Here are some passages from five chapters in Scripture that name Melchizedek. Read them all; I have missed out lots, but will refer to what they say.
"Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine . He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying
'Blessed be Abram by God Most High
Creator of Heaven and Earth.
And blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.'
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything."
"[Yhwh] has sworn and will not change his mind,
'You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek."
"So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest, but God said to him,
'You are my Son
today I have become your Father.'
'You are a priest for ever
in the order of Melchizedek.'
... Jesus ... has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.
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, his name means 'king of righteousness [justice]', then also 'king of Salem' means 'king of peace'. Without father or mother , without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God, he remains a priest for ever.
Just think how great he was. Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder. [The text then argues that Melchizedek is superior in some kind of rank than not only Abraham but all the descendents of Abraham, and in particular, the Levitical / Aaronic priests descended from Levi.] ... because when Melchizedek met Abraham Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.
If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood ... why was there still need for another priest to come - one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? ... another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulaton as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared,
'You are a priest for ever
in the order of Melchizedek.
The former regulation is set aside. ..."
When Melchizedek suddenly appears, he is named as:
As Tom Holland and others have pointed out, most of the people-groups around the Middle East of that time worshipped deities that represented specific things or qualities in Creation, such as sun, moon, courage, etc. But the people of Israel were known to worship the Most High God, who was Creator of all. It is interesting that Melchizedek was known then as priest of this God, rather than any local deity.
Don Richardson interestingly argues that throughout the Earth, as far back as Abraham, 4000 years ago, many peoples were aware of this "God Most High", known in China as "Shang Di", and also in South East Asia, in South America and other places in the world.
The Canaanite and other peoples around tended to have their own deities, and their idea was that the deity should protect their nation and enable it to win in battles. (In those days, each city or small region had its own kind.) So, if one nation/people won over another, then their deity was seen as superior. But Melchizedek was priest of a God above all. And it had been this God Who called Sbraham to leave his settled life and enter Canaan, and that it would be through Abraham that all peoples would be blessed.
tsedeq, which is translated as both "justice" and "righteousness". As the page on Justice and Righteousness points out, though in English we give them two different meanings, in Hebrew they are the same thing. So I usually call them "justice-righteousness" (or "righteousness-justice").
In English we use "righteousness" to refer to personal morality, integrity or uprightness, and "justice" to refer to rights and retribution and the character of a society, but in Hebrew "
tsedeq" (and in the Greek word "
dikaios") they are fundamentally the same and should not be separated like that. Paul Marshall provides a very useful definition of
tsedeq: "Right relationships among all things in the Created Order" - both human and non-human. That resonates with Genesis 1, where all things worked together well (before humanity turned away from God's mandate and privilege to humans to care for the rest of Creation. It also resonates, as we shall see below, with the life Jesus introduces.
(And from that he works out a proposal for a truly Biblical kind of politics. It implies that we do not decimate biodiversity, here or elsewhere, do not sacrifice the climate to our needs, let alone our greed, and do not let destitution among people prevail, here or elsewhere. That is largely what Paul Marshall argues. That is what tsedeq means. )
Melchizedek is king of this combined justice-righteousness. Since, in that era, names of people were more than labels and often described a person's character, we may reasonably assume that his rule was characterized by justice-righteousness. Governing for right relationships among all Created things - humans, animals, plants, ecosystems, and so on.
This contrasts markedly with that of most of the surrounding Canaanite cultures, such as that of Sodom. By and large such cultures elevated elites, of which the king was the elitist among the elites, above ordinary people. Elites could use the ordinary people as expendable chattels and slaves in whatever schemes took their fancy. They were societies built on slavery to provide the needs and luxuries of the elites. Especially Egyptian society just after Abraham's time and Greek society just before Jesus' time. Their kings' rule was characterized by this, and the ordinary people just had to accept it.
Remember when the people of Israel demanded "appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have" [I Samuel 8:5]? What was God's warning through Samuel?
"He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, ... others to plough his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. ... He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves ... and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. ..." [I Samuel 8:10-18].
These things are what the kings of the surrounding nations did. They did not rule with
tsedeq but with dominance, power, greed, self-interest, slavery and even cruelty.
(There was some recognition that this was not ideal, such as expressed in some of the Code of Hammurabi. That, however, was not fully aligned with tsedeq, but still saw elites as those who mattered.)
So it is significant that Abraham, through whom the Most High God would bring blessing to all peoples, was met and blessed by this high priest of God Most High, whose rule was of justice-righteousness.
In societies governed by
tsedeq, people are not oppressed, and so there is little cause for rebellion and battle. Peace tends to reign. But in the Canaanite culture, of greed and selfishness by elites, elites would compete with each other for supremacy, playing war- and other games, with ordinary folk as pawns. The elites, and especially kings, enjoyed the glory of winning these games (or the humiliation of defeat). In Canaanite cultures, "heroes" were revered. Remember Goliath, the hero of the Philistines 1000 years later. In Greek culture, think of people like Achilles. The ordinary people found their meaning-in-life, their dignity, by siding with their nations, and enjoying vicarious thrill from their heroes when they won. Everything was competition. So war was the normal.
Competition is the "philosophy of Hell". As C.S. Lewis put into the words of Screwtape, the Philosophy of Hell
"rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and especially that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. Even an inanimate object is what it is by excluding all other objects from the space it occupies; if it expands, it does so by thrusting other objects aside or by absorbing them. A self does the same. With beasts the absorption takes the form of eating; for us, it means the sucking of will and freedom out of a weaker self into a stronger. 'To be' means 'to be in competition.'"
This sums up quite well the ethos and mindset of Canaanite and other pagan views of life. Competition and readiness-to-war was what was expected, and even lauded.
By contrast, Melchizedek was "king of Salem", a rendering of
shalom, which means "peace". Indeed,
shalom is more than absence of war or conflict, but refers to full health, prosperity, and wellbeing. The state in which all in Creation is in right relationship and is fulfilling that. Peace is the expected outcome in a culture governed by justice-righteousness. This is very different from that which prevailed in Canaanite cultures.
The Most High God, Yhwh, chose the descendents of Abraham to show a very different way in which life was intended to be, as both individuals and society. The people of Israel were given a law by which there would be no heroes, not kings, and even no very-rich dynasties such as we have today. At the end of every 50 years, all land was to be returned to the families who originally owned it, and all debts were to be cancelled. If the people chose a king, he was not to take the status of an elite [Deuteronomy 17:20]. This allowed people a bit of time for entrepreneurial economic activity, without everlasting accumulation of wealth. Archaeology confirms that, among the settlers of the hills (where the Bible says the people of Israel dwelt) there were very few grand buildings or palaces like those in the surrounding nations.
Society was intended to not be centred on, applauding, and providing for, heroes, but rather for all people equally. This kind of society would foster peace rather than the competition leading to arrogance, hatred and war.
Jesus also is different.
Instead, there may be more. Jesus' reign is (and will be) one of justice-righteousness and peace, not of elitism, competition, arrogance, hatred and war [Jeremiah 23:5-6; Isaiah 9:6-7].
Salvation of individuals is not solely for the benefit of those individuals but for benefit of "the world" [John 3:16] and indeed of the whole Creation [Romans 8:19]. Salvation has not one dimension (being justified before God by the atoning death of Christ), nor even just two (that and experience of God here and now and the working of the Holy Spirit) but three. The third dimension of salvation is for the entire Creation, and is accomplished by the Holy Spirit making us mature in Christ, with the character and 'mind' of Christ [Galatians 5:22-23, Romans 12:2; ]. See Three Dimensions of Salvation.
Such people represent God among peoples of the Earth, as individuals through whom God works. It leads to Christ's people taking climate and environmental responsibility seriously and taking a lead in it (rather than resisting or ignoring it). No wonder Paul is bowled over by this idea at the end of Romans 8! See Romans 8.
In this way Jesus brings about the fulfilment of "Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven." This is a reign of justice-righteousness and peace.
So Jesus Christ is King of Justice-Righteousness and King of Peace. He is also a third, which Melchizedek was not: King of Love. "The King of Love my shepherd is ..." goes the song. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep - and I believe this salvation is not to be restricted to human beings but to the entire Creation.
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.
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Created: 15 October 2023. After Paul Wintle preached on Melchizedek as a 'type' of Christ at Main Street Community Church, Frodsham, UK this morning. Last updated: 16 October 2023 redone. 22 October 2023 ruth.as.type.