The passage about Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20) is the first place where the Bible mentions a priest. And it is also the first place where the Bible mentions a tithe.
In the Bible’s original languages, the word ‘tithe’ is the same word as ‘tenth’. That is because the tithe was the tenth part (or 10%) of something. People counted a tenth part of their income, and they gave it to God. For example, someone who kept sheep would count his young animals. And he would separate the tenth sheep that he counted for God. He gave that sheep to God, whether it was a good one or not (Leviticus 27:32-33).
We think that the custom to give tithes already existed before the time of Abraham. There is evidence that people in many ancient countries paid tithes for their false religions. But Abraham’s gift is important to us, because Abraham gave his tithe. And he gave it for the real God.
By his tithe, Abraham recognised that Melchizedek really was a priest of the real God. So Abraham recognised Melchizedek’s importance.
Anyone who serves God is important in God’s opinion. But his priests were especially important because of the special, sacred duties that they carried out.
Melchizedek was even more important than Israel’s priests because he acted as priest to Abraham. Israel’s priests would come from Abraham’s future family, so they were less important than Abraham. But Abraham – and therefore his future family – served God by means of Melchizedek.
Melchizedek was very important for another reason, too. By the things that he did as priest. Melchizedek teaches us about God’s Son. We give honour to Christ as our great chief priest. And Christ is even more important than Abraham (John 8:53-58).
Abraham was great because of the promises that God gave to him. And Melchizedek was great because he received Abraham’s tithe. But Christ is even greater because only by him can we receive a right relationship with God.
Christ alone is the perfect priest. And he alone carried out his duties perfectly and completely. By his death, we can know that God forgives us.
Next part: Two kinds of priests (Hebrews 7:5-6)
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© 2014, Keith Simons.