The Enigma of Melchizedek
Genesis 14: 17-24
17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him, after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, at the vale of Shaveh (the same is the King’s Vale). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth: 20 and blessed be God Most High, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him a tenth of all. 21 And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself. 22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lifted up my hand unto Jehovah, God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-latchet nor aught that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich: 24 save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men that went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their portion (ASV 1901).
After the battle of the kings and the rescue of Lot as well as those women that were captured with him Abram met with two additional kings. The first one mentioned is the king of Sodom. This is the successor to the first king of Sodom because the first one perished in the slime pits with the king of Gomorrah in the vale of Siddim (Genesis 14: 10). Abram met with the new king of Sodom and a king named Melchizedek. This man has a Hebrew name, which is the combination of two names: Melech means King and Tzedick, which means righteous. וּמַלְכִּי־צֶ֨דֶק֙
So we have a righteous king identified in the eighteenth verse that goes out to meet Abram. He is further identified as the king of Salem, which is ancient Jerusalem (Psalm 76: 2). They meet in the vale of Shaveh, which is the valley of Jehoshaphat on the east side of the temple mount. On the east of that valley is the Mount of Olives. Today this valley is called Kidron. It will be the location where the Lord Jesus judges the sheep and goat Gentiles after the Great Tribulation in the seventy-five day interval before He sets up His Millennial Kingdom. It is named after the king of Judah who reigned from 867-851 B.C.
Melchizedek is one of the most interesting characters in the Bible. Here he is said to be a priest of the “God Most High.” This is the first mention of a priest in the Bible and the title is El Elyon. אֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן
This Hebrew title of God is found four times in these verses. It is only found elsewhere in Psalm 78: 35. Frequently we find “Most High” but only here and in Psalm 78 do we see “God Most High.” With this designation appearing here so uniquely it has special significance. First it means that God is the possessor of heaven and earth. It also means that Jehovah God had a relationship with Melchizedek. And Melchizedek was a follower and minister of the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Some have suggested that he was a preincarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus. Or even a theophany. This designation is difficult to validate when compared to other preincarnate appearances of the Lord Jesus since in those instances they don’t hold an office on earth. They make a quick appearance and then they are gone. Here Melchizedek is said to be both priest and king. Abram acknowledged him as his superior and seemed to recognize that God had revealed Himself to this man.
Later during the Levitical priesthood under the Mosaic Law the offices of priest and king were separate and were not to be combined. The Lord Jesus did hold both offices as being God Himself. The book of Hebrews teaches us that the Law was imperfect (Hebrews 7:11) and was only a shadow of things to come.
Hebrews 7:11 Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? (NKJV)
The writer of Hebrews is making a case for necessity for the Lord Jesus to come into the earth as both king and our priest fulfilling the Law. The Law could never save us only point out our sin.
Romans 7: 7-9
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. 8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died (KJV).
It is only the Lord Jesus who can forgive sin. Melchizedek did not forgive sin. He blessed Abram but did not forgive any sin. In Hebrews we see that Melchizedek is used as a “type” of the Lord Jesus. Since he was a priest and a king. David knew that this was the case too as he wrote in Psalm 110.
Psalm 110: 1-7
1 The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. 2 The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. 3 Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. 4 The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. 5 The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.6 He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries. 7 He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.
He knew that one would come from God who would be God and would usher in the establishment of a messianic priesthood and kingdom. This Psalm was written about 500 years after the inauguration of the Levitical order. This shows that David realized the imperfection and impermanence of the Levitical order. Melchizedek is only a follower of God and not God Himself. Jesus is forever a priest and king.
The Jewish Midrash Rabbah (Bereshit Rabbah) teaches that Shem, Noah’s son and the Messianic seed son is Melchizedek. This is not too farfetched an explanation since Shem continued to live thirty-five years after Abraham died. Both lived in the same region of Mesopotamia. Of the three sons of Noah Shem was the most righteous and was chosen to bring the Messiah through his line of descendants. It is altogether possible that Melchizedek is Shem. The Bible teaches that Shem lived for 35 years longer than Abraham, which makes this Midrash all the more plausible.
Abram took wine and bread (not communion) from him and gave him a tenth of the spoils of the war.
The rest of the spoils went to the king of Sodom and others including food for his 318 warriors. Abram did not want anybody to say they made him rich. Some remarks on this section of Scripture are in order as we conclude.
- This is the only place in Scripture where Abram is portrayed as a warrior.
- God does not speak in this chapter.
- A high priest-king represents him.
- The Abrahamic Covenant is operative here as a blessing for blessing occurs. The curse is seen in the demise of the four kings.
- In the N.T. Melchizedek is treated as a Type of Jesus as well as in Psalm 110. He is never seen as the Lord Jesus. Hebrews says he was like the Son of God. This is the grammatical figure of speech called a simile. It makes an expressed comparison between two different things. An example is Revelation 1:14b, “His eyes were like a flame of fire.”
- Melchizedek has no record of a genealogy. Not that he did not have one, there was just no record of it.
- The term Zedek is a common name. We find it in Joshua 10: 1 where the king of Jerusalem was called Adonizedek. He was wicked and idol worshipping not the “Lord of Righteousness” as his name would suggest.
While the true identity of Melchizedek may remain a mystery because of the brevity of scriptural information, his importance as it relates to the superiority of Christ’s priesthood becomes very clear as we consider the following:
A. MELCHIZEDEK RECEIVED TITHES FROM ABRAHAM
1. Abraham paid a tenth to Melchizedek
2. Just as the nation of Israel would later pay a tenth to the
sons of Levi
— Thus Abraham, great as he was, showed his deference to
B. MELCHIZEDEK BLESSED ABRAHAM
1. Melchizedek blessed him “who had the promises” (Abraham)
2. There is no dispute that “the lesser is blessed by the better”
— Thus Melchizedek is clearly “better” than Abraham
C. MELCHIZEDEK’S SERVICE WAS NOT AFFECTED BY DEATH
1. In the priesthood under the Jewish system (i.e., the Levitical
or Aaronic priesthood), tithes were received by “mortal men”
(whose service ended at death)
2. But it has been witnessed that Melchizedek “lives”(“remains a priest continually”)
3. How he lives and remains a priest continually, the Bible does
— But in this way Melchizedek is greater than the Levitical
priests (a point made concerning Jesus later in the chapter)
1. There is a lot more we wish we knew about Melchizedek…
a. Was he a “theophany”, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ?
b. Was he is an angel? Enoch? Shem?
c. Was he simply a man?
1) One whose Biblical record is such that he serves as a “type”
2) If so, where did he come from, and how did he
come to be “priest of God Most High”
d. And how does he remain a priest continually?
Understanding “The Greatness Of Melchizedek” helps prepare us to appreciate the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over the Levitical (Aaronic) priesthood. Jesus currently holds to all three offices eternally (Prophet, Priest, and King) but he functions in them chronologically. He came as a prophet (John 4:44). Today he is currently holding the office and functioning as high priest (Hebrews 5:6,10). He was announced as King in his 1st coming but was rejected (Matthew12: 22-45). At his 2nd coming he will be realized as king and function as one (Isaiah 9:6 Matthew 25:34-45).
Both type and fulfillment of Melchizedek are king and priest, By their being no genealogical line with no record of birth or death he prefigures Christ as the priest who continues forever. In the O.T. no King could be a priest nor could a priest function as a King. Only Christ is able to fill the office of being a Priest, a Prophet and a King (Hebrews 7:17, 20, 24). If Melchizedek was Christ we would have to deal with two incarnations, since all priests were taken from among men. If he is a type of the one who was to come, then it would certainly fit the Biblical account and make more sense. This however remains an enigma with scholars debating on both sides but all agree together in its typology.
Daniel E. Woodhead