Who Was Melchizedek?

Who Was 'The King of Righteousness' of Genesis 14?

T his mysterious Melchizedek (sometimes spelled slightly differently according to the translation) is only mentioned in Genesis 14:18-20 and Psalm 110:4 in the Old Testament and in Hebrews 5:10; 6:20 and 7:1-17 in the New Testament.

The Story in Genesis

In the Genesis account, the king of Elam aided and abetted by three other Mesopotamian kings raids an area bordering the Dead Sea. In the attack and rout carried out by the Mesopotamians, Abraham's nephew Lot, together with his family and possessions, are captured (Genesis 14:1-12).

In response Abraham himself leads an attack force who set out in pursuit of Lot's capturers. Victory is achieved and Lot, his family and possessions are released (13-16).

When Abraham and his army return, Abraham is greeted not only by the leaders of the Dead Sea confederacy but by Melchizedek, king of Salem. This mysterious king offers Abraham bread and wine, as well as his full blessing in his office of 'El Elyon' - 'priest of the most high God.' (verse 18).

Salem is, of course, what would later be called Jerusalem (Psalm 76:2), and 'El Elyon' is a title of the true Creator God, not of the local pagan deities. Without any doubt, Melchizedek viewed Abraham as a man who worshiped the same God as himself (Genesis 14:22) which is why he immediately offered him the bread and wine of the communion of true believers and passed on to him his fullest blessing. In his turn, Abraham too was well aware that Melchizedek worshipped the same true Creator God as himself and showed this by willingly receiving his gifts and blessing, and by giving to him 'a tenth of everything.' So Abraham showed that he viewed this mysterious king of Salem as of a far higher spiritual rank than himself!

Was Melchizedek the One Who Became Jesus?

Many have considered that this king of Salem was God Himself - the one who later was born as Jesus Christ. In other words, they have seen this as a theophany (an appearance of God). This is based mainly on Hebrews 7:3:

'He is without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life.'

However, the Hebrews text is simply making the point here that the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to that of Aaron because it is not based on human descent. Check out Hebrews 7:6,11-16. The point is that this Melchizedek had a priesthood purely by divine appointment - not through the line of Aaron and of course this also applies to the Lord Jesus Christ who is from Judah, rather than Levi.

All of this gives us clear evidence that God's working with Abraham (and the lineage of Israel which came from him) does not preclude God from working with others completely independently. Melchizedek only gets mentioned because Abraham happened to come into contact with him, and both men recognised that they served the same God! Without any question this is highly intriguing and we must assume that our God has also worked with others in the same manner and in other places but we just don't know who these others may have been because it has not - for the present - been revealed to us. What does seem clear is that, if there have been other Melchizedeks, they would not have been idol worshippers and would have given full honour to the Almighty Creator God.

We sometimes assume that God only worked with the children of Abraham, mainly the children of Jacob of course, but the fact that God called the Jews to a special mission and purpose and gave them the Old Covenant revelation plainly does not mean that God has not reserved the right to raise up others in other lands from time to time in order to teach people about the True God. Moreover, missionaries to places like Africa, China and South America were often surprised to be told by the indigenous people of earlier leaders who had taught people to only worship the true Creator God (a mass of evidence occurs in several books including Don Richardson's Eternity In Their Hearts).

What More Does Hebrews Tell Us About 'Melchizedek'?

The superiority of Christ's spiritual priesthood is foreshadowed by this earlier Melchizedek ministry (about which, however, we know almost nothing).

Both have a truly unique ministry which is not based on family pedigree (Hebrews 7:3).

Both are ministries of Grace not based on the heavy rule of law (the Old Covenant was given to Israel much later).

Both are priesthoods with an eternal and unchangeable character (Hebrews 7:3, 23-25).

So Hebrews also points out to those first century Jews who were struggling to come to terms with the revelation of Christ that the Old Covenant was already preceded by a ministry which was far closer to the ministry of Christ than the Old Covenant, burdened as it was by countless laws, requirements and regulations. So the Old Covenant was never intended to be a permanent system:

'The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

And it was not without an oath! 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 for ever."

Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.' (Hebrews 7:18-22, NIV).

And, to sum this up,

'For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect for ever.' (Hebrews 7:28).

Robin A. Brace, 2007.