Nothing particularly mysterious there.
Melchizedek is a bit of a mystery figure in the Bible. He first shows up in Genesis 14 after Abraham (or Abram as he was then called) has returned from defeating the five kings that had kidnapped his nephew, Lot. The Amplified Bible, Classic Edition describes the encounter in this way, “Melchizedek king of Salem [later called Jerusalem] brought out bread and wine [for their nourishment]; he was the priest of God Most High, and he blessed him and said, Blessed (favored with blessings, made blissful, joyful) be Abram by God Most High, Possessor and Maker of heaven and earth, and blessed, praised, and glorified be God Most High, Who has given your foes into your hand! And [Abram] gave him a tenth of all [he had taken]“. Nothing particularly mysterious there. Melchizedek is next mentioned by David in Psalm 110:1-4, “Yahweh says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool for your feet”…..Yahweh has sworn, and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek”” (World English Bible). If you remember, Jesus quoted from Psalm 110 when he asked the pharisees how the Messiah could be David’s son, if David called Him ‘Lord’.
So far, so not very mysterious.
The mystery really begins though when the writer of Hebrews (which is also a mystery!) begins to talk about Melchizedek, quoting from Psalm 110: “No one elects himself to this honored position. He’s called to it by God, as Aaron was. Neither did Christ presume to set himself up as high priest, but was set apart by the One who said to him, “You’re my Son; today I celebrate you!” In another place God declares, “You’re a priest forever in the royal order of Melchizedek.”” (Hebrews 5:4-6, The Message). So far, so not very mysterious. But look at Hebrews 7:1-3, “For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him…..first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life“. The first thing we learn from this is that Melchizedek is title rather than a name. But then comes the part about not having a father or mother or beginning or end – which is somewhat confusing to say the least! Surely Melchizedek must have had parents, he must have been born and by the time Hebrews was written, about two thousand years after Abraham met Melchizedek, he must have died.
Hebrews 7:8 throws a spanner in the works.
The puzzle is partly solved by the way the Easy to Read Version translates verse 3: “No one knows who his father or mother was or where he came from. And no one knows when he was born or when he died. Melchizedek is like the Son of God in that he will always be a priest“. No one knowing the details of Melchizedek parents or his birth & death, certainly make more sense than him not having parents and never being born or dying. But then Hebrews 7:8 throws a spanner in the works, which no translation of the Bible (in English at least) has been able to shed any light on: “Priests are given a tenth of what people earn. But all priests die, except Melchizedek, and the Scriptures teach that he is alive” (Contemporary English Version). I will not attempt to give an answer as to what it means when it says that Melchizedek is alive, because I do not know.
He returned to Heaven to wait for the right time to come back.
One of the theories about Melchizedek is that he was Jesus. However the writer of Hebrews only states that Melchizedek is like the Son of God, not that he is the Son of God. Also for Jesus & Melchizedek to be one and the same, it would mean that Jesus had lived on the Earth prior to being born of Mary. Then at some point He returned to Heaven to wait for the right time to come back, this time as a baby. When you put it like that, it does not seem very likely, does it? There is another possible identity for Melchizedek though: I mentioned earlier that the first time Melchizedek showed up in the Bible is in Genesis 14 when he met Abram, but according to the Jewish sages (see the Chumash) this is not the case. They assert that the first time Melchizedek appears in the Bible is in Genesis 5:32, “When Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth“. Did you spot him? Possibly not, but remember that we saw in Hebrews that Melchizedek was a title and at the time just after the flood that title had not yet been assigned to him. The Jewish sages identify Melchizedek as Shem, and they say that he was titled Melchizedek, or king of righteousness, because he was king of the future site of the Temple, the home of righteousness. They say that as the most honoured of Noah’s children, Shem was made the priest of God in Jerusalem (Salem).
Wouldn’t Shem have been dead by the time Abraham was around?
We can certainly learn a lot from what has been written down by the Jews, but we must bear in mind that their writings are not scripture. So is their assertion that Shem was given the title of Melchizedek and later met Abram possible? Wouldn’t Shem have been dead by the time Abraham was around? He was after all Abraham’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great-grandfather! The surprising answer, is no and even more surprising – neither was Noah (although he had died by the time we are introduced to Abram)! Shem was born in the year 1558 from Creation (we know this because he was 100 two years after the flood in the year 1658 from Creation). Shem lived until the year 2158 from Creation and as Abraham was born in the year 1948 from Creation, their lives did indeed overlap. Shem even lived 35 years longer than Abraham! Shem’s immense age would certainly have put him in an excellent position to be the priest of God Most High as Genesis 14 calls Melchizedek. So whilst we cannot say with certainty that Shem was Melchizedek, he certainly seems to be a very plausible candidate.
If you have any further questions or thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment.
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