The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
Psalm 110:4 (NIV)
I confess. I am a Tolkien nerd. I have been most of my life. Before the advent of cell phones I would typically read The Lord of the Rings once a year. Now, I have it on audiobook and will often listen to it when I can’t sleep. Once I got a text from my daughter asking me, “Do you know the name of Theoden’s horse?”
I immediately replied. “Of course. Snowmane.”
She then texted. “Thanks. Playing pub trivia and I knew you’d know.”
But I couldn’t let it go at that. I then added:
“Gandalf’s horse is Shadowfax.
Sam’s pony is Bill.
Glorfindel’s horse is Asfaloth.
Aragorn’s horse is Hasufel.
Legolas’ horse is Arod.”
Okay. I was showing off and geeking out. Maybe I have a problem.
Geeking out came to mind as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 110, because it contains a geeky reference in the Great Story that I find even life-long followers of Jesus to be largely unaware. It is the mysterious character of Melchizedek.
Melchizedek makes his appearance towards the very beginning of the Great Story when God calls Abraham:
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 praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Genesis 14:17-20 (NIV)
That’s it. That’s the only reference to him and that’s all we know about him. And this is where the mystery begins. In the Great Story Abram is the first of the Hebrew “patriarchs.” At this point in the story, there are no Ten Commandments, no system of worship (which came through Moses centuries later), no record of any kind of formal “priesthood.” So, who is Melchizedek? Where did he come from? How did he become “priest of God Most High” and what exactly did that mean?
We. Don’t. Know.
So, why is he important?
In the Hebrew system of worship that God prescribed through Moses, the “priesthood” was relegated to Aaron and his descendants. If you weren’t in the line of Aaron then you couldn’t be a priest. When the law and sacrificial system was established through Moses the Hebrews had no “king.” It would be centuries before they established a monarchy. When they did, the line of King David was established as the royal line through which the Messiah would come. So, if the Messiah was to be both King of Kings (from the royal line of David) and eternal High Priest (and only descendants of Aaron could be priests) how is that possible?
David wrote the coronation song, Psalm 110, that prophetically provided the answer. Some scholars say that Psalm 110 is the most directly prophetic of all the psalms, but that isn’t easily understood by the casual reader. David references the mysterious priesthood before Moses and before Aaron. He connects the Messiah with the shadowy figure of Melchizedek, “priest of God Most High,” who “brought out bread and wine“ (sound familiar?). The early followers of Jesus saw it and the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews (also a mystery) fleshed it out. The priesthood and sacrificial system of Aaron was a temporary spiritual band-aid and living metaphor of what was to come. The ultimate, once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus was sourced in an eternal priesthood that was older, deeper, and (from a human perspective) infinitely mysterious.
The author of Hebrews writes:
“Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of the Highest God. He met Abraham, who was returning from “the royal massacre,” and gave him his blessing. Abraham in turn gave him a tenth of the spoils. “Melchizedek” means “King of Righteousness.” “Salem” means “Peace.” So, he is also “King of Peace.” Melchizedek towers out of the past—without record of family ties, no account of beginning or end. In this way he is like the Son of God, one huge priestly presence dominating the landscape always.”
Hebrews 7:1-3 (MSG)
In the quiet this morning I feel like I’m geeking out on the Great Story like I geek out on The Lord of the Rings so forgive me if this post leaves you rolling your eyes and/or scratching your head.
A faith journey isn’t about reason or it wouldn’t be faith. In the mystery of Melchizedek, I’m reminded that faith requires of me the humility to accept that there are truths that lie in mystery. They are deeper, older, and unfathomable this side of eternity. Once again, I am grateful to Richard Rohr for introducing me to the concept that mystery isn’t something that we can’t understand but something we endlessly understand. The further I get in my spiritual journey, the more I have come to embrace and enjoy the mystery.