If we read only the Genesis narrative, we might misclassify Melchizedek as a ‘one page wonder’, a biblical character who turns up for a single event, serves faithfully and then departs unobtrusively. Individuals like Jabez, Naaman’s servant girl and Onesiphorus fit into this category. However, Melchizedek is entirely different since he features in the principal books of history, poetry, and doctrine.1Let’s consider this unique priest in three ways: he is
Monarchs in Genesis are rather like modern-day buses, you don’t see one for a long time and then three arrive all at once. We observe no kings for the first thirteen chapters, then nine appear at once, Gen. 14. 1, 2. Melchizedek is the tenth to arrive; he is king of Salem, a city-state that eventually becomes Jerusalem. Salem means ‘peace’, which is apt since Melchizedek remains aloof from local politics, only emerging after the battle is over. This man comes on the scene calmly, in full control of the situation. Melchizedek’s name means ‘king of righteousness’, Heb. 7. 2. We might presume both the ruler and his people were characterized by righteousness. Righteousness and peace make a beautiful combination, Ps. 85. 10, describing a moral view of the work of Calvary. These twin outcomes should be witnessed in the lives of believers now, Rom. 5. 1, and will be seen in the coming kingdom, Isa. 32. 17. Melchizedek is introduced as ‘the priest of the most high God’, Gen. 14. 18. King and priest roles are here combined in one person. We recall Saul and Uzziah, both kings who attempted to become priests but were judged for their sinful presumption. In contrast, Melchizedek was perfectly suited to both offices. This is a lovely reminder of the Lord Jesus, our King-Priest:
‘Great are the offices He bears, And bright His character appears, Exalted on the throne’.2
We have already considered the rich meaning behind Melchizedek’s name and titles. We further learn from Hebrews that this ‘great’ man, Heb. 7. 4, is a powerful symbol representing the Lord Jesus Christ.
Melchizedek’s priesthood establishes a pattern - ‘the order of Melchizedek’, Ps. 110. 4, after which the Lord Jesus is appointed. Our Lord is so gracious that He condescends to conform to the pattern of a man, Phil. 2. 7, 8.
The letter to the Hebrews indicates that Melchizedek typically resembles the Lord Jesus. Although the formula ‘x begat y … and he died’ is a recurring phrase in Genesis, Melchizedek is distinctive, Heb. 7. 3. In terms of biology and genetics, he was a perfectly normal human being, but his family history is conspicuously absent from scripture. The anonymous writer to the Hebrews foregrounds this omission to prove that Melchizedek is like the Lord Jesus. The letter demonstrates the superiority of Melchizedek’s priesthood over Aaron’s:
All that appears to be true of Melchizedek from the Bible text is actually true of the Lord Jesus Christ in His priestly character. If I read Psalm 110 properly, the Lord Jesus was officially constituted a priest at His ascension; priesthood is an acquired glory resulting from the Lord’s death and resurrection.
Abraham appreciated Melchizedek’s intervention; it was urgently required. The king of Sodom lurked in the wings, Gen. 14. 17, waiting to negotiate an alliance with Abraham. Instead, the patriarch’s attention is directed to El Elyon, God most high.
Abraham is strengthened physically with the welcome meal of bread and wine. He is fortified spiritually with a priestly blessing, including a fresh perspective on the character of God.
This is the first mention of the word priest in scripture, so we can identify enduring principles from the passage. These might include the blessings of spiritual refreshment, education about God, and acceptable sacrifices to God through priestly mediation.
Like our Great High Priest in heaven, Melchizedek provides ‘grace to help in time of need’, Heb. 4. 12. A merciful priest is ever conscious of his people’s frailty and is ever powerful to meet their needs.
‘It is a consoling thought that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life; that he is presenting to the Father those spiritual needs which were not present to our minds and which we often neglect to include in our prayers; and that he prays for our protection against the dangers of which we are not even conscious, and against the enemies which threaten us though we notice it not’.3
Let’s depend more fully on our heavenly Melchizedek, as we recognize His powerful intercession on our behalf.