Question – I've read about Melchizedek a number of times but am confused about who he is entirely. Can you let me know about him, I feel like I'm "missing" something?
Answer - “Join the club”!
I think this is a question that has been asked almost as long as the scriptures have been in print and distributed for people to read and study. Melchizedek is one of the most “mysterious” characters to appear in the Old Testament narrative.
The Book of Genesis is “categorized” as a history book, and rightly so. It contains thousands of years of history, from the literal beginning of history to the death of the man whose name was changed to Israel.
Among other things, it is a book of lineages, and genealogies…tracing mankind from the first created man (Adam), to the patriarch of the nation that God chose to be His representatives on earth.
So, it is a little surprising that in the middle of this narrative, in the story of the life of Abraham, that a person greater than Abraham (shown in Abrahams giving of the tithe) “suddenly” and mysteriously appears without any mention of lineage or genealogy, or any back-story at all.
In Genesis 14 we are given the account of what happened when Abraham and his nephew Lot got caught up in a war. You can read this account for yourself, and I encourage you to do so, as it is a very interesting glimpse into how God had blessed his humble servant Abraham, but for now, here is a synopsis of what happened:
• 4 Kings from the area of Mesopotamia had gone to war against 5 Kings from the region of Southern Canaan. Apparently this started over a rebellion of servitude to one of the Mesopotamian Kings.
• One of the Kings that was defeated was the King of Sodom, who ruled over the city where Abraham’s nephew Lot lived. In those days, when a King was defeated, the victorious King would take away all of the losing Kings valuables…including people, who would be forced into slavery, or held for ransom.
• Among the people taken was Lot (and presumably his family according to Genesis 14:16) who had become quite wealthy as he had traveled with his uncle Abraham.
• When Abraham hears that his relative has been captured, he leads out his 318 men who were trained for war and in a brilliant act of strategy and guerrilla warfare (not discounting the hand of God on Abraham in all of this which Abraham himself will recognize with a giving of a tithe or 10% of the goods recovered), Abraham defeats the armies’ of the 4 Kings and is able to return all the goods and people that were taken.
• One interesting note…that would carry significance into the New Testament Book of Hebrews…is that Abraham is the first person to be called a “Hebrew” (vs. 13) designating him as the “father” of the Hebrew people.
As Abraham is meeting with the King of Sodom so he can return all the goods that were taken from him…suddenly, in vs. 18, we are introduced to Melchizedek, King of Salem and Priest of God Most High (El Elyon). This King brings out bread and wine to refresh Abraham and his men who are returning from battle, and probably quite hungry and thirsty and in a mood to celebrate. As God’s High Priest and the King of Salem which would become the City of Jerusalem, or Zion…the dwelling place of God… (Psalm 76:2 – “His tabernacle is in Salem; His dwelling place also is in Zion.” NASB)…He blesses Abraham, and thanks God for delivering this great victory into his hands.
Out of recognition that is was indeed God who brought about this victory, Abraham gives God’s Priest the first recorded “tithe” and also refuses to take any reward from the King of Sodom (Who ruled over the people referred to as “wicked exceedingly” and “sinners against the Lord”) and he does this to avoid being obligated to him in any way. By doing this, Abraham makes a public declaration that he recognizes God’s sovereignty and that it is God who he serves and who has his total allegiance.
But, that’s it…that’s all we get to see or know about Melchizedek. He shows up, feeds and blesses Abraham and his men, takes the tithe, and then is gone. No record of where he came from, or who his descendants were…if there were any.
All we can know…is what was recorded by the inspired author of Genesis 14:18-20:
• Melchizedek’s name is derived from the Hebrew word for king which is “Melek” and the Hebrew word for righteous which is “Tsaddiq”…pronounced “sad-deek”.
• His name means “My King is Right”… or “Righteous” (cf. Hebrews 7:2)
• We are also told that he is the King of Salem (Jerusalem)…and since the Hebrew word for peace or “Shalom” is very similar to the Hebrew for “Salem” or “Shalem”...His title is also “King of Peace” (cf. Hebrews 7:2).
• The last thing we discover about him from Genesis 14:18, is that he is also the “Priest of God most High (El Elyon)…the first specific Priest of God to be mentioned.
This “Righteous King” and “Priest of God”…Breaks bread with Abraham, prays a blessing, receives a tithe…and then is not mentioned again for over 1,000 years until the time of David when he is inspired to write the Psalms. In Psalm 110:4 (A Messianic Psalm) David is inspired to write that the Messiah would be a “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
• The original Hebrew reader would have recognized the significance in this right away from the story of Melchizedek found in Genesis 14.
• The Messiah would be “like” Melchizedek in that He would “fill the office of” or be both a “King” and a “Priest”.
• And, since Melchizedek had no recorded “beginning” or “ending” to his life…the Messiah would be King and Priest…Forever! (Zechariah 6:12-13 also gives a glimpse into the time when the Messiah would unite the offices of Priest and King if you want to do further study).
In the New Testament, following the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Messiah (Jesus) the inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews (whose identity is not recorded…hey, there might be something there?) uses the example of Melchizedek once again to help his fellow Jews (Hebrew people) to understand the ministry and Lordship of Jesus Christ and the superiority of His sacrifice and “priesthood” over the old system of Law and animal sacrifice.
It would be extremely exhaustive to try and explain the entire message of Hebrews in this answer…but here are a few highlights as to why the writer of Hebrews used Melchizedek as a “type” or example of the Kingship and priesthood of Christ:
Melchizedek is mentioned in Hebrews 5, 6, and 7… as an example of Christ’s God ordained priesthood and His superiority over the “old system or covenant”.
Hebrews 5 compares the Aaronic High Priests with the High Priesthood of Christ.
• Basically it points out that the High Priest is selected or “ordained” by God.
• No one takes the honor upon themselves…it is a call of God.
• God had appointed Aaron and his descendants to be His priests, with Aaron being the first High Priest.
• In verses 6 and 10 however, there is a difference. The Christ, the Son of God, is appointed High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (and not in the order of Aaron).
• The human High Priests, descendants of Aaron…were…well, human. They had a beginning of life and an end. Their genealogy could be traced backward and forward according to their family tree.
• But the Christ…a High Priest in the order or likeness of Melchizedek…is High Priest forever. Without beginning or end.
So, what does it mean that Jesus Christ is a High Priest in the “order” of Melchizedek?
It means that He received this Honor from God rather than a result of human ancestry, and that His Priesthood is forever.
This is important as the author of Hebrews continues to show the superiority of Christ.
Hebrews 6 reinforces the superiority of Christ as High Priest in verse 20…as His “priesthood” is forever without end.
Hebrews 7 Continues this declaration and you really should read through these 3 chapters and then the entire book of Hebrews to get the whole picture of the superiority of Christ over any “religious system” or other sacrifice that could ever be made for our sins.
But here’s my point as far as it relates to the original question (which seems like long ago…lol).
I believe that there is good reason that when we are introduced to the “first” Priest of God Most High in Genesis 14, that we are not given any information of where he came from, his genealogy, or who his descendants were. It is because he would “typify” the High Priesthood of Christ. Which is the exact reason the writer of both Psalm 110 and Hebrews used him as an example or “likeness” to help people understand who Jesus is and what He did on our behalf.
Think about it:
• Jesus is the Great High Priest…better than any human priest because He is eternal, without beginning or end!
• Jesus’ sacrifice of His own perfect life (blood) was not like the animal sacrifices that were required for each individuals sin, each and every time that individual sinned. Jesus’ sacrifice was for all sin…given once, for all time! (Romans 6:10, 1 John 2:2, Hebrews 9:12).
• Jesus is not just the High Priest, He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16) the true King of Righteousness…so I can truthfully declare… “My King is Righteous” forever!
Everything that Genesis 14:18-20 and Hebrews 7:1-3 ascribes to Melchizedek…is even more true about Jesus Christ. Think about it…
What better historical example could the writer of Hebrews have used to help the Hebrew people understand just how superior Christ is?
I believe that’s why Melchizedek is presented in scripture the way he is…it’s just another example of God’s grace in helping us understand. I know there are many “theories” or “opinions” that can be found that try to explain, satisfy, or stimulate our imaginations as to just who this mysterious Melchizedek was. A few that I found in just a short search ranged from the idea that he was Shem (son of Noah) who was “miraculously” still alive and acting as a priest for God, to the idea that perhaps he was an example of “Theophany” or the “pre-incarnate” Christ (which I was actually taught before), even to the suggestion that he wasn’t really a historical person and had been added to the text of Genesis at the time of David in an attempt to endorse David’s God ordained Kingship.
All I can tell you is what Scripture actually says…He lived at the time of Abraham, he was the King of Salem, and he was used as a “type’ or “likeness” as a way of helping us understand who the true Christ really is.
Bottom line…we just don’t know who he was “entirely” and his appearance in the Bible can be confusing with the limited information we are given. For the questioner to “feel like they are missing something” is accurate…we are! But I believe we are missing the “information” about Melchizedek’s life for a reason…because it helps us understand more about Jesus, our King and High Priest forever!
Hope this helps, P. Scott