Beginning with this humble couple, a progressive work of restoring the image of Yahweh and the reconciliation of all things has begun – the expectation of the ages is on the horizon.
We ended the previous chapter by introducing Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, fulfilling the prophetic lives of Abraham and David. The Lord’s redemptive work had been foreshadowed by Abraham’s life story, while David foreshadowed the coming kingdom. We also saw in the previous chapter that the priesthood was the foundation for the law; therefore, the priesthood must come first. We also know that priests had to come from the tribe of Levi, but Jesus was disallowed as he was descended from a different tribe. So what precedent did the Lord follow for his priestly ministry? Was there something in Abraham’s life story that foretold the messianic priesthood? Actually there is, and I’m so glad you asked.
The Lord has taken an oath and will not break his vow:
“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”
This change has been made very clear since a different priest, who is like Melchizedek, has appeared. Jesus became a priest, not by meeting the physical requirement of belonging to the tribe of Levi, but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. And the psalmist pointed this out when he prophesied, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” Yes, the old requirement about the priesthood was set aside because it was weak and useless. For the law never made anything perfect.
Priests who administrated the Mosaic system were required to be Levites. Jesus was descended from the tribe of Judah, so genealogically he was disqualified from the Levitical priesthood. One of the wonderful implications of his being disqualified from the Levitical priesthood is that he is not able to administrate the Mosaic law. This is why Romans tells us there is no condemnation Rom. 8:1 for those who are in Christ and why the gospel of John says:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
He does not condemn us because judicially he does not administrate the Mosaic law which places us under condemnation. Or think of it like this, we are no longer under the law because we are under the priesthood of Melchizedek/Jesus and he is not a Levite.
Melchizedek – Intro
We’ve seen earlier that the people were unfaithful in their response to God’s law, but so were the Levitical priests as we will discover. God, in his omniscience, knew that this would be the case and prepared the minutest of details for the advent of his son. He was promised from the dawn of creation, typified through people, events and a sacrificial system and then finally as the eternal high priest patterned after Melchizedek, he came into the world.
As we begin this section, please pause to read Hebrews 5:1-6 as well as chapter 7. In these passages we see Jesus being called by God to be the high priest in the order of Melchizedek. As followers of Jesus, we spend much time studying his life, teachings, parables and miraculous works, but we know very little of his role as a priest after the order of Melchizedek. This ancient priest/king has puzzled believers through the ages. Understanding him is a complex endeavor depending on the depth of your interest. Here we will attempt to clear away a bit of the fog without getting lost in the details.
Divine Pantheons and Theophoric Names
When Abraham was called to the land of Canaan, it’s important to keep in mind that this land was foreign territory to the God of the Bible. The Canaanites had their own gods and deities which they worshiped. As Abraham sojourned in this territory, he was surrounded by this false deity worship. Neighboring cultures, including the Amorites, Akkadians, and the Phoenicians each had their own pantheon of gods. Using the well-known Greek and Roman pantheons with which you may be familiar, notice how specific attributes or powers are ascribed to a deity.
What often happened was that different cultures would provide a different name when referring to the same god. So for example, Zeus was the chief god among the Greeks, but the Romans referred to this same deity as Jupiter. I mention this as a comparison between how the world often looks at gods compared to how the Hebrew people viewed Yahweh. The scriptures take this idea of multiple gods, each with specific attributes, and literally turns it upside down. Yahweh is progressively portrayed as possessing all power, wisdom, judgement, creative genius, etc., over all things. For this reason, Judaism is considered a monotheistic religion as opposed to polytheistic. The Hebrew people would refer to this one true God as Yahweh, I AM, El ElYon, Lord of Heavens Armies, etc., but we know that instead of referring to various deities, these names pointed to the same deity – Yahweh, The Most High.
For these ancient peoples, when naming a child or perhaps a city, it was customary to use a portion of the deity name that was familiar or appealing to them in crafting the name of their offspring or city in which they lived. They were used by new parents or inhabitants of a region to express future hope, attributes of Yahweh, marking of events, or even to demonstrate geographical significance. It was commonplace in Hebrew for a name to contain the root of one of God’s names. This is easily shown with two root names of God “El” and “YHWH”. (YHWH is the tetragrammaton for Yahweh, which is often anglicized as Jehovah).
To help illustrate this practice, let’s look at a few examples of where the root name of God “El” is incorporated within a proper name. Notice “El” in the following names. Elkanah, Eliezer, Gabriel, Nathaniel, Daniel, Raphael and, of course, Israel. We also have examples of “YHWH” being included in other Biblical names including; Jeremiah, Isaiah, Yehoshua(long form of Yeshua-Jesus’ Hebrew name). In the case of Elijah it carries both prefix and suffix for the names of God.
When a person’s name is combined with the name of their God, it is called a theophoric name. Parents wanted to express their gratitude for this newborn son, others found it as a way to express hope for the future or a meaningful attribute of God such as his justice or healing power. So they embedded the Hebrew root for God within the child’s name.
The most famous of all theophoric names is Yisrael. It combines El with the future tense verb “to contend” and the angel of God provides his own explanation of this name, ‘Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; because you have contended with God and with men, and you have prevailed’ (Gen. 32:29).
As an aside, it was also common for names to reflect an event or place such as the naming of Eli’s grandson, Ichabod1 Sam 4:21 which means the “glory has departed” or Bethel – “house of El”. So we see that it is not uncommon to reference a divine being when naming people or places. In fact we still hold to this practice today. Consider city names like:
Jupiter, Fl; Los Angeles, CA; Christchurch, New Zealand; Corpus Christi, TX. The list can go on for a very long time. For a much deeper dive into theophoric biblical names and Melchizedek specifically, see the reference section at the chapter end.
What does this theophoric naming discussion have to do with Melchizedek? It’s important to understand that theophoric naming was not limited to the Hebrew people; this was also done in Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, as well as practiced among the Canaanites. As mentioned before, Melchizedek was not a Hebrew, but rather a Canaanite, possessing a theophoric name. Academic research seems to indicate that “Zedek” could be used as a verb, adjective or a noun of either gender, but in any case its meaning is something akin to righteousness, just, or justice. We are also told that his name indicates a title like “king of Salem” or “king of righteousness” as well as serving as a proper name.
Who is the “Most High” | Restoring the Image
In similar fashion to the Greek and Roman pantheons discussed above, Zedek was a Semitic deity representing justice, mercy and truth. In his name Melchizedek (“my king is Zedek”), we see this king and priest identified with the deity Zedek. But the writer of Hebrews takes a different approach stating:
This Melchizedek was king of the city of Salem and also a priest of God Most High.
So there seems to be a bit of a mixture going on with Melchizedek and certainly this is not a settled Biblical topic. But it appears that he was named after a Semitic deity(Zedek) who was ascribed the attributes of justice, mercy and truth|righteousness. In addition, he ruled over a city and people who worshiped the false gods of Canaan. On the other hand, I believe he was a seeker of truth and recognized that there was a greater power than the Canaanite and Semitic deities, but he did not have full clarity on who this greater god was. Keep in mind that Melchizedek was a Canaanite; he had limited understanding of Yahweh, so it’s not surprising that we see confusion about the Most High’s true identity. It seems that Abraham helped bring some clarity regarding the Most High when the two met. Carefully note the dialogue below:
And Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High, brought Abram some bread and wine. Melchizedek blessed Abram with this blessing:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.
And blessed be God Most High, who has defeated your enemies for you.”
Abram replied to the king of Sodom, “I solemnly swear to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from what belongs to you. Otherwise you might say, ‘I am the one who made Abram rich.’ “
Notice in the passage above that Abram, when responding to the King of Sodom prescribed the divine attributes of “most high” and “creator” to Yahweh. But he added an additional name, “Lord”. This is the same Lord which had appeared to him back in Ur of the Chaldees. So we see that clarification came to both Melchizedek and Abram regarding God’s divine nature. For Melchizedek, God was much greater than a Canaanite deity and for Abram, the Lord he’d met earlier was the Most High and Creator of all. This is the same Lord (Jehovah|Yahweh) who appeared in glory to Abraham while in Mesopotamia (Acts 7:2). The theological messaging is that the God who appeared to Abraham as Lord, that he and he alone is the Most High, Creator of all things, not a Semitic deity by the name of Zedek.
Pause and think about what is happening in the text. Throughout the previous centuries (fall in the garden, great flood and the tower of Babel) the truth about Yahweh had become corrupted. Through Abraham, God begins the plan of redemption. Part of that plan is to reclaim his identity on the earth. The enemy has attempted to steal away the glory and majesty of the Creator, but God is re-aligning his attributes to his name. Through this great patriarch Abraham, Yahweh is codifying his nature and re-establishing his identity.
Running on a parallel track, we discussed in chapter four how the messianic light was nearly extinguished because Sarai was barren. Now we understand that the knowledge of God had also become corrupted. Beginning with Abraham and Sarah, Yahweh begins preparing the foundation for the greatest revelation of his salvation and his character. That’s why the scripture says it was in the fullness of time, all of history had been building to this event, everything was now ready!
But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son…..
Beginning with this humble couple a progressive work of restoring the image of Yahweh and the reconciliation of all things – the expectation of the ages is on the horizon. Throughout the Old Testament we find a progressive revelation of Yahweh as his different names are disclosed and his supernatural power and judgments are demonstrated. But he saves the greatest revelation of himself to be demonstrated in the incarnation of his only begotten Son.
Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.
Melchizedek is associated with kingship, priesthood, righteousness, peace as well as the city which eventually becomes Jerusalem. What is occurring is that a profile is being developed of what the ultimate Priest/King will look like. Keep in mind that types and shadows are not intended to have a 1:1 correspondence on every single attribute. They are types and shadows, not exact replicas.
And beginning from Jerusalem…..
If we try to pull these various elements together, Melchizedek served as the king of Salem which became Jerusalem at a later time. This connection between Melchizedek and Jerusalem becomes important for legitimizing the future messianic king ruling from this same city. Let’s establish the connection between Salem and Jerusalem.
God is renowned in Judah; in Israel his name is great.
His tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.
People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem.
Zion called the “city of David”….. 1 Kings 8:1; ll Chronicles 5:2
Zion equivalent to Jerusalem …… ll Kings 19:21; Ps. 51:18; Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 37:32
Mt. Zion equated to Jerusalem …..ll Kings 19:31; Ps. 76:2; Ps. 102:21
The point from the scriptures above is in establishing the linkage between Salem and Jerusalem. Psalm 76 equates Salem to Zion and other passages connect Zion to Jerusalem. (Salem = Zion = Jerusalem)
Joshua 10:1 further establishes the Canaanite deity Zedek with Jerusalem through another theorphorically named king (Adonizedek). Notice the text says Adonizedek is king of Jerusalem not Salem as was the case with Melchizedek, but they both represent the Canaanite deity Zedek, and both ruled over the same city (Salem|Jerusalem). I am providing these scriptures so you may see this for yourself. Salem is equated with Zion and Zion equates to Jerusalem. We have multiple place names but they all represent the one city. That location is the Holy City of Jerusalem located within the tribal geography allocated to Judah. Jesus (the one fulfilling the Melchizedek order) will ultimately reign as King from Jerusalem, a city within his home tribe according to the flesh.
(An interesting side study is the Israelite conquering of Jerusalem which does not occur until David is established as king (ll Sam. 5). Joshua was not able to drive out the Jebusites who remained entrenched until the Davidic dynasty (Joshua 15:63; Judges 1:21; 3:5). This seems to foreshadow ongoing contention over Jerusalem until the time of the end when Christ will be coronated as King and his kingdom fully manifest).
What is a blessing
Many of us use the term “be blessed” or “bless you,” but what actually is a blessing ? A definition I like is that we are asking God to provide the power, strength, wisdom or understanding so that we can do that for which we are designed or created. Blessing also carries the idea of passing something on to the next generation or another person. We see this imagery in the Biblical patriarchs blessing their sons.
Recall what God had said to Abram:
“I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
How exactly does God do this for Abraham? I would suggest that he begins that process through Melchizedek. Are you surprised that Yahweh could use someone like Melchizedek to accomplish his purposes? Melchizedek blessed Abram with this blessing:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.
And blessed be God Most High, who has defeated your enemies for you.”
In the Genesis 12 passage God says he will do it, and then in chapter 14 he actually bestows the blessing through a Canaanite priest/king who it seems had limited understanding of Yahweh. Is this not just like the Lord? He can use anyone or anything to bless his people because he is over all lesser gods. All their powers and attributes are subsumed in the One True God (Yahweh). Remember when the Hebrew people came out of Egypt they were blessed with silver, gold and clothing by their Egyptian masters. How was that possible unless Yahweh is over all?
And the people of Israel did as Moses had instructed; they asked the Egyptians for clothing and articles of silver and gold. The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth!
Staying with our definition of blessing, when Abraham was blessed by God through Melchizedek something significant was being transferred:
(1) Abraham’s descendants (Messiah) are legitimized as the rightful heir to the city
(2) Abraham’s descendants (Messiah) are legitimized as the eternal priesthood of the “Most High”
Ultimately, all the significance of this blessing will come to rest on the shoulders of the Messiah. This is why the Lord’s genealogy traces back to both Abraham and David. He is both king and priest as blessed by Yahweh, but in his humanity he is also legally king and priest as descended from Abraham and David. He has the full and legitimate credentials both as the second Adam and as second person of the trinity.
To students of the scriptures it should come as no surprise that Melchizedek foreshadows both the coming messianic high priest and the coming king/kingdom of God ruling from Jerusalem. Is it any wonder that we have great battles being waged even today over these two great stumbling blocks? The stumbling stones I refer to are Yahweh’s chosen city and his chosen priest.
As the Scriptures say, “I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.
1 Peter 2:6-8
I will make Jerusalem like an intoxicating drink that makes the nearby nations stagger when they send their armies to besiege Jerusalem and Judah. On that day I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock. All the nations will gather against it to try to move it, but they will only hurt themselves.
On that day the Lord will defend the people of Jerusalem; the weakest among them will be as mighty as King David! And the royal descendants will be like God, like the angel of the Lord who goes before them! For on that day I will begin to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. “Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son.
To summarize, Melchizedek ruled as king over the Canaanite city of Salem, also known as Jerusalem. As a priest king, he was named after a Canaanite deity but seemed to have had some revelation of Yahweh. His name is theophoric, a title and a proper name simultaneously. God is reclaiming all of this for himself; the kingdom, priesthood, his attributes and his chosen city. I trust you are beginning to see the parallels between the Melchizedek profile and the Lord Jesus – the one who will inherit all things.
It’s important to keep the big picture in mind throughout this study. God is reversing the events of the garden, the flood and the tower. We’ve detailed how he began this work through one man and his family, but we now have also added one city (Jerusalem) to the plan. The thing to understand is that the plan of God is to reconcile the people as well as the earth back to himself. How does he accomplish that purpose? Well that is this story. It begins with one man (Abram) and one city (Salem), both renamed theophorically to reflect God’s claim on them.
Oh, what a wonderful God he truly is!
Chapter Addendum (Melchizedek as an epiphany)
I don’t want to leave this chapter without addressing the belief many Christians have regarding the likelihood of Melchizedek being a pre-incarnate form of Christ, often referred to as an epiphany. The scripture reference to support this view is from Hebrews 7 and states:
The name Melchizedek means “king of justice,” and king of Salem means “king of peace.” There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors—no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God.
I believe the author of Hebrews is making a distinction between the two priesthoods (Melchizedek and Levi). Levitical priests were required to prove they were descended from Aaron and if unable to document their heritage, they were disqualified from service. Melchizedek became a priest without any such documented lineage.
Another way of looking at the passage is that there was no record of Melchizedek’s parentage. We don’t know where he came from nor ultimately what happened to him at the end of his life. The truth could be a combination of both reasons. But ultimately, whether he was an ancient epiphany of Jesus or a Canaanite ruler without documented lineage, is a question the reader will have to wrestle with in their own spiritual journey as neither position can be adequately proven from the text.
References to theophoric names:
Melchizedek podcast:166-168, 170; Dr. Michael Heiser, PhD
Theophoric Names in the Bible; Heriberto Haber; jewishbible.org
Biblical Names; Abarim Publications
Names in the Bible; Center for Reformed Theology and Apolegetics