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Who is the Mysterious Melchizedek?

There are three Biblical books that reference Melchizedek, but it is the first referral which provides the clue to unpack his identity the most–Gen. 14:17     It not only is the first to cite Melchizedek but the first to mention a priest in all of Scripture.  In addition to the ritualistic functions we think of priest’s playing throughout Israel’s history, their primary role was to be a mediator between God and man, a key to why Jesus would later be referred to as being of ‘the order of Melchizedek’.

Melchizedek blesses Abraham

Abraham and Melchizedek. Artist Juan Antonio de Frías y Escalante (1633-1670)

Melchizedek’s name in Hebrew provides a further clue:  malki-sedeq.   That small hyphen indicates this is more of a title than a personal name, and means “King of Righteousness.”  He is described as being both the King of Salem (or King of Jerusalem) as well as a priest of the Most High God.

We meet this enigmatic figure through the Patriarch Abram’s eyes as Abraham returns from a military victory over Chedorlaomer (pronounced ked’uhr-lay-oh’ muhr). He was  King of Elam and leader of a group of other kings fighting those in Southern Israel’s plains who had just sacked Sodom and taken Lot, Abraham’s nephew.  Abraham surprised them at night,  driving the enemies victoriously out of Israel and rescuing his nephew.  That military venture could have had disastrous results:  had Abraham lost, he would have had to leave the land of promise.  (See Gen. 14:14-16).

This is when Melchizedek enters the scene, to bless Abraham for this great accomplishment, revealing the Patriarch’s moral and military authority over lesser kings. The blessing is two-part (on Abraham and God) but note how it focuses more on God, and his delivering abilities. (Note that the Priest’s gift of blessing is bread and wine, the essence of the Eucharist meal which Jesus will celebrate at his final Passover centuries later.)

Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High who has delivered your enemies into your hand!  (Gen. 14:19)

The key in a blessing is that whoever bestows it is greater than the one being blessed.  So for all of Abraham’s specialness as the one to whom God reveals His covenant, it is still Melchizedek who bestows the blessing, indicating the Priest’s superiority and specialness.  A further sign is that Abraham tithes a tenth of his battle plunder to Melchizedek, another indication of Abraham taking a more subservient position.

Melchizedek’s ceremony of blessing takes place not far from Jerusalem in King’s Valley—which leads to the second Biblical reference:  Ps. 110:4. Considered a royal Psalm, Ps. 110 is thought to have been written for Judean kings’ coronations—which would eventually take place at Jerusalem.  But there is also a sense that the Psalm was used as Judah entered battle against her enemies, declaring that God will provide a messiah and eventually lay claim to all nations.  Thus the reference to Melchizedek as a precursor to the Messiah.

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

By the first century CE, Christians were claiming Psalm 110 as a description of the Messiah they believed to be Christ Jesus, as in this excerpt from Matt. 22:41-44, where Jesus is said to be quoting Ps. 110:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah?  Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,  ‘The Lord said to my Lord,  “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

Perhaps this is why, in the third Biblical book’s several references to this mysterious figure, Hebrews, the author pulls Melchizedek forward, quoting Ps. 110 in Heb. 5:6.  Here the Hebrew author identifies Christ Jesus with Melchizedek (Heb. 5:10).  In multiple references, the writer of Hebrews claims Jesus as ‘a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 6:20).  (The entire book of Hebrews aims to contrast Christ with individuals or institutions of the Hebrew Bible.  For more information, a CD (or MP3) talk is available below.)

The Hebrew writer explains that Melchizedek had no ancestry, adding to his remarkable character.  Then Christ Jesus is exalted as a priest in Melchizedek’s order, coming to the work not through normal channels but “through the power of an indestructible life” (Heb. 7:16).

Regardless of Melchizedek’s origins and the scant mention of him in Scripture, the Hebrew writer helps remember this special figure who blessed the Father of Judaism.  But even more, Christ Jesus is not only rabbi, prophet and Messiah, but Priest, whose ultimate role was to be mediator between God and man – a role Jesus Christ fulfilled unswervingly.

You can find our Hebrews Products here:

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Colleen Moore
Colleen Moore
July 18, 2019 7:09 am

I’ve read articles about the priest Zadok, High Priest during David and Solomon’s reign, being descended from Melchizedek (or Melchi-zadok). Then the Sadducees claimed to come from Zadok. it is interesting that the Biblical priesthood missed the point since they tried to claim ancestry from someone with no ancestry. I also love the more modern translations of Hebrews 7:16, such as: “deriving his priesthood not by virtue of a command imposed from outside” – Phillips “not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent” – NRSV “one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to… Read more »

Shirley Paulson
July 18, 2019 7:11 am

Very helpful – and timely – explanation of the ‘mysterious’ Melchizedek. I especially appreciate your pointing out the specific role as ‘mediator’ between God and humanity, since that’s a less familiar title in most Protestant traditions.

Jan in New Mexico
Jan in New Mexico
July 18, 2019 7:28 am

Thank you so much. This was really helpful, and inspiring, too. And the new search option has already been helpful.

Donna Stoneman
Donna Stoneman
July 18, 2019 11:27 am

Hi! Thank you so much for all the blogs and the fascinating information that you share with us. I really appreciate it! I do have one question for you. You came to the Christian Science Church in St. Petersburg, FL a couple of years ago and taught us about the book of Revelations. At that time, you mentioned a woman from medieval times who performed many healings, but I can’t remember her name. Could you please remind me of who she was? Thank you so much for your help. And thank you again for helping us all learn more about… Read more »

Robin Clarke
Robin Clarke
July 18, 2019 3:41 pm

Thank you so much for clearing up the mystery of Melchizedek. I have never known anything about him before. It was so interesting about the bread and wine as a precursor to the Eucharistic meal celebrated by Jesus.

Ron Stevens
Ron Stevens
July 18, 2019 6:41 pm

Thank you, Madelon. Years ago I put together Wednesday night readings on priesthood. I wish I had had this material to help that effort.

Lucy Harper
Lucy Harper
July 18, 2019 7:40 pm

Wonderful of you to write about Melchizedek. Thank you for the fascinating information, Maddie. I’m so grateful Melchizedek is in the Lesson this week. I was blown away by what the Bible says about Jesus Christ – that he, like Melchizedek, was made a priest “after the power of an endless life.” I realized that another way of saying this is that Jesus became a priest “through the power of Life, God.” By this authority of indestructible life, Jesus raised four dead people to life again – the only son of a widow, the 12-year old daughter of Jairus, Lazarus,… Read more »

Susan Oetken
Susan Oetken
July 22, 2019 9:56 am

Thank You!

marta gomez
marta gomez
July 29, 2019 9:46 am

Thank you ….I love it

Tawny Cleveland
Tawny Cleveland
July 29, 2019 12:49 pm

So grateful for this explanation and insight!

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