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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Melchizedek

Gen 14:17-24 NRSV

After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18 And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!"

And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything. 21 Then the king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself." 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have sworn to the LORD, God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, 'I have made Abram rich.' 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me -- Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their share."


Chedorlaomer one was of a group of Kings that raided Canaan. Among his partners was Amraphel, King of Shinar. They took Abraham’s Nephew Lot captive, along with all his relatives and servants. Abraham went in pursuit, defeated the raiders, and brought back Lot with all his people and possessions. Upon returning, the local kings turned out to greet him but there was one king of particular interest.

Melchizedek was the priest-king “of the most high God” from Salem, the region neighboring the area where the raid took place. Melchizedek blessed Abraham and Abraham acknowledged this priest-king’s authority by giving an offering. No one really knows much about Melchizedek except for what we are told in Hebrews 7. There are many intriguing aspects about Melchizedek but there is one issue in particular I want to emphasize here.

Melchizedek was outside the Christian Covenant and the Jewish Covenant, and yet he was considered a priest of the “most high God.” He was so important a priest, that Abraham, the father of the Jewish Covenant, paid homage to him. How many other Melchizedek’s were there at the time? How many followers were there? What was the nature of their priesthood and relationship to God?

The story of Scripture, as we soon will see, is God attempting to disillusion people so they may come into relationship with Him. As a Christian, I believe the normative way individuals come to God is by disciples of Jesus introducing others to Jesus. But clearly the Jews before Christ came to God based only on the promise that God would provide a way without ever knowing Jesus by name.

This passage (and later others) suggest that there were others who were in relationship with God outside the Jewish Covenant. As a Christian, I believe it is only by the grace of God, through the work of Jesus Christ, that anyone (all inclusive) comes into relationship with God. But I am doubtful that some who know God, know Jesus by name, or what Jesus has done for them. It was true in the Old Testament and there is no reason to believe it is otherwise today.

This issue of how God transforms us raises two potential dangers for me. The first is to believe that only those who know Jesus by name can be redeemed. Combined with this is the seductive idea that because I know Jesus, I have no illusions. Conversely, those that don’t know Jesus live totally in illusions.

The second danger is to believe that Jesus is irrelevant to human redemption and disillusionment. God preserved the Testaments for a reason. They allow us to know how to enter the story. We are to invite others to abandon human illusions and join in the story. As we share the story with others who haven’t heard, Gods light may shine through them to teach us about illusions we harbor. We need confidence in revelation combined with humility about possible illusions of our own we have yet to confront. God may have much work to do in us as we share the story with others.

5 Comments:

At July 05, 2005 7:17 AM, Anonymous will spotts said...

You raise interesting (if problematic) issues here.

I take, "If with all your heart you truly seek Me, you shall ever surely find Me," as a promise.

Personally, I'm not sure how to apply that -- I would never tell someone or suggest that they didn't need Jesus as Savior, and I don't believe people are saved apart from His work.

I'm also aware that we can't priviledge knowledge -- so that knowledge becomes the work people do in order to be saved.

The other danger you mention is equally real -- to assume because I claim Jesus that I am free from illusions. Jesus himselfs dispells this when He says "Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord . . ."

 
At July 05, 2005 8:09 AM, Blogger Michael W. Kruse said...

Problematic indeed! Don't know who it was that originally said it, but there is a axiom that says, "God is not limited to a means of grace but we are." We have only one gospel to preach, Jesus Christ. That says nothing either way about the eternal fate of others. I suspect that those who know God outside the Christian context will recognize Jesus when introduced. There are countless stories of cross-cultural missionaries having this experience.

Bottom line, I don't think it is our business to be evaluating the eternal destiny of others. We are to give witness to the one who makes the makes eternal life possible and give witness agianst the "eternal present" of human cultures.

For me, personal application means focusing on my own disillusionment in an effort to be a better witness. The same for my fellowship of believers. It means dealing with non-Chritstians with respect and realizing that God may have something to teach me through them. They may be his means of disillusioning me even as I give witness to the reality of the story he is unfolding in history.

 
At July 05, 2005 8:38 AM, Anonymous will spotts said...

Thanks for this.

I have great trouble putting this into words because it ends up being a fine distinction.

It is kind of like the story of Cornelius -- which has something to thwart most theological understandings.

 
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