I’m excited to reach this leg of our hike: Melchizedek Pass. Picture a trail veering through thick clumps of cedar before a sudden upward climb to a brilliant vista. The air is crisp and invigorating; the sun massages our weary muscles. A whisper of intrigue awaits us… let’s explore!
The Hebrew writer builds this chapter from a very short incident in Genesis, featuring a mysterious king/priest, Melchizedek, and Abraham, returning from the victorious rescue of Lot (see Genesis 14:18-20). Three things happen. Melchizedek greets Abraham with bread and wine, and blesses him. Abraham gives him “a tenth of everything”—the spoils of war. And that’s it.
From these scant details, a mere 54 words in the NIV version, the Hebrew writer spins gold, an entire chapter devoted to the similarities between the mysterious king/priest and Christ.
Something in these words thrills the writer in me, especially here:
Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever. Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! (Heb.7:3-4)
Melchizedek is mentioned only once outside of Genesis and Hebrews, in Psalm 110, also elucidated in Hebrews 7. God declares Christ to be “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek”. These words in Psalms are prophetic, written a thousand years before Christ’s incarnation. And yet, from this almost forgettable incident in Abraham’s life spring profound teachings: the supreme, eternal, perfect, and irrevocable priesthood of Jesus, a “ high priest forever” on our behalf.
Some scholars maintain that Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ on earth, what’s known as a “theophany”. (Other examples of theophanies are special appearances by “the Angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament, the extra man in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and the mysterious man who wrestled all night with Jacob.) Differing scholars take Melchizedek at face value, as merely an earthly king whose unstated origins and genealogy make him a ‘type’ of Christ.
The romantic in me prefers the first interpretation. I thrill to think of Jesus interacting directly with Abraham, unbeknownst to the patriarch—even giving him bread and wine, a precursor to the Lord’s Supper. But I don’t think it matters which interpretation we choose. What matters is understanding how powerful Christ’s intervention is, and the confidence and salvation we gain from responding to his sacrifice.
What appeals to the storyteller in me is the concept of a seemingly random, inexplicable encounter—in this case, the anomaly of a king-and-priest, initiating to bless the father of faith—occurring years before its true significance is understood. As if God were planting seeds of faith, centuries before we actually need them. Seeds that will eventually sprout, grow, and shed color and light on what seemed like a dark season, a time of warfare and wandering. Abraham was still Abram, still figuring things out when he encountered Melchizedek.
Does God plant seeds of faith for us?
I absolutely think so.
I can recall many long-ago moments when God planted ‘seeds’, impressions and experiences that would eventually lead me to him. Songs that spoke to my inner loneliness. Dreams that pointed to a spiritual realm far more compelling than my daily existence. Even the LSD trips I took as a yearning teen: early tickets to my long search for meaning. Some may dispute God’s involvement in an acid trip. From my experience, I disagree.
But more than anything, it was the unexpected kindness of strangers that lit my way from time to time. I was a teen runaway. A “pre-delinquent”, landing myself in a home for troubled girls. A high school drop-out. A motherless, fatherless girl, utterly estranged from my parents. Vulnerable, risk-seeking, foolish, and lost.
One afternoon I sat in the public library, devouring a stack of books I’d culled from the shelves. I was 20 years old, a borderline anorexic, reading books about anorexia. I lived with my hippie/drummer boyfriend, working as a cook, on the cusp of moving to a farm with him. I wore a blue flannel work-shirt, faded jeans, and sneakers well-worn from the daily ten-mile hikes I compulsively walked. I looked about 16, except for my work-reddened hands, which looked about 40. I wore my long hair like a curtain, blocking the world from me and I from it.
A stranger spoke. He’d been studying me from another chair, noting my hair, my hands, my clothes, but most of all, my hungry, voracious reading. He told me he’d been watching me for about an hour, which should’ve been creepy, but somehow wasn’t. I’d piqued his interest, and he asked if he could take me for coffee, ask me some questions. I went.
He wasn’t a king/priest, or a stalker, or even an older man on the make, but a professor of psychology. He wanted to know my life: why a girl like me, “so obviously intellectual, an avid reader”, was living the life I’d chosen, a manual, physical, labor-intensive existence, devoid of higher education. Phrases like “dead-end”, “meaningless”, and “underachieving” weren’t spoken aloud, but I heard them. I was selling myself short, living a life that gratified only a part of me: the anxious, obsessive part that found solace in work and exercise. I was ignoring my talents, my God-given abilities to stretch the mind He’d given me.
Our conversation, mostly questions on his part and painful self-awareness on mine, lasted less than an hour. He paid the bill and stepped out of my life, without words of advice, follow-up, or even a business card. Sort of like Melchizedek, with a handshake instead of a blessing …
My life didn’t change right away. A month or so later, I moved to the farm, ready to be a farmer’s wife for the rest of my days. But the stranger’s words seeped in. Was this really the life I wanted? Was I with the right person, doing what I was meant to do? Two months later, I left the farm, my boyfriend, and the path I’d been following for three years. I was closer to becoming a Christian—though I had no idea, and would’ve been appalled—yet still years away from my actual conversion.
The stranger showed me something. Someone had noticed me. Someone thought I was selling myself short, that I was capable of far more than I realized. Someone thought I was worth bothering, interrupting, questioning, probing. Someone saw something special in me, even when I was simply sitting in a library, reading a book.
Melchizedek reminds me of that stranger, and our strange encounter, arranged—I’m convinced– by God. At 20, I wasn’t quite ready for the gospel, but I was hungry for encouragement. And for a divine reminder: I could choose the life I wanted.
What about you? Can you look back and see a Melchizedek or two in your life?