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In Genesis 14:17-20 we read that Abram met with Melchizedek.

Then, we only find Melchizedek mentioned again in Psalms 110:4

The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.

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  • 2
    We are not told. Even Hebrews says he was without father and no children.
    – Dottard
    Jun 7 at 9:07
  • 1
    There is an unconfirmed Rabbinic tradition that Melchizedek was Shem.
    – Dottard
    Jun 7 at 11:25
  • 1
    @Dottard Do you have a reference to this unconfirmed rabbinic tradition?
    – Dflat
    Jun 7 at 13:11
  • 1
    The best understanding of the Melchizedek priesthood comes from the DSS’s - not rabbinic ‘tradition’. Rabbinic ‘tradition’ has been largely influenced by the Pharisees oral traditions. There is a far wider understanding of the Melchizedek priesthood than the Bible presents.
    – Dave
    Jun 8 at 19:50
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Genesis 14:

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High

Melchizedek was both king and priest. He was uniquely qualified to take on both offices.

David prophesied in Psalms 110:4

The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.

It was confirmed in Hebrews 7:

2b First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” 3Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

Here is the mystery: He is like the Son of God forever.

Who was Melchizedek?

He was the mysterious son of God figure in Genesis that represents the prototype of king-priest forever.

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Who was Melchizedek?

The name occurs in only 3 places in the Bible: Genesis 14:18, Psalm 110:4, and Hebrews 5-7.

The name means "King of Righteousness" and is appropriate as "priest of the Most High God". (Gen. 14:18)

Very little is known about him within the Scriptures. There is no genealogical record as to his lineage. Paul expounds on this in his letter to the Hebrews:

In being fatherless, motherless, without genealogy, having neither a beginning of days nor an end of life, but being made like the Son of God, he remains a priest for all time.–Heb. 7:3

Melchizedek was also the "king of Salem". (Gen. 14:18) Salem is considered to be an earlier city of Jerusalem:

Ancient Jewish tradition identifies Salem with Jerusalem, and Scriptural evidence supports this. Abraham met the king of Sodom and Melchizedek in “the king’s Low Plain.” Since King David’s son Absalom centuries later erected a monument there, this low plain must have been near Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom. (Ge 14:17, 18; 2Sa 18:18) The word “Salem” is, in fact, incorporated in the name “Jerusalem,” and the psalmist used it in parallel with “Zion.” (Ps 76:2)–(Insight on the Scriptures article "Salem")

Melchizedek is the only character in the Hebrew Scriptures to hold this unique position as both king and high priest.

The Messianic prophecy at Psalm 110:1, 4 states that the Messiah would hold a position similar to Melchizedek. Hence, Paul was inspired to make the statement that "Jesus, who has become a high priest in the manner of Melchizedek forever." (Heb. 6:20)

For additional information see the Insight on the Scriptures article "Melchizedek".

[All scripture quotations from New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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Note these comments on Gen 14:18 suggesting an unconfirmed Rabbinic tradition that Melchizedek was Shem.

Ellicott:

In Melchizedek we have a type of Christ (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 5:10; Hebrews 7:1-21), and so venerable is his character and aspect that Jewish tradition identified him with the patriarch Shem, thus reconciling also to themselves his superiority over their forefather Abraham. But this idea is contradicted by Hebrews 7:3. ...

The typical value of Melehizedek’s priesthood lies not merely in his being “king of righteousness and king of peace,” but even more in his priesthood being universal, limited by no external ordinances, and attached to no particular race or people. Moreover, he is a king-priest (Psalms 110), and by taking precedence of Abram. and blessing him, and receiving of him tithes, he became the representative of a higher priesthood than any that could spring from Abram’s loins.

Benson:

Genesis 14:18. It has been a great question among expositors, who Melchizedek was. The Jewish rabbins say that he was Shem, the son of Noah, who was king and priest to those that were descended from him, according to the patriarchal model. And it must be allowed to be probable that Shem was alive at this time, and that he was a great prince. But as Shem’s genealogy and birth are recorded in Scripture, and were well known, it could, with no propriety, be said of him, as the apostle says of Melchizedek, that he was “without father (namely, mentioned in the sacred history) and without mother, without beginning of days or end of life:” nor is it at all probable that Moses should introduce Shem under the name of Melchizedek, without any apparent reason, or any the least intimation of his meaning. Many Christian writers have thought that this was an appearance of the Son of God himself, our Lord Jesus, known to Abram at this time by the name of Melchizedek. But this is not consistent with what the same apostle affirms in the same place, Hebrews 7:3, who says, not that he was the Son of God, but that he was “made like him,” αφωμοιωμενος, that is, was made a type of him; nor is it consistent with his affirming that Christ was constituted “a priest after the order of Melchizedek.” Besides, it is said that Melchizedek was “king of Salem:” but we are sure Christ never reigned over any particular city as a temporal prince.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

Quest. Who was this?

Answ.

  1. Shem, as the Jews and many others think, who probably was alive at this time, and, no doubt, a great prince. But neither is it probable that Shem should be a king among the cursed race of Ham; nor will this agree with the apostle’s description of Melchizedek, Hebrews 7:3, without father and mother, & c. Whereas Shem’s parents, and the beginning and end of his days, are as expressly mentioned by Moses as any other.

  2. A Canaanitish king, by the Divine Providence made both a king over men, and priest unto the true God, brought in here in this unusual manner, without any mention of his parents, birth, or death, for this end, that he might be an illustrious type of Christ. Of this matter see more upon Hebrews 7:3.

Cambridge:

  1. Jerome (Ep. lxxiii. ad Evangelum), summarizing opinions about Melchizedek, mentions that Origen and Didymus held him to have been an Angel; many others thought he was a Canaanite prince, exercising priestly offices, like “Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job”; the Jews very commonly identified him with Shem. Again, it appears to have been held by some writers, that Melchizedek was a manifestation of the Son; by others, that he was an appearance of the Holy Spirit (cf. Quaest. ex V. et N. Test. Augustini Opera, tom. iii. App. § cix.: ed. Migne, P. L. 35, p. 2329).
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Accordingly to the New Unger's Bible Dictionary

MELCHIZ´EDEK (mel-kizʹe-dek; “king of righteousness”). The king of Salem (i.e., Jerusalem) and “a priest of God Most High,” who went out to congratulate Abraham on his victory over Chedorlaomer and his allies. He met him in the “valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).” Melchizedek brought bread and wine for the exhausted warriors and bestowed his blessing upon Abraham. In return the patriarch gave to the royal priest a tenth of all the booty taken from the enemy (Gen. 14:17–20), about 1970 b.c. Giving the tenth was a practical acknowledgment of the divine priesthood of Melchizedek, for the tenth was, according to the general custom, the offering presented to Deity. Melchizedek is mentioned in Ps. 110:4, where it is foretold that the Messiah would be “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” and in Heb. 5:7, where these two passages of the OT are quoted and the typical relation of Melchizedek to our Lord is stated at great length. “According to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4) is explained by Gesenius and Rosenmüller to mean “manner,” i.e., likeness in official dignity—a king and priest. The relation between Melchizedek and Christ as type and antitype is made in the epistle to the Hebrews to consist in the following particular: each was a priest (1) who is not of the Levitical tribe; (2) who is superior to Abraham; (3) whose beginning and end are unknown; (4) who is not only a priest, but also a king of righteousness and peace. “Without father,” etc. (Heb. 7:3), refers to priestly genealogies. Melchizedek is not found on the register of the only line of legitimate priests; his father’s name is not recorded, nor his mother’s; no evidence points out his line of descent from Aaron. It is not affirmed that he had no father or that he was not born at any time or died on any day; but these facts were nowhere found on the register of the Levitical priesthood. Melchizedek offers an expressive type of Christ, the King-Priest, especially of the Messiah’s work in resurrection, inasmuch as the ancient character offers bread and wine, memorials of sacrifice. The writer to the Hebrews beautifully describes the everlasting continuance and kingly authority of Christ’s high priesthood by the phrase “according to the order of Melchizedek” (6:20; cf. 7:23–24). The priesthood, as handed down through the line of Aaron, was often set aside by death. The Melchizedek aspect of Christ’s priesthood portrays Christ in the perpetuity of His priestly office. “He always lives to make intercession” (7:25). Although the Aaronic priesthood could typify Christ’s priestly work, it was limited in portraying the full scope of His priestly ministry. The Melchizedek type supplements the Aaronic type. As “king of righteousness” and “king of … peace” (Heb. 7:2; cf. Isa. 11:4–9), Christ will in the coming Kingdom age assume both offices in His Person. The prophet Zechariah graphically sets this forth in the symbolic crowning of Joshua (Zech. 6:9–15). This significant event foreshadowed the millennial period when Messiah the Branch will “sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices” (v. 13); that is, both kingship and priesthood will be united in one Person.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: H. H. Rowley, Festschrift für A. Bertholet, W. Baumgartner, ed. (1950), pp. 461ff.; A. R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel (1955), pp. 31–46, 120–23; O. Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament (1959), pp. 38ff.; J. A. Fitzmyer, Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament (1971), pp. 221–69; B. A. Demarest, A History of the Interpretation of Hebrews 7:1–10 from the Reformation to the Present (1976); F. L. Horton, The Melchizedek Tradition (1976).

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