“Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. 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.” He gave him a tenth of all.” Gen. 14:17-20
We may well read the second half of Genesis 14 and not come away with much initially. We will probably make note of Melchizedek, and if we are a Jew we may scratch our head at him a bit; We see that he is the “King of Salem” (which is believed to be speaking of Jerusalem), and we see that a tithe is paid to him, but how can he be a priest of God Most High when the priesthood has not yet been instituted? And if we are a Christian, we say this is a pre-incarnation of Jesus the Messiah, or a picture of He who was, and is to come. The book of Hebrews in the New Testament speaks to this effect. In any event, there is certainly importance to this encounter with Melchizedek, but there is also much more to glean from the last eight verses of this chapter, and so I will cover it in several postings. The first will focus on the person of Melchizedek, and the priesthood.
First, what is in a name? The general interpretation is that Melchizedek’s name means “rightful king” (malki-tzedek). King of Salem is understood to mean “King of Jerusalem”. The Hebrew for Salem is Shalem/Shalom, which means “peace”. And so this Melchizedek is the “rightful king of peace”. But he is also a priest (14:18) as we also see in Psalm 110:4:
“The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.””
This priesthood both precedes and succeeds that of Aaron and the Levites, and is used as a comparison by God in the Psalm above of a different order of priesthood – an eternal priesthood. The book of Hebrews, chapter 7, speaks to a great degree of the conceptual implications of a different priesthood:, and Jesus being the ‘Priest according to the Order of Melchizedek.’
“The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently.” Hebrews 7:23-24
It is noted in the book of Hebrews that Melchizedek did not meet the genealogical requirement of the law to become a priest, and draws this parallel to Christ, stating “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.” (Hebrews 7:14)
And so interesting implications present themselves through this meeting with Melchizedek, to which the author of the book of Hebrews makes a convincing argument. We are hard-pressed not to acknowledge a superior order of priesthood which is eternal, as this comes directly from the Hebrew scriptures. But those who follow Judaism are not convinced that a new high priest has come and a final atonement has taken place. If you are unfamiliar, I urge you to read the book of Hebrews, or at least chapter 7.