The History of Melchizedek: King of Salem
“The History of Melchizedek: King of Salem”
Read the text: Hebrews 7:1-10
A while back, I took my family to a restaurant for lunch. While we were eating, I noticed an older gentleman off to our right that was obviously amused by watching the Day Family partake of their lunch. As we neared the end of our meal, the man approached me and told me that he enjoyed watching us eat our meal and that our children were well behaved. After a short history about how he had raised 5 sons himself, he reached down and took our bill and said that he would be paying for our meal! I thanked him and he headed out to the front of the store. I got the children together and went out to thank the man once again and he was gone. We were left in awe as we didn’t even get to catch the man’s name as it all seemed to happen so fast. This was a true blessing from the Lord by the hands of a stranger. Rare, but it reminded me of the Lord and how His kindness is often revealed through the hands of strangers, leaving us no way to repay but only receive. In a similar way, in our text today, a mysterious King mentioned in Genesis is used by the writer to the Hebrews to show that Christ is better than, and superior to, the Aaronic priesthood. Melchizedek by translation means “King of righteousness”. Melchizedek is mentioned in Genesis, and in Psalm 110, but other than that, Melchizedek is not expounded upon in the scripture until here in Hebrews. And for good reason! Christ had not yet come when Melchizedek appeared on the scene. This peculiar figure in the Old Testament may confuse you due to the lack of information given to us about him but even so, the author seeks to answer the Hebrews questions (and our own) concerning who this Melchizedek is, why he is significant, what he did, and how does he prefigure Christ Himself? As the writer of Hebrews takes us back to Genesis 14:17-20. Genesis is an amazing book in that every major doctrine in the Bible finds its home here (at least in seed form) and therefore it should be no surprise that the author of Hebrews takes us there and exposits from this passage who indeed this Melchizedek is just as he used Abraham as an example of faith for us to remember. Let’s look at how our text this morning explains this mysterious King. He does so mainly in 3 points:
- The Identity of Melchizedek (vs. 1,2)
- The Ancestry of Melchizedek(vs. 3)
- The Authority of Melchizedek (vs. 4-10)
- The Identity of Melchizedek
“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him…” We are introduced to this great king because he approached Abraham. How did he do so? Let’s look at Genesis 14:17 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). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth;20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram,“Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”
So, the Hebrews text and the text here in Genesis 14:18 tell us that this Melchizedek is the king of Salem. This is an ancient name for Jerusalem. In fact the kings of Jerusalem seem to prophesy a better king to come. Joshua 10 for example the king of Jerusalem is named, “Adoni-zedek” meaning “the lord is righteous.” This king was a Canaanite king but nonetheless a king of Jerusalem. Of course this is significant in the context of Psalm 110 as this prophetic Psalm of David is pointing to One greater than Himself. The author of Hebrews will help unfold this over the next several chapters. Beside telling us Melchizedek is the king of Salem it also tells us here that he brought bread and wine. In parenthesis it says: “(He was priest of the Most High God)” We will look at this in a moment but you can almost miss it when reading the text. The priesthood of Aaron had not yet been established. The Levites themselves not even in existence yet, let alone the Israelites as a people. In fact, this is the first time in Genesis that the term “priest” is even used. Right here at the beginning of scripture the revealed need for God’s chosen people to have a priest, a mediator, an advocate are all being revealed! It may seem strange that it is in fact this priestly order that stands mysteriously all by itself and yet this is the priestly order that the writer of Hebrews traces to Christ and His priesthood being forever according to this order. It is this Melchizedek that met Abraham when he was returning from battle! This was no small battle but a regional battle that involved several kingdoms. The only reason Abraham got pulled into this was because Lot his nephew had been kidnapped along with all his belongings. So, Abraham did what any family would do, pursue and overtake the enemy to restore what had been taken. It is after this skirmish in which Abraham had taken 318 men into battle with him that this mysterious king from Genesis 14 approaches him. Notice this approach is not to correct or to demand anything, he simply blesses Abraham and brings bread and wine (also a foreshadowing of Christ and the elements in which He inaugurated the New Covenant). This is quite a contrast between what Melchizedek does and the King of Sodom does in asking for the people and then gives the spoils to Abraham, to which Abraham refuses. The blessing is not recorded in Hebrews but Genesis 14 records it this way in verse 19: “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!”
This blessing acknowledges that God has blessed Abraham and God should in turn be blessed for how He delivered Abraham! So, his approach to Abraham is different in nature than the other king, and it may be the reason the Abraham responds the way he does.
Now turn back to Hebrews 7 and look at verse 2. Notice in verse two what Abraham gives him: a tenth of everything. Abraham not only gives a tenth of his goods but does not even desire the rest of the loot as is mentioned in the Genesis passage in his conversation with the king of Sodom. This is also the first appearance of a tithe being given in scripture and that being an acknowledgement of God’s blessing and gift to one superior. So, while we could look at this as the beginning of teaching on giving in scripture or the tithe, time does not permit in this passage to do so. But, it’s an excellent reminder about where we ought to start thinking about giving to One as great as Christ who is greater than Melchizedek who received a tithe.
“He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace.” This mysterious king has a title of King of Peace and King of Righteousness. Now a levitical priest could never be a priest-king. Yet, here we have a king who is also a priest of the Most High God. He foreshadows the character of Christ as Zechariah says, “ Yes it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.” (Zechariah 6:13) Further Isaiah 9:6,7 prophesied that the Messiah would be the “Prince of Peace” Further, 1 John 2:1 calls Jesus “the Righteous One” and “our righteousness” ( 1 Cor. 1:30) and Eph. 2:14 “ For He Himself is our peace”. This Melchizedek is a powerful priest king revealed as a king of peace and righteousness. It is this king who blesses Abraham and the king that Abraham honors and humbles himself before. Now we have seen his identity as a king of righteousness, let’s look at our second point, His Ancestry:
II. His Ancestry (vs. 3)
“ He is 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.”
Melchizedek does not have a father or mother or genealogy. There is no record of his birth or death. No beginning nor end, but resembles the Son of God. This obviously parallels the truth that Christ is indeed eternal. His priesthood continues forever. Why? Because he is eternal! A priesthood matches one’s mortality or immortality. This passage does not necessarily mean that Melchizedek was immortal but it makes the point that resembles the Son of God. There is contrast to the Levitical Priesthood is that they were tied to genealogy of Aaron. Jesus was not a descendant of Levi but Judah. So, Jesus Himself is not in the Levitical priestly line but more like this order of Melchizedek as the author of Hebrews is making reference. Both Melchizedek and Christ were appointed as “priests of the Most High God”. Further, Levites served only an allotted amount of time whereas Melchizedek had no beginning and no end. Just as Christ. There is no record in the scriptures that this connection existed apart from the Psalms that Christ would have a priesthood like Melchizedek and not like a levitical line. The author of Hebrews is wanting to show these persecuted Jewish Christians, that Christ is better than the Levitical system. In fact, the absence of the temple and the sacrificial system just years from this point would have given new Jewish converts yet another reason to put their confidence in the person of Christ being better than anything they had ever known. They were being called to embrace Christ for all He is and to grow in their understanding how Christ is and would continue to be better than anything they had ever known before, in fact Christ was all that they were ever to treasure. As Jesus said in John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
So, we have looked at Melchizedek’s identity, his ancestry, and now our third and final point:
III. The Authority of Melchizedek (4-10)
Verse 4 starts by speaking of Melchizedek’s greatness. In fact, it is this great man that receives the tithe from Abraham. The author of Hebrews goes deeper to show us that this act of tithing to Melchizedek is in fact prior to the law which commands Levites to receive tithes from the people of Israel as if this pattern put forth by Abraham to Melchizedek became a pattern from which the Levitical standard came. Beyond this however Levites were just brothers and sisters with the other tribes of Israel. But, Melchizedek was not of them but altogether different. He received the tithe from Abraham and blessed him as the one to who the promises of God belonged. This paying of the tithe was an acknowledgement that he was not as great as this Melchizedek. This altogether separate priest king is superior to the patriarchs, the priesthood and anyone else! He has the ability to bless Abraham and is indeed Christ like in the way he does so. The comparison and contrast of Melchizedek to the priesthood reveals this superiority and that gifts are given to the one who blesses. Priests are mere mortals but this Melchizedekian order continues on! His continuity as a high priest foreshadows that the resurrected Christ lives to make intercession for His people! Finally, the author of Hebrews draws the conclusion that Levi being the son of Abraham figuratively paid tithes to Melchizedek showing him to be superior to the Levitical priesthood.
So, in closing, the author of Hebrews has been on a quest since chapter one to not only reveal Christ and His superiority over all things but that in these last days it is how and through whom God speaks! Christ is the Son (ch.1) the founder of Salvation (ch.2) A better Servant than Moses (ch. 3) Our Sabbath (ch. 4) Our Sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin (Ch. 5) Sure and Steadfast Anchor of the soul (ch.6) and here the Sympathizing High Priest who offers us bread and wine as did Melchizedek to Abraham…So, before we look more at the comparison of Christ to Melchizedek next week, a few points of application for us.
- Christ is indeed the Righteous One. Melchizedek was a mere type, but Christ supersedes him. Christ bestows His righteousness on those who come to him believing that indeed He is the righteous one and we are sinners in need of that righteousness. This is a great exchange: His Righteousness for our sin! He is the mediator of Righteousness and peace. The greatest need of man is to be justified before God. Be afraid if your sins are still on your head!
- You have a high priest! or do you?… If Christ indeed is your High Priest, run to Him with your every need! Does the frailty of life concern you? Are you burdened in your work? Are you exhausted trying to raise the next generation? Run to your High Priest. Regularly, boldly, come to His throne of Grace. He is your sympathizing High Priest as Quinn preached so clearly just a few weeks ago. If He is not your High Priest, I urge you to bow to this great priest King!
- Your High priest has approached you as he did Abraham and blessed you from the Most High God! Ephesians 1:3-14, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
- How have you responded to Christ who is better than Melchizedek? What honor have you shown Him? Is He not worthy of not just a tithe but all you are and all you have? If Abraham saw fit to give Melchizedek a tithe, now that Christ is revealed who is greater than Melchizedek, what do you offer Him? In what ways can we be living sacrifices to Him afresh? A reasonable service to One who has given us all things.
- You are a part of His ancestry becoming his brothers and sisters! (John 1:12 – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,…”
- Christ, our high priest offers us Himself this morning that we might make much of Him everywhere we go. We are take Him and His message to the nations! There are many who have never heard of Him!
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