In Genesis 14, there is a man named Melchizedek, but not very much is said about him:

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. 20And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

(Genesis 14:17-20, NIV)

He is also mentioned in one of the Psalms:

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."

(Psalm 110:4, NIV)

What is the importance of this character? This question has already been answered based on the New Testament book of Hebrews, but I'm looking for an answer based just on the Genesis text and the surrounding narrative or other contemporary sources.

  • 1
    There is also the reference to him in Psalm 110:4.
    – metal
    Dec 30, 2013 at 21:27

3 Answers 3


This is begging the question; who (from a Hebrew Bible–only perspective, remember) says that Melchizedek is a particularly important figure? He seems to be a historical curiosity, someone not of Abraham’s descent who taught the worship of the One God.¹ There are, of course, significant doctrinal implications to the fact that the One God had worshipers outside Abraham’s family. But those are questions for ✡.SE or ✝.SE, not this site.

With regard to Psalm 110:4, we can open a discussion about what it means to be a כהן, a priest. Cf. particularly Exodus 19:6, “Be ye to me a nation of priests”. The short answer is that the Biblical word implies an exemplar rather than an intermediary.

Side note: The words translated as “in the order of Melchizedek” might be better rendered “by the words of Melchizedek”; i.e., Melchizedek verbally appointed the poem’s subject as a “priest”.

¹ This assumes (as apparently did Abraham himself) that the “God Most High”, El Elyon, whom Melchizedek worshiped is identical with Abrahams’s God. Wikipedia (“Elyon”) mentions scholarly speculation that this was a distinct Canaanite god; but this claim seems rather shaky to me.

  • 2
    FWIW, Job also seems to be a non-Israelite who worshiped Abraham's God.
    – metal
    Dec 30, 2013 at 21:25
  • Good point. I guess I take him as an important person because of my Christian glasses. I added Ps 110:4 also to my question, does that not make him of some significance anyway? Dec 31, 2013 at 10:50
  • Not really, @NiclasNilsson; see my edited answer. Dec 31, 2013 at 20:02

While it is true the Melchizedek may not be a key figure in Torah, the importance of the character is primarily drawn from the narrative.

The few verses concerning Melchizedek interrupt the flow of the interaction between Abram and the king of Sodom. This interruption functions as a contrast.

Abrams primary concern in his interaction with the king of Sodom is to avoid the appearance that he relied on the Canaanites for his blessings. In other words, that the partial fulfillment of Gods promise to him was through the action of God, not through the Canaanites.

In contrast, Abrams brief interaction with Melchizedek highlights, through his giving of a tithe, his acknowledgement of divine action in securing his blessings.

One possible reason for the contrast at this point in the narrative may be to provide a reason, based on Abrams conduct, for the promises and covenant which immediately follow in chapter 15. In fact the stories are linked together through the Lords declaration in 15:1 that he is Abrams “very great reward.” A reward being the very thing Abram gave back to the king of Sodom.

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Melchizedek in the Jewish tradition viewed as another human being who believes and worships one true God, other than Abraham. He is also believed to be one of Shem's descendants (have acknowledged there is one God of Heaven and Earth).

Among characters outside Abraham, there are Job and Balaam (prophet) who believes in one God. Melchizedek as the old text says is a priest of one true God.

There isn't much about Melchizedek in the Hebrew text and the only I can think of is showing that acknowledgment of monotheism religion isn't just for Abraham and his descendants. Is open to all (like Nineveh) if we do what's right and just.

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