Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 January 2017

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.  Hebrews 7, verses 4-10.

These verses contain some pretty detailed theology.   Let’s sum it all up:  give to God.   Give to Him generously.

My home church, Water’s Edge Frisco, espouses an idea:  live 90.  Like any church we want to encourage tithing and giving.   It’s a big way to give something meaningful to God from our hearts.   We also need to pay the bills, as does any organization.  Our leaders have found that the most Biblically centered way to build up giving attitudes is to stick to the Bible.   That means encouraging, not mandating, a ten percent tithe.   The church likes catchy phrases, so along comes “live 90.”   Live on 90% of your income and give the first ten percent to God.   That’s ten percent of the gross in your earnings, your possessions, and even yourself.   Tithe to God and then watch Him bless you in ways you might not have imagined.

It isn’t a gimmick; God isn’t a Pavlov reactor or a divine wish factory.  God doesn’t care whether or not we give anything from our incomes or our talents.   God DOES care very much about the heart behind that giving.  He wants us to give selflessly.   He wants us to want to give to Him “just because.”  Just because we can.   Just because we want to share with Him some of what He’s shared with us.   God wants us to live for Him in an attitude similar to how we live for other people we cherish.  God wants us to express that attitude with things that mean something to us, knowing that other believers will use those things we give – like money  and possessions – in ways to further His Kingdom.

As you can see, it stems from this passage about Abraham and Melchizedek.  Abraham had just won a large battle against pagan Canannite kings and had, accordingly, won great plunder of gold, property, and livestock.  Along comes Melchizedek to bless Abraham.  God had promised that all people would be blessed through Abraham, and Melchizedek reinforces that blessing.   What’s Abraham’s response?   He gives generously to Melchizedek.   He gives ten percent or more of his boodle to a stranger.

Later, as an expression of the blessing, God institutes the formal priesthood through Abraham’s descendant, Levi.  Levi was one of Jacob’s twelve sons (meaning he was Abraham’s great-grandson).  Levi’s family formed one of the twelve tribes of Israel, his tribe being the priesthood.   It would be the pleasure and the purpose of Levi’s descendants to share God’s message – His promises and His promised blessings – with people forever.  That calling reflects the royal priesthood of this stranger, Melchizedek.   We’ve already discussed how Melchizedek’s true identity remains unknown; he might have been a Christophany (a pre-incarnate Jesus), or he might have been Shem, or he might have been someone else altogether.   Whoever he was, he worshipped and praised the true God and did so in ways that would demonstrate the ministry God wanted instituted among His people.   To honor this, Abraham tithed to Melchizedek.

What did Melchizedek do with that enormous plunder, with that selfless tithe given to him by Abraham?   We don’t know; it doesn’t matter.   We can all decry, sometimes rightfully, the excesses that some of today’s ministers flaunt with tithes from God’s people.   Huge churches, lavish lifestyles, rock-star followings:   was that what Melchizedek, Abraham and Levi had in mind?   Probably not.   Yet consider 1 Kings, chapters 2-11, especially chapter 10.   In these, King Solomon’s splendor is described.   Solomon, a descendant of Abraham, was extraordinarily blessed by God with wisdom, wealth, and success.   It wasn’t because of anything Solomon did:  it was because of God’s grace, God’s generosity.   Solomon started life asking for wisdom and was blessed with it and so much more.   Though his life ended in him wandering away in pagan beliefs, God still blessed him.

All that splendor was paid for with tithes from the people.  The people gave of their hearts to God’s purposes, and God chose to bless both them and their leaders in extraordinary ways.   He still does so today.  And it goes back to the precedent set by Abraham and Melchizedek.

So the next time you do your budget, before you pay your bills, say a prayer of thanks to God and then write a check to Him.   Consider giving things to others, giving things that are meaningful and that others may need.  Give of yourself and your time and give generously without expectation of anything in return.  Live happily on ninety percent of what you’re blessed to earn.  Give that other ten percent to God’s purposes.  Through churches, charities, and ministry activities, God will use this to bless others in extraordinary ways.   When you do this, you’re siding with Melchizedek, Abraham, Levi, and Jesus.

For further reading:   Genesis 14:18-20, 1 Kings 2-11, Psalm 76:2, Psalm 110:4, , Matthew 4:3, Hebrews 2:17, Hebrews 5:6.

My blessed Lord, thank You for blessing me.   Thank You for Abraham and Melchizedek and the practice they began.   Thank You for opportunities to still give in those ways today.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 18 January 2017

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.”  Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.  Hebrews 7, verses 1-3.

Let’s talk about Melchizedek.   He’s been mentioned several times throughout Hebrews, and we’ve chatted about him a little bit already.   In the Genesis account of Abram’s life (before God renamed him Abraham), Melchizedek suddenly appears out of nowhere while Abram is journeying from Mesopotamia (likely in today’s Syria or southern Turkey) to Canaan (today’s Israel).  We know little about him other than he’s a revered man, a holy man, a priest.  He was king of Salem – the predecessor settlement to Jerusalem – and was God’s high priest there.   Not a pagan like the other inhabitants of Canaan, Melchizedek knew the true God and strengthened Abram’s faith.

Wikipedia reinforces much of this narrative.  It also discusses corroborating evidence about Melchizedek from early Hebrew Torah commentaries, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and even some Greek documents.   Even the pagan Quran, written centuries later, references Melchizedek.  At the end of all this ancient evidence, we’re still left not knowing exactly who Melchizedek was.   All that we can really know is that He was important to members of both the Jewish and early Christian faiths.  Indeed, if you read these verses closely it’s easy to see why many folks believe Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate Jesus (a “Christophany”).  It’s more than possible.   It’s also more than possible that (as we’ve discussed before) Melchizedek was actually Shem, the son of Noah, who had survived the flood and was the forefather of the Semites, Abram’s historic lineage.   It seems likely that Melchizedek was the vocational ancestor of all who would be ordained as either royalty or ministers.  But to tell you the truth, I don’t know; nobody does.   And to get wrapped around the axle about exactly who he was misses the main point about him.

Melchizedek represents unquestioning devotion to God.

Melchizedek is ‘king of peace,’ ‘king of righteousness.’   Melchizedek has no historical beginning or end since we don’t know where he was born or where he died.   He simply existed to give praise and meaning to God, encouraging the chosen man of God’s will at a time when Abram needed it.   Abram had traveled many miles from home for many years, living a nomadic life in obedience to a promise God made to him.  God had been faithful to His promise to bless all peoples through Abram, but hadn’t shown Abram just how He would do that.  Enter Melchizedek, who gives selflessly and provides an example for Abram to do the same.  In doing so, Abram’s faith was strengthened and his devotion sustained.   So much so, in fact, that Abram gave Melchizedek a portion of all he owned.   Some translations of Scripture (including the NIV I use) say it was a tenth of all he owned, perhaps instituting the precedent for the ten percent tithe many believers donate to God even today.   After Abram has won a battle against local pagan kings, Melchizedek visits Abram and bestows on him God’s blessings.  Then he disappears.  Melchizedek plays an important part in God’s historic family and then, like so many other believers, is simply gone, lost to history with his part in the play having acted out.

Again, in all these things, it doesn’t matter who he was but very much matters what he did and believed.  Melchizedek represents that unquestioning faith in God.   He followed God.   He lived a life devoted to God.   He was an example of and a precursor to Jesus, who became the inheritor of Melchizedek’s temporal priesthood.   Melchizedek did in act what Jesus would later do in both act and Spirit.

That’s a lot to understand from someone who is mentioned by name in only three places in the Bible (in Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and in the book of Hebrews).   If you consider it, however, that’s more than most people are documented anywhere in history.   Maybe God is trying to tell us something we need to remember.  Maybe God is trying to say “don’t worry about who he was.   Remember who he believed in.” Many thousands of years after he lived, that makes Melchizedek timely and relevant to us.

For further reading:   Genesis 14:18-20, Psalm 76:2, Psalm 110:4, , Matthew 4:3, Hebrews 2:17, Hebrews 5:6.

Lord, thank You for teaching about Melchizedek.   Thank You for his ancient example of faith in You that can still encourage me today.