(For the sermon that this is an excerpt from, go here.)
God communicates. He speaks loudly sometimes, taking solemn oaths. He hints sometimes, giving us just enough information to draw us in. But what about God’s silence? What about the silent parts all mixed in with what he says? We want to learn to hear God well; with the kind of intimacy that hears everything that’s there: his word, his hints, his pauses, his emphases, and his meaningful silences. Hebrews gives us a chance to do all of this.
For example, what are we to do with the actual, positive fact that we are not told all kinds of things about Melchizedek in Scripture? He just wanders up! He has no origin story. I grew up on comic books, so I’m always looking for the origin story. Was Melchizedek bitten by a radioactive spider? Was he rocketed to earth as a baby from the doomed planet Melchizedeon?
You know what this desire for an origin story is like. You meet a great character and you want to know where he came from. “Wow, Darth Vader is so evil and coooool. I wonder where Darth Vader came from. Like, what made Darth Vader Darth Vader? I would like to know his origin story.” But that’s probably a bad example, because then we get the prequel trilogy, learn his origin story, and wish we could go back to the time when it was just an unstated background element.
What we need to learn about what God doesn’t say is, in the words of a French pastor named Monod, that “Holy Scripture is wise even in its silence.”
Why doesn’t God give us Melchizedek’s origin story? Is it bad storytelling? No. Then what is it? Hebrews looks hard at Genesis 14 and says, “Wow, no origin story. No genealogy. No lineage. As far as the words of Genesis 14 are concerned, Melchizedek never came into existence, he must have always been there. Notice that Hebrews is making an argumentative point based on the words of Genesis, and based on the lack of words there: no genealogy here means God doesn’t want us to know or think about where this character is from. As far as Genesis is concerned, he just is.
In other words, the point Hebrews makes is not about Melchizedek, it’s about what God says about Melchizedek.
John MacArthur put it this way:
This is not a comparison between Melchizedek and Christ. Watch it. It is a comparison between the revelation about Melchizedek in Genesis 14 and Christ. We know that the guy had a mother and a father. We know that he had a descent, but it was unimportant, because he was chosen by God on the basis of personal quality. That’s the point. So the revelation, which presents him as a type, leaves out that, because that’s unimportant. Melchizedek has no genealogy in Scripture. He’s without father, and he’s without mother. Scripture is silent on this, and he appears, thus, as a perfect type of Jesus Christ.
It’s about what God says about Melchizedek, and what he doesn’t say.
I’ve never heard this point made more powerfully than by Adolph Saphir, who said this in his two-volume devotional commentary on Hebrews:
But now the apostle tells us that in this record we have to consider not merely that which is mentioned, but that which is not mentioned. Different speculations have been entertained in the church with regard to the actual historical person Melchizedek. The sole reason why I allude to it is to remind you how utterly useless these speculations are, and not merely useless, but entirely in contradiction to the scope of this very passage. Some have thought this Melchizedek was Shem…. Others have thought that this Melchizedek was a descendant of Japhet. Some again have supposed that he was an Amorite. But the Scripture purposely does not mention who he was. Genesis abounds in genealogies, and in full and minute genealogies; but the genealogy of this man is not given. If we knew who he was, should we not counteract thereby the meaning of the Holy Ghost in this instructive omission? If he was Shem, then we know who his father was, and when he lived, and how old he was; and this is just the very point which the Holy Ghost does not wish us to know. … With regard to all other circumstances, our ignorance is knowledge. The negative element is a positive element. Let no man attempt to supply that which the Holy Ghost purposely has left out…
Our ignorance is knowledge. Scripture is wise in its silence. We know that we do not know.
An application of this to us as readers now: where the Bible speaks, we should speak. Where the Bible is silent, we should be silent, or at best we should offer our opinion and not blame it on God. Where the Bible says “I dunno,” we should say “I dunno,” and where the Bible is dogmatic we should be dogmatic. We should ration our amount of certainty to the amount of definiteness with which something is revealed.
Melchizedek: Without father, without mother, without genealogy, without obituary! (v. 8) Notice what Scripture does not record: the death of Melchizedek. Contrast this with the pitiful and detailed portrayal of the death of Aaron in Numbers 20:22-29:
23 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, saying, 24 “Aaron will be gathered to his people ; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the sons of Israel, because you rebelled against My command at the waters of Meribah. 25 “Take Aaron and his son Eleazar and bring them up to Mount Hor ; 26 and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar. So Aaron will be gathered to his people, and will die there.” 27 So Moses did just as the LORD had commanded, and they went up to Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. 28 After Moses had stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar, Aaron died there on the mountain top. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29 When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.
Gosh, I wonder if Aaron is dead.
Oh yeah, he’s very publicly dead, with an obituary 3 times as long as Melchizedek’s whole story. But what about the death of Melchizedek? Not a word about it, just silence. Because his priesthood is “unsuccessional.” He’s irreplaceable.
So Melchizedek priesthood is better because it’s older, it lasts longer, and it’s put in place with an oath. He never started… he never ends… God promises.
There’s one other thing this priest is missing: He has no genealogy, no obituary, and no sacrifice.
He’s a priest without sacrifice because the argument here is about the priest’s person, not his work. Bread and wine are, as the New Testament church knows, perfect for pointing away to a sacrifice elsewhere.
God’s silence is communicative silence. It takes a lot of words to render silence meaningful, and God has spoken a lot of true words, so his silence is perfectly meaningful. Think of the relationship between God’s words and silence as analogous to the the spaces between the notes in a song. If I just gave you all the space between the notes in a song, that’d be pure silence, signifying nothing. But if I give them to you interspersed with the notes, you’ve got real structure. If you never talk, your silence can’t be meaningful. God talks perfectly, so his silence communicates perfectly.