The Tombs of Kings

In Genesis 14, the patriarch Abraham goes to war. He takes a little over three hundred men and makes a daring night raid against the force...

In Genesis 14, the patriarch Abraham goes to war. He takes a little over three hundred men and makes a daring night raid against the forces of Chedorlaomer in order to rescue his captive kinsman, Lot. Abraham is victorious in this rescue mission. Upon his return, he is met by the enigmatic King Melchizedek of Salem, who prepares for Abraham a eucharistic meal of bread and wine (Gen. 14.18-20). Melchizedek, whose name means "king of righteousness," becomes the quintessential image of a "priest-king" in the book of Hebrews. Christ is a priestly king of "the order of Melchizedek" who brings this imagery to its fulfillment (Heb. 5.5-6).

There is also a third Melchizedek, identified by the interchangeable name Adoni-zedek ("lord of righteousness") in the book of Joshua. He, too, is a king of Salem (Jerusalem). However, whereas Melchizedek blessed Abraham, Adoni-zedek is an enemy to the children of Abraham (Josh. 10.1-4). This enmity leads to his downfall in the battle of Makkedah. Joshua take Adoni-zedek captive and executes him before the people of Israel.

What is the mode of that execution? Adoni-zedek is hung on a tree (Josh. 10.26). In keeping with the law of Israel, he is hung on the tree only until evening (Deut. 21.22-23). After this sentence, Adoni-zedek is buried in the cave of Makkedah. The people of Israel "set large stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day." (Josh. 10.27)

The purpose of this story is to indicate Israel's faithfulness to God's command. The stone over the mouth of the cave is a monument of Israel's obedience for any traveler who lived at the time of Joshua's authorship. Yet the imagery of the cursed, hanged man and the stone rolled over the mouth of the tomb clearly also bears typological parallels to Christ's death and burial in the New Testament. Despite his name, Adoni-zedek was not a lord or king of righteousness. He was guilty of being an adversary to God's people. It was God who gave Israel victory over Adoni-zedek, judging him for his sins.

Whereas Adoni-zedek's death is devoted substantial attention in Joshua 10, Melchizedek's death is never mentioned by Scripture. The author of Hebrews draws a connection between this omission and the promise of eternal life: "[Melchizedek] is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever." (Heb. 7.3) In other words, the principle of eternal life or fullness of life is associated by the author of Hebrews with the figure of Melchizedek. God alone properly has fullness of life in himself, but he gives to creatures to share in this life through his Son, who was and is forever the fullness of divine life incarnate in human flesh (Col. 2.9-10).

Thus, the typology folds together as follows: Christ, the Most High Priest of the order of Melchizedek, dies the death of the enemies of God. He dies like Adoni-zedek, hung on a tree and entombed in a cave. Yet whereas the stone remains on Adoni-zedek's tomb until this day, the stone on Christ's tomb was rolled away. He rose to newness of life, because He is life. As the fulfillment of the Melchizedek and his role as priest-king, Christ is the ultimate life-filled servant, the one who the death of the grave cannot defeat, and thus the one who alone can function as both the sacrificing priest and the sacrificial lamb.

The word "Salem" means "peace." The city of Jerusalem is the city of peace. Melchizedek is a king of peace, who offers peace and blessing to Abraham. Adoni-zedek corrupts the meaning of Salem. Rather than being a king of peace, he goes to war against God's people, persecuting them. He is a king of the city of man. Yet Christ is the king of the city of heaven, the heavenly Jerusalem, and as the greater Melchizedek he triumphs over the grave of Adoni-zedek and brings true peace - true shalom - to both heaven and earth.

Christ the Lord is risen today.

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