BREAD AND WINE, SYMBOLS OF A COVENANT
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the Most High God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth. (Genesis 14:18-19)
Theologians speak of the “Principle of First Mention” as an aid to interpretation. Simply put, this principle holds that the first time some important idea is mentioned in the Bible, you’ll often find a special measure of insight in the passage surrounding it. This insight can help in interpreting other passages where the idea appears.
For example, the first time blood appears is in Genesis 4:10 after Cain had murdered Abel. There we get the first hint that man’s life is in his blood. Later, in Leviticus 17:11, the Lord makes it obvious.
For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. This is why nothing in the world can rescue us from the death due us for our sins except the blood of Jesus. A life for a life. As Peter put it, Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18)
The first time that bread and wine are mentioned together occurs in the passage I referenced at the top of this article. I’ve quoted it from the King James Version because my usual reference, the NIV, translates the Hebrew El Elyown as God Most High, reversing the order of the words and claiming in a foot note that it’s the name of the chief Canaanite deity. This would make Melchizedek a pagan priest. But in Psalm 110, which Jesus said was given to David through the Holy Spirit (Matt 22:43-44) Jesus Himself is made a priest in the order of Melchizedek. So I don’t buy the NIV position there.
If the Principle of First Mention holds true, we should find some special insight into the Communion (Lord’s Supper, Last Supper) from the context of this passage. Let’s look at the names first. Translated into English, the name Melchizedek means King of Righteousness, and Salem, the city he ruled, is a Greek form of the Hebrew word shalom, meaning peace. Since King David’s time Salem has been known to us as Jerusalem.
There are several opinions as to the identity of Melchizedek. Some contend that it was a title, not a name, and that the person was Shem, a son of Noah’s, who actually outlived Abraham. In the Book of Hebrews, the author hints at Melchizedek’s immortality, saying he had no beginning and has no end (Hebr. 7:1-3). This has led to speculation that Melchizedek was really our Lord Jesus making one of His periodic Old Testament appearances.
Regardless, Melchizedek was a Very Important Person of the day. So in the first mention of bread and wine, we have the King of Righteousness, Priest of the Most High God and King of the City of Peace, offering it to Abram, with whom God was creating a covenant that would bless all mankind.
Because of this event, bread and wine became the traditional covenant meal, shared as part of the complex ceremony that established a covenant relationship.
Jesus used covenant language when He instituted the communion ordinance using bread to symbolize His body and wine for His blood. He was fulfilling the prophecy from Jeremiah 31:31-34 of a New Covenant,
“I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Bread and wine would be the ceremonial meal for this covenant as well.
But Wait There’s More
Another event featuring bread and wine together takes place in Genesis 40, the story of the cup-bearer and the baker. It too is rich with symbolism.
Both these men were imprisoned with Joseph in Egypt, both had troubling dreams on the same night, and both came to Joseph for the interpretation. In the cup-bearer’s dream three branches of a vine miraculously produced grapes that he squeezed into wine that flowed directly into Pharaoh’s cup. The baker’s dream featured three baskets of bread stacked on his head. Try as he might, he couldn’t prevent the birds flying around from attacking and eating up the bread before he could deliver it to Pharaoh.
Joseph said the cup-bearer’s three vines and the baker’s three baskets both meant that in three days the dreams would come to pass. Pouring the wine from the grapes into Pharaoh’s cup meant that the cup-bearer would be pardoned and restored to Pharaoh’s presence. But the birds eating the bread from his baskets meant that the baker would be executed, nailed to a tree. (In those days, being hung from a tree meant either being nailed to it or impaled upon it.) Both dreams came true three days later.
When our Lord Jesus went to the cross, His shed blood purchased our pardon and restored us to the presence of God. But in the process His body was nailed to a tree and He was executed. Three days later He was restored to life.
Instituting the ordinance of Communion on the night before He died, He said that the wine in the cup he raised represented His blood that purchased our pardon, and the bread stood for His body nailed to the cross.
And Still More
The cup He held was the third cup of the Passover, the Cup of Redemption. It represented the third of four promises God had made to Moses when He called him.
I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement. (Exodus 6:6)
The next morning He would stretch out His arms to be nailed to the cross and with a mighty act of judgement would redeem us from the bondage of sin with His own blood.
The flat bread he divided among the group was pierced and striped, just as He would be the following day. He was pierced for our transgressions … by His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5) In preparing the dough the baker perforates it to prevent rising. While baking, it gets stripes from the metal rack it’s placed on in the oven. Before they took him to be crucified, where His hands and feet would be pierced with the nails that held Him on the cross (Psalm 22:16), the Romans had Jesus flogged leaving ugly cuts and stripes on His back. (Isaiah 50:6)
Back To The Cross, Forward To The Crown
Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:26)
When we partake of the communion bread and wine we’re asked to look both directions along the time line. We look back to the cross and remember what was done for us there. The bread represents His body that was given for us. The cup is the new covenant of his blood, shed for the remission of sins.
But because the body was given and the blood was shed, we can also look forward to the crown we’ll receive on the day when we’ll all be together with Him in the Kingdom. Kings and Priests, as Melchizedek was, and immortal too, ruling and reigning with our Lord. Not because we’ve done anything for Him, but because He’s done everything for us. Selah 01-08-06
COVENANT OF SALT
QUESTION: Can you tell me any thing about the Salt covenant? Was there a reason for/ or a lesson in Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt? I can’t find much about it that I understand. No one seems to know about it. Look forward to your articles on the Bible. I learn much from them.
ANSWER: A covenant of salt was a permanent covenant. It was irrevocable. The establishment of the priesthood and the Davidic line of Kings from David through Jesus are considered salt covenants.
Salt is permanent. Lot’s wife was not changed temporarily, but forever, to teach us that our love for this world will prevent us from entering the Kingdom.
The church is described as salt in Matt. 5:16. As salt is a preservative that retards spoilage, so the Church keeps the world from being completely spoiled. This gives us a clue to the identity of the restrainer being removed from Earth before the Great Tribulation. As soon as the Holy Spirit, resident in the Church, is taken out of the way, the anti-Christ is released to do his worst on Earth. (2 Thes. 2:7).
THE SALT OF THE EARTH
Commentary by Jack Kelley
A simple line in Mark 9:50 says so much. It’s almost a throw-away and yet when taken in light of the surrounding passage it speaks volumes. “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
In Mark 9–10, the Lord spent a lot of time sumarizing God’s standards for behaviour, and believe me, they are impossible. So much so that the disciples were amazed and exclaimed,
“Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied,” With man this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God
And right in the middle of this two chapter teaching is that simple little line,
“have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other” (Mark 9:50).
What big lessons spring from the little things in Scripture.
Worth His Salt
Salt was used in that era as a preservative to retard the spoiling process. Of course there were no refrigerators back then, and therefore salt was a valuable commodity. In fact Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt. (This is where the saying, “worth his salt” originated.) They could easily trade the salt for the things they needed and sometimes they even made a small profit in the bargain.
When searching for “salt” in the Bible, you find 27 references in the Old Testament and 8 in the New. For example, salt was one of the ingredients in the sacred incense, for use in the Holy of Hollies (Exodus 30:34-35).
Covenant of Salt
In Leviticus 2:13 the Lord commanded the Israelites to use the “salt of the covenant” in the grain offering, a voluntary act of worship. There is also a reference in Numbers 18:19 to a “covenant of salt” in connection with the portion of the sacrificial offerings that went to the Levites for their consumption. This covenant of salt is mentioned for the third time in 2 Chron. 13:5 referring to the Lord’s promise of an everlasting kingdom for David.
Traditionally the covenant of salt symbolized endurance, preservation, and freedom from corruption. Although the Bible never explains this in so many words, the three Old Testament references to this covenant seem to say the Lord was preserving forever something He has ordained and wants it to remain free of corruption.
The Priests and Levites were set apart for Him, given no land, and supported (preserved) through the offerings Israel made to the Lord. When certain of them became corrupt, He banned them from His presence forever, and in the Millennium will allow only the family of Zadok, who remained faithful, to perform the most important Temple duties in His presence (Ezekiel 44:10-16).
Similarly, the Davidic line was established to preserve the throne of Israel for the coming Messiah. But when the kings of Judah became corrupt, the Lord cursed the royal line of David suspending the office of king until the Messiah Himself comes to sit on David’s throne (Jeremiah 22:28-30, Ezekiel 21:25-27, Luke 1:32). Sidestepping this curse required nothing less than a virgin birth to qualify the Messiah to become Israel’s King. These examples tell us only God can make a Covenant of Salt and only God can keep it.
As I’ve written before, things that are external and physical in the Old Testament often become internal and spiritual in the New. So if New Testament believers are supposed to have salt in ourselves, it must symbolize a spiritual preservative that gives us endurance and is free of corruption. And please note that the admonition is not to salt ourselves, but to have salt in ourselves. In other words, it’s not something we do, it’s something that’s done for us.
The Salt Of The Earth
Romans 8:29- 30 says those who believe have been conformed to the likeness of his Son, and because of that we’ve been justified by God. The Greek word translated “justified” is dikaioo. It means to render righteous. Because of our faith God has declared us to be righteous. When He looks upon us, He sees a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) created to be like Him in true righteousness and holiness (Ephes 4:24). When we sin He attributes our behaviour to the old sin nature that still dwells within us (Romans 7:18-20) and since He’s going to destroy our sin nature and retain only the part of us that conforms to the likeness of His Son, that’s the part He chooses to see.
“For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality“ (1 Cor. 15:52-53).
On that day we will become in fact that which we already are by faith, receiving new bodies that will never decay. Until then our faith preserves our life in His presence. And because our faith is based on what the Lord has done, and not something we do, it endures forever and cannot be corrupted like the Kings and Priests of old were corrupted. By one sacrifice He has perfected forever we who are sanctified (Hebr. 10:14)
But there’s more. Because of our faith, God put His spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor. 1:21-22). As a result, our presence on Earth has helped preserve the fallen world around us by retarding the spoiling process. Jesus even called us the salt of the Earth (Matt. 5:13). But it won’t be this way forever. One day soon, we’ll be removed from the Earth to Heaven, the place of our citizenship (Phil. 3:20), and the salt of the Earth will no longer be here.
This was Paul’s point in 2 Thes. 2:7-8. He said the secret power of lawlessness is already at work but someone’s holding it back. That someone is the Holy Spirit resident in the Church (Ephes. 1:13-14). After our departure the spoiling process will accelerate and the world we leave behind will be destroyed in judgment. Then, just as He will have made a new incorruptible body for us, God will make a new Creation, liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21).
Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with Your God
And that’s why the rest of Mark 9:50 is also important … “and be at peace with each other.” Earlier in Mark 9 we can read about an argument among the disciples over which one of them was the greatest (Mark 9:33-37). Then there was the incident where the disciples made a man stop driving out demons in the Lord’s name because he wasn’t one of them (Mark 9:38-41), and finally the warning not to be the cause of another person’s sin (Mark 9:42-48). Part of being the salt of the Earth is to be a source of peace in your sphere of influence. You can’t very well preserve something while you’re tearing it down. Paul said if it’s possible, as far as it depends on us, we should live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
So there you have it. A little sentence with a big meaning. The Bible’s full of them. Selah 07-07-12