Defining God's Character: The Importance of Melchizedek

The Backstory

In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Genesis, God instructs Abraham (then known as Abram) to leave his home and go to a land he has prepared for him. Abraham, the ever-faithful servant of the Lord, did as God commanded. Abraham did not, however, follow the Lord’s directions exactly. The Lord said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). The Lord specifically told Abraham to leave his family behind -- not his wife or the servants that kept his household – but to leave all of his other family members back in his homeland. Nevertheless, Abraham brought his nephew Lot along with him on his journey.

Since it was outside of God’s divine instruction, it was only a matter of time before Abraham and Lot realized that the land that the Lord provided was not big enough for the two of them. Abraham and his nephew reached an understanding. Lot left, and headed to the land of Sodom. This was not a good place for Lot to choose to settle. As it is written, “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13).

At that time a great war was waged. Nine different kings ruled that region, and in this violent war, four of them formed an alliance and set out to destroy the other five. During one of the battles, the land of Sodom was attacked. The attackers took Abraham’s nephew Lot as a hostage. One of the men who saw this attack, managed to escape. He told Abraham what had happened. Right away, Abraham gathered together over 300 trained men and set out in pursuit to get his nephew back.

Abraham and his men returned as war heroes. They emerged victorious. Not only did they manage to get Lot back successfully, but also they shifted the tide of the entire war. After the great victory, Abraham met the King of Sodom at King’s Valley to celebrate. It is at this point we are introduced to God’s character.

God’s Blessing of Abraham

Enter the King of Salem: Melchizedek. No, do not take my segue as a suggestion that I believe that Melchizedek is God (although some scholars do, and I will return to that notion later in this post), what I am saying is that through the appearance of this mysterious figure of the Bible, we are told explicitly who God is. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we worship “God Most High.” This nomenclature is used throughout the Bible as a title for God. But where does this title come from? It starts with this figure of Melchizedek.

When Abraham was meeting with the King of Sodom in King’s Valley to celebrate his victory, we are told:

“Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. And he blessed [Abraham] and said, ‘Blessed Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” (Genesis 14:18-20)

Abraham confirms/accepts this blessing when he says, “I have sworn to Lord God Most High, maker of heaven and earth (Genesis 14:22).

Melchizedek is described as the King of Salem. This title makes one ask the question: Does that mean that he is connected with Jeru-salem? If so, then that would mean that this man is the first named king of such a place, and if that is indeed the case then that would make him a precursor for other kings of Israel – most notably, David & Jesus.

What is more, Melchizedek is described as a high priest of El Elyon (in Hebrew). El Elyon translates to “God Most High.” Why does this matter?

God’s Character

The point that I am illustrating here is that through this blessing of Melchizedek, we are finally told exactly who the God of Abraham actually is. Not just his name: El Elyon, but also his character. Prior to this, God was simply Elohim: the creator God who punished man, flooded the earth, and told Abraham to leave his home. The figure of Melchizedek provides us much more context in our pursuit of defining and understanding God’s ways. Melchizedek’s presence adds a sense of tradition and foundation, to something that is seemingly just beginning with Abraham. In other words, Melchizedek is the connection with a nearly forgotten past.

What is more, Melchizedek represents the very essence of who God is. Melchizedek is a king and a priest and this duality is extremely important. We understand this importance through context. For it is Melchizedek who seems to hold status over Abraham --who is God’s chosen one -- and that highlights this king-priest's importance to us, and the importance that such a figure represents. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a nation of priests – priests are God’s human instruments on earth, the ones who are the example of God’s presence in our world. So to be a king and a priest -- as Melchizedek is -- is to be at once a ruler and a servant. This paradox shows us who God truly is, and what it is he wants from us.

God rules over all of us – whether we are slave or king, and when we serve him we receive his blessings. It is important to note Melchizedek makes a point of blessing God for Abraham’s victory, not Abraham. This highlights the fact that our strength comes directly from the Lord. This is what Melchizedek represents: an understanding that any power we have on earth is due to the power of God in heaven. In other words, his two seemingly conflicting positions of king and priest go hand-in-hand once you understand that together they define God’s character. We are raised up by accepting that we are lowly.

What is more, Melchizedek -- as both a king of (Jeru)Salem and a priest for the God Most High -- is an archetype for what it is to come. For his name comes up again at two other critical junctures in the Bible. And much like their genealogy, the references to Melchizedek connect Abraham directly with David and Jesus.

The Order of Melchizedek

Melchizedek is the first “priest” of the Bible. As I have already said, a priest is God’s human instrument on earth, the intermediary between God and Man. In that sense, David, much like Melchizedek before him, is also a King and a priest. This connection brings us directly to David's book in the Bible: the Psalms.

Psalm 110 says: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’” These poetic words are directed from God to David.

By referencing the order of Melchizedek, David is defining who the God is who is blessing him, as well as his relationship to this God. In other words, by invoking the name of Melchizedek, David is saying that he is talking about God Most High, who is the God of Abraham. And David is also defining his relation to God, saying that he is merely an instrument of the Lord’s will and all the strength he has comes directly from God. As we see with Melchizedek and Abraham, David is a very powerful man, but at the same time, he is merely a servant of God Most High.

From the line of David, emerges another king-priest like Melchizedek. That is to say, according to multiple references in the Book of Hebrews, Jesus, too, is also a priest of the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 5:7-10 reads: “In the days of the flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”

There is a lot to unpack in these lines of scripture, but the most important point in the passage, in terms of relevance for our present discussion, is the last line. God made his own son a king-priest in the image of Melchizedek.

I am going to step back from this discussion for a moment to focus on “The Order of Melchizedek" in a very different way, so that we can better understand what we are talking about here. I think a good way to understand the Order of Melchizedek, is to think of it like God runs a company, and his employees are all priests, and this business is called the Order of Melchizedek. Imagine a father starts a company when his son is just a baby, in hopes of providing for his family until his son is old enough to inherit the business and take things over. In other words, in the beginning of the Bible, the company was just starting out – i.e. the nation of Israel was just being founded – and Melchizedek, who one could think of like God’s first executive manager, was handling the company for him – presenting bread and wine, providing his blessings, etc. Then as the company grows (i.e. as the story proceeds) a new executive manager rises – this is when David appears in the text and runs the company for God for a while, which is to say he was The King of Israel. Finally, the boss’s son is old enough to inherit the business. By being both man and God, Jesus assumes both roles: the executive manager and the CEO of the company. Like Melchizedek before him, Jesus, too, presents the bread and wine to the people, and like God he shares his profits (no pun intended), which is to say his blessings, with his employees/ disciples who serve him.

I, in no way, mean to do any disservice to the story, lessons, or teachings of the Bible by reducing any of it to a rudimentary analogy of running a business, I just think that examples like this make the complex ideas in the Bible more accessible and understandable to us in our modern world. What is more, metaphors such as this prove that the truths of the Bible are relatable and timeless.

Please indulge me, as I stick with my business metaphor just a moment longer. It is up to us as employees/disciples of Jesus, to keep the business going, so to speak. That is to say, the order of Melchizedek is the company we work for (by believing in the God of Abraham and spreading the Word of God). And furthermore, we are shown time and time again throughout the Bible (except in the Book of Job perhaps) that our company is a merit-based system (this will certainly be a future discussion on this site). As it is written in Proverbs 28, He who trusts in the Lord will be enriched” (Proverbs 28:25). In other words, we are only promoted by proving that we are worthy, which is to say, through our faithfulness to God.

The message of the order of Melchizedek is that faith is rewarded. Abraham defeated his enemies and he became the father of a nation of billions. David went from a shepherd to a King, and Jesus was given the power to defeat sin and death on our behalf.

Interesting to note here, the word “company” can refer to a business, in the way I have been using it thus far, but it can also refer to a group of people, like when one has company over their home, or when a group of actors or soldiers are referred to as a company. So you see, when I refer to Christianity allegorically like a company -- what I mean to say is we are group of people – which is to say a community. After all, it was a nation of people that was promised to Abraham by God, and it was Melchizedek who blesses Abraham in God’s name and sets things in motion, as it were. We are the enterprise that has been assembled.

Other Views of Melchizedek

I have provided you with a basic Christian interpretation of Melchizedek. There are, however, other viewpoints that paint a decidedly different picture of this high priest. There is an old Jewish tradition that associates Melchizedek with Shem, Noah’s son. And the story is that the Archangel Michael brought him to the Garden of Eden to save him from the flood. According to the Dead Sea Scrolls, Melchizedek isn’t saved by the Archangel Michael; he is the Archangel Michael. I will come back to this point in a moment. And also some see Melchizedek, (as I have already alluded to) as an Old Testament archetype for Jesus. I do not believe that you have to subscribe to any one of these particular theories to see the value in them. What I mean by that is one could look at each of these theories and see the reasoning behind each of them, and how that understanding tells a larger, more pointed story.

For instance, the association of Melchizedek with one of Noah’s Son’s and the Garden of Eden is really telling us that this figure is someone that nearly predates our world entirely. That is, Melchizedek is at the very beginning of things. And the association of him with Michael the Archangel makes a lot of sense too. They have similar names – not just in terms of appearance, but also in terms of meaning. Melchizedek means “King of righteousness,” and Michael means “equal with God.” It is not difficult to see the overlap of meaning here. After all, God is also known as "the king of righteousness," and God is obviously equal to himself. So as you can see, both names ,Melchizedek and Michael, seem to mean practically the same thing; they each are referencing an equal footing with God, and by extension each other.

What is more, “Michael” meaning “equal to God,” calls to mind Jesus, who because of the Christian belief in the Trinity is in fact equal to God. This is why there are many theories in theological studies that attempt to equate Michael the Archangel with Jesus himself. For example in the Book of Revelation when Michael defeats the devil in the climactic battle of the Bible, many theorists suggest that at that moment Michael is merely a representative of Jesus, who is naturally the real hero of the New Testament. So taking that theory into account, and using the transitive property (If a=b and b= c, then a=c) one can easily see how people might equate Jesus with Melchizedek (If Jesus equals Michael and Michael equals Melchizedek then Jesus equals Melchizedek.)

Moreover, there is much more that link Jesus and Melchizedek. Jesus, too, is said to be at the beginning with God. That is, John’s Gospel tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is Jesus, and more importantly, this is John connecting Jesus with the beginning of time. As we have already discussed Melchizedek is also associated with the beginning through his connections with Noah, the Garden of Eden, and Abraham. Moreover, both divine men present people with bread and wine as a sacred offering. Add all of that to the fact that the Book of Hebrews makes explicitly clear that Jesus was made by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, and one can see that the linking between these two figures is quite compelling.

The Significance

Some Biblical scholars theorize that Melchizedek is merely a Christophany, which is a ghostly, non-bodily appearance of Jesus. One famous example of a “Christophany” in the Bible is the appearance of Jesus to Paul on The Road to Damascus. As with that example, most Christophanies are appearances of the Risen Christ, after the Resurrection. In the case of Melchizedek, however, it is more of a pre-apparition, or a pre-appearance of the Lord. The theory is that Melchizedek is just a specter of Jesus peering into the story, which was at that time just beginning to unfold, forming what was to become the foundon for his coming arrival.

It is a nice to see Jesus in the lines of the Old Testament. After all, devout Christian firmly believe that everything in the Old Testament leads to the coming of Christ. However, whether or not Jesus is Melchizedek (or vice-versa) is not what is significant in the text. The figure of Melchizedek is significant because by exploring thie scriptural relevance of this mysterious figure, we are given a glimpse of the true essence of God's character.

Melchizedek was a king and a priest, which is to say, he was both a ruler and a servant – a ruler over the people, but a servant to God Most High. And through his example we learn that no matter who we are everything that we have on this planet we owe to God.