Summary: The author of Hebrews takes Melchizedek, a shadowy figure, and shows that he was a prototype of the Lord Jesus Christ - the true king of Righteousness
If I asked you to name the most important people in the Old Testament I doubt that Melchizedek would be on your list, much less at the top. He appeared once, in Genesis 14 and he was referred once more, in Psalm 110. You could hardly call this “top billing,” but the Holy Spirit reached back into the Old Testament and used these two packages to show the Hebrew Christians, and indeed us today, the wonder and glory of the Son of God
In Genesis 14 we read how Melchizedek met and blessed Abraham after Abraham had rescued Lot. (Lot was living in Sodom when it was attacked and he and the rest of his family and the other inhabitants were carried off as captives.) This story was picked up by David in Psalm 110:4 – a Messianic psalm, as confirmed by Jesus in Mk. 12:36. The only other place where we read about Melchizedek is in Hebrews. There have already been three references to Melchizedek in chapters 5 &6 and Ch 7 starts to go into more detail. It seems rather strange that the book of Hebrews makes so much of Melchizedek when we know so little about him! All we know is that he was:
• a contemporary of Abraham
• the king of righteousness – that’s what his name means
• the king of Salem – probably what later became Jerusalem . Salem means peace so he was also the king of peace
• the priest of God Most High
• provided refreshments for Abraham and his strike-force after the battle – probably as an expression of gratitude for freeing them from the enemy armies
• blessed Abraham
• was given a tithe (a tenth part) of the spoils by Abraham
The author takes this shadowy figure from Genesis and the Psalms to show that he was a prototype for the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the king of Righteousness and Peace as well as a priest who is infinitely better than Aaron. As David recorded in Ps 110:4 The LORD has sworn And will not relent, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.”
We know nothing of Melchizedek’s origins or genealogy – a bit strange since so much of the early part of Genesis is given over to such things. The Jews of old claimed that He was Shem – Noah’s son. If you assume that there are no gaps in the genealogies in the book of Genesis then this is possible, as Abraham would have been 100 years old when Shem died. On the other hand there is not the slightest evidence to suggest that it was Shem. (If there aren’t any gaps Abraham’s life overlapped those of all his male ancestors right back to Noah and 4 of them outlived him – in Noah’s case by 385 years. Now that is weird, isn’t it! Imagine remembering all those birthdays and writing all those Christmas cards! Just saying hello would have been quite something – Hello great, great, great, great, great, great, great, granddad, and think of the family get togethers!)
There is no account of Mel’s parents, his birth, or death. V3 describes him as being without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life. This makes some commentators think that Mel was the Lord Jesus Himself, in a pre incarnate appearance – a Theophany in theological jargon. But v3 also says Mel was made like the Son of God so this seems unlikely. Otherwise Jesus was a type of himself!
The most likely explanation is that the writer was using poetic licence to emphasise an important point and as Josephus said he was a godly Canaanite prince; someone who acted as the priest for his family and followers. Melchizedek was a mere man, albeit an extraordinary one. It is interesting that v3 tells us that Melchizedek was made like the Son of God. That is to say, that God overruled in the key details of Mel’s life so that they pre-figured Christ. Moses could, no doubt, have written a great deal more about Melchizedek, but writing by divine inspiration he withheld everything that didn’t serve the intended purpose. In other words God prepared him to be a type of the promised Messiah and, indeed, as both priest and king he provides a beautiful illustration of the Lord Jesus.
It is sad that Mel and Abraham were almost the only ones around who preserved the pure worship of God. On one side were Sodom and Gomorrah, and on the other the Canaanites. They were surrounded by ungodly men. No doubt, as today, there were many more like Lot who loved God, after a fashion, but compromised their faith because they wanted the World and all that it offered. How much pain this compromise brought Lot and his family and how much harm it does to us today – but that’s another study!