Melchizedek

I received the following email inquiry:

I can’t seem to reconcile your repeated statements that Melchizedek was not a king. You use Joseph Smith (From the James Burgess Notebook) as your source.

Although called a “prince of peace” and the “king of Salem,” Joseph Smith explained these terms were not because he had kingly rule over any group. but it “signifies king of peace or righteousness and not any country or nation.” (WJS, p. 246)

The footnote 4 on page 302 (for the 27 August 1843 discourse) of the Words of Joseph Smith talks about his use of the Hebrew word for Salem.

The Greek letters didn’t copy correctly, so I have just replaced them with —-
4. Since the King James Version of the New Testament comes from Greek manuscripts, the transliteration of ——, (given as Salem) in Hebrews 7:1-2 is correct. However, Greek does not have a sh equivalent, thus when Shalem (pronounced shaw-lame’) was transliterated from the Hebrew manuscript to the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, the h was lost. Nevertheless, while authorities say Shalem means peaceful, they also say that it may stand for “an early name for Jerusalem.” It is this latter point which Joseph Smith disputed.

It seems to me that Joseph might have got carried away with his study of Hebrew. At least I can’t see how you can ignore the scripture in Alma that seems to completely contradict Joseph’s position.

Now I can understand if you have further light and knowledge and you are simply using these statements from Joseph as a source without revealing why you know he was right. In such a case I will just shut up and accept what you offer.

Alma 13:18
. . . And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.
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I responded to the inquiry as shown below:

He inherited from his father the right of “dominion” originally given by God to Adam. He was the “father” over all mankind, and in that capacity was a “king” or a “ruler” though he exercised that right given to him as did Adam: only as a father-figure and not as a tyrant. Abraham came to him to obtain this same right belonging to the first fathers or the right which descended from Adam. This is “the rights belonging to the fathers” which Abraham was so overjoyed to have obtained, because he was then the rightful father of “many nations” by reason of his position in the family of God. This, however, did not confer authority that was respected or acknowledged by men in that day, but it was respected by God.

Joseph’s explanation related to the status of man’s governments at the time of Melchizedek. Alma’s explanation related to the status of the authority conferred by God.

Jacob 5: 34-37

The servant observes that the original group of people have been preserved by the efforts of the Lord. There is still a “root” which “have not perished” (5: 34.) The bloodline remains. The covenant can be renewed with them. While it would require work, the potential for reviving the failed family remains possible.

Despite the potential, the Lord of the vineyard has a more practical objective in mind. There must be actual saved souls, part of the Family of God, for the work of preserving souls to matter. “The tree profiteth me nothing, and the roots thereof profit me nothing so long as it shall bring forth evil fruit.” (5: 35.)

They have been preserved to allow for the possibility for a return of covenant Israel. (5: 36.) However, it must result in an actual return, the living tree bringing forth good fruit, children of promise, raised in righteousness, schooled by parents who will raise them to keep the ways of God as His people, for the effort to have been worthwhile. (Id.)

The root, and all the various manner of fruit which sprang from it, have “overrun the roots thereof” and only “evil fruit” was left. (5: 37.) Not just evil fruit, but “much evil fruit” was the result of this long apostasy from the original. (Id.) The overwhelming production of this vile product has overtaken the “root” so that the entire tree appears to “perish” and “it will soon become ripened, that it may be cast into the fire, unless” the Lord does something to alter the course it was following. (Id.)

Christianity failed in its original purpose. No one was being saved when the Lord considered His vineyard. Left to its own, the result would be universal destruction at His coming. He would burn the vineyard and remove all the various Christian offshoots claiming to have originated in the New Testament stock.

This allegory shows the need to separate ourselves from Historic Christianity. If we are part of it, then we are nothing worthy of being preserved. Like them, we should be gathered into bundles and cast into the fire.

When the Lord declared that “they were all wrong” and “that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight” and “that those professors were all corrupt” (JS-H 1: 19) He was confirming the allegory of Zenos and the prophecy of Jacob. This was the condition of the vineyard.

We should view the ambition of being considered part of that “abomination” and “wrong” “corruption” as an unworthy ambition. We are NOT (or at least should not) be part of the Historic Christian tradition. It is riddled with “much evil fruit” and the people who profess their creeds are “all corrupt.” Not in the sense that their hearts are vile, but in the sense that they do not comprehend what it means to be part of the Family of God, much less even occupy that association with Him. They are orphans, unconnected with the “living vine.” (John 15: 4-6.) Unless they occupy a family relationship with God, they are not His and will be gathered and burned at His coming.

Jacob 5: 27-33

The servant agreed with the pruning done by the Lord, but wanted to take the remaining branches after the pruning and to “nourish it a little longer, that perhaps it may bring forth good fruit.” (5: 27.) The Lord then  visited with the remaining tree branches, established His covenant with them, and made it possible for them to reconnect with covenant Israel and the Family of God. (3 Ne. 11: 8-17.)

This ministry succeeded in establishing fruit-bearing in that and several succeeding generations. [I gave a talk on the Nephite years of fruit-bearing which someone recorded and still distributes. I am not involved with that, having only given consent to allow it to happen. The CD’s are sold for a modest amount, and the proceeds are used for supporting missionaries (I don’t even handle any of the money). It is the “Zion” CD (I don’t recall the actual title used) and I think you can get it from Confetti Bookstore in Spanish Fork. I won’t repeat that information again, but mention it because it is relevant to the subject of the Nephite people producing fruit for the Lord of the vineyard.]

In each of the places the Lord put the scattered branches, the Lord and His servants visited and labored. (5: 28.) This was a global post-resurrection ministry. He told the Nephites (3 Ne. 16: 1-3) and Jacob’s older brother, Nephi about it. (2 Ne. 29: 12-13). All of these places in the vineyard began to bear fruit.

Another “long time had passed away” in the vineyard. The end was drawing near, and so it was necessary to recheck the vineyard. The momentum of the Lord’s prior ministry needed to be checked again. When the natural tree root, with its grafted branches was checked, there was “all sorts of fruit” that “did cumber the tree.” (5: 30.) There were Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Campbellites, and an hundred other sorts of fruit on the tree root’s branches. But when the Lord “tasted the fruit” (5: 31) He found that “none of it was good.” (5: 32.)

There was nothing left of the Family of Israel in the original root and its associated branches: “they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.'” (JS-H 1: 19.)

The Lord’s reaction is telling. He immediately wondered “What shall we do unto the tree, that I may preserve again good fruit thereof unto my own self?” (5: 33.) The Lord is neither an optimist nor a pessimist. He is a pragmatic laborer. It is not about blame, only about taking the required next step to rehabilitate the cumbered and unprofitable tree. God’s ways are indeed higher. (Isa. 55: 9.)

Jacob 5: 3-6

Israel was and is the only family which will be saved. It is the “tame olive tree” that the Lord “took and nourished in his vineyard.” (5: 3.) Despite all the Lord’s efforts, however, the actual family tree “waxed old, and began to decay.” (Id.) It lost its vitality. It tired of the Lord. His desire and “nourishment” was not able to overcome the tree’s indifference to what He offered them. It began to decay.

The Lord was unwilling to abandon His tree even when there was no productivity in it. He intended to continue to create the Family of God, despite the failure by the family to respond to His invitation. He initially set about to “prune it” (that is, to cast away from the Family of God or Israel, those who failed to live worthily) and to “dig about it” and then to “nourish it.” In the initial work it is the Lord directly who does the work. He does not send a servant to perform the labor. (5: 4-5.)

“Pruning” involves cutting away. It destroys. The goal is ultimately to bring about vigor and life. But the initial work requires destroying to clear away and make the growth possible. The result is harsh and violent in the short run, but there is something important going on in the work of “pruning” away. The larger purpose is what the Lord has in mind. The short term sacrifices and difficulties are unavoidable and necessary. They must be endured.

“Digging about” the tree is also violent. It is threatening, and imposes upset and difficulties. The Lord’s benign intent is not understood when the pruning and digging are measured against short term standards. They must take a longer view.

The Lord’s purpose is to “perhaps” produce “young and tender branches.” (5: 5.) It is “perhaps” because the Lord grants the tree agency to respond, not compulsion to force compliance. The Lord can coax, but the tree must grow.

The older branches are not intended to be preserved. They bear nothing but bad fruit. The young and tender branches are the goal. These, however, will not yield fruit for some time. They must have an opportunity to develop.

This description of ancient Israel shows how the Lord’s work was always purposeful and designed to preserve the tree and continue to create sons and daughters of God. However, despite all He did, the “little, young and tender branches” were comparatively small in the scheme of things. As to the “main top thereof” it “began to perish.” (5: 6.)

The infrastructure, the hierarchy, the temple, the priestly class, the learned Rabbis and the schools of thought were rotting. They were nothing like what would be required to produce fruit. They were religious but heritical. They were devoted, but not His sons and daughters. The family line was broken. They needed to be adopted back again, because they lacked the power to remain connected.

This is an odd juxtaposition: The “main top” is corrupt. The “young tender branches” are nothing like the great growth overshadowing them. Yet the Lord sees in the young growth what He seeks. As to the “main top” there is nothing but “perishing” and decay.

Israel is so often in this predicament. They despise the truth, but respond warmly to flattery telling them they are righteous. (Hel. 13: 27-28.) When someone is sent by the Lord of the vineyard calling for repentance, Israel rejects him, says he is a sinner and a false prophet. (Hel. 13: 25-26.) Ultimately, however, for the bloodline of Jacob to rise up and become fruit worthy of preservation, there must be a change from blood connection to Jacob to an adoption into Israel. Then they become sons and daughters of God, and fruit worthy of preservation. (Mosiah 27: 25.)

2 Nephi 28: 32

“Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long, saith the Lord God of Hosts.” 

After all these warnings, the mention of Zion, the foolishness of following the “precepts of men” Nephi turns again to identifying the most relevant group being warned. It is “the gentiles” (or us). As he considers our collective effort and how we allow the “precepts of men” to be our guide, he states his overall conclusion about our performance: “Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts!”

This is the third wo. And it is accompanied by a three name title. This time incorporating the “Hosts” or Family of God. This is the Father’s judgment upon us. His status as the “Lord God of Hosts” is clearly intended to let us know those proud gentiles who rely upon  the sparks of their own fire as their light will lay down in sorrow. (Isa. 50: 11; 2 Ne. 7: 11.)

When the Lord’s open arm is extended all the day, they reject Him and walk away. They prefer their own false ideas to the truth found in Christ. In the end they have “denied the Lord” because all His efforts toward them have been rejected.
Still, despite all these failings, and all the wo’s pronounced upon them, it is NOT the Lord’s failure. It is the gentiles. Even now the Lord would welcome them “if they will repent and come to Him.” His arm is yet “lengthened out all the day long.” So long as life remains, He is pleading for our repentance. So long as we are here, He will welcome our repentance. And, so we do not miss the point, He also uses a three-name title when extending the plea to us for our repentance. He is speaking on behalf of, and as the chief among, all the “Hosts of heaven.”  The entire council would welcome us back, if we would but return.
Can you not sense the agony of this plea? Can you not feel the mercy God would grant to any penitent soul? Despite this, men prefer their arrogance, their own precepts, their own false teachings to being taught by the Holy Spirit. We refuse to repent because we prefer our false teachings. We prefer our traditions that build up our pride, and tell us we are going to be exalted because we are good and deserve God’s favor. We’ve put up with tithing, and with faithful meeting attendance, and followed faithfully all kinds of leaders in every ward and stake we’ve ever attended. We’ve passed temple recommend interviews and attended faithfully our tithing settlement meetings – in short we think we’ve done everything God could possibly ask of us. 
Except we have NOT repented and come to Christ. Had we done that, we would have been embraced in those opened arms of our Lord. In five points of contact with a loving God, we would have heard unspeakable things and know we escaped the wo’s pronounced by Nephi.
Nephi’s assessment of the gentile performance is consistently pessimistic. Coupled with Nephi’s description of a consistently open and accepting Lord who would welcome us at any time were we willing to repent.
Nephi’s message gets mangled in our distorted cultural rewriting of meanings. When someone points out what he’s saying, it produces anger and resentment. The result is not particularly encouraging for the gentiles. Not merely because of Nephi’s prophetic words, but also because of our reaction to them.