The Priestly Order of Melchizedek. Genesis 14:17-24
"And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself." In contrast to Abraham we have the empty-handed king of Sodom. He comes out to meet Abraham and has nothing with him. What he is looking for, we find, is he just wants to get his people back and perhaps some slaves, and work a deal. In contrast to that we have the generous Melchizedek who is coming with bread and wine. This just seems to fit Near-Eastern practices of welcoming troops home and brining food and refreshment to them after the battle. Melchizedek is thinking in terms of the needs of Abraham and his allies and servants, not what he is going to get out of it. So he is generous and a picture of grace orientation. The corrected translation of verse 18 should read, "But Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine." There is the contrast between his generosity and grace orientation versus the lack of such on the part of the king of Sodom.
Now we are introduced to this somewhat enigmatic figure in the Old Testament, Melchizedek. What is so tremendous about this is as we go through the narrative in Genesis there is all of a sudden this meeting with Melchizedek. He is mentioned in about three verses and then we move on and never hear from him again until we get to Psalm 110:1, 4 where we once again get an indication and a signification and an interpretation of the interpretation of Melchizedek. Psalm 110:1, "A Psalm of David. The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand…" Then Psalm 110:4, "The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." Those two verses are some of the most oft-quoted verses in Hebrews, and they all tie into helping us understand that this little episode that we often tend to just pass over in the two or three verses in Genesis really sets the stage and the foundation for understanding the present time royal priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Hebrews chapters five and seven the entire structure of the argument is built upon the fact that Jesus Christ is designated a priest not after the order of the Levites in the Mosaic law but after the order of Melchizedek. So we have to understand something about Melchizedek because it helps us understand who Jesus Christ and what He is doing in this dispensation. One of the great things about this is it shows how God is working behind the scenes in history. Abraham has no idea of what the bigger picture is in this meeting with Melchizedek, and nobody else does at that time. It is not until the later references that its significance is understood. But this meeting that takes place is designed by God the Father in history in order to picture for us a tremendous event that is transpiring in history at that point, and it has a spiritual and theological significance that goes far beyond what is actually happening physically at that time.
A point of application here is that most of the time we don't understand what God is doing in our own life. We are too close to it, we don't see the dynamics, but nevertheless we can see from this instance as well as many others in Scripture that God is working behind the scenes in an incredible way to produce His desired outcome in history. It is just another reaffirmation that all these books in the Bible just didn't happen haphazardly, they are not just the product of man's imagination, but they are all inspired by God and integrate with one another, even though they have been written over a 2000-year period of time by over 50 different authors with no contradiction, no discrepancy, and things that are mentioned in one book by one author are then brought out and developed and God the Holy Spirit gives them new application in other places.
To understand Melchizedek we must understand that all we have is just a couple of verses here that mention him—verses 18 and 19. There are three suggestions for the name or title Melchizedek. The first is that the meaning is my king is tsediq, and tsediq is the Hebrew word for righteous. So this would be translated "my king is righteous." A second meaning is, "Milku [a title of maybe some pagan deity] is righteous." But the correct meaning of the name is "King of righteousness." So there is this contrast between the king of perversion on the one hand and the king of righteousness on the other hand. We know that this is not his proper name but that it is a title because of Joshua 10:1, "Now it came to pass, when Adonizedek king of Jerusalem …" Adonai means Lord, and it means the same thing: "The Lord of righteousness." Later on when David is the king he has a faithful priest named Zadok, and that name comes from this same root as zedek, meaning righteousness. So this is a name or title that is passed on for royalty and priests throughout that period in Israel's history. Melchizedek's identity is not revealed in Scripture and we really don't know who he is but it is probable that we can have a pretty good idea. Some people think that this is a theophany. In Hebrews chapter five it says that he is without father and without mother, with no genealogy and this is like the Lord Jesus Christ, and they take that literally to mean that Melchizedek didn't have a mother or father so it must be a theophany, the pre-incarnate Christ. However, there are a number of things that prevent us from taking that interpretation. A theophany is an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ—from the Greek THEOS [qeoj], meaning God, and PHONEO [fonew], meaning to appear or become manifest. There is also another term "Christophany" which is an appearance of Christ, and that is what is used after the resurrection. The second thing we must recognize is that theophanies are always referred to by a title of deity within the context of the passage or somewhere else. For example, when the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon in Judges chapter six, Gideon addresses the angel of the Lord by the title Yahweh. Hagar in Genesis referred to the angel of the Lord who appeared to her as Yahweh. So the Scripture doesn't leave us to guess who this is. Thirdly, theophanies are not given different names, not given formal names. Their names are titles of deity, such as the angel of the Lord. But here we have this individual with a formal title, Melchizedek, and that is not characteristic of a theophany. Fourth, Melchizedek is said to be the ruler or the king in Salem, thus he is not a theophany. That doesn't fit. Theophanies were just temporary appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ for purposes of communicating special revelation in the Old Testament. Rabbinic tradition in the Mishna, the collected writings and sayings of the rabbis at the time of Christ, the Talmud which was the later rabbinical commentary on the Mishna, the Midrash which was commentary on the Scripture, and other rabbinic writings up into the middle ages, are unanimous in identifying Melchizedek as a historical figure, Shem the son of Noah.
We can't rely upon that as we can on Scripture because the Scripture does not make that point. But what is interesting is that if this is Shem who is the one identified by Noah as the one, "blessed be the God of Shem," that we studied back in Genesis chapter nine after they came off the ark, now it is Shem who is saying Blessed is Abraham." The spiritual blessing that Noah passes to Shem is now being passed from Shem to Abraham and to Abraham's descendants. That is remarkable because it reinforces the dispensational shift that is taking place in these chapters. When we talked about Genesis 12:1-3 we usually talked about that as the Abrahamic covenant, but that is really God's mandate to Abraham to get out of his country to go to the land that He is going to show him where He will make his name great, etc. That is the foundation for the Abrahamic covenant, but the Abrahamic covenant really isn't cut. The initial ratification of the Abrahamic covenant is in Genesis 15, but right before that happens we have, as it were, the passing of the torch from Melchizedek who, even if it isn't Shem, clearly represents the Noahic civilization worship of God because he worships El Elyon, the Mighty God, the possessor of heaven and earth. That title is significant. He uses it, Abraham uses it, and we are told in a couple of verses that Yahweh is the identical to the name El Elyon. So El Elyon is the title used by gentiles in the worship of God, whereas Yahweh is associated with the giving of the Abrahamic covenant and specifically the Mosaic covenant to Israel. That is the name that to a Jew represents covenantal loyalty and the God of the covenant.
Melchizedek's actual identity is not mentioned but his significance is that here is a Gentile royal priest who now blesses the head of the Jewish race. What the writer of Hebrews is going to come along and say is that this shows that Abraham is inferior to Melchizedek because he receives a blessing from Melchizedek. That shows that he viewed Melchizedek as his spiritual superior. Because Abraham is inferior to Melchizedek anyone who is born from Abraham, any of his descendants, are by virtue of their coming from Abraham also are inferior to Melchizedek. His great grandchildren include the twelve sons of Jacob, including Levi. Therefore if Levi as a descendant of Abraham is inferior to Melchizedek, then the Levitical priesthood is inferior to the Melchizedekian priesthood. This is what the writer of Hebrews picks up on. This shows that Jesus had to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek. He couldn't be a priest after the order of Levi because that would limit His priesthood to Israel. Furthermore, Jesus Christ could not have been a priest after the order of Levi because He wasn't born from the tribe of Levi, He was born as the greater son of David of the tribe of Judah. Because He comes from Judah he is not qualified to become a priest to Israel. But because He flows from a greater priesthood, the priesthood of Melchizedek, He can be a priest to all nations. The priesthood of Melchizedek is based on regeneration and one's spiritual condition, whereas the Levitical priesthood had to do with one's tribal birth, genealogy. The only qualification to be a Levitical priest was to be born in the tribe of Levi, there were no spiritual qualifications listed. There was no need to be saved, to be in fellowship, to be anything; only to go through the ritual. But to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek required being regenerate. So the Melchizedekian priesthood as a Gentile priesthood is a priesthood for all the nations, whereas the Jewish priesthood is limited. So what God is doing here in this event is laying the foundation, 2000 years before Christ, for the unique royal priesthood that Jesus Christ is going to practice in the church age, and that lays the foundation for the royal priesthood of every believer in the church age.
Genesis 14:19, "And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth." "Possessor of heaven and earth" is the qal participle of qanah, which has the idea of acquiring, buying, or purchasing something. It is the idea that God is the one who owns everything. Some translations say, "And he blessed him, saying." Literally, he did two things: He blessed him, and he said. The word for "blessing" here at the beginning, "And he blessed him," is the piel imperfect of barach, which means to bless. The piel imperfect is the intensified stem and here we see that Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The word "blessing" in the qal stem means to kneel down or to praise. It comes to mean in the piel stem to bless. The idea here is that Melchizedek first praises Abraham for what he has done in his grace orientation and what he has accomplished. Then he shifts from what Abraham did in his spiritual life to the God who supplied the victory. So he starts with what Abraham did and then goes to the source of the victory.
Genesis 14:20, "And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered your enemies into your hand. And he gave him tithes of all." Here we really have to understand the nuance of blessing here. It is praise. In praise to God we render praise for what He has done for us. Praise to God is an attitude where we express our gratefulness for everything He has done for us. And this is what is at the core of this whole episode: grace orientation and the gratitude that is demonstrated by Abraham toward God for the Abrahamic covenant, and as a result of what God has given him he is able to go out and be a blessing to others around him. And because of what God does in giving him victory then Melchizedek comes out and blesses Abraham and passes on the blessing that is handed down from Noah. As a result of that, then, Abraham expresses his gratitude and he gives a tithe of all the spoils to Melchizedek.
Genesis 14:21, "And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself." The king of Sodom puts all the focus on what he is going to get out of it.
Genesis 14:22-24, "And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up my hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is yours, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich: save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion." Abraham shows a tremendous principle it terms of giving, and he shows something else that is important here. Abraham declines the offer, but what we notice here is that Abraham is prepared for the offer. He isn't just bouncing through life thinking God is just going to take care of things for him, he recognizes he has to think, he has to plan, he has to think in terms of what might happen. This is the mark of a good leader. A good leader is a planner, he thinks in terms of what happens if this happens? What happens if things don't work out positively? What happens under this situation? What happens under that situation? Abraham has thought this through. What happens if I go back and somehow have to interact with this perverted king of Sodom and he wants to get some of these possessions or he wants to get the credit for this? He has clearly thought that through, otherwise why would he have sworn this oath to the Lord? He has prepared himself for that situation. Before he ever got there the text says he raised his hand to the Lord and the verb there is a hiphil perfect, and the perfect tense in the Hebrew is used here in the perfective aspect referencing the present results of the completed past action. He has thought through the circumstances that might occur and has made a decision, so he made a vow to the Lord that he would not give up the spoils to the king of Sodom, but that he would give a certain amount to the Lord God most high, the possessor of heaven and earth.
In terms of application we have an important principle here: We must learn to think, plan and forecast situations that may come up in our lives and how we are going to handle them. Usually we need to learn how to handle adversity, but often we need to know and think through what we are going to do and think through what we if have something positive happen, of suddenly God dumps prosperity in our laps. Prosperity can destroy an individual and that often happens with folks who win the lottery. We need to think in terms of opportunities to witness. How are we going to work the gospel into a conversation? What are some of the things I could talk about that could turn into an opportunity to talk about spiritual things? In other words, if we are not prepared to turn the conversation to the gospel it won't happen. We also ought to give thought to opportunities to give, opportunities to serve, opportunities to have a ministry in the local church. We ought also to understand that there are various threats to our spiritual life. Abraham thought about that, he realized that this would be a threat to his spiritual life, a threat to the glory of God. He wanted God to get all the credit for the victory and he wasn't going to share it with the king of Sodom. We need to think in terms of various crises. We have to prepare ourselves before hand. Think it over and over. What doctrine are we going to apply? What promises are we going to claim? How are we going to think it through in terms of doctrinal rationales? We have to be prepared for these things ahead of time? This is what Abraham has done. His vow is given in verses 23 and 24. Abraham will take nothing lest you take the opportunity to claim some role in this victory.
The principle here is that the plans of God and the purposes of God are not going to be funded by the unsaved, the unregenerate. We are always going to trust in the provision of the Lord through those who are saved and those who are part of the body of Christ. The only exception is in verse 24, "only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me." In other words, those who went with him are going to take the spoils enough to survive and take care of their basic needs. And he is going to provide for the logistics and the supplies for his allies who went with them.
This brings us to the basic importance of Melchizedek, and that is that Melchizedek sets a standard. As a royal high priest, as a Gentile, who has the basis for a priesthood for all of the human race in contrast to the Levitical priesthood which is only for Jews. This, then, becomes the basis for the royal high priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus is becomes a type of the kind of priesthood that every believer enjoys in the church age because we are all royal priests in the royal family of God.