• Lori

Genesis 14: Melchize-Who???

Updated: Aug 4

Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash

When Abram returned from his food-finding mission in Egypt (Genesis 12), he was rich with silver, gold, and livestock—especially livestock. He and his nephew Lot had so much livestock grass was running short and the herders were getting cranky. It was time to spread out.

So Abram surveyed the land around them and said to Lot, “You pick.” Lot chose the land lush with grass and home to the city of Sodom. (Interesting, isn’t it, that the land Lot chose was compared to the garden where his ancestors chose death and the land where his descendants became slaves? Give it some thought, and you’ll get a glimpse of what Lot was in for.)

Now, just in case Abram was feeling he got the short end of the stick (does anyone even know what that means anymore?) the LORD was right there to reassure him: “Look. It’s all yours, even the land to the east. Walk around; take a look. It all belongs to you.”

It's my tendency is to imagine Abram walking around in a big and barren space, empty except for the sheep. Not so! The Canaanites and Perizzites lived in the land. And while Abram was putting down stakes in the middle of them, trouble was brewing to the east. The Canaanite kings had been kowtowing to the kings of the east for twelve years, but they had had it! Now thanks to their new neighbor Abram, year thirteen was about to prove an unlucky one for their oppressors.

The story goes like this: On their way west, the kings of the east came up against the soldiers of Sodom, and the easterners handily won. Part of their plunder was Abram’s nephew, and they carried him off to the east. When Abram got word, he took 318 soldiers and went after them. When they met, God’s man handily won.

All this in introduction to one of the strangest characters in the Bible: Melchizedek. I hadn’t spent much time studying Melchizedek before, simply because there isn’t much to study.

Here’s the record in Genesis:

After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). (Genesis 14:17, NIV)

(It seems when Abram went to rescue the citizens of Sodom, the king of Sodom stayed home. But when Abram returned with the booty, the king was suddenly moved to go out and meet him.)

The king of Sodom barely had time to congratulate Abram when another king stepped forward:

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” (Genesis 14:18-20a, NIV)

There. That’s it. Three verses about Melchizedek and it’s on to the rest of the story. But those three verses are pregnant with meaning. Just who is this obscure Melchizedek?

He was both a king and a priest. His name meant “my king is righteousness.” He reigned in a place called “peace.” He served El Elyon—“God Most High.” He glorified God by blessing Abram.

All these answers stir up some really good questions, chief of which is, how did a Canaanite king know the God of Abram?

Some scholars will tell you he didn’t—that Melchizedek’s “el” was not Abram’s “El” but simply the Canaanites’ chief god in charge of a pantheon; that Melchizedek was high priest of the Canaanites’ gods, not a priest of God Most High.

Keep reading, scholars.

One thousand years later, David is singing a song about God Most High and what God Most High says about Jesus when out pops,

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4, NIV)

Check your concordances. This is the first mention of the mysterious high priest of Salem since we were introduced to him in Genesis 14. Yet David just throws out his name like everyone listening knows who he is! In this song, God Most High is telling His Son that He has made Him like Melchizedek. (So thumbs down on the theory that Melchizedek was the high priest of some idols. God Most High would certainly pick a better role model for His Son.)

And that’s that. One phrase in a prophetic song and we hear nothing of Melchizedek again.

Until another thousand years have passed.

Jesus’ ministry on earth has come and gone. The message of the kingdom is spreading, persecution is increasing, and some are wondering if by forsaking the long-standing tradition of temple worship to follow this invisible Jesus, they’ve made a big mistake.

The writer of the book of Hebrews, kind of a mystery man himself, is encouraging the children of Abraham, now followers of Jesus, that the priesthood of the temple is not the agent of redemption, but the priesthood of Jesus is. And boom! There it is again: Jesus is a priest “after the order of Melchizedek.”

Thus begins a three-chapter exhortation (Hebrews 5-7) that mentions Melchizedek time and time again as if his readers know who he is.

And we, though listening from afar and knowing next to nothing about the almost anonymous king of Canaan, are invited to listen in as the teacher of the Hebrews explains the superiority of Jesus, the one made priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” But to understand this first-century teacher, we have to put on the mindset of a first-century Jewish believer.

To the Jew, lineage meant everything. You were who you were because of who you came from. To be a priest, you had to come from the tribe of Levi. No exceptions. To be the high priest, you had to come from the line of Aaron. No excuses. But now, after a lifetime of honoring the Aaronic priesthood, these believers were asked to honor as priest a man from the tribe of Judah.

The teacher asks them:

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? (Hebrews 7:11, NIV)

He’s trying to assure them that this new high priest, this mysterious Jesus, is far superior to any priest from the line of Aaron. He is a priest in the order of Melchizedek.

So what did he mean?

Jesus is both priest and king.

In Old Covenant government, you couldn’t be both a priest and a king. You were a king from the line of David, or you were a priest from the line of Aaron. You couldn’t be both. David, from the line of Judah, came close, but that’s another story for another day. But Jesus from the line of David, destined to King, was also made a priest. Here is a ruler who prays.

His prayers aren’t the prayers of a man dressed in fine linen but of a man clothed in human flesh, acquainted with our struggles and pain:

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:7-10, NIV)

Jesus is the King of Righteousness and the Prince of Peace.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from that time and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:6-7, NIV)

The place Melchizedek reigned—Salem—became the city of Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the city of the great King.

Beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth, like the heights of Zaphon (the sacred mountain of the Canaanites) is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King. (Psalm 48:1, NIV)

Jesus was made priest of God Most High.

Under the Old Covenant, the office of high priest passed from father to son. When a father retired or died, a son stepped up. Character wasn’t a qualification.

Strangely, Melchizedek’s genealogy was never recorded. He had a mom and dad, yes, but who they were wasn’t a part of this priestly equation. He was a Canaanite, for goodness sake! Melchizedek was a priest because the God Most High made him one.

Likewise, Jesus:

Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:

“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’”

Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.

(Hebrews 7:20b-22, NIV)

He glorifies God by blessing us.

Abraham was the patriarch of the Hebrews, their honored father, blessed by God with a “forever” promise, but as he returned victorious in battle, his army, those rescued, and the king of Sodom watched as he knelt for the blessing of a Canaanite king.

Melchizedek may have been sent by God to remind them from whom Abram’s blessing had come. Perhaps God intended to make His name known among the -ites. In any case, Melchizedek’s blessing wasn’t about Abram but about God.

And here’s where we come in.

One far greater than us has blessed us. All that we have comes from Him. All that we are is because of Him. The King of the universe stepped out of His place of honor to bless us with an eternal blessing: a new lineage and a new life.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human de­­cision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13, NIV)

The blessing He gives us is a “forever” promise, not because of who we are but because of what He did.

And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. (Hebrews 7:15-16, NIV)

Like Melchizedek’s, Jesus’ priesthood didn’t end at death. His life was indestructible, His priesthood eternal.

Likewise, us.

We’ve been made kings and priests forever and given indestructible life. But that’s another story for another day.

If you have, like I have, spent time in these chapters and have come away a bit bewildered, don’t feel bad. After writing to relate to the Hebrews how Jesus’ priesthood is like Melchizedek’s, the teacher to the Hebrews said,

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are so slow to understand. (Hebrews 5:11, NIV)

Well, then. It’s highly unlikely we’ll come to a full understanding of Melchizedek in a 2,000-word blog, but I encourage you to study more, along with me, the fascinating book of Hebrews to learn, along with me, more about our High Priest and King—Jesus.