Jerusalem's Story, study 1
Jerusalem's history spans back into the mists of time. It is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 14 when Melchizedek King of Salem blesses Abraham. Later the region is the scene for Abraham's willingness to offer the ultimate sacrifice - his own son. And finally this very spot, Mount Moriah, becomes the site for the Temple. Jerusalem, the Jewish people and God's covenant are interwoven. God's place for this tapestry is a mountain called Moriah.
Read Genesis 14:17-20
1) What does the name "King of Salem" mean?
2) What two roles does Melchizedek play?
3) Whom did Melchizedek worship?
In Hebrew "Melchizedek" means king of righteousness. He is called priest of the God Most High (El Elyon). Most ancient societies have a concept of a High God. El was originally the name of the creator god of the Canaanite religion. As the Patriarchs became aware of the one true God, they also used this name for him. It seems that at the same time that Abraham was coming into covenant with God, the King of Salem had come to know him and was made a priest of the God Most High.
This is the first time that someone is identified as both a priest and king in the Bible. This is later taken up by the Israelite kings who were descended from David. They were called "priests for ever, of the order of Melchizedek" (Psalm 110:4). In the Jewish tradition this term is taken to mean the Messiah. Finally in the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is called a priest of the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:6). This is used to explain how Jesus a Judean, could offer a sacrifice, which was the preserve of the Levites or priests. It also shows his true Messiahship. It is significant that Melchizedek, the first king/priest ruled in Jerusalem, David ruled there and Jesus was both proclaimed King and offered his sacrifice as priest at this site.
The bread and wine are probably a covenant meal, shared as a token of friendship between the two leaders. Bread and wine are blessed and eaten each Friday night in a Jewish home. In the Middle East, if someone has shared your bread you are honour bound to remain in friendship with them, and if necessary offer protection.
Read Genesis 17:1-8
1) Who takes the initiative in making the covenant?
2) What things does God promise in his covenant with Abraham and his
3) What is not promised?
4) Can the covenant be broken?
Thought: The Jewish people are probably the only nation from Abraham's day to have survived into the modern world. This is despite persecution, loss of their country and several attempts to wipe them out as a people.
Read Genesis 22:1-19
1) Where was Abraham to offer the sacrifice of Isaac?
2) Would Isaac have been strong enough to resist?
3) What was sacrificed in Isaac's place?
Isaac was clearly familiar with the concept of sacrifice and must have seen his father or others sacrifice lambs to God. Child sacrifice was widespread in many of the religious groups among whom Abraham lived. It has to be noted that Isaac was almost certainly an adult, and would have been well able to resist if he had chosen.
How can this passage be linked to the events of the New Testament?
Read Mark 15:25-39
Pause to think of the sacrifice of Jesus.
Our study began with the first priest/king recorded in the Bible. It has ended with Jesus our High Priest and King offering his sacrifice of himself. We have travelled a journey that has taken us through the covenant with the Jewish people and the offering of Isaac as a sacrifice. All these events have concerned Jerusalem and all have centred on Mount Moriah, the mountain which lies beneath the Temple Mount.
In all these events we can see that the initiative has been with God. He made the covenant and asked Abraham to enter into it. He commanded Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah, and Jesus willingly set his face towards Jerusalem for the final part of his earthly ministry.
In all these stories there is a thread of continuity. In some there are shadows of others. As we see God working through history we can see a pattern emerging in which Jerusalem is the city at the centre stage.
1)Do we believe that God works through history and can intervene, even in major world events?
Pray for parts of the world in great need today.
2)Do we wait on God to hear his will for our lives, even if it is a difficult path?
Listen to hear from the Lord.
Find a stone or a picture of a mountain.
Imagine yourself on the top of a barren and windswept mountain. Think of the rocks beneath your feet, the exposure and the view beyond. It is here that God met with Abraham and Isaac. Now imagine simple houses built on one side of the mountain. Gradually more are built until you are overlooking a city. The barren summit is first used as a threshing floor and then cleared and used for sacrifice. A Temple is being built, fabulous in design. It is destroyed and the city left in ruins. Then the people return and it is built again. The city grows and the Temple is expanded. In sight of this mountain are three crosses.
Go back to the bare empty mountain. It is there that God will meet with you. He has made a covenant with you through the sacrifice of Jesus and you can be certain that he knows the path your life will follow, he will be there with you and in you, and work through you into the world beyond.
The following themes may be of interest for further study:
Election and covenant.
There are useful articles in most Bible dictionaries, and also J Jocz A theology of Election (1958, SPCK, London) is an excellent introduction.
Sacrifice and Temple
Both these themes can be followed through the Bible with a concordance.
The Sacrifice of Isaac in Jewish thought. In Judaism this is known as the Akedah. It is read at Yom Kippur and has taken on deep symbolic significance. The Encyclopaedia Judaica has a good article on this theme.
Melchizedek Commentaries on Genesis, Psalms and Hebrews will address the theme of Melchizedek.
Modern interpretations of Covenant
Two themes can be investigated here:
1)Two covenant Theology, or the view that there are two ways to God, one through the old covenant for Jews and one through the new covenant for Christians. This is a popular view in Jewish and liberal Christian circles.
For an argument in favour see A Time to Meet by Marcus Braybrooke ch.6 (1990, SCM).
For an argument against see The Covenant with the Jews by Walter Riggans ch. 6 (1992, Monarch).
2)Replacement or fulfilment?
Is the New covenant through Jesus a fulfilment or a replacement of the old? Both views are current in all branches of the Church.
An historical critique of replacement theology can be found in: Our Father Abraham by Marvin Wilson (1989, Eerdmans).
For a fulfilment view see: Has God finished with Israel by Rob Richards (1994, Olive Press/Monarch)
These pages contain sample extracts form:
A series of seven Bible studies for individuals of groups.
Published by Olive Press: St Albans, 1998