There are many themes in Scripture that run from Old Testament to the New and many persons who first appear early on in the Scriptural narrative and are still mentioned many years after their demise. A good example of this is Abraham the father of faith and David, sweet psalmist of Israel.
Melchizedek is another figure who though mentioned briefly in Genesis is referred to again in Psalms and later in the Epistle to the Hebrews. However, unlike Abraham and David, Melchizedek is a man whose very identity and purpose is shrouded in mystery; yet God has revealed to us all that we need to know about him and the purpose he fulfills in Scripture.
The Man Melchizedek
As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. 5:10 Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec. 5:11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.
Many people have false ideas about Melchizedek, some think he is Shem, Noah's son; others believe he is a theophany—the preincarnate Christ himself. The truth about his person and his purpose however is revealed by patient bible studying.
Melchizedek is seen for the first time in the aftermath of Abraham's rescue of Lot and defeat of the four Confederate kings that sacked Sodom and Gomorrah. On the return of Abraham and his conquering elite "special-ops" fighting force, Melchizedek seemingly out of no where appears in the Scriptural narrative.
And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale. 14:18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. 14:19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: 14:20 And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
If we will understand who Melchizedek is, we have to pay attention what the Bible says and not some fanciful ideas of men that we have heard over the years.
Firstly, Melchizedek here is a king-priest whose domain is Salem, in company of Sodom's king(either the old defeated king, Bela or his successor the Bible does not say) brought bread and wine to Abraham. What is the significance of this bread and wine?
Some people have said that this is the first communion meal, however that interpretation is not consistent with the text.
Two principles of Biblical interpretation will be appropriate here; first is that the Bible will not mean today what it did not mean to those who wrote it or to whom it was first written and who first read it; while it may be reinterpreted in light of new historical events, it does not lose its original, primary meaning, but may only take on more theological significance.
Second principle of interpretation that will help here is that the the simplest, most natural meaning of a text is oftentimes the most accurate; said another way, a text should be interpreted normally(or literally) also allowing for a normal interpretation of figurative lalanguage.
All of this should be done bearing in mind the importance of considering the verses that come before and after the text, the historical and cultural context, the context of the book and the entire context of Scripture in its progressive revelation.
When we apply these principles to Genesis 14, we discover that Moses or his immediate audience will be shocked or surprised to say the least to find out that the bread and wine brought by Melchizedek is a communion meal! In the context where that text is found, the simplest, most natural explanation is that after a battle, Abraham and his servants needed refreshing and that was provided by Melchizedek either as a token of friendship, a normal cultural courtesy or in appreciation of the rescue of the Sodomites.
Secondly, Melchizedek was called the priest of the most high God; what is the significance of this? There are two possible interpretations— the first possibility is that Melchizedek belonged to that class of heathen kings who served both as kings of the people and priests of their deities. The Hebrew word translated most high God is El Elyon and it does not strictly refer to the Jehovah God of the Bible. God normally translates El or Elohim; any god can be called El or Elohim—the God of the Egyptians, Molech, Jehovah God, etc. It is a generic word that is universal.
El was the head of the Canaanite pantheon prevalent in that time, same as Zeus of the Greeks and Olodumare of the Yoruba; and in Canaanitish theology, El is the father of many gods, and sometimes described as the creator of people or of the world. Elyon means “most high”, and since El was the most high of the Canaanite pantheon, it is likely that Melchizedek was a priest of El, the highest god.
Does that seem disconcerting? That Abraham was blessed by a pagan priest? Not totally. A cursory glance through scripture reveals that God's people had various encounters with pagan priests e.g. Joseph married the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On and Moses married the daughter of Midian's King-Priest, Jethro. See Gen41, Exod3
Melchizedek knew about a most high god (in his pagan priestly pantheon) and Abraham knows the true Most High God — Yahweh whose personal name he (Abraham) mentioned in the 22nd verse. So it would seem that Abraham and Melchizedek had a common ground though tenuous.
The second possibility though not as culturally and historically probable as the first is that Melchizedek was a priest of Yahweh the most high God. The reason for this interpretation is that in the Patriarchal period, during which Abraham lived, there were other persons who worshipped God and served as priests particularly as head of their families. A good example of this is Job.
Thirdly, Abraham gave to Melchizedek a tithe of the spoils. What does this mean? Can this be used as a basis for tithing? Not exactly. A thorough study of the Old Testament reveals that one does not give to God a tithe of the spoils of war; in the law of Moses (Num31), a tribute is levied from the spoils of the war which is not a tenth but one part out of a thousand.
The question one is wont to ask then is if Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils in a manner different from the pattern set forth in the Law,why did he give? The answer to this again is in the context — the historical context of that event shows that Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils as a tax mandated by the culture of Canaan. This becomes clear when we notice that
Abraham gave the tenth after he has been received by Melchizedek. And he didn't give it so Melchizedek will bless him, he gave it after Melchizedek has pronounced his blessing.
So what is the writer of Hebrews saying?
Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
Jesus is made an high priest after the order of Melchizedek. This phrase, "the order of Melchizedek" is repeated seven times in the Bible; this repetition itself is an hermeneutic tool as the purpose of repetition is establishment. Jesus is not Melchizedek and His priesthood is not the same as Melchizedek's, however it is foreshadowed by Melchizedek's order.
The significance of the Melchizedekian order of priesthood is four-fold; firstly, it is a royal priesthood (Heb7:1-2); secondly it is an continual priesthood (Heb7:3); thirdly it is not determined by tribal affiliation(Heb7:6-7;14); fourthly, Jesus was sworn in by God's very oath (Heb7:21; Ps110:4).
For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; 7:2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;
The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. 110:4 The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
The Writer of Hebrews like any good theologian, connects the dots between Genesis 14 and Psalm 110; He sees that the literal flesh and blood Melchizedek, the Canaanite priest-king of Salem foreshadows Christ. Firstly, in his name—Melchizedek(from melek and tsedeq) meaning king of righteousness and secondly in the name of his domain —Salem meaning peace.
In these two ways he foreshadows Christ, the true king of Righteousness and the Prince of Peace, therefore what Melchizedek is by name and title, Christ is by nature. So he is not the Christ! He is a king-priest and the interpretation of his name and title points ahead to Christ the King of righteousness and the Prince of peace.
Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.
Again, by virtue of his abrupt entry into and exit from the scriptural narrative and the absence of a genealogy, He foreshadows Christ. Melchizedek had no recorded birth or death ( this does not mean he wasn't born or that he never died — simply means that these events were not recorded), Jesus however as very GOD has no beginning and no ending. He remains eternal and His priesthood does not have an ending.
Although in Christ's humanity, we can see a beginning just like Melchizedek's entry into the text of Scripture, the birth of Jesus was not his beginning as he is the timeless eternal God. See Heb1:10-12; Jn8:56-59
It is important to notice the wording of Hebrews7:3; Melchizedek is MADE LIKE the Son of God. He is not the Son of God; the description of him in Genesis is a literary device that God uses to explain to us the nature and ministry of Christ's priesthood as superior to the Levitical order.
And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: 7:6 But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.
Some have used the Epistle to the Hebrews to teach tithing, that is quite unfortunate as the book essentially teaches how that Jesus and his ministry is superior to the Old Testament and the Levitical order. Here, an analogy is made to show the superiority of Jesus' ministry to the Levitical order.
Melchizedek as the King- priest of the area Abraham travelled through received the tithe from Abraham as the king and blessed him in his capacity as the priest. The writer of Hebrews then alludes to this to prove that if Levi (by proxy) paid tithes to another superior to him(I.e. Melchizedek) , therefore the ministry of Jesus foreshadowed in Melchizedek has to be superior to that of Aaron. Cf vs7-11.
Christ is supreme above all! Melchizedek King of Salem and Priest of the most high God is not the Christ! Only a type of Christ, in his name, his title and the role he played as a king-priest. What he is by interpretation, Jesus is literally and by nature.
Jesus is the true Melchizedek— the true king of righteousness (See Jer23:5, Heb1:8-9) , the true King of Salem—the Prince of Peace (Is9:6) and the true eternal King-Priest who by virtue of the power of his endless life, He has become for us a perfect High priest.
He is our guarantee of the New Covenant of the Grace of God, the one who believes in Him is safe and secure as this Jesus is able to save him to the very end. He's there from now to eternity to save everyone who comes to God through Him, as He is always on the job to speak up for them.
The law with its rites, rituals and practices make no one perfect, only faith in Christ the Righteous king and his redemptive work will save, sanctify and preserve. It is in him, the Prince of Peace that true peace is found. He is all we need and in Him all our needs are met.