Abraham the patriarch
The hard part of writing about Abraham isn’t what to say, it’s where to start. His story covers 14 chapters of the book of Genesis, and each step of the way is filled with adventure, intrigue, and theological insights.
Abraham started his life in a place called Ur of the Chaldeans. This city is located in the area of Nasiriyah Iraq, on the Euphrates river. He was an old man by the time God called him to travel to the land of Canaan.
His whole life is worth reading and studying, it’s a story of faith, perseverance, falling from grace and doing God’s will. But for the bulk of this article I want to focus on 2 events from his life.
- 1. God’s covenant with Abraham
This unfolded over several stages, that took place over a number of years.
- A. God promises to bless the world through Abraham
” Now the LORD said to Abram, ” Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
(At this point Abraham is still called Abram, but for the sake of clarity I will just refer to him as Abraham throughout this article)
Note the last sentence; all the families of the earth will bless themselves. Some translations say “will be blessed,” and we know that though Abraham, The second person of the Blessed Trinity was incarnate as Jesus Christ and through him the whole world was blessed.
“and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2, emphasis added)
We can be a blessing too
St. Paul said we (Christians) are also sons of Abraham;
“So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith.” (Galations 3:7-9)
Therefore we can be a blessing to all families of the earth too, by sharing the gospel through word and witness. Bringing people the truth of Christ and His Church, fulfills the command of Christ at the Great Commision, and blesses the world.
- B. Promise of offspring and land
“And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphra’tes, the land of the Kenites, the Ken’izzites, the Kad’monites, the Hittites, the Per’izzites, the Reph’aim, the Am’orites, the Canaanites, the Gir’gashites and the Jeb’usites.” (Genesis 15:5,18-21)
The narrative of the second covenant, between Abraham and God, spans the entire 15th chapter of Genesis.
In chapter 15, God promises not only offspring to Abraham (he was well into his senior years), but also all the land of Canaan (and it was already possessed by at least 10 different peoples).
These seemed like unlikely things, maybe even impossibilities, but Abraham believed God. “And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
Faith and works together
This is where faith and works comes into play again. The gift of faith is a gift from God, the catechism tells us that faith is a grace;
CCC 153 “When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come “from flesh and blood”, but from “my Father who is in heaven”.24 Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. “Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.'”
But also belief is an act of the will;
CCC 154 “Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason. Even in human relations it is not contrary to our dignity to believe what other persons tell us about themselves and their intentions, or to trust their promises (for example, when a man and a woman marry) to share a communion of life with one another. If this is so, still less is it contrary to our dignity to “yield by faith the full submission of. . . intellect and will to God who reveals”,and to share in an interior communion with him.
So faith is a gift, but choosing to believe is itself an act of human will- and therefore works- this is the perfect example of faith and works together.
We may have been given the initial grace of faith, but we must put that faith into action every day and seek to do the will of God. Try to live by the words of the prophet Micah; “He has showed you, O man, what is good;and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
- C. Reiteration of the promise of offspring and land
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty;walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram,but your name shall be Abraham;for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. (Genesis 17:1-11)
This is the moment that God changes Abram’s name to Abraham. As seen in several other biblical name changes, this signifies a major turning point in a person’s life (Jacob becomes Israel, Simon becomes Peter, Saul becomes Paul). Abram’s name, meaning “exalted father”, is changed to mean “father of a multitude”.
This is the first time that circumcision is mentioned in the bible, it became a sign of the covenant between Abraham and God, and later it came to be the way that male Hebrews were brought into the Mosaic covenant.
This was a prefigurement of baptism, just like Noah and the flood, as St. Paul told the Collosians; “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Collosians 2:11-14)
Just like other things prefigured in the Old Testament, the new way into the covenant with God is greater and includes everyone, both male and female, Gentile and Jew.
How we can participate
Religious circumcision is no longer practiced by Christians (it hasn’t been practiced at all in the new covenant of Christ), but in baptism we can put on the sign of the new covenant.
In the Old Testament, signs and symbols pointed toward the purpose of things. So the ritual of circumcision pointed toward the sacrement of baptism; whereas circumcision was only a sign, sacremental baptism is actually efficacious. Just like the sacrifice of animals pointed toward the efficacious sacrifice of Christ.
But a sacrement only bears fruit if it is received in a proper and worthy manor:
CCC 1131 “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.”
You may have been baptized as a baby or an adult, you may have received confirmation as a disinterested teenager, but you ca receive the fruits of these (and all the other) sacrements by having an interior conversion of the heart. If you circumcise your heart.
A spiritual, more than physical, change
“For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29)
St. Paul said real circumcision is a matter of the heart, not to say that physical curcumcision isn’t a real thing, he is saying that outward expressions have no merit if they are not accompanied by a change of heart- a conversion- toward the Gospel of Christ. It doesn’t matter if you pray the rosary every night; if you can recite the Nicene creed, in Latin, in your sleep; if you built your local parish with your own hands and your own funds; if you don’t have an interior conversion it’s all for naught.
- 2. Meeting Melchizedek
Some backstory on the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek. In the 14th chapter of Genisis, Lot (Abraham’s nephew) is taken captive:
“When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and routed them and pursued them to Ho’bah, north of Damascus. Then he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his goods, and the women and the people. After his return from the defeat of Ched”-or-lao’mer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Sha’veh (that is, the King’s Valley).” (Genesis 14:14-17)
After Lot is recued, a king called Melchizedek shows up:
“And Melchiz’edek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, ” Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” (Genesis 14:18-20)
Three short verses, but lots to dig into here. There’s his name, where he’s from, he’s a priest, and what he sacrifices.
- First his name and title
The name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”, and the city that he rules is named peace, according to the writer of the letter to the Hebrews; “For this Melchiz’edek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him; and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace.” (Hebrews 7:1-2)
King of righteousness and King of peace? No wonder lots of the Church Fathers have regarded Melchizedek as a manifestation of the Pre-Incarnate Jesus. If this is really the Second Person of the Trinity or just a righteous King and priest of God. Considering the split in opinions, we’ll probably never know for sure, at least on this side of eternity.
Another thing to point out is that Salem is usually identified as Jerusalem. This shows that Jerusalem was a center of worship of God, even before David made it the religious and political capital of Israel.
- Without father and mother
What is for sure is that he is a foreshadowing and prefigurement of Christ. The writer of Hebrews alludes to this, even more, in the next verse; “He is without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest for ever.” (Hebrews 7:3)
By saying he is “without father or mother”, the writer is commenting on the lack of a genealogy that is uncommon for someone who is so prominent, especially in Genisis. Also it could be the writer, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saying that this was a manifestation of Pre-Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity.
- His offering to God
“And Melchiz’edek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High.” (Genesis 14:18)
When Melchizedek met with Abraham, he made an offering to God. The offering he brought forth was bread and wine, the same as the offering that Jesus gives to the Father and is transubstantiated into His Body and His Most Precious Blood.
Meaning of his meeting
No matter the ultimate identity of Melchizedek, his meeting with Abraham was significant for a few reasons.
One was that as a Canaanite King, it would’ve been reasonable to assume that he’d be wicked like all the other kings in the land of Canaan, but he wasn’t just a righteous King but named the king of righteousness.
Another was he was called the first called a priest of the Most High God (El Elyon in Hebrew), this priesthood predates, and is greater than the Aaronic priesthood that’s established after the Exodus. The Aaronic priesthood was a priesthood by birth, but the Melchizedek priesthood is a priesthood by grace, it’s through this priesthood that Christ became our High Priest and so priests to this day are ordained through the order of Melchizedek.
Every day, in every corner of the globe, priests offer a sacrifice of bread and wine just as Melchizedek did, and by the power of the Holy Spirit it becomes the Blessed Eucharist.
“So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son,today I have begotten you”;as he says also in another place, “You are a priest for ever,according to the order of Melchiz’edek.” (Hebrews 5:5-6)
“Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchiz’edek.” (Hebrews 5:8-10)
How do we apply these truths today?
No matter if we are surrounded by less than holy people, like Melchizedek was, we are called to holiness and righteousness. We are called to be witnesses to the peace and mercy of God, to the whole world.
Every day, we can partake in this sacrificial meal that Abraham and Melchizedek shared, by partaking in what it foreshadowed; the Holy Eucharist.
The next time the priest says the words of consecration, think about how more than 2000 years before the last supper, God showed us, that one of the highest forms of worship is partaking in the Eucharistic feast that Christ would reveal on that Thursday in the city of peace.
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