This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. Hebrews 7, verses 1-3.
Let’s talk about Melchizedek. He’s been mentioned several times throughout Hebrews, and we’ve chatted about him a little bit already. In the Genesis account of Abram’s life (before God renamed him Abraham), Melchizedek suddenly appears out of nowhere while Abram is journeying from Mesopotamia (likely in today’s Syria or southern Turkey) to Canaan (today’s Israel). We know little about him other than he’s a revered man, a holy man, a priest. He was king of Salem – the predecessor settlement to Jerusalem – and was God’s high priest there. Not a pagan like the other inhabitants of Canaan, Melchizedek knew the true God and strengthened Abram’s faith.
Wikipedia reinforces much of this narrative. It also discusses corroborating evidence about Melchizedek from early Hebrew Torah commentaries, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and even some Greek documents. Even the pagan Quran, written centuries later, references Melchizedek. At the end of all this ancient evidence, we’re still left not knowing exactly who Melchizedek was. All that we can really know is that He was important to members of both the Jewish and early Christian faiths. Indeed, if you read these verses closely it’s easy to see why many folks believe Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate Jesus (a “Christophany”). It’s more than possible. It’s also more than possible that (as we’ve discussed before) Melchizedek was actually Shem, the son of Noah, who had survived the flood and was the forefather of the Semites, Abram’s historic lineage. It seems likely that Melchizedek was the vocational ancestor of all who would be ordained as either royalty or ministers. But to tell you the truth, I don’t know; nobody does. And to get wrapped around the axle about exactly who he was misses the main point about him.
Melchizedek represents unquestioning devotion to God.
Melchizedek is ‘king of peace,’ ‘king of righteousness.’ Melchizedek has no historical beginning or end since we don’t know where he was born or where he died. He simply existed to give praise and meaning to God, encouraging the chosen man of God’s will at a time when Abram needed it. Abram had traveled many miles from home for many years, living a nomadic life in obedience to a promise God made to him. God had been faithful to His promise to bless all peoples through Abram, but hadn’t shown Abram just how He would do that. Enter Melchizedek, who gives selflessly and provides an example for Abram to do the same. In doing so, Abram’s faith was strengthened and his devotion sustained. So much so, in fact, that Abram gave Melchizedek a portion of all he owned. Some translations of Scripture (including the NIV I use) say it was a tenth of all he owned, perhaps instituting the precedent for the ten percent tithe many believers donate to God even today. After Abram has won a battle against local pagan kings, Melchizedek visits Abram and bestows on him God’s blessings. Then he disappears. Melchizedek plays an important part in God’s historic family and then, like so many other believers, is simply gone, lost to history with his part in the play having acted out.
Again, in all these things, it doesn’t matter who he was but very much matters what he did and believed. Melchizedek represents that unquestioning faith in God. He followed God. He lived a life devoted to God. He was an example of and a precursor to Jesus, who became the inheritor of Melchizedek’s temporal priesthood. Melchizedek did in act what Jesus would later do in both act and Spirit.
That’s a lot to understand from someone who is mentioned by name in only three places in the Bible (in Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and in the book of Hebrews). If you consider it, however, that’s more than most people are documented anywhere in history. Maybe God is trying to tell us something we need to remember. Maybe God is trying to say “don’t worry about who he was. Remember who he believed in.” Many thousands of years after he lived, that makes Melchizedek timely and relevant to us.
For further reading: Genesis 14:18-20, Psalm 76:2, Psalm 110:4, , Matthew 4:3, Hebrews 2:17, Hebrews 5:6.
Lord, thank You for teaching about Melchizedek. Thank You for his ancient example of faith in You that can still encourage me today.