And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed [Abram] and said:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
- Genesis 14:18-20
Hundreds of years before the covenant of Moses, before Aaron, Levi, and even Isaac, Genesis records the blessing of Abram by Melchizedek. He is described as a priest of God Most High and as the king of Salem – roles that were always distinct under the Mosaic covenant. Just as Paul, in Romans, connected Abraham’s righteousness to his pre-covenant faith, so this author connects Jesus’ high priesthood to Melchizedek’s pre-covenant office.
Besides Genesis 14 and a reflection in the Psalms, Melchizedek appears nowhere else in the Bible. This character with no other function but to affirm God’s hand on Abram catches the author’s attention, and notice the parallels: Melchizedek blesses Abram, while Abram pays the tithe. Melchizedek offers the bread and wine. In every way, Abram is the recipient of Melchizedek’s blessing.
But what is the significance of this? The rest of today’s reading answers by drilling deeply into the meanings of priesthood and covenant – ideas that saturate these chapters. The author asserts that Jesus is “the guarantor of a better covenant…” by drawing on Jesus’ lineage through the line of kings; the inadequacy of the Levitical priesthood; the “better promises” on which the covenant of Jesus is built. Implicit and explicit throughout is the logic: “if the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for the second.”
This is a dense reading of spirals and overlapping ideas, but an understanding of the new covenant is incomplete without seeing where it contrasts with the old. The entire story from Genesis 17 on has centered on obedience to covenant, and now Jesus is upending that – or completing it, from this author’s point of view. As I invited you when we read Genesis and Exodus, so I invite you now: don’t just look at the details, but look for the God behind them. What does this passage express about the God who is behind it all?
Our verse for this week is Psalm 71:3: Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I continually come; You have given the command to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.
Hebrews 7 through 9. Now let’s read it!
Be to me a rock of refuge,
to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.