1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 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. 4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! – Hebrews 7:1-4 (ESV)
To me, Melchizedek is one of the most fascinating characters in all of Scripture. He’s mentioned five times in the Bible: once in Genesis 14, once in Psalm 110 and in chapters five, six and seven in the book of Hebrews. We have already discussed him briefly as we traveled through chapters five and six, but it’s here in chapter seven where we’ll take the most in depth look.
In verses 7:1-4, the writer of Hebrews is referring to the events described in Genesis 14:17-24:
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.”
These events are summarized by the writer as follows:
- (v. 1) “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem…”
- (v. 1) “…priest of the Most High God…”
- (v. 1) “…met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him,”
- (v. 2) “…and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything.”
The idea here is that Abraham met someone greater than himself. Melchizedek was a king and he was a priest, but a militarily victorious Abraham paid respect to him by blessing him and presenting him with a tithe.
The question then becomes, “why did he do this?” Was he scared? Did he fear defeat in some way? Well, ultimately we know that wasn’t the case because of how this relationship is described in Scripture. And the remainder of the passage help to explain how he was viewed by Abraham, and how he should be viewed by us:
- (v. 2) “He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness…”
- (v. 2) “…and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace.”
- (v. 3) “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life…”
- (v. 3) “…but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.”
- (v. 4) “See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!”
Though these short passages tell us some very important things about Melchizedek, there are still some lingering questions. (And if you’ve searched his name on the internet, you’ve probably seen quite a few of them.) Several questions that come to mind are:
- Was this person Jesus?
- Was this person an angel?
- If he wasn’t Jesus or an angel, who was he?
Let me say that I don’t know 100% who this was (and maybe no one will know this side of heaven). When we are presented with a conundrum like this, though, we should always return to what we do know. So what do we know? Well, as John MacArthur points out, Melchizedek probably isn’t an angel because, according to Hebrews 5:1, priests are chosen from among “men,” not “angels.” He also points out that Melchizedek isn’t a pre-incarnate Christ because, as we seen in verse 7:3, he only resembles the Son of God.
As MacArthur point out, Melchizedek is likely a “type” of Christ, which is something in the Bible that exemplifies Christ or points us to Him. Examples of types of Christ are things like Jonah being inside the fish for three days or the serpent being lifted up in the wilderness. It is very safe theologically to say that Melchizedek is a type of Christ because who he was and what he did points us directly to the work of Jesus for us. Lord willing, as we proceed through chapter seven, we will see that work very clearly.