The Enigma of Melchizedek

Melchizedek

Abraham Meets Melchizedek by Rubens Cir 1625

Abraham Meets Melchizedek by Rubens Cir 1625

Genesis 14: 17-24   

 17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him, after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, at the vale of Shaveh (the same is the King’s Vale). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth: 20 and blessed be God Most High, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him a tenth of all. 21 And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself. 22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lifted up my hand unto Jehovah, God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-latchet nor aught that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich: 24 save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men that went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their portion (ASV 1901).

After the battle of the kings and the rescue of Lot as well as those women that were captured with him Abram met with two additional kings. The first one mentioned is the king of Sodom. This is the successor to the first  king of Sodom because the first one perished in the slime pits with the king of Gomorrah in the vale of Siddim (Genesis 14: 10). Abram met with the new king of Sodom and a king named Melchizedek. This man has a Hebrew name, which is the combination of two names: Melech means King and Tzedick, which means righteous. וּמַלְכִּי־צֶ֨דֶק֙

So we have a righteous king identified in the eighteenth verse that goes out to meet Abram. He is further identified as the king of Salem, which is ancient Jerusalem (Psalm 76: 2). They meet in the vale of Shaveh, which is the valley of Jehoshaphat on the east side of the temple mount. On the east of that valley is the Mount of Olives. Today this valley is called Kidron. It will be the location where the Lord Jesus judges the sheep and goat Gentiles after the Great Tribulation in the seventy-five day interval before He sets up His Millennial Kingdom. It is named after the king of Judah who reigned from 867-851 B.C.

Ancient Jerusalem Depicting the Valley of Jehosaphat

Melchizedek is one of the most interesting characters in the Bible. Here he is said to be a priest of the “God Most High.” This is the first mention of a priest in the Bible and the title is El Elyon. אֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן

This Hebrew title of God is found four times in these verses. It is only found elsewhere in Psalm 78: 35. Frequently we find “Most High” but only here and in Psalm 78 do we see “God Most High.” With this designation appearing here so uniquely it has special significance. First it means that God is the possessor of heaven and earth. It also means that Jehovah God had a relationship with Melchizedek. And Melchizedek was a follower and minister of the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Some have suggested that he was a preincarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus. Or even a theophany. This designation is difficult to validate when compared to other preincarnate appearances of the Lord Jesus since in those instances they don’t hold an office on earth. They make a quick appearance and then they are gone. Here Melchizedek is said to be both priest and king. Abram acknowledged him as his superior and seemed to recognize that God had revealed Himself to this man.

Later during the Levitical priesthood under the Mosaic Law the offices of priest and king were separate and were not to be combined. The Lord Jesus did hold both offices as being God Himself. The book of Hebrews teaches us that the Law was imperfect (Hebrews 7:11) and was only a shadow of things to come.

Hebrews 7:11 Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? (NKJV)

The writer of Hebrews is making a case for necessity for the Lord Jesus to come into the earth as both king and our priest fulfilling the Law. The Law could never save us only point out our sin.

Romans 7: 7-9

7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. 8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died (KJV).

It is only the Lord Jesus who can forgive sin. Melchizedek did not forgive sin. He blessed Abram but did not forgive any sin. In Hebrews we see that Melchizedek is used as a “type” of the Lord Jesus. Since he was a priest and a king. David knew that this was the case too as he wrote in Psalm 110.

Psalm 110: 1-7

1 The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. 2 The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. 3 Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. 4 The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. 5 The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.6 He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries. 7 He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

He knew that one would come from God who would be God and would usher in the establishment of a messianic priesthood and kingdom. This Psalm was written about 500 years after the inauguration of the Levitical order. This shows that David realized the imperfection and impermanence of the Levitical order. Melchizedek is only a follower of God and not God Himself. Jesus is forever a priest and king.

The Jewish Midrash Rabbah (Bereshit Rabbah) teaches that Shem, Noah’s son and the Messianic seed son is Melchizedek. This is not too farfetched an explanation since Shem continued to live thirty-five years after Abraham died. Both lived in the same region of Mesopotamia. Of the three sons of Noah Shem was the most righteous and was chosen to bring the Messiah through his line of descendants. It is altogether possible that Melchizedek is Shem. The  Bible teaches that Shem lived for 35 years longer than Abraham, which makes this Midrash all the more plausible.

Abram took wine and bread (not communion) from him and gave him a tenth of the spoils of the war.

The rest of the spoils went to the king of Sodom and others including food for his 318 warriors. Abram did not want anybody to say they made him rich. Some remarks on this section of Scripture are in order as we conclude.

  1. This is the only place in Scripture where Abram is portrayed as a warrior.
  2. God does not speak in this chapter.
  3. A high priest-king represents him.
  4. The Abrahamic Covenant is operative here as a blessing for blessing occurs. The curse is seen in the demise of the four kings.
  5. In the N.T. Melchizedek is treated as a Type of Jesus as well as in Psalm 110. He is never seen as the Lord Jesus. Hebrews says he was like the Son of God. This is the grammatical figure of speech called a simile. It makes an expressed comparison between two different things. An example is Revelation 1:14b, “His eyes were like a flame of fire.”
  6. Melchizedek has no record of a genealogy. Not that he did not have one, there was just no record of it.
  7. The term Zedek is a common name. We find it in Joshua 10: 1 where the king of Jerusalem was called Adonizedek. He was wicked and idol worshipping not the “Lord of Righteousness” as his name would suggest.

While the true identity of Melchizedek may remain a mystery because of the brevity of scriptural information, his importance as it relates to the superiority of Christ’s priesthood becomes very clear as we consider the following:

 A. MELCHIZEDEK RECEIVED TITHES FROM ABRAHAM

1. Abraham paid a tenth to Melchizedek

2. Just as the nation of Israel would later pay a tenth to the

sons of Levi

— Thus Abraham, great as he was, showed his deference to

Melchizedek

 

B. MELCHIZEDEK BLESSED ABRAHAM

1. Melchizedek blessed him “who had the promises” (Abraham)

2. There is no dispute that “the lesser is blessed by the better”

— Thus Melchizedek is clearly “better” than Abraham

 

C. MELCHIZEDEK’S SERVICE WAS NOT AFFECTED BY DEATH

1. In the priesthood under the Jewish system (i.e., the Levitical

or Aaronic priesthood), tithes were received by “mortal men”

(whose service ended at death)

2. But it has been witnessed that Melchizedek “lives”(“remains a priest continually”)

3. How he lives and remains a priest continually, the Bible does

not say

— But in this way Melchizedek is greater than the Levitical

priests (a point made concerning Jesus later in the chapter)

CONCLUSION

 1. There is a lot more we wish we knew about Melchizedek…

a. Was he a “theophany”, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ?

b. Was he is an angel?  Enoch? Shem?

c. Was he simply a man?

1) One whose Biblical record is such that he serves as a “type”

of Christ

2) If so, where did he come from, and how did he

come to be “priest of God Most High”

d. And how does he remain a priest continually?

Understanding “The Greatness Of Melchizedek” helps prepare us to appreciate the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over the Levitical (Aaronic) priesthood. Jesus currently holds to all three offices eternally (Prophet, Priest, and King) but he functions in them chronologically. He came as a prophet (John 4:44).  Today he is currently holding the office and functioning as high priest (Hebrews 5:6,10).  He was announced as King in his 1st coming but was rejected (Matthew12: 22-45).  At his 2nd coming he will be realized as king and function as one (Isaiah 9:6 Matthew 25:34-45).

Both type and fulfillment of Melchizedek are king and priest, By their being no genealogical line with no record of birth or death he prefigures Christ as the priest who continues forever. In the O.T. no King could be a priest nor could a priest function as a King. Only Christ is able to fill the office of being a Priest, a Prophet and a King (Hebrews 7:17, 20, 24). If Melchizedek was Christ we would have to deal with two incarnations, since all priests were taken from among men. If he is a type of the one who was to come, then it would certainly fit the Biblical account and make more sense. This however remains an enigma with scholars debating on both sides but all agree together in its typology.

 

Daniel E. Woodhead

 

 

 

 

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The Authority of Scripture Ascertained Through Evidence

 

The Judgment of Solomon by Raphael 1518-19

Frequently, authors will avoid using the Bible as history, citing it as historiographically unreliable.[1] This is apparent as we examine the various secular authors who speculate on empire collapse. They simply ignore the facts contained within the Bible. Admittedly it is primarily a theological document, which uses world history to present God’s sacred history and the methods by which He approaches humankind.  God paints Himself, which we call theology, on a canvas of human history. Therefore, just because there is minimal material other than the Bible to provide insight into ancient history, it is unwarranted that one should simply avoid the Bible by citing it as solely theological and therefore nonhistoriagraphic. The Bible has been proven by the standards of the sciences of evidence, archaeology and prophecy to be reliable. Certainly Israel’s enemies will always use the lack of empirical evidence as to its historical accuracy to deny the Jews their accurate origin and place in the story of the world. So what means are available to us to ascertain the authenticity of the Bible? There are several. They all flow from the science of evidence.

Society uses this scientific evidentiary process to identify truth. For example we use it in courts of law and forensic laboratories. The science of evidence is appropriate to utilize for a fair evaluation of the Biblical text in order to validate its authenticity and truth.

One of the chief proponents of the field of evidence was Dr. Simon Greenleaf. He was a decorated Professor of Law at the Harvard University School of Law in 1846. A known expert in the field of evidence, Greenleaf’s well-known work, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, is considered a classic of American jurisprudence. It was a standard textbook in American law throughout the nineteenth century. However, his contribution to biblical Christianity is the authoritative treatise, The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice that remains an accepted primer in modern Christian apologetics. [2]

Greenleaf began his book by arguing for the elimination of prejudices and allow the evidence to tell the story. This is simply placing a reliance on evidence. He stated that one should, ” follow the truth wherever it may lead us.”[3] He further stated that Christianity does not “bring irresistible evidence” but offers sufficient evidences for “the serious inquirer.” [4] He focused his book to an inquiry “to the testimony of the Four Evangelists, bringing their narratives to the tests to which other evidence is subjected in human tribunals.” His specific inquiry was concerned with testing “the veracity of these witnesses by the same rules and means” employed in human tribunals. Greenleaf argued the case by first inquiring as to the genuineness of the four gospels as ancient writings. Here he applied what is technically known in law as the “ancient documents rule.” He stated:

“Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise.” [5]

Greenleaf maintained that the four gospels do not bear any marks of being forgeries and the oldest extant copies can be received into court as genuine documents. In other words unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary we must accept the gospels as fact. Frequently in an attempt to discredit the biblical accounts of Christ detractors will engineer specious arguments that have no basis. Because there is no evidence for their weak arguments they fail to persuade the critical thinker. Only those with a sloppy thought process will be persuaded to accept an argument that has no foundation.

The second step in Greenleaf’s argument is: “In matters of public and general interest, all persons must be presumed to be conversant, on the principle that individuals are presumed to be conversant with their own affairs.” [6] On the basis of this legal rule Greenleaf then briefly profiled the traditional authors of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, concerning their first hand knowledge of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, or as in the case of Mark and Luke their intimate personal links with the apostles. Greenleaf then built a cumulative case by conducting a shadow cross-examination of the oral testimony of the evangelists in their accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Greenleaf developed his case on the basis of the following tests:

“The credit due to the testimony of witnesses depends upon, firstly, their honesty; secondly, their ability; thirdly, their number and the consistency of their testimony; fourthly, the conformity of their testimony with experience; and fifthly, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances.” [7] Greenleaf then argued that the gospel writers can be shown to be honest in their character and do not show any motives to falsify their testimony. [8] He claimed that Matthew and Luke related keen observations and meticulous details, and he concluded this demonstrated their ability. [9] Greenleaf noted that there are parallel accounts from the evangelists concerning the central events of Jesus the Christ’ life and that these accounts are not verbally identical. He maintained that discrepancies in their accounts are evidence that the writers are not guilty of collusion, and that the discrepancies in their respective accounts can be resolved or harmonized upon careful cross-examination and comparison of the details. [10] Greenleaf argued against the skeptic Scottish philosopher David Hume concerning reports of miracles. He found fault with Hume’s position about “immutable laws from the uniform course of human experience,” [11] and went on to assert that it is a fallacy because “it excludes all knowledge derived by inference or deduction from facts, confining us to what we derive from personal experience alone.” [12] Greenleaf took, as his own assumption that as God exists then such a being is capable of performing miracles. He then argued that the various miracles reported in Jesus ministry occurred in open or public contexts where friend and foe alike were witnesses. [13] Interestingly, Jesus’ miracles were specifically chosen by Him to be irrefutable by the detractors of His day. For example, he chose to heal a person who was blind since birth. No one could say the person was faking his blindness. He chose to heal a crippled person again who suffered this infirmity since birth. Perhaps His greatest miracle was raising Lazarus from the dead. He waited four days to insure that all the witnesses fully realized that Lazarus was indeed dead before Jesus raised him.

Lastly, Greenleaf examined the problem of uniform testimony among false and genuine witnesses, and found there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to support the accounts of the Four Evangelists.

Greenleaf summed up his argument with the following plea:

“All that Christianity asks of men on this subject, is, that they would be consistent with themselves; that they would treat its evidences as they treat the evidence of other things; and that they would try and judge its actors and witnesses, as they deal with their fellow men, when testifying to human affairs and actions, in human tribunals. Let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with the surrounding facts and circumstances; and let their testimony be sifted, as if it were given in a court of justice, on the side of the adverse party, the witnesses being subjected to a rigorous cross-examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability and truth … Either the men of Galilee were men of superlative wisdom, and extensive knowledge and experience, and of deeper skill in the arts of deception, than any and all others, before or after them, or they have truly stated the astonishing things which they saw and heard.” [14]

 

Dr. Greenleaf skillfully established the veracity of the Scriptures. Within the body of New Testament text he examined we find Jesus establishing the truth of the Old Testament (John 5:39-47 etc.). Christ’ words must also be true reasoning through Dr. Greenleaf’s methodology. Therefore, the entire chronology of the Old Testament must also be true.

We have a reliable body of truth in the Old and New Testaments. They can and must be relied upon to give us factual data related to the origin and early persecutions of the Jews. There is no logical reason not to use the Bible as reliable historiography. We refer to this entire concept of reliability of the biblical text as infallibility and its closely related concept of inerrancy. Infallibility is the subjective consequence of divine inspiration and inerrancy is the concept of the Bible being free from material errors or internal contradictions. Some may believe that these concepts are untrue but they come to those conclusions out of ignorance of the relevant data.[15]

 Evidence Through Archaeology

Archaeological evidence is another body of information and inquiry, which has produced factual data in support of the Biblical text. The following quotations from men acquainted with or conducting archaeological expeditions provide a firm basis for support of the veracity of the Biblical text through archaeology.

“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” The renowned Jewish archaeologist continued in commenting “the almost incredibly accurate historical memory of the Bible, and particularly so when it is fortified by archaeological fact.” [16]

 

“On the whole, however, archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the scriptural record.” [17]

 

“Old Testament archaeology has rediscovered whole nations, resurrected important peoples, and in a most astonishing manner filled in historical gap, adding immeasurably to the knowledge of biblical backgrounds.” [18]

 

“Archaeological and inscriptional data have established the historicity of innumerable passages and statements of the Old Testament.” [19]

 

“We pointed out that numerous passages of the Bible, which long puzzled the commentators, have readily yielded up their meaning when new light from archaeological discoveries has been focused on them. In other words, archaeology illuminates the text of the Scriptures and so makes valuable contributions to the fields of Biblical interpretation and exegesis. In addition to illuminating the Bible, archaeology has confirmed countless passages which have been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contradictory to known facts.” [20]

 

During the excavations of Jericho (1930-1936) John Garstang found something so startling that a statement of what they found was prepared and signed by himself as well as other members of the team. In reference to these findings Garstang says:

“As to the main fact, then, there remains no doubt: the walls fell outwards so completely that the attackers would be able to clamor up and over their ruins into the city.” [21]

 

Why so unusual? Because walls of cities do not fall outwards, they fall inwards. And yet in Joshua 6:20 we hear “ . . . the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city every man straight ahead, and they took the city.”

Some archaeologists, such as Kathleen Kenyon work against any pro-biblical support for the Jews. She, as a staunch anti-Zionist, was commissioned by the Jordanian government in 1960 to examine Jericho in order to refute Albright’s work. She further refutes all of the biblical historiography according to the story of the Jews. It is no surprise that Israel’s enemies deny her history. [22] Nevertheless the preponderance of archaeological evidence supports the authenticity of the Biblical narrative.

 

Evidence Through Prophecy

The last method of evidence presented here is that of Biblical prophecy. The Old Testament has a significant number of prophecies, which have already been fulfilled. Many of them relate to the timing and circumstances surrounding the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth on earth. All of these prophecies were written hundreds of years before the birth of Christ and were well documented.  Isaiah and Micah, for example, wrote their prophecies about 700 years before Christ. Daniel wrote his about 500 years before Christ. Zechariah also wrote about 500 years before Christ too. The Psalms were written over 900 years before Christ. It is a fact that the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint was written between 200-300 B.C. which is well before the time of Jesus the Christ of Nazareth’s birth. This translation has all the prophecies within it. Therefore one cannot say that the prophecies were written after the events of which they prophesied! It is clear that these prophecies were in this verifiable translation well prior to Christ’s first advent. The following quote from Max L. Margolis validates the timing of the writing of the Septuagint:

It is in the reign of the second Ptolemy, surnamed Philadelphus (285-247 B. C.), that the translation of the Law (Pentateuch) into Greek is placed by the circumstantial narrative known as the Epistle of Aristeas which purports to be a contemporary record by one of the king’s courtiers. Nay, according to the story, the initiative proceeded from the king or rather the king’s librarian, Demetrius of Phalerum, who advised that a copy of the Law of the Jews should be deposited in the royal collection of books then already numbering upward of two hundred thousand volumes. [23]

It is quite clear that humans do not have the capacity to accurately predict the future hundreds of years in advance. The Bible claims to be the very Word of God and states that God lives outside of our time and space domain (Isa 57:15). Therefore He is able to see and write history before it happens. In fact he causes history to happen. The issue of fulfilled prophecy is additional compelling evidence that the Bible is true, accurate and verifiable as fact.

The open-minded person, seeking truth, while reading the Scriptures expectantly, will find that the Scriptures are verifiably accurate in their exposition of all things of which they speak. This includes the origin and development of the Jewish nation. It is important to this work that the Bible is recognized as trustworthy historiography.

Daniel E. Woodhead Ph.D.


[1] Cantor, Norman F. The Sacred Chain. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994, 3.

[2] Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ-A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Publishing House 1998  45-46

[3] Greenleaf, Simon. Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice, 1846. Reprint Newark, NJ: Soney & Sage, 1903, 1.

[4] Ibid, 2.

[5]  Ibid, 7.

[6]  Ibid, 9.

[7] Ibid, 28.

[8] Ibid, 28-31.

[9] Ibid, 31-32.

[10] Ibid, 32-35.

[11] Ibid, 36.

[12] Ibid, 37-38.

[13] Ibid, 39-42.

[14] Ibid, pg 46-53

[15] Comfort, Philip Wesley gen ed. The Origin of the Bible. Wheaton, IL. Tyndale House Publishers. 1992  38-39

[16]Glueck Nelson. Rivers in the Desert: History of Negev. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cadahy, 1959, 31.

[17] Burrows, Millar. What Means These Stones. New York: Meridian Books, 1957,

[18] Unger, Merrill F. Archaeology and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co., 1954, 1.

[19] Albright, W.F. “Archaeology Confronts Biblical CriticismThe American Scholar, April 1938, 181.

[20] Free, Joseph P. Archaeology and Bible History, Wheaton: Scripture Press, 1969, 1.

[21] Garstang, John. Joshua & Judges. London: Constable, 1931, 146.

[22] Cantor, Norman F. The Sacred Chain Harper, New York: Collins Publishers, 1994, 2-3.

[23] Margolis, Max L. The Story of Bible Translations. Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Society of America, 1916. 30.

 

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