Snapshots: Day 62

Snapshots: Day 62

The Snapshot: “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him.” (Ex 13:19) Wow! Weird! No, because Joseph had made his people promise to take his bones back to Canaan when they returned. Yet that had been some four hundred years earlier, but time did not worry Joseph. God had warned Abraham it would take that long (Gen 15:13) and Joseph believed God. Moreover he realized something of the significance of being back in the Land, the Land of Promise, the land of future hope, the land of identity, so much so that he had to be there – even if it was just his bones!  Wow, that is faith, that is understanding!  That is a challenge to us. Do I see God’s big picture, do I see my part in it, do I see how important it is that I be where He wants the action to be?

Further Consideration: ‘The Land’ played a most significant part in the life and experience of Israel; it was the place of encounter with God, the place where God would bless His people. Today we, the vast majority of the Church – the Gentiles – do not have a physical land, (yes, Jewish Christians may still look to Israel as their homeland) and so for us the Bible speaks of our ‘land’ as ‘the kingdom of God’, a place, a location, an experience wherever God is manifest in and through us.

Perhaps ‘the kingdom’ is another of those doctrines that needs emphasizing across the Church today. If instead of majoring on our different expressions of ‘church’ we instead majored on the kingdom of God, we would stop being inward looking as we focus on ‘our’ denomination. group or stream, and instead focus on working out the will of God that He desires for us today.

Abraham clearly heard God’s word about the future of what would become a nation, and their taking possession of this land of Canaan in the centuries to come, and obviously passed that word on to Isaac who passed it on to Jacob who told his twelve sons about it. Joseph, through all his trials, became a man of God who understood the ways of God (some of which were clearly passed on by his elderly father, Jacob – remember the responsibility of parents we saw in the last study) and part of that understanding involved the significance of ‘the Land’.

When Joseph had others promise to take his bones back to the Land, he was allying himself with the declared will of God. What was amazing was that that promise was conveyed down the generations so that when they did eventually leave Egypt, they took Joseph’s remains with them. Amazing! So the questions that must follow. Do we see the same significance in ‘the kingdom of God’? Do we put that kingdom – the will of God – at the head of our agenda? Do we work at this for the long-term goal of creating something real for future generations? Well?

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Snapshots: Day 24

Snapshots: Day 24

The Snapshot: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac.” You are a God like all the other gods who demand child sacrifice? No I am not. Then why do you want me to kill Isaac? I don’t. But you said….  I simply said take him. But you said sacrifice him? I want you to be willing to give him up. But isn’t that the same as killing him? No, I simply want you to learn to trust me. And you will raise him from the dead? If that’s how you want to see it. Very well, here he is. Stop. But you said…. No, I said learn to trust me with those most precious to you. Then you don’t want me to kill him? Of course not, I said that. But…. Don’t you realize I love him more than you do? But…. Hold all my gifts to you lightly, don’t make them more than me, otherwise you will cheapen them. What?

Further Consideration: Our problem, so often, is that we don’t realize how much God loves us and our loved ones. A good number of years ago, when our three children were young (they are now in their late thirties) my wife had an accident. I will spare her blushes by not telling you what happened but she was bleeding – badly. We put a towel against the cut and rushed her to hospital. In the Accident and Emergency dept they instantly saw there was a big problem and immediately started work on her while I was asked to wait outside. Their problem was that they could not stop her bleeding. She had cut an artery and nothing they could do would stop it.

In a semi-unconscious state she heard their desperate urgency and realized she could be dying. Lying there while they sought to stop the bleeding she prayed and said, “But Lord, what about my three children, who will look after them?” (I could have felt offended about this except that I was passed it at that point and anyway didn’t know until afterwards what she had prayed). But as she prayed, asking for help, she very clearly heard the Lord who said, “Don’t you realize that I love them and care for them even more than you do?” And that was it. The bleeding stopped, crisis over, but a changed wife.

God did NOT want Isaac dead; He just wanted Abraham (and us) to learn something. At the end of it, Abraham named the place, “The Lord will provide.” (Gen 22:14) Here’s the thing, Mount Moriah where this happened (v.2) is according to 2 Chron 3:1, Jerusalem, the vicinity of Calvary where another son was sacrificed – for you and me. God doesn’t want your death or mine, Jesus has already given himself in our place, to carry our sin, so that we can carry on living – for ever! Some are revolted by the picture of Jesus dying for them but it is only pride that keeps us from facing our need and our hopelessness and then, as a drowning person grabbing a straw, we accept the Cross.

7. Covenant Reassurance

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  7. Covenant Reassurance

Gen 26:24    That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”

Life had been somewhat tumultuous for Isaac. For twenty years he had failed to be a father and his prayers seemed to go unanswered. Then his wife conceived and bore him twins, twins who will be in constant competition, one of them a schemer and the other oblivious of the significance of his family background. Then his father died, and he is now the patriarch, wandering in Canaan. A famine comes, and he goes to Gerar, in the south, where he gets in trouble with the king, just like his father had done before him. Eventually, “Abimelech said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.” (v.16) Affluence can make others insecure.

So he wanders the Land with his flocks and herds and finds shortage of water so, “Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham,” (v.18) but the locals claim the water is theirs, and this is repeated again and again, until, “He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarrelled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” (v.22) He has every right to feel insecure and wonder whatever is going on in his life, but then the Lord turns up.

That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” And so we find another, “fear not’ or ‘do not be afraid’ situation, but what is the reason he is given not to be afraid?  It starts out simply, “for I am with you.”  Yes, but what does that mean? You are with me, but my life circumstances are confusing and questionable.

Ah, we need to see the words before that: “I am the God of your father Abraham.  Ah, this starts to make sense. His father would have told him of all the dealings he had had with the Lord, the unseen One who had called him to leave his homeland and travel nearly a thousand miles to Canaan, with a promise that He would end his childlessness and make him into a great nation (Gen 12:2) and would give them this land (Gen 12:7). Then there had been a most solemn covenant made (Gen 15:9-20) that the land would be for his descendants.

There it was, a solemn covenant, a solemn promise accompanied by ritual, whereby the Lord declares this land will belong to the descendants he is yet to have. Once made it will stand and so Isaac will know of it and his children will know of it and their children and children’s children will know of it. That is why, Isaac, you can rest and be at peace in the midst of these confusing circumstances and not be afraid of them, of kings, of the peoples of the land, and of the future. The present circumstances may appear confusing, but God has promised a good outcome.

Similarly, for you and me, we have a new covenant (Lk 22:20), promised centuries before, (Jer 31:31) and now part of New Testament teaching (e.g. 1 Cor 11:22, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:6,8,13, 9:15, 12:24) that Jesus died on the cross to take our sins to enable us to be justified and become Holy Spirit empowered children of God. That is our covenant in which we can be secure, so that whatever the circumstances, we know these truths do not change and thus we are part of God’s family and God is for us in them. Hallelujah!

32. Hope is about Believing

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 32. Hope is about Believing

Rom 4:18   Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Belief for the Future: As Paul quotes from Gen 15:5, we usually take that quote as the precursor to belief being the basis of righteousness because v.6 in Gen 15 continues, Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness,” but Paul’s verse emphasizes to us that which we may otherwise take as obvious, that the belief that saves, is the belief in the future. For Abraham it was that his currently barren wife would yet have a son who would pave the way for a family tree that would eventually become a nation, Israel.

Belief in the Past: For us, there is both a past and present dimension to this believing and both are essential. The past dimension, if I may put it like that, is that we are required to believe that in the past Jesus has died for our sins on the Cross, but more than that, his work on the Cross has achieved everything that is necessary for us for our future lives.

Hopeless? But before we look at all that provision for our future, let’s just take on board those opening words of Paul’s verse above: “Against all hope”. That was the reality of Abraham’s situation as it had been back in Mesopotamia; his wife was barren and there was nothing he could do about that. Year followed year and hope of a child gradually diminished until the onset of the menopause when all hope of a child died. That was how it had been, and then God spoke, and God called him from that land we sometimes refer to as the ‘Cradle of Civilization’, to go to the land of Canaan where God would bless him in such a way that he would become the father of a nation.  He went and then it was in a subsequent ‘conversation’ that God said those words and Abraham believed and was declared righteous.

And Us? Isn’t that how it is with us?  We come to a point in life when we either feel utterly frustrated with our lives or we feel utter failures; we long for something better but, as with Paul in Romans 7, we can’t meet our own expectations and cry out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me?” (Rom 7:24) Well, it may not have been exactly in those terms but one way or another we find ourselves under the conviction of the Holy Spirit (although we didn’t realise it was Him at the time) feeling utterly helpless and hopeless and needing to be saved. We had lost all hope of me being able to save me. In desperation, “against all hope”, we cried out to Him when we heard the Gospel, “I believe. Please forgive me. Please save me.” At that point we were relying on what we had been told about the past, on what God had done, two thousand years ago, in Christ.

Again, Looking Forward: But then there is a future dimension which, I suspect we rarely think about in this context. Paul said, “Abraham in hope believed.” His belief was in something happening in the future, in God doing what He had said He would do – make him the father of many. Now for us it will be the same but different and maybe the difference is that initially for most of us (I know it was for me) it is more simple. All we know is that we are unhappy with our present and past and when we come to God through Christ we are coming with the hope that He is going to change me, change my life, change my future. Prior to coming to Him, my expectations of the future were that I would just carry on the same: unchanging, unfulfilled, frustrated, feeling bad, struggling and striving and getting nowhere. But when I turn to Him, I turn with this very basic belief that now it will be different.

Conversion: Maybe somebody quoted to me, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) I was told I was a new creation – and I felt it! Somehow, I felt different! Somehow, everything had changed. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was now indwelt by the Spirit. Now I was justified by the work of Christ on the Cross. Now I was adopted into God’s family. Now I was a child of God. Now I had eternal life. All these things were true, even though I didn’t appreciate them at the moment of conversion; I just knew it had all changed.

My Believing: I don’t think I really thought about it – I don’t know how many of us do – but the truth was that, with Abraham, now in hope I believed. I believed that it would all be different and as the days, months and years passed I came to realise more and more the reality of that change and my beliefs became stronger and clearer. Initially I had just believed God when He said this is what I needed to do, and I trusted that whatever followed would be right and good. Like Abraham, I suspect, I didn’t have a clue how it could all happen, but if God said it, that was sufficient – I believed Him, I believed that the future would be changed. My expectations were unclear, but they would get clearer as the days passed. At that moment, they were simply, “It will be all right, because this is what God wants of me,” but in saying that I was looking forward and I had this confident assurance, this confident expectation that we call hope.

Words without Conviction: The belief we are talking about, the expectations we have, have to come with a practical commitment. Let me explain that. Once, many years ago, I had a five-hour conversation with someone about the Gospel. In that time, we covered all the bases and at the end of it they said (and I do not exaggerate), “I hear everything you have said. I understand it all, I understand all you have said about sin, all you have said about Jesus dying for me and all the rest, but the truth is that I like this life of sin and I’m going to stick with it,” and with that they got up and left.

They heard the words, but the conviction was not there, so they did not believe it applied to them and God would give them a better life, and they certainly didn’t believe they would suffer if they continued living as they were. This ‘believing’, this ‘hope for the future’ has to be something applied to me, as a reality. Why some people hear and truly believe, while other people hear and simply accept the facts but without them being able to be applied to them, so they are convicted, is a mystery. We believe against hope, but in hope we believe, and that is how we get saved. The more we understand this the more the wonder of it can fill us, and perhaps that is why we are doing this series. May our understanding grow and may the wonder of it increase to produce more and more worship. Amen.

7. Working for the long-term

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 7. Working for the long-term

Gen 24:1-4   Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and the LORD had blessed him in every way. He said to the chief servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

Unfulfilled Prophecy: Before we leave the Patriarchs and Genesis, we need to backtrack and observe an episode in the life of this family that we have now seen grow to such a size it will soon become a nation. Abraham has the son of the promise and he’s had the word that God will make his family like the sand on the seashore. The only problem is that, at this time, Isaac does not have a wife.

A Distinctive People: He is living in this foreign land inhabited by ‘Canaanites’ – probably a whole group of different tribes, but not Hebrews. He knows that it is his family that God had said He would bless and he has a sense of clear demarcation from these people in this land. He has a relationship with the Lord, and they don’t. He has prophetic vision for the future, but they don’t. He worships the one true God, who he come to see is the Almighty Creator of all the world (Gen 14:18-22), they worship idols. He has come to understand that God has called him to be a distinctive people, different from all those other tribes or nations around him. He’s heard it and he believes it.

The Family Connection: So he has this problem. The only women around are these pagan, idol-worshipping Canaanites. The answer is that he must look elsewhere, and the obvious place is the place he has come from, so he sends his chief steward with the task of finding a daughter from his relatives back in Mesopotamia. It is a delightful story worth reading. For our purposes we will simply note that the servant finds Rebekah who is described as The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milcah bore to him.’” (Gen 24:47) If we backtrack we find, “Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. ….Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah.” (Gen 11:27,29) So that side of the family tree had been – Terah, Nahor, Bethuel and then Rebekah, while on the other side it had been Terah, Abram, Isaac. The former branch of the tree had an extra generation because of course Abram had waited until he was a hundred before Isaac arrived, but Isaac and Rebekah would be roughly in the same age or generation bracket.

Outworkings: So the family will be continued through the extended family and without any Canaanite pollution. Rebekah would also be aware of her similar ancestry. At the end of this particular story, Isaac has a wife and the rest, as they say, is history. The family tree continues through Isaac to Jacob and to the tribes of Israel, the nation that eventually becomes as multitudinous as the sand on the seashore! Now we may not, from our position so many centuries away, be able to identify with this (although many today do work to find their ancestry, following the family tree back) but this is God’s plan we have been considering, to bring a nation into being a) through which He can be revealed to His world, and b) His Son from heaven can come in the centuries ahead. If Abraham’s servant could not find a wife for Isaac who was sympathetic to their calling and understanding their ancestry, none of what followed would be possible.

Lessons: Now what does this account say to us? I suggest it speaks about a chosen people and today, you and I who are Christians, can say we are a chosen people (1 Pet 2:9). The word for ‘church’ originally means ‘a called-out people’ so we are also called to be a distinctive people, a holy people (1 Pet 1:15,16), a people who are different from those around us, for we are living in conformity with God’s design, God’s will. Our goals and objectives are His goals and objectives. Abraham’s expectations were that God would show the servant a wife for Isaac so together they could continue the family tree, in accordance with God’s declared will. There was a clear and distinct purpose behind his search, that would result in the continuation of the family and the presence of a holy people on earth. We, likewise, have become a purposeful people, a people who will express the kingdom of God on earth under the leading of the head of the body, Jesus Christ, who is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven ruling and directing.

And Us? The key question has to be, do we see ourselves like this? Chosen, distinctive, purposeful? We might also ask, do we do all we can to help the next generation enter such a relationship with the Lord that we have known? That means being a real and genuine example for our children to follow? We can never guarantee this, but have we done all we can do to show and share the love of God through Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered, distinctive and purposeful lives? At the end of the day it is down to our children to respond as they will, but will they be able to look at us with love and fondness, knowing that we were there for them, full of grace and wisdom? We will fail sometimes but that should not put us off saying sorry to them, and getting up and going for it again. We could add a lot more but there is plenty there to pray over and work for.

3. Potential & Example

Nine Lessons of Christmas Meditations: 3. Potential & Example

Reading 2: Genesis 22:15–18

Gen 22:18    through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

The Context: In the service layout, this reading is summarised as “God promises to faithful Abraham that in his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” The first reading confronted the effects of the Fall while at the same time giving a glimmer of a plan on the heart of God whereby the conflict between Satan, started there in the Garden, and mankind, would be brought to an end through some mysterious interaction, sometime in the future, between a human being and Satan and his followers. It raises the question of a mystery we have investigated in some detail in a previous series, “Focus on Christ”.  So the first reading leaves us wondering.

Reading: These present verses follow the strange and challenging incident where Abraham appears to have been called by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac, who had been miraculously conceived and born when Sarah was well past child-bearing ability. However, the Lord, through an angel, had stopped Abraham before he could actually do it. Now, a second time, He speaks again to Abraham (v.15) and says that because of his obedience (v.16) God will multiply his descendants greatly and make them a victorious nation (v.17). It is then, within this context, that He declares that one of his descendants will be the cause of the whole earth being blessed and, yes, it is specifically because he has been obedient to God (v.18). That’s it. So what are the lessons here?

1. The Big Picture again: This reading does not stand on its own. As we said above, it can be seen in the context of what we were faced with in the first reading – the Fall, and yet a glimmer of hope. It is as if now that glimmer of hope has been enlarged. Yes, in the previous reading there was someone referred to as the offspring of the woman, i.e. a human being. Now that human being is being identified as someone who comes out of the family of Abraham. Now of course Abraham’s family continued through Isaac, the child of promise, then through Jacob who became Israel, and hence to a family that grew and grew to become a nation in Egypt, who were otherwise known as Hebrews (Gen 14:13), their ethnic name, then Israelites (after Israel) and later Jews (from the tribe of Judah). This ‘people’ we’ve just named, were the context into which this future person will be born. The first lesson here, is we need to understand the big picture before the details. But there are two things about them that are crucial.

2. A People of Blessing: The fact that Abram had managed to have Isaac in his old age had been a miracle. Isaac’s wife Rebekah then, only managed to conceive after twenty years of Isaac’s praying (Gen 25:20,21,26). When the Advent story eventually unrolls, we find an aged, passed-bearing-age woman, Elizabeth, involved and then a young virgin, Mary. It is almost as if God is making the point, these people exist because I enabled past age, or barren women, or virgins, to conceive. They are a miraculous people. That was God’s side of the whole story. The lesson? Nothing is impossible with God (Lk 1:37) For deeper thought: each one of us who is a believer, is a miracle person, born of the Spirit (Jn 3:5,8), born of God (Jn 1:12).

3. A People of Faith: The second thing about these people is that they were a people of faith. It was because Abram believed God that He declared him righteous (Gen 15:6) and faith becomes the big issue about receiving salvation in the days to come. The Lesson? We are called to be people of faith, those who hear God and respond in obedience to Him. (Rom 3:28, Heb 11:6, 2 Cor 5:7, Heb 10:38)

4. A Man of Mystery: This ‘offspring of the woman’, this ‘offspring of Abraham’, is clearly the means of God blessing the earth. Now that, in itself, is a challenge to us, because the world is fallen, Adam and Eve were cast out of the presence of God, and the future for sinful mankind looks bleak – but then we are told that God intends to BLESS (decree good) for the WHOLE earth, and that through this coming one. It is both amazing and a mystery. It is amazing that God who has been rejected by mankind still wants to bless mankind and, at that point in history, it was a mystery how He could do that in the face of man’s rebellion.

There are at least two lessons here: first we may not understand fully the will of God, but the evidence is so great that we should always simply trust that He intends to bless us; second, salvation comes when we face our folly and our failures and become open to receive His grace in the form of all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross. That’s what this ‘offspring’ came to achieve, the possibility of a new start for you and me. That was what was wrapped up in this ‘mystery’.

5. An Incredible Opportunity: Perhaps the greatest lesson of this particular reading, and it is truly an incredible lesson, is that an individual can become part of the plans of Almighty God to redeem His world. That was Abraham. In two different ways he impacted our future, and we have picked them both up above, but they bear restating here.

First, he was the father of a nation through whom God would work to bring into being an environment into which His Son could come and reveal Him, bless the world and carry its Sin. If you have read these studies or meditations for any length of time you will know that one of my favourite New Testament verses is, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Now that verse may say a variety of things but here, in this context, it says God has ways whereby I may impact this world at His leading. I don’t have to be a leading politician, a great philosopher or inventor or industrialist. I just have to be me, the child of God, empowered and directed by God’s Holy Spirit.

My favourite story, and I am told it is true, is about an American, who had a van (or a lorry), and who used to go around the district picking up young people to take them to the youth group at the local church. One young man who he invited, I think, wasn’t very keen but went along and got saved. That young man happened to be called Billy Graham who became the greatest evangelist of our time.  A man with a van, taking the local kids to church. How many million people are now in the kingdom because of what he did that day, forming just one link in the life of that young man who God had his eye on. I never know who read these or what effect they may have. You may think a conversation with a neighbour of little consequence, but if you are being one of the links in their chain, you never know what the outcome may be.

Second, Abraham became such an example of faith, the great apostle Paul used him as the key illustration of justification by faith. We never know who will be watching, for whom we will be an example that transforms their thinking. Abraham had a big impact in his day, but his example has come down through history to make the path clearer for you and me.

Do you have grandchildren who watch you? Are there fellow pupils at college who watch you? Do you have workmates who watch you? Do you have an unsaved partner or unsaved children who watch you? Example can be an incredibly important thing. These are the things, I believe, that come out of this second reading if we will do more than just let the words go by in the midst of the carols. Let’s not miss what the Lord might want to say to us this Christmas.

33. Melchizedek?

Meditations in Hebrews 6/7:      33.  Melchizedek?

Heb 6:20, 7:1-2   He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.”

We finished the previous study with those words, “He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  and so now arrive at the writer’s explanation of this reference to a high priest who he has already referred to twice (5:6, 5:10) before these present verses.

The Rabbinic style: Because the approach we find here is probably alien to that which most of us are used to, we again need to refer to the rabbinic style of teaching found among Jewish teachers of that day. They used four approaches to handling Scripture. The first was to work on the basis that the text has a literal, plain meaning that the author wants to convey. (that is always our starting point). But second, they would use an approach best described as considering a word, phrase or other element in the text hinting at a truth not conveyed by the plain meaning.  The third approach searches for an allegorical sense within a verse or verses. There was also a fourth approach that involved numerical values of Hebrew letters but that need not concern us here. Bear this in mind in what follows.

Abraham & Melchizedek:  We find the story of Abraham encountering Melchizedek in Gen 14:18-20 and the writer makes the point that he was both a king AND a priest: This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.” (v.1,2) He goes on to explain, “First, his name means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” (v.2b) But then the writer uses the hinting-allegorical approaches because that is all we know about Melchizedek and so he interprets that to imply something else, something quite significant: “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” (v.3) In the account we are told nothing of this king-priest’s background, or indeed his end and so in the account at least he appears as a priest without beginning or end, just like Jesus.

But then he picks up on the fact that Abraham gave him a tenth of his goods which is what the Law required for the Levites: “Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people–that is, their brothers–even though their brothers are descended from Abraham.” (v.4,5) Note the emphasis – the ‘patriarch Abraham’. Abraham was considered a major character in Israel’s history as a ‘friend of God ‘ (2 Chron 20:7,  Isa 41:8, Jas 2:23) and clearly the father of the nation (Isa 51:2) so he is pointing out his greatness, yet he gave a tithe to Melchizedek: “This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.” (v.6)

Strange elements:  So, he concludes, there is something strange in all thatFirst, Abraham was Levi’s great grandfather and so perhaps could be considered an earlier member of the priestly caste, yet he gave the tithe to the other (which he will expand on in a few verses time). Second, Abraham had received all the blessings of God (Gen 12) which would, you might suppose, make him greater but he treats Melchizedek as greater. Third, Melchizedek had blessed Abraham, which seems the wrong way round because, “without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater.” (v.7). Yet, he adds, there is a fourth strange thing: “In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living.” (v.8) and he stretches this rabbinic approach even further: “One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.” (v.9,10) i.e. because Abraham is Levi’s great grandfather it is almost like saying the Levitical priesthood paid a tithe to this other priesthood.

(The Message version puts it in an interesting way: Ultimately you could even say that since Levi descended from Abraham, who paid tithes to Melchizedek, when we pay tithes to the priestly tribe of Levi they end up with Melchizedek.”)+

Recap:  Now the argument carries on with even more complexity so I think we’ll stop there and simply recap what is already an unusual line of arguing for us:

  1. Melchizedek was both a king and a priest.
  2. When Abraham met him, Melchizedek blessed him and Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all of his plunder.
  3. If you think of Abraham, as Levi’s great grandfather, it is like he is an early representative of the Levitical priesthood.
  4. The fact that the ‘representative’ of the Levitical priesthood was blessed by the other priest and then gave that other priest a tithe, suggests that the other priest is superior to the representative of the Levitical priesthood.
  5. We know already that the writer has referred to Jesus as a priest after the order of Melchizedek and so we conclude that the writer is making the fairly complex point that Jesus is superior to Abraham.
  6. The question will shortly be asked, why was there a need for another priesthood, and the answer will be that that the Levitical priesthood couldn’t get people into a good place with God, but we’ll wait to the next study to open that up.

Remember, it is all about showing Jesus to be the most superior person in the Jewish culture and history. That is what this is all about.