Prior to the establishment of the Levtical Priesthood and the institution of Torah on Mount Sinai, Yahweh's people lived under the Order of Melchizedek, named after the High Priest who lived in Salem and to whom Abraham paid his tithes (Genesis 14:18-20). This same Priesthood Order was restored by Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) when He became our eternal High Priest and sin-bearer, and replaced the entire ceremonial Torah and its administering Levitical Priesthood (also known as the Aaronic Priesthood).
Prior to the establishment of Israel as a theocratic nation, Yahweh's people were governed by Family Priests such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Each extended family was its own 'church' or 'assembly' and each Patriarch served as that family's pastor. All these priest-pastors owed allegiance to a High Priest who was Melchizedek (Shem), and presumably his successors. We are not told too much about this pre-Mosaic Priesthood Order in the Bible other than it was there and had a head, Yahweh's proxy representative on earth.
There are, of course, differences between the pre-Mosaic and the New Covenant Melchizedek Order. Inspite of the absence of the Mosaic ceremonial law, the early Patriarchs offered animal sacrifices and circumcised their sons, which ordinances have been fulfilled and have therefore passed away in Christ. Moreover, in the New Covenant Order, families of believers congregate together for worship, study and fellowship under congregational patriarchs whom we call 'Pastors' or 'Overseers' to whom family patriarchs owe allegiance and give accountability. In turn, these congregational patriarchs owe allegiance to apostles whom Paul called 'fathers' (patriarchs) in their own right (1 Corinthians 4:14). The New Covenant Melchizedek Order therefore consists of a three-tier system of patriarchal authority, as shown in the diagram to the right. In addition, the 12 Patriarch-Apostles themselves come under the authority of a Presiding Patriarchate, consisting of three of the apostles, and identified as Peter, James and John in the first New Testament Church of God/Assembly of Yahweh.
One of the major imballances in Christian/Messianic polygamy today is the lack of this three-tier structure. Worse, in some respects, where this structure is present, in whole or in part, it has itself been open to abuse by single charismatic patriarchs exercising unrighteous dominion over groups of other patriarchs. Though this is the only polygamy ministry which has all three layers in place, there are some poly ministries which are organised into churches and assemblies. Sadly, many of these have acquired Diotrophes-types in leadership positions (3 John) who have exerted strong cultic control. It is for this reason that when Yah'shua (Jesus) established the New Covenant Melchizedek Order he first began by calling apostles. Only later did congregations with Pastor-Patriarchs start appearing on the scene, all of which were first called by apostles.
In the Old Covenant Melchizedek period there was no obvious or visible 'community of faith' as such, and nothing at all equivalent to the modern congregation that we know of. There was but a two-tier system of one High Priest and Patriarch-Husbands. This High Priest, most scholars agree, administered bread and wine that had religious significance, many seeing in it a foreshadowing of the shewbread and drink offerings instituted by Yahweh as part of the Mosaic Tabernacle worship. Others see this as an Old Covenant Eucharist or Lord's Supper. Accordingly, Melchizedek brought out this bread and wine to Abram and blessed him in priestly fashion, reminding us somewhat of the Aaronic Benediction of Numbers 6:23.27. That Melchizedek's Priesthood was recognised by the patriarch as having authority over him is evidenced by Abram bringing forth his tithes and by the commentary made by Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews.
It follows that if Melchizedek were a High Priest that there must have been some sort religious order that included the office of 'priest'. This Order would therefore have included the people of Abram though could by no means have been limited to them. That this Order had a widespread reputation is indicated by the praise heaped upon it in the Book of Psalms (Psalms 110:4), and much is said about Melchizedek himself in the pseudepigraphic Book of 2nd Enoch (of dubious authenticity, though). One thing that is clear from all the scriptures on this subject is that, unlike the Levitical/Aaronic Priesthood, the Melchizedek Priesthood is an eternal one, as exemplified by the everlastingness of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) and the fact that we have no recorded genealogy of Melchizedek himself. (There is no scriptural evidence that he was an early incarnation of Christ or that he was an angel, as some claim. The historical evidence suggests that he was a descendant of Noah and, in my opinion, was the patriarch Shem).
Interestingly, Hebrews 5-7 focuses more on the fact that there is a Melchizedek Order than on the person of Melchizedek himself, and even cites Psalm 110:4. Thus there would have to be a differentiation between priest and laity. One thing that is clear is that prior to the writing of Torah patriarchal religion was more orientated towards an encounter and relationship with Yahweh than with ceremonial observation. What made a Melchizedek priest a patriarch was his relationship with Deity, not a legalistic right as head of the family, though that right did, of course, also exist in purely outward terms as a divine appointment. What this means is that whilst every Patriarch is called to be a Priest (by the New Covenant definition of 1 Peter 2:9) it does not mean that he is automatically one. And indeed this is consistent with the practice of the New Testament Church/Assembly in which the Apostles had the responsibility of selecting Pastors and Elders (Titus 1:5ff), and the Pastor selecting other Deacons. The 'Order' of Melchizedek is therefore just that - an ordering or structure based in Yahweh's sovereign call and as reflected in the fulfilment of certain spiritual qualifications.
One of the best examples of a family Priest-Patriarch that we have in terms of detail is to be found in the person of Job, who almost certainly pre-dated Abraham. Another example would be Noah himself. Their direct encounters with Yahweh are what made these men what we call 'Patriarchs', for they were 'father-rulers' in virtue of their closeness to El-Elyon, the Most High God. Their Patriarchy was evidenced by the kind of walk they led, and that walk was reflective of their relationship to Yahweh.
People often wonder why it was in those early pre-Mosaic days that so many of the Patriarchs were able to literally 'talk' to Yahweh, even 'walk' with Him (as Adam did in the Garden). Yahweh even spoke directly to the murderer Cain regarding his brother Abel. Noah found grace with Yahweh, Enoch walked with Him and was removed physically from the earth, and He spoke face to face with Moses. He spoke with Joshua and each of the prophets in a rather spectacular way. And Jeremiah tells us that a characteristic of the New Covenant is a 'knowing' of Him in personal and intimate terms and not just viâ the written Word, for there was none in the earliest days. This personal knowing is neither prescribed by the commandments nor is it found as part of the Mosaic Covenant. But it is most certainly part and parcel of the Melchizedek Order. And the fact that Yahweh spoke to the pagan Cyrus demonstrates that He operates outside the parameters spelled out in the Torah. It is rather amazing, I think, therefore, that so many Messianics are stumbling over themselves to return to Mosaic Torah instead of the superior Torah that predated it. And what is even more amazing is that this Melchizedek Order isn't mentioned even once in the Sinai Covenant which is supposed to represent, in the minds of many messianics, the fullness of Torah. Sadly, though, much of the modern Christian/Messianic polygamy movement is trapped by this deficient shadowy system as evidenced by the harsh, totalitarian spirit that has raised its ugly head within it.
One thing that must be understood about Old Covenant Torah is that is has many different components, some laws being directed to specific peoples or groups which do not apply to others. Hence there is Torah for the "sons of Israel", Torah for the non-Israelites living in Israel, some to women, some to men, some to priests, some to slave-owners, some to kings, some to prophets, some to slaves, others to Nazirites. Some of Torah applies only to select groups whilst others were of universal application.
There was a Law (Torah) before the Mosaic Law (Torah) and it was a higher one, just as the New Covenant is higher than the Old. That such a Torah existed is really common sense for how else would Noah have known the difference between "clean" and "unclean" animals on the ark? Genesis talks of the "iniquity" of the Amorites (Genesis 15:16), but how can there be a recognised iniquity is there was no law to define it? (Iniquity is the deliberate defiance of understood commandments). Genesis talks of both righteousness and justice which would be meaningless concepts without Law (Genesis 18:19). Even the "sin" of Sodom is mentioned (Genesis 18:20) and Elohim (God) is described as a "Judge" - how could there be a Judge with no legal code? (Genesis 18:25)
Abraham was blessed by Yahweh-Elohim because He kept His laws, commandments, and statutes (Genesis 26:5) something that would have been impossible had there been no legal system. The Order of Melchizedek even had a system of purification (Genesis 35:2). Since, therefore, there was a system of Law prior to the Law of Moses, it follows that this Law, of which Yahweh was Judge, required a different Priesthood to that of Aaron. If you are interested in some of the statutes of the Melchizedek Order, read Genesis 1:28,29; 2:24; 4:7; 9:3-6.
There are many potty ideas about 'priesthood' in Christendom, most of which are merely adaptations or continuations of the old Mosaic System. There are the legalist priesthoods of the Catholics and Mormons, and the free-for-all, help-yourself Priesthood of the Evangelicals. The Messianics do not fare much better for they are much absorbed with things Levitical, forgetting that this Priesthood is long since dead and gone.
To understand how the Patriarchal Order of Melchizedek works we need to look at Abraham, whose sons and daughters we are by adoption in the New Covenant of Christ (Galatians 3:7; John 8:39), which adoption is by faith - not any old faith - but faith in the kind of relationship that Abraham had with Yahweh and in his works.
Most of the men are weilding the title 'patriarch' as though it were soley some divine right by virtue of masculinity. A true Patriarch is a priest who is walking with Elohim (God) and conversing with Elohim (God). He doesn't exercise his priesthood on the basis of hunches, or options, or personal scriptural interpretations, but on the basis of what Yahweh tells him. He goes where Yahweh tells him to go, and does what Yahweh tells him to do. As a father he is a protector and nurturer, not an arbitrary tyrant. He is subject to Torah, and specifically to New Covenant Melchizedek Law. And he operates under the authority of those who are set over him, as Abraham operated under the authority of Melchizedek.
A true patriarchal husband (monogamous or polygamous) is a family priest-patriarch. His family (wives, children, servants, etc.) owe him the same kind of fealty as a congregation does to a Pastor plus the fealty that comes of blood ties and matrimonial relationship. In his turn, he owes complete fealty to Yahweh-Elohim. This is a fealty founded on love, strictness and kidness, the same kind of benevolent dictatorship that consists in our collective relationship to Christ and which is based on sacrificial giving and loving.
The idea that a husband is also a minister does not rest well in our racial memory for we are accustomed to thinking of 'ministers' as those people we respectfully listen to when we go to church but not necessarily outside of it. I know that at least one of my wives has had enormous problems accepting that I am a husband-minister all rolled into one, and that the two are inseparable. In her mind, I was a husband at home and a minister 'in church'. But the whole point is that the family is a church/assembly. It's a gathering of wives, children and any others who may live under one roof under one domestic authority. The home is the basic unity of the church/family and ought verily to be the epitome of its very spirit. It is this concept which perhaps distinguishes the Melchizedek from the Levitical more than anything else, for the home is a temple of Yahweh - a temple of Christ.
We have been conditioned to think of marriage as an essentially romantic/sexual sphere of activity more than anything else. And whilst this certainly distinguishes it from all other types of relationship, it is primarily a spiritual sphere to which romance and sex subtend. The essence and heart of Echad Marriage is spiritual and is supposed to reflect the allegorical marriage which obtains in heaven and to which we are all pointing. Heaven and earth are supposed to be one and Yahweh never intended there to be an ecclesiastical-domestic division. It is all one - all echad.
As a Pastor, the husband is also the family's Teacher and Judge. It is his sacred stewardship. And whilst like all good teachers he should be teachable, and whilst like all good judges he should be willing to be judged, spiritual education and decision making is not, ultimately, a democratic institution in a godly family. Ideally, a family walking in unity will require the minimum of teaching and the minimum of judging, but until it has attained that state he will find himself continually in a primary teaching and disciplining rôle. Of course, he is bounded by the Melchizedek Torah and may not exercise a dominion which would place a family member's salvation in jeopardy. His dominion must be righteous, as adjudged by the revealed Word.
As a priest, the patriarchs responsibilty is to obtain revelation for the guidance of his family as a whole - how it is to be constituted, what activities it is to engage in, where it is to live, domestic rules and regulations, etc.. And though he may delegate authority to his wives and children and any others under his roof, it is he who must manage this delegated authority.
This position of responsibility is no light matter and carries with it a graver judgment if it is abused than that of a wife or child in subjection to it. It is a position or priesthood office therefore that is to be respected and honoured by the family as a Pastor of a congregation is to be respected (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). It may not necessarily be conferred by the laying on of hands as in a congregation but it most certainly bears the hand of Yahweh upon it. To be a husband actually demands the same kind of standard as that required of a Pastor - a husband is to be above reproach, married (of course), temperate, self-controlled, respectable and hospitable (1 Timothy 3:1ff). To be a husband and a father is to be hold a Melchizedek Priesthood office! It is a ministerial position! And just as a Pastor he must be blameless and holy, holding to the teaching of Christ and the apostles, be self-controlled, upright, non-violent, honest and love that which is good (Titus 1:5-9). And as a pastor he has the responsibility to appoint Deacons, so must the husband apoint areas of responsibility and duty to wives and children.
A husband, like a Pastor, is "entrusted with Elohim's (God's) work", and that work is to bring his family to spiritual maturity. As Paul told Titus, his job is to refute false doctrine and to refute those who oppose it. He is the family dispenser of Torah. To this end he must labour and struggle hard (Colossians 1:29) like the Apostles and Pastors:
What if your husband is teaching false doctrines and insists that you follow it? What must a wife do? The same as someone in a church/assembly whose pastor is teaching false doctrine and insisting on its adherence! Reason gently in a humble and contrite spirit, remembering to show respect for the office. Talk it over with those to whom he is spiritually accountable. And if you do not prevail, and your soul is in danger, then leave! But do so advisedly, with great care, and not on impulse or the heat of passion, but only with the permission of the Spirit. If the minister is right and you are wrong, a heavy judgment falls on you. And remember this: if the husband has fallen into domestic violence, abusiveness, or anything like this, his priesthood is null and void, and he becomes an oppressor instead of a minister. Flee from him!
"Be persuaded by your leaders and obey them, for they watch for your nefeshot (souls) as men who give an account of you, so that with joy they may do this and not with groans, because that is not profitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17, HRV).
A husband who cannot be approached as a minister and a priest is no patriarch at all. And such a man should certainly not be living polygamy, let alone hold the position of a husband in any capacity at all. There are weak men to be sure. Such do need considerable help and suppport from a local congregation and its leadership. They should certainly never be polygamists.
What is a minister? A minister is one who ministers to the soul. He doesn't have to be an expert theologian but he does need to know the spirit of the Torah. He must know the Holy Spirit. He must know what goodness and love are. He must be able to lead a wife or wives as Christ leads the Church/Assembly. He must, when necessary, be firm and not yield to emotional blackmail (something the dark side of the female is expert at) or manipulation and if necessary, as Christ said to His chief apostle (then) Peter, say, "Get behind me, Satan!" A husband's allegiance to Christ comes before any allegiance to his wife, and vice versa.
Such a man - a patriarch-priest - must preach the Word to his family, be prepared in season and out, correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction (1 Timothy 4:1). He will be preaching Yah'shua (Jesus) the Messiah as Lord to his family and will use the Word as both a nourisher of souls as well as a mighty hammer to demolish all falsehood into pieces.
A true husband is also the shepherd or pastor of his wives and children
Of course, a woman should be careful not only to pick a man whom she loves, and who loves her, but also a man who will be a good priest for her. Indeed, ought this not to be her prime consideration? For what use will a husband be to her, whom she must obey, if he is the purveyor of false teachings that will lead her soul away from salvation? Then she has placed herself into an impossible situation of compunction. For she is both under compulsion to obey and not obey! A life of stress and sorrow faces her. Therefore, before a woman considers marriage, she should spend considerable time finding out whether her husband-to-be is the man who can minister to her soul or not. For if he cannot, or will not, then she risks being unequally yoked. Just because he names "Christ" is not enough - he must also be teaching the apostolic doctrine.
A serious-minded woman who loves Christ will therefore spend much time investigating a potential marriage liason. And she will greatly beware of anyone who comes barging in and proposing marriage without knowing anything about her. For a true servant of Yahweh will want to marry a true Christian/Messianic woman. It is only the wolves and the Cassanovas who enter polygamy for reasons other than primarily spiritual.
It follows that a wife who regards her husband as a pastor will treat him as such, and a husband who is a pastor will treat his wives as he would his flock - with kindness, thoughtfulness and respect. A true husband-pastor is his wife's brother-in-Christ, and a true wife is his sister-in-Christ. My wives are my sisters in Christ, my friends, and my intimate companions. I really can't think of them in any other way.