Thinking Out Loud

August 27, 2017

The Mysterious Melchizedek: Who’s Blessing Who?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:41 pm

At the beginning of the month we launched something new at Christianity 201 called Sunday Worship; a subset of articles dealing with the theme of worship but not limited to the musical aspect of it. This was the kickoff article. Later today (5:35 PM EDT) there will be another new one.

NIV Genesis 14:17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20 And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Melchizedek blesses Abram. Isn’t that the opposite of where we should be looking to consider worship? Isn’t worship about us blessing God through our worship?

I was drawn to this passage through a chapter in Rob Bell’s book, What is the Bible? I know Bell is controversial, but hear him out on this. He writes that Abraham has been promised that God is going to do a new thing through him. He begins a covenant with Abraham. Something that has not existed prior.

But then along comes “a priest of God Most High.” So there’s already a thing. An ongoing thing. A thing that’s been taking place long enough for there to be a priesthood. And even though we’re only 14 chapters in, the writer of Genesis assumes we get what that means. Long before the birth of Levi, there is already the notion of an ecclesiastic structure; within it a group that is set apart — by the designation priest — to serve in some capacity related to the sacrificial system which, in chapter 14, is just beginning. I think that’s Bell’s point.

So Melchizedek is part of that priestly class then, right?

Maybe not. Many believe that this is a theophany, a place where God himself breaks in and makes a post-Eden appearance. Perhaps even a Christophany, an Old-Testament appearance of the Son. (We’ve written on this subject a few months ago in this article.) Really, how can anyone ignore the mention of bread and wine in verse 18? So shouldn’t Abram fall on his face and worship Melchizedek? That’s what often happens in theophanies, where the term “the angel of the Lord” is used to describe the one making an appearance. Instead, Melchizedek blesses him.

So let’s instead go back to the idea that this priest is in every sense a human like us; the idea that there is a designated structure that involves a set apart, priestly class. We have a reference to him again in Psalm 110:4 and also in Hebrews. Who does he serve? What does he do?

Remember, by the time the book of Genesis is recorded, it’s a given that we know something of the meaning of the word priest. Part of the sacrificial system was to offer animals and the fruit of the land in hope of God’s blessing. But part of it was also as an act of thankfulness for blessings already received. It meant honoring God’s place, God’s position, God’s status, God’s authority, God’s power, God’s involvement in the everyday, God’s predisposition to bless, God’s prerogative to withhold blessing. A calendar cycle would evolve which represented the intersection of God’s work and our lives.

There was a role for the priest in all of this, as overseer of that system. In facilitating that worship.

The people didn’t worship 24 hours a day. There were fields to cultivate, animals to feed and children to tend to. But where they set apart their time, they did so with the aid and direction of one set apart to lead. In other words, before the establishment of the singers, we could see the priests as worship leaders. Just not in the sense we use that term today.

But this priest “blessed Abram.” Is that backwards? (There’s an interplay going on here between the giving and receiving of worship and the giving and receiving of blessing.)

It depends how you were raised. In a Roman Catholic context, there’s nothing surprising about a priest blessing children or even blessing objects. If our modern day worship leaders are some type of parallel or equivalent, do they, in addition to facilitating God-directed worship, ever bless the assembled worshipers? Or does that tread into the murky territory of responding to God in hopes of receiving something in return; i.e. a blessing.

I want to raise the possibility then that Melchizedek is part of something larger, and something ongoing, and something that Abraham is going to be a part of, but in so doing, he is plugging into something long-established. Something that pre-dates the new thing God is doing with him. Something that has already been taking place…

…in heaven. That is to say beyond the time constraints of this earth. In eternity. We see visions of angelic worship in Revelation but that heavenly worship is, to use a common phrase today, a pre-existing condition. In other words it follows through in Revelation but it also precedes Genesis.

And the notion of being a “priest of God Most High” is an extension of what has already taken place in heaven, is already taking place in heaven, and will continue to take place in heaven: The worship of God.

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November 28, 2013

Heaven is For Real – The Movie: Sneak Preview

Filed under: media — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:09 am

Scheduled for release on Easter weekend, 2014, the movie adaptation of the bestselling Thomas Nelson book, Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo is now far along enough in production that a trailer is now available. The book has significant title recognition even in the general market, and is sure to re-spark conversations about death, the after-life and faith.

Below is the first official movie poster, a little hard to read, but it gets away from the Sunday School version of Colton on the front cover of the book. Click the image to see the full cast list at Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

Heaven Is For Real - The Movie

December 5, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday List Lynx

Wednesday List Lynx

Not only these, but there was a link list on Saturday as well. *UPDATE* 8:00 PM — Yes, I know about the PSY parody. We might run it here Friday. Click to watch Farmer Style. *END UPDATE*

Religiously Confusing Sign

  • The lynx is not alone this time: We end today with some book covers which appeared here in a 2008 post dealing with whether or not Fluffy and Fido will be in heaven. These are real books that were available for purchase when the post was written. First we took the Chuck Colson position that argues against animals in the afterlife. Then, four months later, in August, 2008; I was persuaded by the Randy Alcorn position which argues for furry friends, though not resurrected ones. Trust me, you could split a church over this topic…

Animals in the Afterlife

August 30, 2009

James Garlow: Heaven and the Afterlife

One of the frustrations of the Christian publishing market are so many titles tripping over themselves saying essentially the same things.   I rather expected Heaven and the Afterlife to be a good review pick having read (out loud, actually) 50 Days of Heaven which an abridgment of Randy Alcorn’s longer work, Heaven. I figured it would somehow qualify me to compare two works on the same topic, and quickly write a short 150-word review.

Heaven and the Afterlife - GarlowInstead, I found myself with something completely different; a title much more comprehensive on diverse subjects that preoccupy the thoughts of many; a book  that would also appeal to those who had read 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, or 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Wiese, not to mention Angels by Billy Graham and a whole raft of titles by Grant Jeffrey.    In fact, the book is so wide in scope that while Garlow cites Randy Alcorn, he does so only a couple of times.

The book begins with the subject of near death experiences (NDEs) and moves on to after death communication (ADC) and takes an approach that I think would appeal to the general reader, the secularist, even the skeptic.   It’s lighter on Biblical content in the earlier chapters, instead easing into the topic by raising the questions which all of us — churched and non-churched alike — often ask when dealing with these difficult subjects.   Later chapters discuss angels, demons, reincarnation, eschatology and the concept of purgatory.

Every one of the 21 chapters in this book could really be a book in itself.  At times  —  such as the chapter on demons or the chapter on end-times judgment — Garlow leaves us wanting more; at others, he covers the ground so quickly that I wonder if skeptics would accept the progressive reasoning, or would, like Wikipedia editors, cry “citation needed.”

But I think that is exactly the point.   In 258 pages of text, the best one can offer is a general overview.  The subject of heaven specifically and the subject of the afterlife in general, is indeed a complex series of discussions which probably touch on even more than the 21 topics contained here.    Where the book most succeeds is to show us that these topics are interconnected and part of a unified whole; considerations that must be weighed against the “big picture” conceived in the mind of God, and reflective of His very nature.

So while the book assumes a basic concession to the Biblical view on such things, it also helps us improve our Biblical literacy on these topics, and builds respect for the scriptural take on death and the end-times.

Therefore, I want to modify what I said last week in a preview to this review.   I still think the book might be useful to give to someone who hasn’t yet crossed the line of faith; but I think it would work better if given to someone who is already moving in that direction but has some questions.    While I might be tempted to file this book under “H” for heaven or “D” for death, I think it also has a place under “A” for apologetics.

james-garlowIf you don’t know Garlow, he is a most prolific writer, a pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego and holds six — count ’em — theological degrees.   So he’s quite capable of dealing in later chapters with two current “hot button” topics:  Universalism (which can be an ‘all roads lead to God’ viewpoint, or an ‘everyone is saved in the end’ theory)  and Annihilation (the idea that those who don’t accept Christ simply cease to exist after death.)   He deals honestly with the arguments used in support of these positions and shows respect for their proponents, but then explains why he cannot buy in.

If a book may be judged by its ability to deliver on its title, Heaven and the Afterlife contains — theologically speaking — everything but the kitchen sink.   This is the current exhaustive treatment of the breadth and width of this topic.

Heaven and the Afterlife – James L. Garlow with Keith Wall (Bethany House, 2009; paperback, $13.99 US)

nearsighted bookwormEnjoy the book reviews in Thinking Out Loud?   Then you might also want to check out “The Nearsighted Bookworm,” where reviewer Janis covers the latest Christian fiction and non-fiction titles.   Click here to connect.


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