Melchizedek: the mystical stranger who shows up to bless Abraham. And then disappears. Is he even real—not historically, but in the story? Or is he just one of Abraham’s visions?
And why would we care? Because the answer tells us something about the nature of mystical experience. How it relates to emotion. And also to morality.
Abraham’s an emotional guy. Not a rational planner. For example, God says, “Get up and go to a new place.” So Abraham goes. Then Sarah says, “Send Hagar and her son away.” So Abraham sends them into the desert with a loaf of bread and a water bottle. You see the pattern.
When Melchizedek shows up, Abraham is super-charged with emotion. Because he has just done another impulsive thing. His troubled nephew Lot has settled in Sodom, of all places. But four local kings have attacked Sodom and taken Lot prisoner. So Abraham and his team go to war to free Lot.
Abraham joins an alliance of five kings. There’s Bera, whose name means “through evil.” And Birsha, “with wickedness.” Shinab, “father-hater.” Shemever, “destroyer of limbs.” Plus, an unnamed king.
Together, they fight against four kings. King Amraphel, “speaker of wonders.” Arioch, “striking lion.” Chedorlaomer, “measured boundary.” And Tidal, the one who “knows about.”
Pay attention to their names. Thus, you’ll see: Abraham fights on the side of evil. And against the good. Just to save a troubled family member. But he wins. So, after the victory, he likely has many feelings. Joy. Relief. Guilt. Tearing him in every direction.
And out of the mess, a numinous experience bursts forth. Someone appears suddenly. Melchizedek Melekh Shalem, priest of the highest God. His name means “King of Justice, King of Peace.” Melchizedek feeds Abraham and blesses him. And then disappears.
Thus something inside Abraham shifts. He refuses to profit from the war. “I swear to the highest God,” he says, “I don’t even want a shoelace.”
Maybe Melchizedek’s visit is a vision. It bursts into Abraham’s consciousness and then fades away. Sure, it’s symbolic. But its emotional message is clear. You know what justice and peace look like. How they bless you. So, make the ethical choice and be a blessing. Abraham reads the message and pays attention.
But I, Laura, don’t always read my feelings clearly. So, I have some questions for you, readers. How do you access your feelings? Do they guide you ethically? But, when they overwhelm you, how do you hold them? Are music, dreams, tears, laughter, and ritual gateways to your feelings? And, finally, do these gateways ever open onto mystical experience?
Please do answer in the comments!
Sources: Genesis 15, Rudolph Otto, William James, Carl Jung, Bonnelle Strickling. Image: The Offering of Melchizedek, by Josef Ignaz Sattler, Saint Lawrence parish church, Gramastetten, Austria, via Wikimedia Commons.