Religion in Jerusalem – before Abraham was called?

Many Christians are curious about this mysterious figure called Melchizedek. What was the religion in Jerusalem before Abraham was called? How could he be the high Priest of the Most High when the office of the High Priest was only defined in the Law? Somehow this doesn’t fit into the picture, at least, of traditional theology.

Gen 14:18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High.

The confusion comes from the idea that it is religion that gives people access to God. I would argue that religion is largely a man made thing to access God on its own terms. God desires relationship in His terms, not religion.

This relationship is expressed right in the creation of the first man. While God speaks everything into being, he actually gets down to the dust and makes His hands dirty when creating man. He breathes life into him. He could have created man by commanding him into existence.

God makes a covenant with Adam – yes, it all comes down to covenants – in which He places him over all creation and his duty is to go forth, multiply and fill the whole earth. God lays down the terms of His relationship with him and how this relationship was to be maintained by giving him the first LAW – the command NOT to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil lest he should die. The command clearly showed

1. God had authority and power over him (He was his LORD)
2. he had to obey Him, else he would suffer the consequences

When he ate of the fruit he broke this relationship. The sin brought shame and he went into hiding. Sinners don’t seek after God, it is God who seeks after sinners. It was God who sought him out, covered his shame and defined the punishments, which were the consequences of the broken relationship. They were cast out of the garden, from the presence of God, but not left alone.

When Adam was created his task was to take care of the garden. Food was freely provided. He now had to earn his own living by hard work. He became a farmer. God did not tell them how they could have relationship with Him, but the story of Cain and Able reveals what He accepted. And this was no different from what He expected from Adam.

As the story of Cain and Abel shows the new terms of how to approach God. They had to bring a portion of the fruit of their toil and present it as a sacrifice to God. Cain’s was not rejected because he brought of what he produced, but because of his attitude towards God. Abel brought the BEST of what he had, Cain brought a portion of what he produced. Cain showed his disregard for God by not selecting the best of what he had. What they brought did not matter as much. It was their attitude that mattered. Did they treat to God as their LORD, or did they treat Him with contempt?

God was always more interested about the heart than sacrifices. Consider these passages:

Psalm 40:6
Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.

Proverbs 21:3
To do righteousness and justice
Is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice.

Matthew 9:13
“But go and learn what this means: ‘ I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Hebrews 10:8
After saying above, ” SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them” (which are offered according to the Law)

God did not desire sacrifices and had no pleasure in them. He desired obedience. Sacrifices were the proof of failure, a proof of sin, not of successful relationship with God. Nevertheless, sacrifices were accepted if offered with the right attitude, with a broken heart. But sacrifices (as well as keeping the Law) can become the means of gaining God’s pleasure in the eyes of men.

The chapters after the story of Cain ad Abel show us what it means to live without God, what it means to be dead while alive. The arrogance of man leads to violence, tyranny and wars, to so much wickedness that God had no choice but to bring about the flood. But there were a few exceptions.

Enoch is mentioned as one who walked with God all his life, and God took him. Walking with God means agreeing with Him, maintaining relationship with him – obedience. Noah and his family is saved through the flood into a new world and a new beginning. A new covenant is made with him.

Covenants describe relationships and the duties of parties. A new covenant does not replace the old one, for covenants exist as long as both parties live. New covenants extend old ones. Hence Noah’s covenant includes the Adamic covenant of going forth and populating the earth.

With Abraham a new covenant is made. This meant the beginning of the Jewish people. The rest of the world remained under the Noahide covenant. The Abrahamic covenant concerns his seed, the Promised Land and the families of the world being blessed in his seed. The reference is to the Kingdom, and of course, the King.

Abraham’s descendants become captive in Egypt. God brings them out by the hand of Moses. To prepare them to become a nation they are given the Law. The Law is specific to the Jewish people and the Gentiles that live among them. The Law lays down the rights and wrongs and the punishments meted out for breaking them. One doesn’t become righteous by mechanically keeping the Law, but the righteous will keep them because of their relationship with God. The unintended failures are covered by the sacrificial system. There is no sacrifice for intentional sins, but repentance and prayer opens the way back to God. Sacrifices don’t take away sins. One needs to make his relationship right with God BEFORE offering the sacrifices, else the sacrifices are not accepted.

Again, the rest of the world still falls under the Noahide covenant and its laws (seven categories of laws).

Then Jesus comes. By his time, because of the Roman oppression the religious leaders taught that the nation could only regain God’s favour by keeping not only the laws that applied to them, but also burdened them with laws that applied to the priesthood. Keeping the Law became the MEANS of salvation. Jesus (and later Paul) reacts to this and calls people back to God. Jesus is not creating a new religion, but RENEWS the existing one.

He gives a new covenant. It seems that it is NOT Jeremiah’s new covenant yet, but another, “till he comes” covenant. Consider the following passages to see if Jeremiah’s new covenant is the same as Jesus’ new covenant:

Jer. 31:
31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.
33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
34 “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.

Ezek 11:
19 “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,
20 that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.

Ezek 36:
26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
28 “You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.

In the earlier covenant the Law was given on tablets of stones and it was their duty to put them in their hearts, that is, practice it so that the Law becomes one’s nature. In Jeremiah’s new covenant God puts the Law in their hearts by putting His Spirit within them and CAUSES them to obey.

Now have a look at Jesus’ new covenant:

Luke 22:
19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.

1Cor 11:
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;
24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

2Cor 3:
5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,
6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

The Spirit is certainly mentioned, at least by Paul, but is it Jeremiah’s new covenant? Did what Jeremiah spoke about happen since Pentecost? The Spirit is certainly given, at least until the Kingdom offer was withdrawn. Its miraculous manifestations were evident, but how much Paul had to fight to straighten out his Gentile converts? It doesn’t seem like God put His Law in their hearts.

You notice the new covenant was to be made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Perhaps it was so for the Jews, but Paul and Peter had a disagreement (and we only know Paul’s side of the story).

Now, this is an unclear area. Perhaps the best interpretation is that Jeremiah’s covenant concerns the Kingdom, and the giving of the Law into the heart occurs when the Kingdom is ushered in, that is, with the resurrection and translation. According to Paul Gentiles were drawn NEAR, made PARTAKERS of the (Abrahamic) covenant, but the covenant was not made with them. It appears they were required to observe the Noahide laws and those laws from Lev 17-19 that concerns Gentiles that lived among Jews (as expressed in the Jerusalem Council’s ruling).

Gentiles also received the Spirit, but they could disobey it. As we read in Paul’s epistles, they were constantly reminded to choose to walk in the Spirit. In Jeremiah’s new covenant the recipients of the covenant cannot choose, but to obey God. However, why is it that Paul had so much trouble with the Corinthians then? Perhaps they did not really have the Spirit, as Paul suspected, meaning their repentance and faith was not genuine.

Therefore, Jesus’ new covenant is NOT Jeremiah’s new covenant. Jesus’ concerns the believers’ proclaiming his death through the communion of eating bread and drinking wine till he comes. His new covenant is the renewal of the existing broken covenant relationship by his own example of obedience to death.

The other question remains. Once the Kingdom offer was withdrawn, was the Spirit also withdrawn? I think it was, because it belongs to the Kingdom. It is worth an investigation.

The way to God has never changed. Religions changed.

Considering the above we can conclude that Melchizedek was the High Priest of God under the Noahide covenant.


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