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The Mysterious, Mesmerizing, Melchizedek: Part 1

The Mysterious, Mesmerizing, Melchizedek: Part 1
By Randy Nettles

I apologize upfront for my over-the-top use/abuse of alliteration in the title of this article, but truly, the character Melchizedek of Genesis 14 is both mysterious and mesmerizing. He is mysterious because there is not much that is known about him in the Old Testament, where he is introduced, other than two verses in Genesis 14 (vs. 18-20) and one verse in Psalm 110 (vs.4). He is mesmerizing because there is a whole chapter devoted to him in the New Testament book of Hebrews (ch.7) and how he is a typology of Jesus Christ.

The events and appearance of Melchizedek in Genesis 14 is significant because it occurs in the lifetime of Abram (Abraham) and specifically between two great godly events in his amazing life. The first event was when God made a covenant with Abram giving ownership of the land of Canaan to him and his offspring forever, as described in Genesis 13:14-17. This occurred, according to my calculations, in approximately 1876 BC. The second great godly event occurred in 1852 BC when God confirmed the covenant with Abram, as described in Genesis 15:9-21.

The backdrop of Genesis 14 is the Battle of the Vale of Siddim, also called the War of Nine Kings or the Slaughter of Chedorlaomer. The Vale of Siddim (Salt Sea) was the battleground for the cities of the Jordan River plain revolting against Mesopotamian rule. The five city-states of the plains and their kings were: Bera, king of Sodom; Birsha, king of Sodom; Shinab, king of Admah; Shemeber, king of Zeboyim; and the king of Bela (Zoar). The four kings of Mesopotamia were Chedorlaomer, king of Elam; Tidal, king of Goyim; Amraphel, king of Shinar; and Arioch, king of Ellasar.

Genesis 14:10-12 describes the results of the war and how the four kings defeated the five kings. “Now the Valley of Siddim was full of asphalt pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled; some fell there, and the remainder fled to the mountains. Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.”

A man of the plains who had escaped came and reported all that had transpired, including the capture of Lot, to Abram the Hebrew (first mention of Hebrew in the Bible). Abram called out 318 of his household trained in the art of war and pursued the armies of the four kings as far north as Dan. Abram surprised the Mesopotamian forces when he divided his men and attacked them at night when they were sleeping. Abram and his elite fighting men routed them and pursued them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. Abram recovered all the stolen goods and brought back Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

Two kings came out to meet Abram in the Valley of Shaveh (King’s Valley) when he returned from his great victory. The first king to meet Abram on that fateful day was the king of Salem, Melchizedek. “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And Abram gave him a tithe of all” (Genesis 14:18-20).

The second king to meet Abram was the king of Sodom, who told Abraham he just wanted his people back and for Abraham to keep the goods for himself. Abram replied, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, I have made Abram rich except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion” (Genesis 14:22:24).

In this account of Abraham and Melchizedek’s meeting, we are only given a few facts concerning this mysterious king. 1) His name. 2) He was a priest as well as a king. 3) He was a believer and priest of the same God that Abram worshipped, El Elyon (translated as Most High God). He was not a worshiper of false gods/idols as the surrounding nations were.

Melchizedek’s name in Hebrew is Malki Tzedek (sedeq) which means “king of righteousness,” and he is the king of Salem (later named Jerusalem). Salem or ‘shalom’ means ‘peace,’ so Melchizedek is also a “king of peace.” The words righteousness and peace are associated with Jesus Christ. In Jeremiah 33:15, Jesus is described as a Branch of righteousness, and in Isaiah 9:6, Jesus is called Prince of Peace.

So how is it that a king of a Canaanite city is a worshiper and priest of the one true God and not of Baal, Anath, Moloch, or some other heathen god? In John Calvin’s commentaries, he points out that it is remarkable that Melchizedek lived with Sodom on one side and the Canaanites on the other; yet, he was a righteous king and priest. This shows that God can raise up a godly witness for Himself when and where He pleases. The other question is why did Abraham pay a tithe (first mention of a tithe in the Bible) to Melchizedek? More on this later.

“Everything we know about Melchizedek comes from Genesis 14:18-18, Psalm 110:4, and Hebrews 7. The first text is historical, the second is prophetic, and the third is theological.”(1)

We have discussed the historical aspect of Melchizedek in Genesis, so now let’s look at the prophetic passage in Psalm 110.

This chapter was written by David and is referring to the Messiah’s future reign. The first verse is a conversation between the Lord (God the Father) and the Lord (God the Son, Yahweh, Jesus) where God tells Jesus to “sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” In verse 2, the Lord Father is discussing the Lord Son’s future rule as king of Israel. “The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!” It is in verse 4 that David prophesies Jesus’ future role as priest of the Most High God, “The Lord has sworn and will not relent: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” In this Psalm, David is prophesying that the Lord (Jesus) will be both a king and a priest (according to the order of Melchizedek) forever.

Of course, Melchizedek is only a foreshadowing of Jesus in this regard. In David’s time (and Moses before him), a priest could only come from the tribe of Levi (the great-grandfather of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam). Aaron was the first High Priest of Israel. This Levitical ‘law’ continued until the time of Jesus and afterward. In ancient Israel, a king could not also be a priest, according to the Lord’s own law.

Take, for instance, the case of King Uzziah, who by all accounts was a good king and “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 26:4). However, “when Uzziah was strong, his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16). Only a priest was allowed to burn incense according to God’s law which He gave to Moses. For Uzziah’s disobedience, God struck King Uzziah with leprosy, and he remained a leper until the day of his death.

Regarding the prophecy of Psalm 110:4, it must have been quite a shock to David when he received this word to learn that the future Jewish Messiah would not be of the priestly order of Aaron and the Levites but of the priestly order of Melchizedek (who had no recorded genealogical background).

Now, let us look at the theological aspect of Melchizedek and his relationship to Jesus Christ. The anonymous writer of the book of Hebrews (possibly Paul, Barnabas, etc.) discusses Melchizedek in the entire 7th (number for spiritual perfection) chapter of Hebrews. The first and second verses talk about the historical context of Melchizedek, as we have already discussed.

The 3rd (the number for divine perfection) verse gets into the theological aspect of Melchizedek and gives new information about him. Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, and remains a priest continually” (Hebrews 7:3). Now, this is a truly amazing revelation. Is this chapter and verse, 7:3, telling us this man was Yahweh/Jesus, a theophany, an angel, or just a man without any kind of background or record of birth and death? We will try to answer this question in the remainder of this article.

If this priest/king was a mere man, it’s amazing that there are no records or genealogy regarding him, especially with all the genealogies listed in Genesis. Genesis emphasizes genealogies and the number of years that the patriarchs lived and when they were born.

As I mentioned before, in Israel, all priests came from the tribe of Levi. If you could not establish your family heritage, you were not able to become a priest, so genealogies were especially important in the ancient world. Even Jesus’ human lineage is given in scripture, yet none is given for Melchizedek. This is rather remarkable, especially with the importance that the authors of Genesis, Psalm, and Hebrews ascribe to Melchizedek.

Hebrews 7:4-10 describes how great this man, Melchizedek, was that even the patriarch Abraham, whom God made promises to, gave a tenth of the spoils to as a tithe. Hebrews 7:7 says, “now beyond all contradictions the lesser is blessed by the better.” This verse is saying that Melchizedek was greater even than God’s faithful servant and friend, Abraham.

Hebrews 7:11-18 explains the need for a new priesthood that is superior to the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament that was instituted by the law of Moses. The fact that God describes a priest according to the order of Melchizedek in Psalm 110:4 shows there is something lacking in the priesthood according to the order of Aaron. Levitical priesthood is associated with the law of Moses. The priesthood of Melchizedek is associated with the faith of Abraham, not with Moses or the law.

The very mention of the order of Melchizedek in Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 7:11 shows that God wanted the priesthood to be changed (as well as the law of Moses). “For He [Jesus] of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe [other than Levi/Aaron], from which no man has officiated at the altar” (Hebrews 7:13). Hebrews 11:14 explains that the Lord Jesus came from the lineage of Judah, “of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.”

According to Hebrews 11:15-17, “Jesus, in the likeness of Melchizedek (a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek), has not come to be our high priest by the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life.” The saying, “you are a priest forever,” could never be said of a priest according to the order of Aaron, none of whom were immortal, and each one only served a limited time as priests.

Melchizedek is said to have no end of life (either as a pre-incarnate Jesus/Yahweh or as a believer in the Lord who will live forever because of his faith). And, of course, Jesus showed His priesthood was superior when He was resurrected and triumphed over death. Because of the weakness and unprofitability of the law and the Levitical priesthood, it has been annulled and replaced by a new and perfect priesthood and covenant. It is the covenant of faith (by the grace of God) in our High Priest and King Jesus Christ.

The Levitical priest became priest without an oath by God, but Jesus and Melchizedek were declared priests forever by God, as declared in Psalm 110:4. Because Jesus continues forever, He has an unchangeable priesthood, unlike his human counterparts. “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

As believing Christians, we are considered undefiled and do not need daily sacrifices by high priests who have to offer sacrifices for their own sins. Our High Priest, Jesus, offered up Himself as a sacrifice for our sins once and for all. His sacrifice only had to occur one time, for His blood doesn’t merely atone (cover over) for our sins but cleanses us from all sins, past, present, and future. “The word of the oath, which came after the law appoints the Son who has been perfected forever as our High Priest” (Hebrews 7:28).

In part 2, we will examine the three main theories of the identity of Melchizedek, and I will include a new lineage.

Randy Nettles

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