555 Difficult Bible Questions Answered

85. Who and What Was Melchisedec?




It is in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis that Melchisedec is historically presented to us. The incident and its record, although so brief, and standing in such singular isolation from the thread of the history which it interrupts, is not only in itself most striking and interesting, but also in its typical teaching profoundly instructive. How suddenly and altogether unexpectedly does Melchisedec here appear before us—a most kingly and majestic form, yet clad in priestly robes, and with the mystic emblems of eucharistic offering— bread and wine—in his hands. We see those priestly hands raised in blessing; we observe the great patriarch, Abraham—the father of the faithful and the Friend of God—bowing before the mysterious priest-king, and presenting to him the tithes of all his spoil; and then, as abruptly as it appeared, the vision passes away, and for nearly a thousand years the voice of inspiration utters not again the name of Mechisedec. Then, however, in an ecstatic Psalm of a most distinctly Messianic character, and descriptive of our Lord's exaltation in the day of his power, we meet with it once more in the solemn declaration: "The Lord hath sworn and will not repent, thou art a priest forever, after the order of Melchisedec (Ps. 110:4). Again, something like a thousand years pass away, and then, once more, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews take up the subject of this mysterious personage, who, "Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days, or end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually" (Heb. 713) ; and on the two brief references to him, above given, which are all that the Scriptures contain, founds an argument to show the superiority of Christ's priesthood, as being "after the order of Melchisedec," to that of Aaron, or Levi, which it had superseded. Who was Melchisedec? Much labor has been wasted in attempts to answer the question. Later Jewish tradition identified him with Shem; and it is certain that that patriarch was not only alive in the days of Abra- ham, but even continued to live till Jacob was fifty years old. (Compare Gen. with verses 12:26, 21:5, 25:7-26.) According to others he belonged to the family of Ham, or of Japheth; and it has been said that this is necessarily implied by the language of the Apostle when drawing a parallel between Melchisedec and Christ, he says that our Lord belonged to "a tribe of which no man gave attendance at the altar." Some, again, have suggested that he was an incarnate angel, or other superhuman creature, who lived for a time among men. Others have held that he was an early manifestation of die Son of God; and a sect, called the Melchisedecians, asserted that he was "an incarnation of the Holy Ghost." But, in all these conjectures, the fact has been strangely overlooked that the reticence of Scripture on the point is typical and significant, for, could it be determined who Melchisedec really was, it could no longer be said that he was "without father, without mother, without genealogy"; which statement is to be understood, not as implying that he was not a natural descendant of Adam, but that he designedly appears and disappears in the sacred narrative without mention either of his parentage or death. There can, however, be no question that, whoever Melchisedec may have been, he was an eminent type of Christ. This is placed beyond doubt, not only by the language of the 110th Psalm—the Messianic character of which has ever been recognized by Jews and Christians alike—but especially by the argument of the Apostle, in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the course of which there occurs the explicit declaration that he was—in the various respects mentioned—"made like unto the Son of God."