Today is one of my absolutely favorite passages in Genesis. We see Abraham, still in the early stages of setting out on his journey of following God. His nephew Lot, gets caught up in between some warring kings and is taken captive. Abraham sets out on a rescue mission and frees his brother. Abraham’s assistance brings long awaited victory to one side so they honor his achievement. Here is the relevant passage from Genesis 14:17-20:
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). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said,
“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!”
And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
If you look at this closely, you can see what a truly remarkable occurrence this is. Melchizedek makes his brief appearance on the scene. Notice, we are told that he “is a priest of God most high”. In other words, he is a priest of the one true God. But this is BEFORE the Jewish religion – the first monotheistic religion – was founded. What we are reading right now with Abraham is the story of how God founded the Jewish people / religion through Abraham. Yes someone Melchizedek is already a priest of God. That means that God must have made some private revelation to Melchizedek to prepare him for this day.
Next, notice that Melchizedek is the king of Salem. What is the place Salem? Most likely it is Jerusalem. I have heard it explained that “Jeru” can be translated as “King”. Thus, Melchizedek is the “Jeru-Salem” or the king of Salem. Jeru also comes from the Hebrew word “Yireh” which means “to manifest His life”. Thus, Melchizedek manifests the life of God in Salem. Whatever the exact etimology of the word it is clear the God is giving us clues that these events are related to what will one day take place in the Holy City.
Of course, I’m sure you’ve noticed by now what offering Melchizedek makes. He offers BREAD and WINE. So here we have Abraham, at the Holy City, with a priest of God, offering bread and wine. Just after, God reaffirms the covenant he is making with Abraham that his descendents will be as numerous as the stars and will inhabit the Holy Land. Remember, God tends to have meals when he is making covenants. This event is clearly a foreshadowing of the Last Supper, when Jesus will offer a greater bread and wine to inaugurate the New Covenant.
Finally, notice that Abraham tithes a tenth of all he captured to Melchizedek. This shows that Abraham acknowledges his position meaning that Melchizedek is in fact a priest of the same one-true God that Abraham follows.
To confirm these connections we’ll read later in the book of Hebrews 5:7-10:
So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”;
as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Here “after the order” means “in the same manner”. Jesus is the new high priest and as High Priest he makes offerings. The offering is in the similar manner as Melchizedek, bread and wine.