Melchizedek, “king of righteousness”, was the King of Salem mentioned in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis.
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine: and he was [is] the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, 'Blessed be Abram to the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth, And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand'. And he gave him tithe from all.
The narrative is part of the story of Abram and his defeat of King Chedorlaomer of Elam. Abram is on his way home from rescuing his nephew Lot from Elam when he meets Melchizedek. The king, who was also a priest, gave Abram bread and wine (a reference to the future Eucharist, perhaps), and blessed Abram in the name of “the most high God.” What is important to note here is that Melchizedek says “God” rather than “gods”. At this time in history, societies believed in more than one god and it is usually Abram (later Abraham) who is credited with being the first to preach about a single God. This text, however, implies Melchizedek may have been first.
In return for Melchizedek’s blessing, Abram gave the priest a tithe (a tenth) of the loot he had gathered during his campaign against Chedorlaomer and allies. In this single act, Abram acknowledged he recognised Melchizedek as a priest with a higher spiritual rank than him. At no other point in the Bible does anyone recognise the authority and authenticity of a Canaanite priest/king in such a way.
Psalm 110, written by David, gives credence to the theory that Melchizedek was the first monotheistic priest. “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4) This almost gives Melchizedek Christ-like status. Not only was he the first priest, but all future priests are living in his shadow.
The story of Abram meeting Melchizedek is repeated in the seventh chapter of Hebrews. The writer describes Melchizedek as “without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” (7:3) How could Melchizedek have no father or mother? Did God make him in a similar way to Adam and Eve, or was he a Son of God? Unfortunately, no more is said on the matter.
The text in Hebrews acknowledges that the priests, the descendants of Levi, are also descended from Abram. It is not known if Melchizedek had children, however, his superior blessing of the inferior Abram was passed down through Abram’s descendants.
Some scholars have suggested Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ – a Christophany. In Hebrews 6:20, it says, “Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Taken literally, this implied Jesus was ordained in the order of Melchizedek, however, where is the evidence this order existed? Although the Levite priests descended from someone who had been blessed by Melchizedek, it does not say they were part of the order of Melchizedek. The only people mentioned in connection with the order are Melchizedek and Jesus. This has led many to believe they were the same person.
The name Melchizedek meant “king of righteousness” and Salem, the land he ruled, meant “peace”. Therefore, Melchizedek could be said to be the “King of Peace”. Is not “King of Peace” also an epithet for Jesus Christ?
As with all mysteries of the Bible, there is no proof that Melchizedek and Jesus are the same person or incarnation. People can speculate all they like but it is impossible to come up with an answer. What can be ascertained from the Bible is Melchizedek was a king as well as a priest. He believed in one God, as evidenced in his blessing of Abram. Melchizedek was deemed worthy in Abram’s eyes, hence he gave a tenth of his spoils. This is all that can be said with a degree of certainty.
Melchizedek is also a 30-litre wine bottle often used for champagne but, whilst this may have been named after the priest-king, it has no reflection on his character!
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon