This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.
The story of Melchizedek and Abraham is found in Genesis 14:17-20, and he isn’t mentioned again, except for an obscure reference in Psalm 110 that is only understood when it is quoted here in Hebrews 7. He came suddenly out of nowhere, and was gone just as quickly, and many scholars believe that Melchizedek is a pre-incarnation appearance of Christ (called a Christiophony). Clearly there are similarities between the two, but without more evidence, I’ll only say that he was a “type” of Christ.
Don’t go too fast in this passage; you don’t often come across a guy who is both king and priest, in fact that is not the Jewish model at all; only Jesus Himself comes to mind quickly for these two offices. Note also the similarity of names. Melchizedek is called “king of righteousness” and “king of peace” while Jesus is called “Righteous King” and “Prince of Peace.” He has no genealogy, no beginning of days or end of life… Very interesting. Here is a comparison chart for Melchizedek and Jesus:
|A King||A King|
|A High Priest||A High Priest|
|No beginning of days and without genealogy||No beginning of days and without genealogy (on his Father’s side)|
|Ministered bread and wine||Ministered bread and wine|
|Non Levite||Non Levite|
|King of Salem (King of Peace)||Prince of Peace (Is 9:6)|
|King of Righteousness||Righteous King (Is 9:7)|
|Greater than Abraham||Greater than Abraham|
Isn’t it interesting also that the author says that Melchizedek resembles the Son of God? I’m having a hard time thinking of another text that makes this kind of statement…
Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.
Up to this point in Hebrews, we have seen that Jesus is superior to the angels, and we have seen that Jesus is superior to Moses, but now we see that Melchizedek is superior to Abraham; in Jewish tradition, nobody is superior to Abraham! Yet when you consider the author’s evidence, it would seem that he has a valid point. Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek; this can also be rendered “tribute” which is always paid by the lesser to the greater. Under the Law, a tithe is paid to the Levites, the priests, and yet the father of all the Israelites paid a tithe to this Melchizedek centuries before the Law, and in a sense, Levi himself was involved in the payment, since his ancestor paid it.
The really amazing statement that the author makes in this section is this: In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living (7:8). I don’t mean to be overly simplistic, but you just don’t come across writing like this very often; who is this guy? It’s becoming easier to understand why many scholars have concluded that he must be Jesus pre-incarnation. Of course, the point was also made in verse 7 that the lesser is blessed by the greater. Clearly, Melchizedek is superior to Abraham, as mind-boggling as that must have been to a Jewish audience.
Before I wrap this up, I think we need to recognize here and now that this section is entirely intentional in the letter, for our author is building up to a massively important crescendo. As we continue, we will see that not only was Melchizedek greater than Abraham, but the Jesus is like Melchizedek, and as a result, He is also a high priest superior to the Levites, administering a covenant superior to the Law of Moses, and theologically speaking, that’s the ball game.