Higher priesthood of Melchizedek part 1
by John Thomas Lowe
Higher priesthood of Melchizedek
Let us dive into his biblical story and relevance for Christians today! Who was Melchizedek, mentioned in the Old and New Testaments? How was he a priest of God Most High? Why did Abram (Abraham) give him a tithe?
Higher Priesthood of Melchizedek
Though not apparent to Abram at the time, the mysterious priesthood of Melchizedek pointed forward to the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ. He ministers grace and mercy to us based on His sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 7:11–28).
Melchizedek was one of those puzzling people in the Bible who appears only briefly but is mentioned again as an example of holiness and righteous living. He was born in Salem, in Canaan, which later became Jerusalem. His name means "king of righteousness," and King of Salem's title means "king of peace." Melchizedek clung to God Most High and served him faithfully in an era of paganism and idolatry.
The Gracious Melchizedek
The startling fact about Melchizedek is that although he was not a Jew, he worshiped God Most High, the one true God. The Bible speaks of no other people in Canaan who worshipped the one true God. After God rescued the Jews from Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land, God ordered Joshua to destroy all the Canaanite tribes because they were wicked idolaters.
Melchizedek blessed Abram and later renamed Abraham after Abram rescued his nephew Lot from enemy captivity and brought him back with other people and goods. Abram honored Melchizedek by giving him one-tenth of the plunder of battle or a tithe. Melchizedek's graciousness is contrasted with the rudeness of the King of Sodom.
Melchizedek: The Theophany of Christ
God revealed himself to Abraham, but we do not know how Melchizedek learned of the true God. Monotheism, or worship of one God, was rare in the ancient world. Most people worshiped several gods. Some even had dozens of local or household gods represented by manufactured idols.
The Bible does not shed any light on Melchizedek's religious rituals either, except to mention that he brought out "bread and wine" for Abram. This act and Melchizedek's holiness have led some scholars to describe him as a type of Christ, one of those Bible people who show the same qualities as Jesus Christ, Savior of the World. This description fits with no record of Father or mother and no genealogical background in Scripture. Other scholars go a step further, theorizing that Melchizedek may have been a theophany of Christ or a manifestation of deity in temporary form. Putting it simply, a Theophany is described by Merriam Webster as a visible manifestation of a deity.
Understanding Jesus' status as our high priest is a key point in the Book of Hebrews. Just as Melchizedek was not born into the Levitical priesthood but was appointed by God, so Jesus was named our eternal high priest, interceding with God the Father on our behalf.
Hebrews 5:8-10 says: "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."
Many "gods" compete for our attention, but only one true God exists. He is worthy of our worship and obedience. If we keep our focus on God instead of frightening circumstances, God will strengthen and encourage us so we can live a life pleasing to him.
The priesthood of Melchizedek required one sacrifice for sins (Jesus), whereas the Levitical priesthood made endless sacrifices daily. Melchizedek is seen as a divine being in the text and is referred to as "El" or "Elohim," titles usually reserved for God.
Why is Melchizedek compared to Jesus?
Some Christians hold that Melchizedek was a type of Christ, while others hold that Melchizedek indeed was Christ.
In the episode, Melchizedek meets Abraham on his return from battle, gives him bread and wine (which has been interpreted by some Christian scholars as a precursor of the Eucharist so that Melchizedek's name entered the canon of the Roman mass), and blesses Abraham in the name of "God Most High" (in Hebrew El, ʿElyon). In return, Abraham gives him a tithe of the booty.
Melchizedek is an old Canaanite name meaning "My King Is the god Sedek" or "My King Is Righteousness" (the meaning of the similar Hebrew equivalent). Salem, of which he is said to be king, is probably Jerusalem. Psalm 76:2 refers to Salem to imply that it is synonymous with Jerusalem, and the reference in Genesis 14:17 to "the King's Valley" further confirms this identification. The God whom Melchizedek serves as a priest is "El ʿElyon," again a name of Canaanite origin, probably designating the high God of their pantheon - a group of exceptionally respected, famous, or important people.
"the pantheon of the all-time greats." (Later, the Hebrews adopted another Canaanite name as a name for God.)
For Abraham to recognize the authority and authenticity of a Canaanite priest-king is startling and has no parallel in biblical literature. This story may have reached its final formulation in the days of King David, serving as an explanation for David's making Jerusalem his headquarters and setting up the priesthood there. Abraham's paying tribute to a Jerusalem priest-king then would anticipate the time when Abraham's descendants would bring tithes to the priests of Jerusalem ministering in the sanctuary at the Davidic capital. The story may also relate to the conflict between the Levite priests descended from Abraham and the Zadokite priests of Jerusalem. The Zadokites monopolized the Jerusalem priesthood until they were forcibly taken to Babylon. They later changed their allegiance to Yahweh, the Hebrew God.
Melchizedek Makes His Only Appearance
Genesis 14 starts as a chronicle of war. A group of cities, including Sodom and Gomorrah, were under the thumb of King Kedorlaomer of Elam. After 12 years of servitude, there was an uprising, which Kedorlaomer quashed vigorously, seizing captives and booty from the rebelling cities.
Genesis 14 tells us that among those captured was Lot, the nephew of "Abram the Hebrew." At this point in the story, Abram was not yet Abraham because he had yet to make a covenant with God. However, Abram was a wealthy and powerful landowner, so he decided to save his nephew. Abram took 318 well-trained servants and attacked Kedorlaomer at night, chasing the enemy to Damascus and retrieving the stolen goods and people, including Lot.
Lot and his family lived in Sodom. Here's where things get interesting. When Abram makes his triumphant return, he is first greeted by the king of Sodom (identified earlier in the chapter as Bera). However, before the king of Sodom has a chance to talk, Genesis introduces a new character not previously mentioned in the long lists of warring kings. In verses 18-20, it says:
Then Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was a 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."
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
As we will see, a lot has been made of those short verses. Here was a priest of "God Most High" — understood as the one true God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — blessing Abram, who would soon become the patriarch of God's chosen people. Moreover, Abram was paying a tithe to this high priest, whose elevated position and authority predate all ancient prophets.
However, right after this momentous occasion in the history of monotheism, Melchizedek disappears. In the next verse, we are back to the king of Sodom, who offers Abram a share of the spoils, which Abram, being a righteous man, refuses.
Melchizedek in Genesis
"And Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. (He was a priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!" And Abram gave him a tenth of everything." (Genesis 14:18-20)
Melchizedek brought out bread and wine to Abraham. His priesthood typified the High Priesthood of Christ, who gives his precious body and blood to the faithful in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
Two of the many reasons for the superiority of the order of Melchizedek include:
1. Melchizedek blessed Abraham. Aaron was a descendant of Abraham through Levi. Thus, in blessing Abraham, Melchizedek also blessed Levi and Aaron. It is always the greater who blesses, the lesser in clerical authority.
2. Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek, and in this act, so did Levi and Aaron (Hebrews 7). Therefore, salvation comes through the superior order.