At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, 2 these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3 All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). 4 For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
5 In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim 6 and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. 7 Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar.
8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim 9 against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.
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.
21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”
22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”
So, who is this random priest-king who blesses Abram on his way back from rescuing his nephew Lot? Melchizedek, a Canaanite, is thrown seemingly out of left field into this little vignette. He is only mentioned three times in the Bible (twice in the Old Testament, once in the New), but he seems to have captured people’s imaginations. He certainly caught my attention. Some say he is a foreshadowing of Christ, or even a pre-Bethlehem appearance of Christ. Most of the arguments for this line of belief come from the other two mentions of Melchizedek (Psalm 110 and Hebrews 7) but I’ll outline them here. First, his name and title. “Melchizedek” means “my king is righteousness” and the name of his kingdom is Salem, which means “peace.” So, he’s the representative of righteousness in a kingdom of peace on earth – much like Jesus. Second, he brings out bread and wine for Abram, similar to the Last Supper offering made by Christ that we reenact with the Eucharist today. Third, Abram paid tithes to him instead of the other way around, implying that Melchizedek was even closer to God than Abram was. There is some debate over who paid tithes to whom if you get into original translations – apparently there’s just a whole lot of masculine pronouns flying around – but most believe it was Abram who paid tithes to Melchizedek. Finally, and this point is made more clear in Hebrews 7, Melchizedek is without mother or father or any genealogy, like Christ. The fact that he reigns “as a priest forever” (Psalm 110) also implies his eternal nature, again, like Christ.
So is he Christ? I’ll admit, I kind of like the idea of Jesus popping up in the Old Testament. Along this line of thinking, God walking with Adam and Eve could be seen as a pre-Christ Christ-figure, as in, He takes a human form to be with His creation. Seeing Jesus in these passages is kind of like a Biblical “Where’s Waldo,” and I get a kick out of it. So should you believe this or not? I don’t think it makes a direct impact on my faith, kind of like debating what color sandals Jesus wore, but I do like it.
I think it may be more important to see Melchizedek as a foible to King Bera of Sodom, who also has an interaction with Abram, technically right before Melchizedek’s (see verse 14:17), but told more fully after Melchizedek’s interaction. When Melchizedek meets Abram, he prepares a feast for him and blesses him, not asking for anything. In return, Abram gives him a tenth of all he has. When Bera meets Abram, no feast is prepared and he immediately starts haggling with him-“give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” (14:21) Some may see this as a generous offer, but Abram is under no obligation to give this defeated king anything. Also, my NIV footnotes tell me Abram refuses because basically Bera is trying to buy Abram’s loyalty. The footnote reads thus: “Abram refused to let himself become obligated to anyone but the Lord. Had he done so, this Canaanite king might later have claimed the right of kingship over him.” It seems even in the patriarchal period, Sodom was already synonymous with evil, and not anything you with which you would want attachment.
Melchizedek, even in his brief appearance, can be a role model for us still today. Let us strive to give freely, both of our worldly goods and less tangible blessings. By blessing others, you will be blessed in turn.