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The Christadelphian | February 2013

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial The spoken word
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “Let this mind be in you …” | Luke Harrison
  • The Gospel preached to Abraham | Stephen Ashton
  • Witnessing for Christ | Barry Lambsdown
  • The Prophecy of Nahum 02 – “O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts” | Mark Allfree
  • Questions Jesus asks “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” | Paul Aston
  • 100 Years Ago Extracts from The Christadelphian, February 1913
  • Archaeology 02 – The house of the King | Nathan Kitchen
  • For better, for worse … 02 – Haman & Zeresh | Mark Vincent
  • Faith Alive! Josiah: What will your legacy be? | Mike Movassaghi
  • Signs of the times A changing region
  • Israel and their land Border fence
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

The Gospel preached to Abraham

In Psalm 110 David provides a description of his Lord as a king and also as a priest:

“The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand,until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies … The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:1,2,4)

Notice that this future king would not reach out and seize his kingship; nor would he grasp at the priesthood. He would wait, seated at God’s right hand, until his enemies were presented to him as a footstool and he would reign over all the earth. Likewise with his role as a priest, he would not enter the courts of the temple and clothe himself with an ephod. He would wait for the honour to be bestowed upon him. Paul speaks of this attitude in Christ:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” (Philippians 2:5,6, ESV)

Jesus didn’t follow his own selfish desires. He bent his will to match what God wanted him to do. As a result of this humble attitude, Jesus was highly exalted by God and made ruler over all the earth (Philippians 2:10).

Grasping

With the exception of Melchizedek, there were no rulers in Israel who fitted the king-priest pattern highlighted by David in Psalm 110, although there were several kings who tried to add the role of priest to their rulership.

Take Saul, for example, who after waiting seven days for Samuel “forced himself” and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. As a result of his disobedience and his ambitious attitude, he was told that the kingdom would be taken from him and given to a man more suited to the role: a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).

Uzziah’s reign started well. He “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord” and “had understanding in the visions of God” (2 Chronicles 26:4,5). He would have known David’s prophecy from Psalm 110 and perhaps saw himself as the fulfilment of this prophecy, the greater seed promised to David. Whether this is the case or not, “his heart was lifted up to his destruction” and he entered the temple with a censer. His plan was to offer incense on the altar of incense in the holy place. This was part of the ritual carried out by the high priest on the Day of Atonement.

It is entirely possible that these events took place on that special day in the temple calendar and Uzziah fully intended to enter the most holy place. If this is so, he would have usurped the role held by Azariah who, like all high priests under the Mosaic law, was properly descended from Aaron.

God stopped Uzziah in a dramatic way. Leprosy broke out on his forehead, just where the phrase “holiness to the Lord” would have been found on the forefront of the high priest’s mitre (Exodus 28:36,37). He fled from the courts of the Lord and the palace of the king in shame.

It is probable that the earthquake mentioned by Amos occurred at this time as well (Amos 1:1). The temple itself was damaged and the high gate – the way from the palace to the temple – was destroyed. [1] God made it clear that Uzziah had gone too far. There was to be, for the moment, a clear separation between the rulership of the nation and the service in the temple.

David

David himself wanted to go further than God would let him. He was concerned that the ark was located in a tent in the palace gardens while the royal palace was panelled in cedar. He planned to build a temple and obtained the blessing of the prophet Nathan. However, the word of the Lord came to Nathan by night. David was not to build a temple (1 Chronicles 17:4). That honour would be reserved for his son.

David would have been disappointed not to have been able to fulfil his ambition to build a temple, but God had something better for him. David was promised a special seed:

“And it shall come to pass, when thy days be expired that thou must go to be with thy fathers, that I will raise up thy seed after thee, which shall be of thy sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build me an house, and I will stablish his throne for ever.” (1 Chronicles 17:11,12)

God would build David’s seed a house and promised to establish his throne for ever. The promise is twofold. It is a promise relating to the temple and the royal palace. The seed promised by God would be both a priest and a king. This point is immediately reinforced by God:

“But I will settle him in mine house and in my kingdom for ever: and his throne shall be established for evermore.” (verse 14)

Once again, when speaking of this promised Son, God refers to both the house and the kingdom. David’s seed would be both priest and king.

Better than any alternative

It is therefore almost certain that Psalm 110 was written by David in response to these promises. Jesus himself shows that, by referring to the promised ruler as his Lord, David recognised that this seed would be greater than he was (Matthew 22:41-45).

This is a point developed by the writer to the Hebrews who shows that Jesus is a better priest than any other alternative – better, for example, than the angels, Moses, Aaron, and Joshua.

In Hebrews 7 Jesus is shown to be greater than the Levitical priests because he is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. The royal nature of this priesthood is underlined in this section of the epistle. Melchizedek is called the “King of righteousness” and “King of peace” (Hebrews 7:2). Jesus is shown to be from the tribe of Judah (Hebrews 7:14; compare with Genesis 49:10). Jesus is established as high priest “set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Hebrews 8:1): a clear reference back to Psalm 110.

Like David in Psalm 110, the writer of Hebrews also emphasises that Jesus did not presume to make himself a priest or a king:

“Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest … Called of God an high priest … A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” (Hebrews 5:5,10;8:2)

Melchizedek himself understood the importance of his dual role. When blessing Abraham, he said:

“Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth.” (Genesis 14:19)

The most high God

Melchizedek knew God as “the most high God” or El-Elyon. This title is found only five times in the Hebrew of the Old Testament. [2] Four of those occurrences are here in Genesis 14 (verses 18,19,20,22). We know that God’s name is a reflection of His character. So Melchizedek had an almost unique understanding of a particular element of God’s character. It is also clear that he taught Abraham about this characteristic of God because Abraham echoes Melchizedek’s language in Genesis 14:22.

Although El-Elyon is used only five times in the Hebrew Old Testament, the Chaldean form is used several times in Daniel. It is the name that Nebuchadnezzar uses to refer to God: he speaks of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego as servants of “the most high God” (Daniel 3:26), and he starts his letter in Daniel 4 with the phrase, “I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me” (verse 2).

It is in Daniel 5 that we learn what Nebuchanezzar and Melchizedek understood about God’s character when they called him El-Elyon. Daniel introduces Belshazzar to “the most high God” and emphasises that God established Nebuchadnezzar as king (Daniel 5:18). He then goes on to say that God had humbled Nebuchadnezzar in order to reinforce this very point:

“And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.” (verse 21)

Nebuchadnezzar learned, the hard way, that God is the God of kings and that He will establish whoever He wishes as ruler. So by referring to God as “the most high God”, Melchizedek recognised that God was the One who had made him king of Salem.

Possessor of heaven and earth

Melchizedek doesn’t just know God as the kingmaker, he also refers to Him as “the possessor of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14:19) and this phrase was also echoed by Abraham (verse 22).

“Possessor” is translated from the Hebrew word qanah and carries the idea of something that has been purchased or acquired. Eve names her first son Cain, saying: “I have gotten (qanah) a man from the Lord” (Genesis 4:1). Later, Abraham and Isaac both purchased (qanah) land from the Canaanites (Genesis 25:10; 33:19).

Qanah is used with greatest frequency in Ruth. [3] It occurs six times in Ruth 4:4-10, when Boaz uses it to speak of his purchase of Elimelech’s land and the acquisition of Ruth to be his wife. In this passage, Boaz’s use of qanah is closely linked to the idea of redemption:

“And I thought to advertise thee, saying, Buy (qanah) it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it: but if thou wilt not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside thee; and I am after thee. And he said, I will redeem it.” (Ruth 4:4)

Boaz purchased the field that had belonged to Elimelech and, in doing so, acquired Ruth the Moabitess as his wife. In bringing together this faithful man and this faithful woman, God joined two more pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of His plan and purpose. Their greatest grandson, God’s only begotten Son, paid the ultimate price to redeem sinners: “For ye are bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). We have been purchased, or acquired, through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest high priest in history.

The Gospel

So, in speaking of “the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, Melchizedek recognises the importance of his dual role. He understood that God’s purpose centred on a kingdom and that as a result a king would be needed. He also knew that each individual citizen of that kingdom would need redeeming from sin and that redemption requires a priest.

This dichotomy is reflected in the Gospel as preached by the apostles:

“But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8:12)

The “things concerning the kingdom of God” refer to the time when Jesus will reign as king and the things concerning “the name of Jesus Christ” relate to the redemptive work of Jesus in saving us from sin and death. It is interesting that Jesus obtained the “name that is above every name” as a result of his humility (Philippians 2:6,9,10), just as prophesied in Psalm 110.

Paul refers to a similar dual aspect in the promises made to Abraham:

“And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” (Galatians 3:8,9)

All nations will be blessed when Jesus will reign as king over all the earth and the faithful are blessed as a result of the redemptive work of Christ. So, by teaching Abraham about “the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,” Melchizedek was teaching Abraham about the Gospel of the kingdom of God.

Kings and priests

In Psalm 110, David refers to Jesus as a priest “after the order of Melchizedek”. This implies that there will be many priests who have a similar status as Melchizedek and who will serve as kings and priests.

God made this promise to the children of Israel when they gathered to listen to Him at Mount Sinai:

“Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:5,6)

Notice that, once again, God is making the appointments. The children of Israel did not select this honour for themselves. God would make them kings and priests if they obeyed His voice and kept His covenant.

Peter shows that the faithful will, like Christ, serve as kings and priests after Jesus’ return to the earth. We too have the opportunity to be ordained as priests after the order of Melchizedek:

“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:” (1 Peter 2:9)

Our hope for the future is bound up in the Gospel preached to Abraham. Like him we look for “a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10) and we know that God has made this possible through the priestly work of His Son, the future king of all the earth. This is not something we can reach out and grasp for ourselves. Instead, if we put away our selfish desires and humble ourselves like Jesus, this wonderful gift will be presented to us when he returns. We must try to be like those who choose a lower place at a wedding feast, ready for the call: “Friend, go up higher.”

Stephen Ashton

[1] 2 Chronicles 27:3 records that Jotham built the high gate of the house of the Lord. Yet the high gate was already in existence over one hundred years earlier (2 Chronicles 23:20). Joash left the temple after his coronation and entered the king’s palace via the high gate. It is reasonable to conclude that the high gate formed a link between these two buildings and that Jotham rebuilt the gate after it had been damaged. The most likely cause for damage would be the earthquake during the reign of Uzziah.

[2] Elyon is used without the prefix El fifty-two times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Like El-Elyon, it also speaks about God setting up kings and rulers of the earth.

[3] Calculated by taking the number of times that qanah occurs in each book and dividing this by the number of verses in the book.

 

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