I was ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood this past Sunday and so the nature of the priesthood and Melchizidek have been on my mind. This morning I woke up early to drive a friend to take her LSAT and on the way back stopped and had breakfast at Zaftig in Brookline ( Best Potato Pancakes ever!). Afterwards, I stopped at the Brookline Booksmith and browsed. I went to their religious section and picked up a book that appeared interested entitled “Subversive Sequels in the Bible: How Biblical Stories Mine and Undermine Each Other.” Inside there was a chapter on Melchizedek and Jethro which I began to look at with great interest.
The portion on Melchizedek focuses on Chapter 14 of Genesis and how the story of Melchizedek protrudes into the more mundane events of Abrams life. Abram was just forced into the undesirable necessity of waging war as an ally of the violent and domineering king of Sodom. The campaign is called a “slaughter” in verse 17 suggesting the massive toll in human life that occurred. Abram is about to meet with the king of Sodom in order to negotiate the spoils. In the past two chapters we see how Abram became exceedingly wealthy in the materials of the world due to Pharoah. He and Lot had split up because they could not handle the strife that wealth caused. Abram is now in a position where he is likely to be given an even larger some of wealth from the spoils of warfare.
It is in this moment when the story of Melchizedek comes into the narrative
“18And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.
19And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:
20And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.”
Melchizedek uses the terminology ‘most high god’ which had never been used up to this point in the Genesis narrative. This usage is often linked to God the Father or Elohim. He has come to remind Abram that all of his wealth and the victory that he had over his enemies has come from God rather than from the actions of man.
In the JST we read
“39 Wherefore, Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need.
40 And it came to pass, that God blessed Abram, and gave unto him riches, and honor, and lands for an everlasting possession; according to the covenant which he had made, and according to the blessing wherewith Melchizedek had blessed him.”
Abram is at this moment given an incredible blessing of power and promise from the lord. He has become recipient to the power of the priesthood. Moreover, he has come to realize that his substance belongs to God rather than himself. He realizes that his actions up to this point gave the world the impression that he valued material goods and was enriched by the worldly bastions of power rather than God himself. His encounter with the King of Sodom is thus incredibly powerful
“ 21And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.
22And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,
23That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:”
Abram has what can be described as a mighty change of heart. He has made a promise to God that he will consecrate his life in his service.
God responds in the next chapter by making promises to Abram. The Phrase ‘after these things’ forces us to place the next verse in the context of what has just transpired.
“ 1After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”
I think we too often get caught up in viewing the Patriarchs or other figures of the bible in stagnant unchanging terms. We see Abraham as a paradigm of faith and virtue. Instead, we can view the book of Genesis as the evolution of a man from earthly to celestial. The material in the Book of Abraham supports this evolving narrative of the great patriarch. Although it is not made clear exactly when Abraham has his great vision of the creation of the universe, I like to imagine that it comes at this moment of the encounter with Melchizedeck.
The title of Melchizedeck means King of Righteousness and as the King of Salem Melchizedeck is also the king of peace. These are the same titles that Jesus Christ holds. As such, this encounter seems to me to suggest that it this is a moment of transformation for Abram/Abraham where he fully realizes the scope of Gods plan for him and his indebtedness to God.
From this point onward, Abram is through with dealing with the profane. He never again is involved in warfare. Instead, he progresses through sacred encounters with the Lord. He negotiates with the Lord for the lives of Sodom and Gomorrah. He releases one son into the wilderness. He is willing to sacrifice his most beloved son to the Lord. In each interval Abraham rises closer and closer to the lord. It is through the power of the priesthood that is given that all of this is possible.