The entire appearance of Melchizedek in the narrative of Moses is curious. He appears suddenly into Moses’ account in Genesis 14 at an interesting moment, and then disappears from the Old Testament record until Psalm 110.
When we arrive at the story of Melchizedek in Genesis 14, this much has happened. Yahweh has blessed humanity at creation with a special position—to rule over creation for Yahweh according to His direction. Humanity walked away from that blessing. Instead they had inherited the curse of evil. It was in them and it affected all of creation. Creation was groaning under the weight of the rule of humanity. But from early on Yahweh has been revealing that He will save humanity and will restore the lost blessing to them.
At this point in the story Yahweh has picked one man, Abram. He has told him that it is through him that all nations will be blessed. The original blessing, lost through the fall of Adam and Eve was to be restored through Abraham’s offspring. However, Abram was a herdsman. He owned no land, he had no offspring, and he certainly was not a king or ruler even among local rulers in the land of Palestine when the events of Genesis 14 occur.
Then there is a series of events in which four ancient kings form a coalition of sorts and begin to expand their territory. They wreak havoc among the people living in the land promised to Abraham. Eventually these coalition forces attack another coalition of five kings, and specifically the town Abram’s nephew was living in, Sodom. They win the battle, loot Sodom, and carry off as captives a number of the citizens, including Abram’s nephew, Lot. The curse is alive and well and it is impacting this chosen individual.
Word of this battle and the plight of the captives comes to Abram. It is a pivotal moment for him. What is he to do? He is not a king. But by this time he does have a number of servants. He decides to intervene. He sets out with his own servants to rescue his nephew and the other captives. He attacks the coalition army with his makeshift army of 318.
To the surprise of the readers, Abram soundly defeats this coalition of kings. It is a surprise because thus far in the account Yahweh has orchestrated nothing of this sort among His people. So far the record has left the reader with the impression that the numbers and influence of any people loyal to Yahweh has been steadily dwindling. This time things are different. Abram rescues the captives and recovers all the goods that had been carried off. In a moment the four king confederacy that had terrorized the region of Canaan was eliminated.
As Abram is returning from this remarkable event, taking the captives and the goods back to the king of Sodom, there comes the moment when they meet. But at this point a third person abruptly enters the narrative of Moses. It is another king. Moses introduces him as Melchizedek king of Salem. That was a town that would grow to a city and be called Jerusalem. Salem means peace. The name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness.” So the town of peace was reigned by the king of righteousness.
There is one more thing Moses tells us that is important. Melchizedek is “priest of God most high.” So this mysterious figure we know nothing about, except that he was both a priest and a king, comes bringing “bread and wine.” This was likely a gift of gratitude for Abram who in defeating the coalition had rid the entire region of a reign of terror.
The use of the phrase “most high God” is of interest in the passage. It will occur four times in five verses. It occurs quite rarely in the Old Testament. Its equivalent, Most High, is more frequent primarily in the Psalms. This title seems to be reserved for those occasions when the absolute sovereignty of Yahweh over all creation and the dependence of humanity on Him are being stressed. So it is an expression that describes His transcendence with respect to all of His creation, humanity included, and all authorities human or otherwise included. Used as it will be here it adds loftiness to Melchizedek’s position and Abram’s as well. But also as used by both of them it is an affirmation of God’s authority over both of them. The use of the phrase by Abram later in the passage will minimize the significance of the third party at this meeting, the king of Sodom.
When Melchizedek addresses Abram he does so by conferring a blessing on him. So we have in the story a king who is also a priest of the most high God before any order of priests had been established by Yahweh. This priest/king conveys this specific blessing on Abram: “Blessed be Abram by God most high, possessor of heaven and earth.” So as priest/king of God most high Melchizedek is declaring Abram blessed by this most high God. Melchizedek is recognizing Abram’s position in Yahweh’s eyes even as he is acknowledging Yahweh’s sovereignty over himself. Then Melchizedek says, “Blessed be God most high who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” This is a declaration by the priest/king that a kingdom kind of act had been brought about by Yahweh through the man of His own choosing. He affirms that God had partnered with a person in a military action to establish His will in the land Abram’s family would eventually possess. This act of God was the first visible sign a kingdom was being built of Yahweh’s chosen one. So the phrase “most high God” has been used two more times. The repeated use of this term in such close proximity highlights the event in the mind of the reader, though its actual significance cannot be clearly seen in Genesis 14 alone. There is something significant the reader is meant to catch a glimpse of in Moses book. David himself did not miss its significance (Psalm 110).
What happens next is significant. Abram does not slip into a swagger upon hearing the blessing of Melchizedek. The opposite happens. Abram defers to Melchizedek by giving to him a tenth of all he had. In that act Abram was acknowledging a certain presence of Yahweh in Melchizedek and honors him as such. He had experienced the blessing of partnership with Yahweh, now he was acknowledging that his blessing was a gift of Yahweh. All this is a sign of growing faith and trust in Abram, who would not be declared justified until the next chapter.
At this point the vanquished king of Sodom steps into this scene where honor and blessing are being exchanged. He says to Abram words to this effect, “You keep all the loot and just return the captives to me.” To this Abram replies, “I have lifted my hand to Yahweh most high, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take anything from you lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” So Abram is realizing that to Yahweh all things belonged—He was indeed God most high. That phrase occurs for the fourth time here. He has joined himself to Melchizedek by using this expression. This action expressed a growing belief in Abram that there was nothing that did not fall under the command and control of Yahweh. Abram was embracing Yahweh exclusively more and more. He was becoming more determined not to do anything that would cause the truth and principle that Yahweh was the sovereign of the universe to be distorted and abused.
Abram saw something in this priest /king. It motivated him to give Melchizedek a tenth of all he had to him. Later writers saw something as well. David saw in Melchizedek a kind of leader pictured, one whom he himself would be subject to even as Abram was (Psalm 110). He saw a future ruler who would be a king, but also “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” The writer of Hebrews saw the same thing (Heb. 7). Christ would be a better priest than all the priests that had served Israel, all of whom were after the order of Aaron and the Levites. Christ would be better because He was a SON of the Most High (Lk. 1:32), a priest and a King. In other words Christ was like Melchizedek, of that same order. That order had disappeared but now had resurfaced. The new covenant necessitated a new order of the priesthood.
From our perspective with the benefit of David’s words and those of the writer to Hebrews we see Melchizedek’s appearance in Moses’ narrative as being of great significance. Melchizedek’s actions, his visit with Abram and his blessing of Abram, was a picture of one greater than Abram that was the source of Abram’s blessing. This One whom Melchizedek pictured was the source of blessing through Abram to all people.
Interestingly after Abram’s growing faith has been displayed in this exchange, after Yahweh’s blessing of Him had lifted him to a new level of influence, and after Abram had refused any reward from the king of Sodom, the account goes on to report Yahweh appearing to Abraham. Yahweh says, “Fear not Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Moses’ words report that on this occasion Abram is counted as righteous and Yahweh’s earlier promise is given as a covenant to him.
Why did Moses highlight this incident through the frequent use of the title “God most high”? The incident spoke of the central figure, the King God would raise up from the seed of Abraham to restore the peace forfeited by humanity in the fall. A king of righteousness would emerge in Jerusalem, a priest/king of God most high.
David affirmed this linkage of his own descendant that would rule the world to Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4)—the priest of the most high God. When the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that her son would be recognized as “the son of the most high,” and when Gabriel said that the son would be conceived as the “power of the most high” overshadowed Mary, it was a clear statement that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah. It is also linkage to the earliest writings of Scripture to show that the promise of God to save humanity from the curse and to bring that blessing that had been theirs back through the offspring of Abraham clearly was on course. The Priest-king of Yahweh’s kingdom, Jesus, was born.