The King of Righteousness

17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.’” Genesis 14:17-24 ESV

Having won a God-ordained victory over the four kings of Mesopotamia, Abram returned home with his nephew, Lot, and all the plunder that had been taken from Sodom by King Chedorlaomer. Upon his return, Abram was greeted by two kings. One was Bera, the king of Sodom, while the other was Melchizedek, the king of Salem. While Bera was introduced in verse two of this same chapter, Melchizedek makes his first appearance. It seems quite obvious why Bera would come out to meet Abram and his troops as they returned from battle. His city had been sacked and plundered by the coalition of kings from Mesopotamia and Abram had “brought back all the possessions” (Genesis 14:16 ESV) that had been taken. Abram has rescued all of the city’s stolen treasure and the citizens who had been taken captive, and Bera wanted to express his appreciation. He even offered to let Abram keep all the plunder as a payment for his efforts.

Give back my people who were captured. But you may keep for yourself all the goods you have recovered. – Genesis 14:21 NLT

But it seems that Abram wanted nothing to do with Bera or his treasure. He firmly, but graciously refused the offer, stating, “I solemnly swear to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from what belongs to you. Otherwise, you might say, ‘I am the one who made Abram rich.’ I will accept only what my young warriors have already eaten, and I request that you give a fair share of the goods to my allies—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre” (Genesis 14:22-24 NLT).

Moses has already made it clear that “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV). Even the king’s name bore witness to his own immorality and evilness. In Hebrew, his name, בֶּרַע (beraʿ) means “son of evil.” This raises the question of how any parent could burden their child with such a harsh and almost prophetic name. And interestingly enough, the king of Gomorrah was saddled with a similarly unflattering name. His was בִּרְשַׁע (biršaʿ) which can be translated “with iniquity.” These two men ended up ruling over two of the most wicked and godless communities on the face of the earth. They were the epitome of the attitude that had pervaded the earth right before God destroyed it.

everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT

So, Abram’s decision to refuse an offer from this corrupt king makes sense. He didn’t want anything to do with Bera or his treasure. And Abram had already made a vow to God that he would not accept any reward for his services. He knew that to do so would place him in a position of subservience to Bera. This godless, pagan king could claim that he was the one who made Abram wealthy and use that as a future bargaining chip to obligate Abram for additional help when needed. Abram would owe Bera.

The reward Bera was offering Abram must have been substantial because it would have made Abram wealthier than he already was. According to Genesis 13, Abram was well-off.

Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. – Genesis 13:2 ESV

But while Abram was unwilling to accept any compensation, he allowed his men to choose their share of the reward. He didn’t attempt to burden his men with the requirements of the personal vow he had made to God. Rather than force his convictions on them, Abram graciously allowed them to decide for themselves.

This now brings us back to the second king mentioned in the narrative: Melchizedek, the king of Salem. As if out of nowhere, this king shows up in the story without introduction and with no explanation as to who he was. His name appears nowhere in the opening verses of the chapter. He was not one of the nine kings involved in the battle. And his name appears in none of the genealogies recorded in the earlier chapters of Genesis. There are only three other places in Scripture where Melchizedek is mentioned. The first is in a psalm written by King David. In it, David states that God has declared him to be “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4 ESV). Jesus would later use this same psalm to prove His claim to be the Christ, the Messiah of Israel (Matthew 22:41-46). So, he believed this song of David to be a prophetic statement about Himself. He was that priest after the order of Melchizedek. The fact that Melchizedek appears on the scene with no apparent genealogy and then disappears with no mention of his death makes him a type of Christ. He was the king of Salem, the future site of Jerusalem. Melchizedek, which was likely his title and not his  name, means “King of Righteousness.” This appellation is meant to stand in stark contrast to that of Bera, the “son of evil.”

In the midst of the predominantly pagan Canaanite culture, this “righteous” king suddenly appears on the scene, offering bread and wine to Abram and his men. Moses describes him as “a priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18 ESV). In other words, he was far more than just another king. He was a servant of Yahweh, the God who had called Abram and who had promised to make of him a great nation. This would have been the first time that Abram encountered another human being who also worshiped El Elyon (God Most High).

Once again, Melchizedek receives little mention in the Scriptures, but where his name does appear, it is associated with Jesus. In the book of Hebrews, the author presents Jesus as the better high priest, stating:

…no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was. That is why Christ did not honor himself by assuming he could become High Priest. No, he was chosen by God, who said to him,

“You are my Son.
    Today I have become your Father.”

And in another passage God said to him,

“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 5:4-6 NLT

In the very next chapter, the author declares that Jesus “leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary” and “has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20 NLT. And then the author provides some much-needed explanation as to Melchizedek’s identity and his relationship with Jesus.

This Melchizedek was king of the city of Salem and also a priest of God Most High. When Abraham was returning home after winning a great battle against the kings, Melchizedek met him and blessed him. Then Abraham took a tenth of all he had captured in battle and gave it to Melchizedek. The name Melchizedek means “king of justice,” and king of Salem means “king of peace.” There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors—no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God. – Hebrews 7:1-3 NLT

Melchizedek was meant to foreshadow the great high priest who would come to earth offering bread and wine in the form of His own body. In an upper room in the city of “Salem” (Jerusalem), Jesus would share a final Passover meal with His disciples and, just like Melchizedek, offer His disciples bread and wine.

As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.” – Matthew 26:26-28 NLT

Melchizedek fed Abram and his men, then pronounced a blessing.

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” – Genesis 14:19-20 ESV

In doing so, he confirmed Abram’s desire to honor God with his victory. Melchizedek emphasized the sovereign power of Abram’s God. It was God Most High who had brought about the defeat of the four kings. Abram had enjoyed victory over his enemies only because God had ordained it. This blessing was meant to encourage Abram in his faith. His God was great and fully capable of doing the impossible. This reminder was going to come in handy in the days ahead when Abram found himself doing battle with doubt rather than waging war with human kings. He was going to need constant reminding that His God was truly great. The days ahead were going to require great faith. And Jesus, like Melchizedek, would provide His followers with similar words of encouragement.

“…truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20 ESV

And as a result of Melchizedek’s gracious gift of bread and wine and the comforting words of his blessing, “Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:20 ESV). Once again, the author of Hebrews provides an explanation for Abram’s actions.

Consider then how great this Melchizedek was. Even Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel, recognized this by giving him a tenth of what he had taken in battle. – Hebrews 7:4 NLT

Abram recognized the superior nature of this priest/king and gave to him a tenth of all the spoil he had brought back from the battle. He honored this man as a servant of God and returned the blessing by sharing a portion of the riches that God had allowed him to recover. But as great as Melchizedek was, he stands in the shadow of the greater high priest.

…a different priest, who is like Melchizedek, has appeared. Jesus became a priest, not by meeting the physical requirement of belonging to the tribe of Levi, but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. And the psalmist pointed this out when he prophesied.

“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 7:15-17 NLT

There is no mention of Melchizedek’s death. And the author of Hebrews states that “He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God” (Hebrews 7:3 NLT). He points to the one to come who will offer Himself as the bread of life and whose blood will be “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV). God blessed Abram through Melchizedek, but God would bless the nations through Jesus, the offspring of Abram.

But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins. – Hebrews 7:24-27 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.