Priests after the order of Melchizedek
After portraying Jesus as an Adam-like Messiah, Matthew emphasises that he was a son of David, who in turn was a son of Abraham (Matt 1:1). This was not to emphasise Jesus’ uniqueness or his Israeli roots, but to highlight his high priesthood over the priestly order of Melchizedek, a role that comes to earlier scriptural prominence only in the lives of those two men, yet had a vital part to play in cleansing the land.
Throughout the history of Israel, God repeatedly intervened, as with Noah, and preserved a seed of the Woman against impossible odds. This meant that whenever disaster struck, such seeds tended to stand out as exceptional individuals. Following Noah, the next inkling of God preserving a seed came when Abraham rescued Lot. Melchizedek’s recognition, that Abraham was the seed, catapulted the patriarch into a priestly career that would ensure, as Judaism affirms, that Eden was the heritage of his disciples (Pirqe Aboth 5:22).
The passage of time and the events of the Exodus refocused responsibility for priesthood onto the sons of Aaron. Yet, the crisis that hit them at time of Eli left them unable to minister or cleanse the land. Righteous Samuel, in a bid to restore their Eden, looked to Abraham’s example (cf. Isa 51:1-3) as, catalyzing a revival of the priesthood of Melchizedek, he set first Saul, then David upon that course. Thereafter, concealed within the sovereignty of Israel, that ancient high priestly office played an integral part in Israel’s cultic system, calling the sons of Aaron to account, conferring authority to establish priests and impart cleansing, then finally finding its expression in Messiah Jesus, the one who emulated David, as David emulated Abraham.
The stories of Samuel, fighting to resolve a major cleanliness crisis, and of David, acquiring the promise of an eternal house, go hand in hand. Yet, both revolve around Abraham’s three altars, at Moreh by Gilgal (Deut 11:30)1, Bethel (Gen 13:14) and Mamre by Hebron (Gen 13:18, 18:1, 23:2).
It was whilst at Mamre that Abraham, prevailed against impossible odds to rescue Lot (Gen 14:13-20), catching the attention of Melchizedek, ‘King of Righteousness’ and king of ‘Peace’ (Heb 7:2). The king, recognising that God Most High’s involvement in Abraham’s victory was significant, went out to the patriarch bearing bread and wine (Gen 14:18). Genesis, by linking this with Melchizedek’s priestly role, infers an offering in which Abraham was expected to supply the animal2, i.e. a burnt offering in which Abraham, like the Woman, could become a priest and receive a covering. The king, as the greater of the two, then blessed his newfound vassal, leaving Abraham to confirm their relationship by giving a tenth (Gen 14:21). By this act the patriarch’s altars and his family, which ultimately included the sons of Levi (cf. Heb 7:6-10), came under the authority of Melchizedek and his sanctuary at Salem. Thus, we later find Jacob, accepting the God of Abraham as his Lord, promising a tenth and resurrecting his grandfather’s altar at Bethel (Gen 28:12-22)3. Only afterward did he establishing an altar of his own at Mizpah (Gen 31:46-54)4.
The person of Melchizedek disappears from the scriptures as mysteriously as he arrives. Thus, some rabbinic sources align him with Shem, son of Noah, and portray Abraham’s meeting with him as a timely baton passing between generations5. The age of Shem when Abraham was born was about three hundred and ninety years6 and he lived five hundred years. So, as Abraham was between the age of seventy-five (Gen 12:4) and eighty-six (Gen 16:16) when he met Melchizedek (Gen 14:18), the timing more or less fits. Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:36), following the Septuagint text (Gen 11:12 Sep), inserts an extra generation between Arpachsad and Shelah, which we may reasonably suggest was thirty-five years7, placing the meeting with Melchizedek even closer to the time of Shem’s death.
His meeting with Melchizedek appears to have changed the patriarch, for after it he first addressed his god as God most high and in response received priestly responsibility wherever he trod (Gen 15:17). Genesis uses paired before and after scenarios to illustrate how his newfound authority transformed Abraham’s life. Twice he saved Lot from the destruction of Sodom, initially by fighting in the power of the Lord, but afterwards by interceding with the Lord of Power. Twice there were ‘pretend to be my sister’ incidents (Gen 12:15-20, 20:2-14.). In the former God remained aloof, allowing Abraham to loose both his good standing and the gifts that came with it. In the later God affirmed Abraham as a prophet, improving his status such that he received gifts. On the one hand Pharaoh had the patriarch escorted out of the Egypt in disgrace, on the other Abimelech invited him to stay in Canaan as an honoured guest.
Israel’s cleanliness crisis
Israel’s sojourn in Egypt saw substantial change in Canaan. They returned to find the Jebusites had transformed Salem into Jerusalem (cf. Ps 76:2) whilst the Canaanites had turned their back on God Most High (Deut 20:17). Following the conquest, the sons of Aaron enjoyed an exclusive franchise to deal with Israel’s sin at the Tabernacle. So Abraham’s ancient altar sites might have seemed redundant, had not a few men of outstanding faith deliberately sought them out8. Yet, the end of the era of the Judges saw the dynasty of Aaron in trouble and those ancient altars returning to the fore.
Levites had originally earned their right to handle the holy things by putting God before their family (Exod 32:26-29, Deut 33:8-10), whilst the sons of Aaron earned their perpetual priesthood through Phineas’ zeal in executing a couple involved in cultic harlotry (Num 25:7-8). Yet, the sons of the Chief Priest Eli abused the offerings and fornicated with cultic prostitutes (1 Sam 2:12-17, 22). Eli, by merely rebuking them (1 Sam 2:22-25), failed to emulate his forefathers and departed from the radical obedience that had earned the Levites their special status (1 Sam 2:29).
The first tremor of the seismic event, through which God was about to shake up Israel’s sorry spiritual life, came when a man of God prophesied that Eli’s family would loose all its adult males (1 Sam 2:27-36). Moreover, God also said -
‘Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever. And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left in your house will come and bow down to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and say, “Please, put me in one of the priestly positions, that I may eat a piece of bread.”’ (1 Sam 2:35-36, NKJV)
Both Eli’s descendents, and the house of Levi whom they ruled, would have to accept the leadership of a ‘faithful priest’, a priest who would enjoy the secure priestly stature that characterised a seed of the Woman (Gen 3:15). Moreover, he would ‘walk before’ the Lord’s anointed priests as a shepherd before his flock and nobody would be able to come before the Lord except through his say-so9. On him, they would depend for their authority to minister and their share in the tithes and grain offerings. Yet, for Eli, there was worse to come, for God, through young Samuel, delivered an aftershock that rendered the Day of Atonement useless. Henceforth, Eli’s family, the future Chief Priests, would no longer be able to atone for their own sins (1 Sam 3:13-14).
The downfall of the house of Eli came swiftly, as a Philistine invasion deprived it of all those old enough to be held accountable for their own actions10, killing Eli’s sons and precipitating the priest’s own death (1 Sam 4:17-18). The scriptures mention only Ichabod and Ahitub, Eli’s grandchildren, as survivors of his line (1 Sam 4:21, 1 Sam 14:3). Thus, at least until his heir came of age, the nation lost the means to keep its land clean.
Evidence of a dysfunctional priesthood
The Philistine’s capture of the Ark confirmed that Israel was an unclean nation and the Ark’s subsequent travels highlight the Israeli priesthood’s inability to intervene (1 Sam 6:1-15)11. The Ark’s time in Philistia denied the Israelis access to it, whilst demonstrating its impact on an unclean land. Then, once the suffering Philistines returned the Ark to the city of refuge at Beth-Shemesh (Josh 21:13-16), the Sons of Aaron put it on a rock (a patch of clean ground) instead of restoring it to the Tabernacle. That they were still unable to see the Lord’s face, i.e. the Ark12, without their lack of cleanliness bringing trouble (1 Sam 6:19), is confirmed by their query: “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?” (1 Sam 6:20, KJV). Once the answer had been the Sons of Aaron at Shiloh, but for the priests of Beth–Shemech a different solution was required. They had to remove the Ark from Israel’s cities, but retain control of it. Thus, they sent it to Kiriath-Jearim, a city allotted to Judah but left under the control of the Gibeonites, a Canaanite group bound into the service of Israel’s God by ancestral agreements (Josh 9:17-23).
For some twenty years, long enough for Eli’s heirs to mature, God’s presence, in the form of the Ark, rested on a hill at Kiriath-Jearim (1 Sam 7:1). Meanwhile, the Tabernacle remained ineffective, so Samuel switched his attentions from Shiloh to sites associated with the priesthood of Melchizedek. The Mosaic offerings were no longer possible13, but the older forms of offering made use of other altars14. Thus, Samuel operated on a circuit that took in Gilgal, Bethel and Mizpah (1 Sam 7:16)15. He also established his own altar at Ramah in a manner reminiscent of Abraham or Jacob (1 Sam 7:17). Operating from these altars, Samuel drove the Philistines from Israel so comprehensively that they stayed out for the duration of his leadership (1 Sam 7:13).
On the surface, Samuel’s story revolves around the inauguration and subsequent replacement of the first king of Israel, yet behind that facade lay God’s agenda for restoring the cleanliness of the land. From which perspective, Saul was a more obvious choice of king than suggested by his physical stature alone. By surviving the devastating destruction of his hometown, Gibeah, he had shown the hallmark of being a seed of the Woman. Furthermore, Jerusalem awaited a Benjamite to claim it16. As its king, Saul would be on a par with Melchizedek, out rank Levi’s sons, and be able to provide atonement for a new Chief Priest17.
Samuel was grooming Saul to don the fallen mantle of an ancient priest, so before anointing him as king, he arranged for him to partake in a peace offering. The right thigh of such an offering legally belonged to the officiating priest (cf. Lev 7:32). Yet, Samuel set it before Saul, identifying the Benjamite as both ministering priest and his own superior.
After revealing that God was bestowing sovereignty upon Saul’s shoulders, Samuel sent the fledgling king on a significant journey (1 Sam 10:3-4). Rachel’s tomb reminded Saul that idolatry brought Israel suffering (as explored in a later chapter). Next, he met three men going up to Bethel carrying the requirements for an offering. As instructed he took possession of two of the three loaves, reminding him that his tribe controlled two of Abraham’s three altar sites. That this required the priests to acknowledge his authority and ask him for their portions, reminded Saul of the promise to the ‘faithful priest’18. Finally, a visit to Kiriath-jearim, the Hill of God19, revealed the Philistines garrisoned in God’s presence and therefore ripe to fall. After seeing this, Saul was to do whatever the Lord showed him, by implication this was summoning Israel just as Samuel previously had. He was then to prepare for a sacrifice at Gilgal and wait seven days for the prophet’s arrival before offering it (1 Sam 10:8).
Saul becomes king-priest
After a decidedly lacklustre start, concern for his tribe’s relatives in Jabesh-gilead (Judg 21:14 ) spurred Saul into action and, defeating an Ammonite army, he won a resounding victory (1 Sam 11:6-11). Amidst the resultant swell of popular support, Saul distinguished himself as a merciful leader by dismissing calls for the execution of those who had opposed his coronation. His words then remind us of Abraham’s great battle and Melchizedek’s conclusion, the battle had not been won by him, explained Saul, but by the Lord (1 Sam 11:13, c.f. Gen 14:20).
With Saul continuing to show signs of being a seed of the Woman, there was more to the ceremony at Gilgal than just a second bite at crowning a reluctant ruler and an opportunity for repentant dissidents to express their change of heart. Samuel had seized the moment to suggest that the people install Saul as leader at the site of Abraham’s first altar (1 Sam 11:14-15, Deut 11:30), i.e. reinstate the priesthood that had previously existed in that place. Thus the people crowned him as ‘king before the Lord’, officially recognising Saul as a priest-king like Melchizedek.
The test of faithfulness
Saul’s recruitment into the priesthood of Melchizedek enabled him to establish altars of his own, to grant atonement to the descendants of Eli and to restore their ministry (1 Sam 14:33-35). Thus, even at this early point in Saul’s reign Ahijah20, Eli’s great grandson, could stand before the Lord (1 Chr 9:11, 1 Sam 14:3, 1 Sam 14:18). However, just as the prophecy to Eli anticipated, the sons of Aaron were clearly in submission to Saul, obeying his orders to move the Ark (1 Sam 14:18-19) and careful to address him as ‘my Lord’ (1 Sam 22:11-12).
The restoration of Melchizedek’s priestly authority resolved the house of Aaron’s atonement issue, however Saul soon proved that he was not the anticipated ‘faithful priest’. Saul’s concern for his relatives put Samuel’s agenda on hold, at least until Jonathan took matters into his own hands and struck the garrison at the hill21, providing the first inkling that the promise had passed to the son, who had done ‘whatever the Lord showed him’. With a full-scale confrontation underway, Saul finally got on with following Samuel’s instructions (1 Sam 13:4-14), rallying the tribes at Gilgal and preparing the sacrifice, only then to panic and deviate from them. Once Samuel arrived, his anger betrayed his dashed hopes, for Saul’s faithlessness had forfeited the enduring house (1 Sam 2:35, cf. 13:13).
A giant’s head goes walkabout
Incomplete obedience was to prove Saul’s characteristic flaw, so following his partial destruction of the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:20-23), God selected David to replace him. Whilst Saul had inherited land rights, David, through living amongst the descendants of Caleb, had acquired Caleb’s spirit (1 Chr 2:19, cf. 2:50-51). Eventually this man after God’s own heart would receive the promised enduring house (2 Sam 7:15-16), however first he had to become a priest.
The account of David’s early life reveals that David’s doorway into the priesthood of Melchizedek lay alongside Saul’s pursuit of his tribe’s claim on Jerusalem. Initially called to serve as a court musician, Jesse sent the youthful David away laden with a dedicatory burnt offering (see Appendix D), reminiscent of that in which Saul partook on his commissioning journey. Thereafter, David alternated shepherding with the role as musician that eventually extended to include armour bearing (1 Sam 16:15, 21).
The next step on his path to priesthood came when David, like a latter day Caleb, stepped up to face Goliath. His subsequent travels with the giant’s head (1 Sam 17:54, 57-18:5) resonate with Abraham’s experience, for David defeated a great enemy and did so with the declaration that the battle was the Lords (1 Sam 17:47), he then met Melchizedek’s successor at the site of Salem and entered unequivocally into his service (1 Sam 18:2, 5)22. That Saul, despite knowing the lad’s immediate parentage (1 Sam 16:20), invited David to elaborate on his ancestry (1 Sam 17:58), suggests he had noticed this resonance23. David wisely refused to be drawn.
David’s covenant with Saul’s son Jonathan showed the measure of his commitment to their household (1 Sam 18:3-4, 20:7-8). However, this faithfulness failed to assuage the king’s hostility toward him. Driven to flee, the young man’s desire to follow Abraham’s example may explain his otherwise paradoxical flight to Goliath’s home city of Gath in Philistia (1 Sam 17:4, 21:10). For the God who helped him defeat Goliath, had interceded for Abraham in the land of Abimelech, king of Philistia (Gen 20:2-15, 26:1, cf. Ps 34:1).
Although Gath failed to give David the reception he had hoped for, his escape was elsewhere punctuating by incidents that expose his priestly credentials as clearly as did Abraham’s visit to Abimelech. At Nob, Ahimelech, son of Ahitub (1 Sam 22:9), allowed him to eat the holy ‘show bread’ that only a priest could eat (1 Sam 21:1-6, c.f. Lev 24:9), then offered him Goliath’s sword, an item dedicated to God (1 Sam 21:8-9). Later, David commanded Abiathar to fetch an Ephod, but then used it to enquire himself (1 Sam 23:9-11). Both incidents illustrate the superiority of the priesthood of Melchizedek over that of Aaron, for David, as yet still only a servant of that priesthood could nevertheless command the loyalty of the house of Aaron.
After Saul’s death, David remained a fugitive from the late King’s family. Like Samuel before him, he no longer had access to the Ark and, so God took him back to Abraham’s ancient altars, and he sought out the only one that lay outside Benjamite territory. This was Mamre, near Hebron (2 Sam 2:1-4). Hebron lay amidst the Calebite hill country acquisitions controlled by Judah and, moreover, this city-of-refuge’s Levites would ensure his safety if required.
Following Saul’s demise, all Israel eventually declared David king at Hebron, opening the way for him to re-establish the ancient priesthood in its original seat of Salem (1 Chr 11:4)24. As the now undisputed priest-king, he captured Jerusalem and moved his royal seat (2 Sam 5:5). He then brought the Ark under his control, donning priestly attire and, through sacrifice and flamboyantly worship, emphasising his priestly role (2 Sam 6:14). On the day the Ark arrived, he demonstrated the scope of his priesthood’s authority, reassigning the Levites to new roles. The first assignment for Asaph and his brothers’ was to sing a psalm appropriate to that revival of the Abrahamic faith (1 Chr 16:7-36). As he reached back to the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he reminded his audience that the sons of Aaron lacked a monopoly on ‘prophets’ and ‘anointed ones’ (Ex 7:1, 28:41), for the wandering patriarchs, whom David now emulated, had preceded them in both those priestly roles (1 Chr 16:20-22).
The ‘faithful priest’ flexes his authority
David, having final say in who could minister, was able to hold the house of Aaron accountable. However, he also had officials whom the scriptures call priests (Kohen) but who lacked an Aaronic birthright25. These included Ira, a Jairite and thus from tribe of Manasseh (Numb 32:41, 2 Sam 20:26) and his own sons (2 Sam 8:18). Thus, the priesthood of Melchizedek gave David authority to step well beyond the bounds of the Mosaic Law in his appointment of priests.
Just as Abraham’s priesthood came through his choice to serve Melchizedek, so David’s came through his choice to faithfully serve Saul. At Nob, Ahimelech accepted David’s men as priests simply because of whom they served. Furthermore, when Saul questioned the priest’s actions, Ahimelech offered David’s record of faithfulness to the king as sufficient justification for them (1 Sam 22:14). Thus, loyal service rather than heredity conferred priesthood in the order of Melchizedek, opening its doors to those of other Israelite tribes and even, potentially, to gentiles. This doorway, through which David tentatively stepped, Jesus’ church would exploit to the full.
David’s reforms were not intended to do away with the Levitical priesthood or their work, for he left at Gibeon the tabernacle, the altar of burnt offerings and the priestly family of Zadok (1 Chr 16:39-40). He also ensured that the Aaronic priesthood continued to observe the Law of Moses and offer acceptable sacrifices, the one exception being the sacrificial atonement for the sins of the Chief Priest. Once again, the fate of the Ark reflected the underlying spiritual realities, for David moved it to another tent, specially pitched for God’s presence in Jerusalem (1 Chr 16:1, 17:5). There he surrounded it not only with people to praise God, but also with gatekeepers to control who had access to it.
Solomon, the priest-king acknowledged
As David secured his kingdom and began to yearn for a temple, the Lord returned to that first prophecy to Eli (2 Sam 7:11), assuring David, “your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you” (2 Sam 7:16, NKJV). Faithful David had received something better than a temple, a house from which God would never remove his mercy.
When David stepped aside, his son Solomon continued in the priestly role. Both Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet were involved in the coronation (1 Kgs 1:34), for Solomon, like Abraham and Aaron, was to be both a prophet and an anointed priest. The transition of power that ensued is a likely context for Psalm 110, in which David provides prophetic encouragement from the Lord God Most High to his own new Lord, the newly anointed king Solomon26. As it declares “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4, NASB95), its words embody David’s understanding of the priestly role of Israel’s sovereign. The word translated ‘forever’ carries an interesting nuance, for it expresses both the potential to persist indefinitely and the pre-existence of something for a long time27. The verse therefore carries the alternate meaning, “You are a priest of old, according to the order of Melchizedek”28.
The scriptures seek to remove any residual doubt concerning the status of Solomon as a ‘faithful priest’. For when he dismisses rebellious Abiathar in favour of faithful Zadok, they recall the prophecy to Eli (1 Kgs 2:27). However, its fulfilment was not in the installation of Zadok (as many assume29), but in the action of Solomon, the King of Peace and King of Salem (1 Chr 22:9)30, who, by exercising the authority of the Priesthood of Melchizedek and judging the priesthood according to their faithfulness, brought Zadok to prominence.
A Jewish tradition suggests that Solomon furnished his throne room to remind the tribe of Levi of his patriarchal mandate and the need for faithful service31. It claims that above the throne hung a seven-branched chandelier, bearing the names of the fourteen patriarchs from whom Solomon derived the authority of his office. Above this hung a golden churn full of olive oil, engraved on which was an Aaronic role of shame, Nadab, Abihu, Eli, Hophni and Phineas32.
Between Solomon and Exile
Between Solomon and Judah’s Exile, one gets only occasional glimpses of the king’s priestly authority at work. For example, Hezekiah drafted in Levites who had been more diligent in consecrating themselves than the sons of Aaron (2 Chr 29:34) and a similar thing happened in the time of Josiah (2 Chr 35:11). Later still, a poetic parallelism in the Book of Lamentations portrays the monarch in a specifically cultic role, aligning God despising both king and priest with causing the forgetting of feasts and Sabbaths (Lam 2:6-7).
The returnees’ subversive coronation
Following Judah’s Exile, those who returned faced, as Samuel had, the problem of re-establishing a cultic system to cleanse the land. Despite their efforts to rebuild the temple, God confirmed that the lack of blessing they experienced was due to residual cleanliness (Hag 2:10-18). Resolving this required a Priest-king to atone for a High Priest who could then perform the Day of Atonement ritual. However, whilst they clearly had a High Priest in the form of Joshua, it was less certain whether governor Zerubbabel counted as a king-priest.
The prophet Haggai brought two reassuring words in a single day. The first confirmed the problem as uncleanliness whilst assuring the returnees that God would nevertheless bless them. The second affirmed Zerubbabel’s authority, commanding Haggai to tell the governor that God would make him like a signet ring (Hag 2:22). Although Men may have had difficulty recognising Zerubbabel as a king-priest, God confirmed that he had the authority to act as such.
The prophecies of Zechariah, which also come from this period, provide Zerubbabel with a symbolic coronation (Zech 6:11-13). It is an ambiguous passage, as well it might be, for any claim to be crowning a king amounted to treachery against Persian rule. On the surface it appears to portray the crowning of Joshua as priest, however the passage is ambiguous and Zechariah goes on to infer that the one crowned is ‘the Branch’, a reference to David’s royal line (Isa 11:1, Jer 23:5, 33:15) and the Temple builder, whom Zechariah earlier identified as Zerubbabel (Zech 4:9). Zechariah’s ‘virtual’ coronation of Zerubbabel concludes with the phrase ‘So He shall be a priest on His throne’ (Zech 6:13, NKJV), echoing Psalm 110 and confirming that we are once again dealing with a priest-king. To Persian officialdom this ingenious prophecy could claim to be extolling the high priest’s spiritual authority, yet to those familiar with the priesthood of Melchizedek it provided a subversive declaration of sovereignty.
Zechariah’s prophecy illustrates the role of the king-priest in the cleansing of the land (Zech 3:1-10). The High Priest Joshua clearly cannot atone for himself, for he is filthy and suffers Satan’s accusations until God intervenes, rebuking Satan and bringing cleansing. The Lord then presents Joshua with an offer of continued priesthood that is conditional on faithful service. This precedes a declaration that God is about to reveal the branch from David’s line (i.e. Zerubbabel), an all-watching legal foundation stone set before Joshua33. With Zerubbabel in place, God would remove their sin in a single day (i.e. the Day of Atonement). Thereafter, Zerubbabel would assume responsibility for ensuring that the temple was ‘true’ in the sight of the Lord, the role of the faithful priest.
Melchizedek and the Maccabees
Yet closer to the time of Christ the concept of a royal priesthood surfaces again. The Maccabean priests, having established themselves as the new rulers of Judah, adopted the title once born by Melchizedek by calling themselves ‘priests of the Most High God’34. The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, a document from that period, suggests that the author saw three divisions within the sons of Levi, a largest group (the Levites), the original priesthood (the Sons of Aaron) and a new priesthood established by a prophetic king from the tribe of Judah (T. Levi 8:14-15). They portray this king as a seed of Abraham and his priesthood as after the manner of the gentiles and to the gentiles.
Amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Qumran Community has left a further vantage point from which to view Melchizedek35. The document 11QMelch portrays him as one who stood in the presence of God amongst the innermost council of angelic beings, being there involved in both the execution of divine judgement and the atonement of the sins of the people. Whilst, the author made these claims for the historical character of Melchizedek, we should not forget that Psalm 110 portrays his successor, Solomon, seated at the right hand of God (Ps 110:1), a claim that Hebrews transfers to Jesus (Heb 1:3,13).
The end of the thread
Many of the similarities between Abraham and David would subsequently become messianic expectations. For example, God chose both (Neh 9:7, 2 Chr 6:5-6) because of their obedience (Gen 26:5, 1 Kgs 11:4-6, 15:3) and their desire to pass on a godly character (Gen 18:19, 1 Kgs 2:1-4), both conquered great enemies because God was with them and both ensured the wellbeing of their people. Yet, Judaism lacked a consensus on Melchizedek’s role within the messianic puzzle. Nevertheless, for Matthew, the priesthood of Melchizedek was a central thread that bound together Abraham, David and Messiah, as it passed in and out of sight amidst the fabric of history, it carried the authority of the seed of Eve. It emerged into the life of Abraham and surfaced again with Jacob. All but forgotten, it arose in response to the failure of the Sons of Aaron, to re-assert its fundamental place in the cleansing of the land. Then, as the prophet Samuel strove to restore the land, first Saul and then David became kings who ministered as priests. In the time of Solomon, the priesthood briefly even re-gained its name, before plunging once again into the undercurrents of Jewish history, to wait the day when a faithful priest would restore the legacy of Abraham and his altars. At the end of the thread lay Jesus, son of Abraham and son of David, greatest priest in an ancient priestly order, arbiter of who may serve in the loyal priesthood of God most High and holder of an office that can cleanse with a word.
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1 Genesis suggests the Terebinth of Moreh was near Shechem (Gen 12:6-8, 35:4). For reasons that will become apparent I believe the location ‘by Gilgal’ given at Deuteronomy 11:30 to be more precise.
2 Under Mosaic Law, bread and wine were essential elements of both burnt and peace offerings (Num 15:7-10).
3 Ewing W. & Harrison R. K., “Bethel” ISBE, 1:465-467, in particular 465.
4 The heap of stones probably went on to serve as the altar for the sacrifice Jacob offered.
5 Michael C Astour, “Melchizedek”, ABD, 4:684-6
6Estimated from the figures in Gen 11:10-26, allowing some latitude for the uncertainty introduced by 11:26
7In the Septuagint of Gen 11:10-25 generational gap is one hundred years larger than the equivalent Hebrew text. Therefore, its one hundred and thirty-five years (Gen 11:12 Sep) for the gap between the births of Arpachsad and Cainan, would equate to just thirty-five in the Hebrew text.
8 Joshua secured Bethel (capturing Ai, Josh 7:2, c.f. Gen 13:3) and established his base camp at Gilgal (Josh 4:19) and Caleb desired the hill country around Hebron (Josh 14:12).
9 “the Lord’s anointed” would later be used of the King of Israel, but at this point there was no king and the term would have referred to the priesthood as in Exodus 40:13-15 or Leviticus 4:3-5.
10 In Numbers 14:29, those under twenty are excused their elders lack of faith.
11 The details of the return of the Ark and the unloading of it can be found in 1 Samuel 6:1-21.
12 Many translators suggest the crime was looking into the Ark, but looking at it (as rendered in the ESV) was enough. The passage’s echoes of Exodus 33:20-21 would seem to support this.
13 Moses’ instructions for cleansing the land required the use of the Tabernacle (cf. Josh 22:19-29).
14 The commands at Deut 12:10-14 clearly did not prohibit certain an offerings at other sites, e.g. Joshua’s altar on Mt Ebal (Josh 8:30-31) and the sacrifices at Ophra (Judg 6:11, 18) and Zorah (Judg 13:2, 16, 19).
15 Gilgal was associated with Abraham, Mizpah with Jacob and Bethel with both these men.
16 Joshua allotted Jerusalem to Benjamin as an island within Judah (Josh 15:8, 18:28). Both tribes tried unsuccessfully to oust the Jebusites (Josh 15:63, Judg 1:21, Judg 1:7 but see Judg 1:21).
17 Hebrews confirms that becoming another priest like Melchizedek was possible (Heb 6:20, 7:15).
18 The un-burnt portion of this bread belonged to the officiating priest (Lev 7:9)
19 There were no Philistines on Israeli soil at the time (1 Samuel 7:13), and ‘Hill of God’ is an apt description for the hill at Kiriath-jearim on which the Ark was locate (1 Sam 7:1).
20 Son of Ahitub the ‘Chief officer’ of the house of God.
21 As Geba means ‘hill’, the narrative implies both garrisons were the same.
22 The juxtaposition of David taking the head to Jerusalem and Abner taking the returning David, with giant’s head in hand, to see Saul, leaves the reader to infer that Saul was in, or near, Jerusalem.
23 The significance of Caleb for David’s ancestry is discussed in Chapter 10.
24 Note how David’s psalmist, Asaph, uses Salem for Jerusalem (Ps 76:2).
25 J. Barton Payne, “959 כָהַן”, TWOT, 431-2.
26 A similar construct can be found in 1 Kings 1:37.
27 See Appendix M.
28 David’s return to ancient roots might also explain why David had Solomon anointed as King at Gihon, a name associated with one of the four rivers flowing from the sanctuary of Eden.
29 E.g. see D. A. Carson, New Bible commentary, (LOGOS electronic ed.; Leicester, England: IVP, 1994), n.p. (1 Sa 2:27).
30 Strong, “8010 שְׁלֹמֹה”, concordance.
31 Polano, The Talmud, 209-210.
32 Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, fatally offered strange fire (Lev 10:1-2).
33 The coupling of the number seven with the eyes implies completeness of vision (Zech 4:10). The God inscribed stone reminds of the law (Exod 32:16), also of the precious corner stone (Isa 28:16-17).
34 Charles, Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, 2:289.
35 D. W. Burdick, “Melchizedek,” ISBE, 3:313.