Theme: Who Is Melchizedek?
In this week’s lessons we learn how Psalm 110 and the book of Hebrews points us to the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who brings a new and better covenant.
Scripture: Psalm 110:4-7
As we noted in last week’s lessons, Psalm 110 is the psalm most quoted in the New Testament. In fact, the first verse of the psalm is the most quoted verse. It is easy to see why. Verse 1 defines the Messiah, who was to come and whom all pious Jews were and are expecting, as the son of both David and God, therefore as being both human and divine, that is, a divine Messiah, and it quotes God as giving him dominion over his enemies. That Messiah is Jesus.
Yet that is only the first of two oracles (special revelations) from God in these important seven verses. The second is in verse 4, and to judge from the way it is handled, it is to be taken as being even more important than the first. It is introduced by two points of emphasis. First, we are told that the oracle is something “the LORD has sworn.” That means that God has given it special weight and significance himself. Second, we are told that “he will not change his mind.” The words the Lord has sworn and about which he will not change his mind are these: “…You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
What a strange thing to emphasize so strongly! And how neglected! Not many people in an average church would be able to explain why Melchizedek is important or even who he is.
It is an interesting fact about Melchizedek that he appears at only three places in the Bible. He is introduced in Genesis 14, as part of the story of Abraham. After one thousand years and without any additional references, he suddenly appears again as a cryptic reference in the psalm we are studying. Then again, after another thousand years, he emerges as a major personage in Hebrews. The author of Hebrews mentions Melchizedek eight times (5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10, 11, 15, 17), uses the phrase “the order of Melchizedek” four times (5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:17), and points us back both to the psalm and Genesis when he admonishes, “Just think how great he was” (Heb. 7:4).
Let’s try to discover why Melchizedek is so important, beginning with the original mention of him in Genesis.
In Genesis 14 Abraham has succeeded in rescuing his nephew Lot, his family and his possessions from a coalition of four kings who had attacked and overcome five other kings, including the king of Sodom, which is where Lot had been living. On his way back from the battle Abraham is met by Melchizedek, who is identified as a “priest of God Most High.” Melchizedek blesses Abraham, and Abraham gives him a tithe of the spoils of the battle. The entire story is told in just three verses: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Gen. 14:18-20).
One of the problems with Melchizedek is that we have no idea who he was other than what is told to us here. There is an ancient Jewish view, adopted by Martin Luther, that he was Shem, one of Noah’s three sons and an ancestor of Abraham. According to the lifetime figures given in Genesis 11 he would have lived thirty-five years beyond the death of Abraham. Origin thought Melchizedek was an angel. Ambrose and some other commentators, both ancient and modern, suggest that he may have been a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. There is no textual warrant for any of these ideas, and it is best to take him precisely as the author of Hebrews does, that is, simply as an important man who comes on the scene suddenly without any prior explanation.
Study Questions:

Identify the two oracles of God in Psalm 110.
What is it about which the Lord has sworn and will not change his mind?
What do we learn about Melchizedek in Genesis 14?
According to Hebrews, who is Melchizedek? How did Abraham respond to him?

For Further Study: James Boice’s careful and practical study on the Psalms can be used for various settings, including Sunday school classes, group studies, as well as for personal devotional reading. Order your copy of this three-volume paperback set, and receive 25% off the regular price.

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