Jesus in the Old Testament is a sermon series on finding Jesus in the whole Bible. Melchizedek — Who is this mysterious character who is described as a priest of God Most High during the time of Abraham, and the king of righteousness and peace? Who is this one who offers gifts of bread and wine, a blessing, and an invitation to worship? Recorded on May 30, 2021, on Genesis 14:13-20, by Pastor David Parks.
So all year, we’ve been focusing on the Person and Work of Jesus. And last week, we started our final sermon series under this annual theme called Jesus in the Old Testament. The three-in-one nature of God, this peculiar teaching that God is a perfect, loving community of Father, Son, and Spirit, became clearer by the time of the NT in the Bible, but even in the OT, we see certain images and characters who prefigure/foreshadow the person/work of Jesus. And that’s what this series is all about: finding Jesus in the OT. Well, last week we considered the mysterious character of the Angel of the Lord. If you missed that message, you can always go back on watch on YouTube or listen to the audio podcast. Today, we’re visiting another mysterious character in the OT named Melchizedek. Now, Melchizedek is fascinating: an ancient priest who was known as the king of righteousness and the king of peace, who comes from Jerusalem to bless God’s people with bread and wine. Does that remind you of anyone else in the Bible? Does this sound familiar? If you have a Bible/app, please open it to Ge 14:13.
Genesis 14:13-20, “13 A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people. 17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”
Ok! So we jumped right into the middle of something. What did the man escape from and why did Abram and his band of 300 Navy Seals go rampaging after them? Well, the first half of chapter 14 describes alliances of kings going to war against each other. And one group, including the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and their allies, fight another group lead by the king, Kedorlaomer. The alliance is soundly defeated and scattered. Kedorlaomer seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, including their people and their food/possessions as their brave kings ran and hid. Lot, Abram’s relative, was caught up in all of that and was captured by Kedorlaomer. When Abram heard what had happened, he marshaled his troops, which, by the way, shows how wealthy and powerful he had become by this point in time, and pursued the armies who had captured Lot. They defeated the armies of the kings that for sure would’ve been far larger by a sneak attack at night, turned it into a route. Then they recovered all the goods and people and came back home. Epic. The movie 300 with Gerard Butler where a band of 300 men went up against a far larger army was fiction. This is history. Let’s pick up the story after the battle when Abram meets this mysterious character of King Melchizedek in v. 18.
Genesis 14:18, “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High,” Let’s pause here. Melchizedek appears seemingly out of nowhere and then disappears. But his name comes up repeatedly (10 more times) in the rest of the Bible. Why? Because even though he’s only in 3 short verses in the book of Genesis, there’s a wealth of meaning in how he’s described and in what he does for Abram. Let’s start with how he’s described. First, Moses, the author of Genesis, says he’s a priest. Of the 700+ times that the Hebrew word for priest is used in the OT, this mysterious character of Melchizedek is the first person to be described as a priest. Even more interesting, he’s described as a priest of God Most High, meaning Yahweh, the LORD, the God who had called Abraham, though he was still called Abram at this time. How did Melchizedek become a priest of God Most High? The Levitical priesthood, of the line of Aaron, wouldn’t be established for another 400+ years with Moses at Mount Sinai. There’s no genealogy given to describe his family, meaning he wasn’t a priest by birth as far as we can tell. Or did God call Melchizedek to be his priest through an act of divine revelation, as he had called Abram? It doesn’t say. No explanation is given. We just have to accept the fact that he’s a priest. Ok, second, he’s a king, the king of Salem. Now Salem is an ancient name for the city which became known as Jerusalem. And Salem means peace. The author of the book of Hebrews in the NT points out the fact that his name, Melchi-zedek means king of righteousness, and being the king of Salem means he is also the king of peace. King of righteousness and the king of peace. Again, this is rich with meaning and brings up more questions than answers at this point in the narrative. So Melchizedek is described as a priest-king of the Most High God, known by righteousness and peace. Finally, let’s consider his actions. What does he do? In v. 18, he brings out bread and wine (interesting) and he freely offers this as a gift for Abram to celebrate his victory of defeating the enemy and freeing the captives from king Kedorlaomer. And here, they share a table to celebrate this saving work. Let’s continue in v. 19.
Genesis 14:19-20a, “and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Let’s pause. The surrounding peoples did not believe that God Most High was the Creator of heaven and earth. They had local deities and national deities, but not one God who was the creator of all things. So again, Melchizedek is a priest of Abram’s God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Moses and David and all the people of God. And as a priest, he offers a blessing for God’s people. “Blessed be Abram by God Most High.” Many years later, God established the priestly blessing that we often use to close our services from Numbers 6, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” God wanted his priests to bless his people and here, Melchizedek blesses Abram. Second, he also calls for a response of worship. “Praise be to God Most High.” Why? Because Melchizedek recognized that it was God who was the one who delivered the enemy into the hand of Abram. The Lord was the source of the victory and he deserved all the glory, honor, and praise. Later, under the Mosaic Law, the Levitical priests were also responsible for organizing and leading the service of worship for the people of God, offering gifts and sacrifices for the people, reading and teaching from the Scriptures, and leading them in songs of praised and thanksgiving. So how would Abram respond to this mysterious character? Would he try and forge an alliance? Would he try and leverage him for political power or wealth? We have a simple statement at the end of v. 20.
Genesis 14:20b, “Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Again, later, under the Mosaic Law, the people of Israel were commanded to give a tithe or a tenth of their income to support the work of the Levites. Here, Abram gives a tenth of everything to Melchizedek. Not because he was obligated under the law, but as we would say, as a freewill offering. This is closer to what we find today in the new covenant established by Jesus. A tithe isn’t commanded anymore. But rather, you are to give to the Lord as you have decided in your heart to give, freely and joyfully, as an act of worship. It might be 10%. It might be more than 10%. I know of people who have the resources to reverse tithe or give 90% to the Lord and live on 10% rather than the other way around. God doesn’t care as much about the amount or the percentage as much as your heart of worship behind the gift. The point is, Abram gave a tenth to God through Melchizedek as an offering of praise in response to the call to worship given by this priest-king of God Most High. Now, the end of chapter 14 compares the king of Sodom to the king of Salem. Sodom was notoriously corrupt, but basically represents the normal way of the kings and the kingdoms of this broken world. However, contrasted with this vision of the violence, corruption, and greed that so often mark the kingdoms of this world, Moses, holds up Melchizedek as an entirely different kind of king: a priest-king of God, coming out with a gift of bread and wine to bless and call God’s people to worship. And we’re left asking the question: who acts like this? What sort of king gives gifts and offers blessings to people not part of their kingdom? His actions and Abram’s response implies that he is greater than even Abraham, the one that God chose to be a blessing to all the nations and peoples of the earth. Let’s add one more wrinkle to this story. Almost a thousand years later, David, another king of Salem/Jerusalem, another person who functioned as both a priest and a king, wrote a song in which he refers to Melchizedek. Let’s look at that now.
Psalm 110:4, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” So here, David says that God Most High has sworn to someone, someone whom king David calls his Lord, to be a priest. But not a normal Leviticus priest. And not a priest who would come and go, to be replaced by the next generation when they are dead and gone. But a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. David prophetically anticipates that there would be another priesthood that would supersede the Levites. There would be a great high priest to come that would last forever, like Melchizedek in that Moses doesn’t describe his genealogy or his death, he is presented as if he just exists. Well, who could this be?? This leads us forward in time all the way to the book of Hebrews. About a thousand years after the time of King David, the author of Hebrews is especially concerned with connecting the dots from the OT to Jesus. In fact, the purpose of Hebrews is very similar to the purpose of our sermon series, Jesus in the Old Testament. And chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Hebrews unpack how Melchizedek is like a big sign, pointing to the person and work of Jesus. Jesus is a priest of the order of Melchizedek. After all, who else but Jesus is the true king of righteousness? Jesus said, I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. Saying, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” And how do we find this surpassing righteousness? In the gospel. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,” Jesus was the only one who was truly righteous, free from the stain of sin. And by faith in Jesus, his righteousness is given to us. Jesus is the true king of righteousness.
What about peace? Isaiah said Jesus would be the Prince of Peace. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is the king of righteousness and peace. And what about the bread and wine? Well, on the night he was betrayed, Jesus established the new covenant by his blood. And to mark this new covenant, he established a practice for his people for all time, that whenever you share the bread and wine, you remember and proclaim his death until he returns. And what does this commemorate? Not the victory of Abram over the alliance of kings. But the victory of Jesus over our ultimate enemies of sin and death. And not the freedom of the captives to Kedorlaomer, but the freedom we have in Christ. And what about the blessing and the call to worship of Melchizedek? After his resurrection and ascension back to heaven, and to this very day, Jesus serves as our Great High Priest. He offered Himself as the once for all sacrifice that we needed. He blesses all who turn to Him by faith. And his person and work invite a whole-life response of worship and praise. So where do we find Jesus in the OT? In the fascinating story of this ancient priest-king Melchizedek. Isn’t this amazing?