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WHO WAS MELCHIZEDEK?

Posted on August 6, 2015 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (0)

 

MELCHIZEDEK, KING OF SALEM

According to the writer of Hebrews, Christ was a priest “according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:5-6). Since Christ was born of the tribe of Judah, the Law of Moses disqualified Him from being a priest “on the earth” (Hebrews 7:13-14; 8:4). The subject is so important that we must ask the question: “Who was Melchizedek?”

The first mention of Melchizedek is in Genesis 14. An army from faraway Mesopotamia had invaded Palestine with the purpose of putting down a rebellion against the authority of Chedorlaomer, king of Elam (Genesis 14:3-4). The kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, aided by several other local monarchs of the plains country south of the Salt Sea (now called the “Dead Sea”}, came out with their armies to resist Chedorlaomer’s superior force (14:8-9). The army of the local kings was routed and forced to retreat into an area full of “tar pits” into which many of their soldiers fell and perished. Realizing that they could not win, they “fled to the hill country” (14:10).

The army of Chedorlaomer then entered the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and carried away everything of value, including “all their food supply.” They also took hostages, among them Abraham’s nephew Lot, along with his possessions. Because of problems between Lot’s herdsmen and those of his uncle Abraham, Lot had relocated to the luxuriant valley of the Jordan River several years earlier, eventually moving into the wicked city of Sodom. Probably because of his great wealth, Lot was taken hostage by the invaders.

When Abraham heard about this, he “led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen,” and pursued the army all the way to Dan, in the extreme northern part of Palestine. Using expert military tactics, Abraham attacked the enemy forces in the darkness of night from different directions at once, and defeated them. He rescued all of the hostages and “brought back all the goods” that had been taken (14:15-16).

  As Abraham’s victorious army returned home, they passed by the city of Salem, which was at that time inhabited by a tribe of people called Jebusites. Hundreds of years later, Jebusite Salem would be renamed Jerusalem, the capital of King David of Judah. In Abraham’s day, however, Salem was ruled by a man named Melchizedek (14:18}. King Melchizedek was also a “priest of God Most High” (14:18}. Going out to meet victorious Abraham, Melchizedek “blessed him” (14:19). Then Abraham gave to Melchizedek a “tenth” part of all of the spoils of battle (14:20).

  We know nothing more than this about Melchizedek. Neither the Bible nor secular history says anything about his birth or his death, or about his parents. The Psalmist David, hundreds of years later, wrote, “The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’” (Psalm 110:4). The writer of Hebrews, in the New Testament, reveals that the ancient king of Salem was a type, a figure, of Christ (Hebrews 6:20 – 7:17). Referring to David’s statement in Psalm 110, the Hebrews writer argued that Jesus Christ is a “high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:20).

  The expression “according to the order of Melchizedek” means “like Melchizedek.” How is Christ like Melchizedek? The Hebrews writer explains this. The very name Melchizedek implies that this man was both a righteous person and a man of peace. The second element of his name “zedek” means “righteousness” or “justice,” so Melchizedek is called “king of righteousness” (Hebrews 7:2). And because he was king of the city of Salem, he was also “king of peace,” since “salem” (the Hebrew word shalom) means “peace.” Jesus is like Melchizedek in that He is also the “Prince of peace” and God’s “righteousness.”

  Furthermore, nothing is said in Scripture about Melchizedek’s appointment as a priest or about his ceasing to be a priest. Therefore, his priesthood, as far as history is concerned, was without beginning and without ending. Nothing is said about Melchizedek’s parents, so as far as history is concerned, he was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life” (Hebrews 7:3). This is figurative language, of course, since everyone is born and dies. But Melchizedek’s appearance in history is a figure of Christ’s appearance, and simply prefigures the priesthood of Christ, which never ends. “He remains a priest perpetually” (Hebrews 7:3).

  Notice also that Abraham paid “a tenth” to this man “whose genealogy is not traced,” indicating that this man was greater than Abraham (Hebrews 7:8-9). Not only so, but Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek, and “without dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater” (Hebrews 7:7). The point of all of this is that the Christ is greater than Abraham, just as Melchizedek was greater, and Abraham’s spiritual descendants are blessed by Christ, just as Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek.

  Who was Melchizedek? He was a human being, born of natural parents just as are we, and destined to die, even as we are. He was king of Salem, the Jebusite city which David conquered after he became king of Israel (2 Samuel 5:6-9). He was also a priest of the most high God (Genesis 14:18}. He blessed Abraham when Abraham returned from defeating the eastern kings (Genesis 14:16-20). Abraham gave to Melchizedek a tenth part of the spoils of battle (Genesis 14:20). Some people try to make something mysterious from this story, but they misunderstand the figurative language used by the writer of Hebrews. The inspired writer of Hebrews applies Melchizedek’s story as a type, a figure, of the Christ and His priesthood.

 

 Donald R. Taylor