Dr. W. A. Criswell
Genesis 14:18-20, Psalm 110, Hebrews 5, 6, 7
11-2-58 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message on Melchizedek, one of the exalted, one of the most mysterious of all of the characters in the Holy Scriptures. He is mentioned three times, and we shall read the three passages in which his name occurs. One is in Genesis, one is in Psalms, and the other extended passage is in the Book of Hebrews. In Genesis 14, 18 through 20, Genesis 14:18-20:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the Most High God.
And he blessed Abram, and said, Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth:
And blessed be the Most High God, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And Abram gave him tithes of all.
The second passage is in the one hundred tenth Psalm, Psalm 110: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool”; the fourth verse, “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”
And the third and extended passage is in the sixth, it’s in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of the Book of Hebrews. In the fifth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the ninth verse: “And being made perfect, our Lord became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him; Called of God an High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.” Now the end of the sixth chapter: “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”
And the seventh chapter:
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;
To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation king of righteousness, and after that also king of Salem, which is, king of peace;
Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.
Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.
And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better, the greater.
And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.
And so may I say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham.
For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him.
If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should arise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
For He of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar.
For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning the priesthood.
And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest,
Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.
For He testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
Then in that same chapter, he mentions it once again. In the twenty-first verse: “(For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by Him that said unto Him, The Lord sware and will not repent, will not turn, will not change, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek:).” One of the unusual, unusual passages in the Holy Scriptures and those passages occur one thousand years apart.
The beginning of it is the story of Lot, who, in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, eleventh and twelfth verses, “Lot chose him all the plain of the Jordan; and journeyed east: separated himself from Abraham. And Abraham dwelt in the land of Canaan, in the mountains, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.” In the thirteenth chapter, Lot moves toward Sodom and finally into the city itself. Then in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis is a description of a confederation of kings, who overwhelm the cities of the plain, and take captive all the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and their possessions, and go away, turning back to their own land and country in the east, and with them, of course, having taken the people of Sodom with them, took Lot and Lot’s family. Then when Abram hears of the overwhelming of the cities of the plain by this confederation of kings, he follows after them with his own servants, about three hundred in number, and overwhelms them, plainly a miraculous deliverance by the hands of God, the imponderables of war known but to God. No man could ever know before he begins the battle how it shall turn, for that lies in the elective choice of God. That’s the reason America’s final liberty and freedom will never be assured by bombs and planes; it is assured only by the choice and purpose of God for us. These kings and their confederation are overwhelmed by Abraham and just three hundred of his servants, without the loss of a single man on the side of Abraham; plainly a miraculous intervention of Almighty God.
So, on his way back, Abraham victorious, laden with the spoils of victory, on his way back, he passes by the city of Salem. I think it is Jerusalem. The Jebusites possessed it later, and the prefix “Jeru, Jebu” was added to the name of the city; and so it came to be Jerusalem. But at this time, the Jebusites did not possess it. We do not know who possessed it, nor do we know over whom this man was a king. There is no description of his palace, there’s no description of the temple in which he served, or the altar before which he offered sacrifice. He is a representative of all mankind, and he ministers to all the family of God. One of the strangest things: on his way back, laden with all of the spoils of victory, Abraham passes through the town, the city of Salem, and Melchizedek, “Melchi-zedek,” melech is the Hebrew word for “king,” zedek is the name for “righteousness”; so this king of righteousness, Melchizedek—and you have it in your English Bible “Melchizedek” just to make it flow easily—and Melchizedek, king of righteousness, king of Salem, Melech-salem, king of peace and the king of righteousness and the king of peace, that’s the Hebrew. “Melchi-zedek, Melechsalem, and the king of righteousness, and the king of peace, brought forth before Abraham bread and wine: and he was the priest, the cohen,” whenever you see Hebrew name c-o-h-e-n, that’s just the plain Hebrew word for “priest”; “And he was the priest of the Most High God.” The first time in the Bible you find a priest; the first time the word is mentioned is right here. Melchizedek the king of righteousness and the king of peace was also the priest of the Most High God, “and he brought forth bread and wine, and blessed Abraham. And he said, Blessed be Abram of the Most High God: And blessed be the Most High God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And Abraham gave him tithes of all” [Genesis 14:18-20]. That’s a thousand years there.
Now, a thousand years later, a thousand years later, “The Lord Jehovah said unto my Lord Messiah, Sit Thou at My right hand, till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool”; it was on the basis of that passage that our Lord asked the question to the Jewish people: “Is the Messiah the Son of David?”
“Yes,” they said, “the Scriptures say He is the Son of David.”
“Then how is it that David, in prophecy, calls Him, ‘my Lord’. How is He David’s Son and at the same time David calls that Son, ‘my Lord’,” then He quoted the Scripture, Jesus quoted the Scripture:
For the Lord God Jehovah said unto my Lord, the Messiah, my Lord, ‘Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.’ You say the Messiah is the Son of David, yet here in the one hundred tenth Psalm David says, quoting the Lord, my Lord, ‘sit Thou at My right hand.’ How is He then his Son, if David calls Him, ‘my Lord’?
The answer to that is the Son of David is also the Son of God; the Son of Adam, the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of God, an inexplicable thing without it, but with it apparent, most so. Then in that same Psalm, “The Lord hath sworn, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” [Psalm 110:4]—then one thousand years later again, this extended passage, presenting the Lord Messiah as a priest after the order of Melchizedek.
May I point out, first of all, how these things that we read here in the Old Testament are fraught with such deep and profound meaning. This little incident of three verses [Genesis 14:18-20], who would ever have thought that in that little space, in that almost casually mentioned introduction of Abraham to the king of Salem, that so much could have been signified and so very deep meanings could have been found? That is a key, one of the keys, to me, of the interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures. There is in them deep and profound meanings. And for a man to read it casually, and to speak of it indifferently, is by no means, by no means to come into the possession of the holy truth of God that is to be found in the pages of the Old Testament. For the years of my life—and I think for the years of the lives of most Christian people—these things on the pages of the Old Testament are either passed over as being no significance and no value, almost whole books of the Old Testament never opened, never read, never referred to, and these incidents that happened back here casually, once in a while, spoken of; but these words are spirit, and they are life. God has inbreathed into them the very truths of heaven, the eternal things that shall not pass away when the elemental fires shall turn back to its primordial estate all that you see in this created universe.
When we take the Old Testament and look into it, and probe into it, and find there as we are doing in the years that we’ve been preaching at this eight-fifteen o’clock service, when we take this Old Testament and look into the deep spiritual meanings of what God hath written, whether it is in Genesis, or in Leviticus, or in Daniel, or in the Psalms, or in Isaiah, or in the Chronicles, when we take these passages and probe into their innermost meaning, and find everlasting spiritual significance in it, we are doing nothing else but what the apostles did and the inspired interpreters did, finding in these incidents a revelation of the heavenly truths that can never pass away.
Now this is one of them. This little incident, which is briefly told in three verses, is written here on the page of the Book that it might be a revelation of the character and significance of the Lord Messiah Himself. That is its meaning; that is its purpose: that it might point, that it might lead us to an understanding of the significance and worth and character of our Lord God King Priest Messiah Christ Jesus. All of these things in the Old Testament point to that great truth. The first verse, the last verse, all these thousands of verses in between, they have just one purpose: whether it is a Levitical law, whether it is a great prophecy, whether it is a commandment, a blessing, or a curse, all of it has one everlasting significance: it is a pointing to, it is a portrayal of the great King and His kingdom. These things pertain to Him, and their significance is found in Him. So, with this incident, we have here a portrait, we have a type; we have a picture of the great Lord Messiah, our King and High Priest.
So let’s take it just one piece at a time. “And Melchizedek, Melech-salem, brought forth bread and wine: and he was the cohen of the Most High God.” I find first of all then in the passage that my Lord and my Savior is a king, “Melchizedek, king of righteousness, Melech-salem, king of peace.” I find then that he is a king, “To whom Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation king of righteousness, and after that also, king of Salem, which is king of peace.” My Lord is a king. When Melchizedek met Abraham, he recognized the father of the faithful, the founder of the children and family of God in the earth. He recognized that the victory that Abraham had won had been given him of the Most High God, and he recognized the Most High God, called here “El Elyon, God the supreme, God the exalted, God Most High.” And this glorious figure is a king, greater than Abraham; for Abraham was blessed by him [Genesis 14:18-20]. And as the author of Hebrews says, “Without doubt, the lesser is blessed of the greater” [Hebrews 7:7]. And this glorious personage blessed Abraham. He was greater than Abraham; and Abraham dedicated to him a tenth part of all that he possessed. So my Lord is a King, greater than the prophets, greater than the patriarchs, greater than the angels, greater than any of God’s people or orders in heaven and in earth; seraphim, cherubim, archangels, the greatest of all is the Lord Messiah Himself. He is a king.
And He is our rightful Sovereign. We may do obedience to the commandments of men, and we may follow the ordinances and laws of our country, but our first obedience is to the great King of heaven and the Lord and Savior of our souls. It is His will we seek to do. It is His face before whom we fall in adoration and prayer and praise. And it is unto Him that our lives flow; here and forever in these days, in death, and in the world that is to come. Our great Lord Messiah is our Sovereign King now and forever.
Then I learn here that our Lord Messiah is a priest. “And he was the priest of the Most High God.” What an unusual priest: the first time we see a priest, the first time he is mentioned, he comes before the father of the faithful with bread and with wine, a type, a picture of the holy ordinance instituted by our Savior Himself, when He said, “This is My body,” and they broke bread, and when He said, “This is My blood,” and they shared the cup” [Matthew 26:26-28]. And the priest of the Most High God brought forth before Abraham bread and wine. So my Lord God, my Lord Savior, my Lord Messiah is a priest. How different a priest, for the priests of the Levitical priesthood, the priests of the law, these priests served before the altar because they could trace their genealogy back to Levi. Without that genealogy, no man could stand at the altar, and no man could serve in the place of a priest. But this Melchizedek had no genealogy, and he had no descendents; he derived his office from no predecessor, and he delivered his office to no successor. He stands unique and alone, unchanged. Evidently then, he was ordained a priest by God Himself, and chosen unique, separate, apart, and alone. That is the meaning of the one hundred tenth Psalm, “The Lord God Jehovah sware, and He will not change, Thou art a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” [Psalm 110:4]. Then the author of Hebrews expatiates upon it: “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God, he abideth a priest forever” [Hebrews 7:3].
Some people think that Melchizedek is an epiphany of God Himself, that he’s a pre-incarnation of Jesus Christ, that this is a pre-incarnate appearance. No, because the author of the Hebrews says, “This Melchizedek, without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, was made like unto the Son of God”; not that he is the Son of God, but he was made like unto the Son of God, “and abideth a priest continually.” That is, the picture we have of him in the Old Testament is a type. You have no genealogy before, you have no descent after, you have no naming of his father, you have no naming of his mother; you have no description of the palace in which he lived as a king, you have no description of the temple or of the altar before which he served. He stands alone, unique, separate, apart, a type of the eternal priesthood of Christ our Lord. So, our Lord’s ministry did not close at the end of His crucifixion, or upon His burial, or even upon His ascension into heaven; but He is our High Priest forever and forever. He is the Great Mediator between men and God. “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man” [1 Timothy 2:5]; and He created a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek [Hebrews 7:17]—chosen of God, set apart of God, elected of God for that purpose, our Great Intercessor and Mediator between us and God.
Now there’s one other thing that we have time to mention in the little brief period that remains. As the king and as the priest, he received from Abraham tithes of all that Abraham possessed. Isn’t that the strangest thing? “And Abraham gave him tithes of all” [Genesis 14:20]. That’s the first time you have that mentioned in the Bible. You find it again when Jacob arises from the beautiful vision of the dream of the ladder that reached up to heaven and down to earth:
And when he awakened, Jacob said, Surely the Lord God is in this place, and I knew it not. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and bless me, and bring me back, God in heaven shall be my God, and of all that Thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto Thee.
Then of course you have it incorporated into the law of Moses; “The tithe is holy unto the Lord” [Leviticus 27:30]. But five hundred years before the law, Abraham bowing before the great king of heaven and the king of righteousness and the king of peace, the type of our Lord Himself, Abraham dedicates to Melchizedek a tenth of all that he has.
And that is the basis upon which the author of the Hebrews exalts our Lord through the type and the example of Melchizedek. “Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of all that he had.” And when Abraham did it, the author says, his sons did it, and his sons’ sons did it; all of the family of God dedicated a tenth to the great king and the high priest, in the person of their forefather Abraham. Then he concludes, “And here men that die receive tithes”; talking about the obedience to the Levitical priesthood, “but there in heaven He receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that He liveth…For Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” [Hebrews 7:4-17]. And that’s what we do when we come here to the house of the Lord and each Sunday, first day of the week, dedicating to the great King and High Priest, a tenth of all that God hath given unto us. “Here men that die receive tithes: but there he receiveth them of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.”
I say that is a strange thing. And yet, apparently, it has been a part of the reaction of the people of God since the beginning of time. One of the most unusual things that I ever ran across was this: in the fourth chapter of Genesis, you have the story of the first offering that is brought unto God. “Abel and Cain, each one brought a minchah,” the Hebrew word translated “offering,” minchah, “each one brought a minchah, and offered it unto the Lord.” Isn’t that a strange thing? That Hebrew word minchah is the Hebrew word for “a gift,” translated “offering”; they brought a gift unto the Lord. It is a natural response, and has been from the beginning of time, that men offer unto the Lord a gift, a dedicated portion. And it came to be an accepted thing, by revelation and by inspiration, that the proportion of that dedication was a tenth, one out of ten.
[It] has several meanings. Firs: that God is the possessor of all that we have and of everything that is given us. It belongs to Him. Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” It does not belong to me; it is God’s. Another thing: and what is given to us, is given to us of the Lord. The Lord could deny it to us, the Lord could take it away from us; but what we have is given to us of the Lord. The air we breathe, the soil upon which we walk, the planet upon which we live, the sun that shines upon us, all are gifts of the Lord. How many times in his prayer has Dr. Fowler prayed Deuteronomy 8:18, “Remember the Lord thy God: for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth.” All of it is a part of the bounty and goodness of God. And to the children of the Lord, this response is natural; it comes out of the fullness of the heart and of the soul. “And Abraham gave him tithes of all that he possessed…And Abel brought a minchah and dedicated it unto the Lord.” It is as natural as it is to live. Here, Lord, is a remembrance. Here, Lord, is a token. Here, Lord, is an example, an expression, of deepest gratitude. Here, Lord, is a thank You. Here, Lord, is something for Thee. “And Abraham dedicated to him a tenth of all that he possessed” [Genesis 14:20].
I rode on the plane, coming home Friday afternoon; I rode on the plane by the side of a very famous television star. I did not notice whom I was sitting by, I just took a seat, sat down. And he started talking to me. And I looked at him. I look at the television very little, but I had seen that program when they give out their Emmys—isn’t that what you call, Emmys?—I had seen that program, that particular one. And the man who presided over that program was the man who was sitting by me there on the plane. His name was Danny, is Danny Thomas. And as I began to talk to him, and he began to talk to me—and he was very, very, talkative—I learned a great deal about him. He’s a Lebanese, he’s a Maronite Christian, he’s a Lebanese Christian. His family, his people are all Lebanese. And the strangest thing: as I listened to him talk, I would have thought he’d have talked about television, movie stars, TV stars, investments, accumulation, things of this world; he never referred to them. His journey was this: he was on his way to Memphis, Tennessee and had come to Dallas to change planes from Dallas to go to Memphis; and he had given his life, in these recent years, to the building, in the name of the Lord, and consecrated to God, to the building of a children’s hospital in the South. And they had chosen Memphis, Tennessee as a central southern city in which the hospital could be built, and to which children who are sick can be sent without charge. And as I listened to that man, I thought, “That is a natural response of any true good man.” The purpose of his life and the joy of his soul is not to grasp and to keep, to accumulate and to pile up—we have some in Dallas like that, and they are miserable souls—but the joy of a real and dedicated life is, “I have somewhat that I can do for God and for people who need the Lord.” I was so blessed by my long journey with him.
And I felt, that’s our people here in this church. These hospitals, we are building them. These Christian schools, we are founding them and supporting them. This wonderful mission work we have in our city, it’s ours. This wonderful cooperative program by which we sustain God’s work around this earth, it is ours. I don’t have enough like Danny Thomas to build a hospital. And I don’t have the opportunity to do a thing like that myself; it’s beyond my reach. But Sunday by Sunday I can bring a tenth of what God has given to me, and dedicating it to the Lord, help build a hospital, help build a school, help send out a missionary, help carry on the work of our glorious church. And I say that response is the normal response of somebody who loves God. The king of righteousness, the king of peace, the priest of the most high God, a type of our Lord; and before Him we dedicate Sunday by Sunday, we consecrate in His presence, a tenth of all that God hath given us. The Lord bless us as we walk in the pilgrim way and serve our precious Savior.
Now Sheffie Kadane, I want you to come up here. You may, I want you to come up here right now. Yea, the little Sheffie, I got Danny Thomas to write a little note and to sign it; and he’s one of your fellow Lebanese, and I thought you might keep it among the signatures you may pick up by and by. You ought to be proud of these Lebanese Christians; they’re holding the line for us over there with the onslaughts of those Muslim. God bless the Christians of Lebanon, and bless that hospital that they dedicated yesterday in Memphis, Tennessee.
Now, Mr. Souther, while we stand and sing a stanza of a song; I want you to be free to come, give your heart to the Lord, put your life in the church, while we stand and while we sing.