem like a major player in the Biblical narrative. Yet, this man to whom just a few verses are apportioned in the original account does become a major player in Biblical theology. This is primarily due to his appearance in Psalm 110[1] which is then picked up on by the writer to the Hebrews.[2] So what is the fascination with this man?

Well, I want you to notice three important things about him from the Genesis text. First of all, he is the king of Salem. You will realise quickly that Salem means that this is the city of peace and is where David later will reign in Jerusalem, its name modified to recognise that peace comes from God so that the later name declares it to be the city of Yahweh’s peace.

Secondly, his name literally means “King of righteousness.  Thirdly,  he is not only a king. We are told that he is the priest of God most high.  Whether this simply means that he worshipped a local pagan deity who took the name God of the heights or whether Melchizedek was in fact an early believer in the true God may be up for discussion (although the way he relates to Abraham pushes me towards the latter). However, the imagery is rich and clear. Here is someone who is the King of righteousness and the king or prince of peace.  He serves as a priest for the most high God and he blesses Abraham who in return offers him tithes. It is impossible for the Psalmist and later the writer to the Hebrews to pass over this text and miss the significance of this imagery.

The writer to the Hebrews sees Melchizedek as a type of Christ. He is both priest and king.  He also further picks up on the imagery of a man who shows up without the usual family tree used to introduce major characters in the Old Testament, it is as though he is without ancestors and descendants. Therefore both the New Testament writer and the Old Testament Psalmist point to him as a type of the eternal king and priest whose rule and service are forever. 

Hebrews aims to show that Jesus is greater than all of his forerunners, greater than prophets and angels, greater than Moses, greater than Aaron and the Levitical priestly system. So the book also picks up on the sense that Levi as a descendent of Abraham and so some how represented by him when Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek.  Levi and therefore Aaron with the whole priestly system can be seen as submitting in Abraham to Melchizedek’s greater authority. The priesthood of Jesus aligns with Melchizedek’s in having greater efficacy than the Levitical priesthood because those priests were mortal, temporary, succeeded by each other and therefore the priests had to keep on offering sacrifices for themselves and for others.  Jesus is eternal and his sacrifice is once and for all.

In Jesus we have the one who is like Melchizedek, both king and priest. He is the creator, rightful ruler and judge of the Universe who commands our obedience, loyalty and love. He is the one who has offered his own life in our place and ever intercedes for us bringing peace, forgiveness and healing. Through him, we are reconciled to God. We are no longer slaves or enemies, we are friends of God.

In our reflections on Psalm 110, we have been thinking about forgiving enemies.  We have seen that the Psalms help us to see that Scripture understands and gives voice to the hurt and injustice we have experienced. However, opposition and enmity are first of all against Christ so that they are his to judge. Now we see that because he is the true and greater priest, not only does judgement, justice, vengeance and vindication belong to him but also forgiveness. It is for him to declare who is forgiven, healed and restored.

Trusting Christ helps me to know forgiveness, healing and reconciliation in my own life and relationship with God. This helps me to look with confidence and seek forgiveness, healing and restoration for others.

[1] Psalm 110:4

[2] Hebrews 7.

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