Online Bible Commentary
Hebrews 7:1 This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means "king of righteousness"; then also, "king of Salem" means "king of peace." 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever. (NIV)
The book of Hebrews has two main subjects: the superiority of Christ; and exhortations to obedient living. It is also interspersed with five warnings to the Hebrew Christians. In previous commentaries I wrote of the superiority of Christ to the prophets, the angels, Moses and Joshua. The section 4:14-7:28 concerns the superiority of Christ to the priesthood. The writer detoured from this subject to issue a warning in the section 5:11-6:20. With this passage he returns to the subject of the superiority of Christ to the priesthood from where he left off in 5:10.
In this passage the writer focuses on the great High Priest Melchizedek. We do not know a lot about Melchizedek. He was only mentioned two places in the Bible prior to being mentioned in the book of Hebrews. In Genesis 14:18-20 we saw that Melchizedek met Abraham in the Valley of Shaveh upon Abraham’s return from defeating foreign kings. Melchizedek brought Abraham bread and wine, blessed him, and received tithes from him. In giving the tithe Abraham recognized him as a representative of God. Melchizedek was also mentioned in Psalm 110:4, where David proclaimed that the Lord was “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
He was “king of Salem” (v. 1a). Scripture tells us that Salem was the place where God lived in the tabernacle. “In Judah God is known, his name is great in Israel. His tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion” (Ps. 76:1-2). The tent, or tabernacle, was where the Ark of the Covenant resided just prior to the temple being built. The Ark of the Covenant was the abode of God. During David’s time it resided in the tabernacle in Jerusalem. Salem is Jerusalem.
The name Melchizedek “means ‘king of righteousness’ ” (v. 2b). King of Salem means “king of peace” (v. 2c). So far, all of these kingly attributes also apply to Jesus Christ.
The literal Greek for verse three is as follows: “without father, without mother, without pedigree, nor beginning of days nor of life end having, having been made like the Son of God, remains a priest to perpetuity.” The meaning would indicate that his father and mother were unknown, and, therefore, he has no “pedigree”, or genealogy (v. 3a). Also, because his mother and father are unknown, there is no record of his birth or death (v. 3b). Melchizedek could have been an orphan. So, this is where the attributes differ from those of Christ. There is a record that Christ has a Father, in Heaven, a mother, Mary, and genealogy, being a descendant in the line of David.
Melchizedek was, however, “like the Son of God”; since he was appointed high priest forever, “perpetuity” (v. 3c). He also had the kingly attributes of Christ, mentioned previously. In these ways he could have been the pre-incarnate Christ. Many Christians believe this. However, the literal Greek for verse three seems to rule that out.
So, if he is not the pre-incarnate Christ, who is this Melchizedek? The blessing given by Melchizedek to Abraham (Ge. 14:19-20) is similar to the blessing that Noah gave to Shem (Ge. 9:26). For this reason, Jewish tradition claimed that Melchizedek was Shem, passing on the blessing he had received from his father, Noah. However, we know the father, mother, and genealogy of Shem.
The third claim to the identity of Melchizedek was that he was a Canaanite priest-king. This would make sense in that the priest-king met and blessed Abraham after his triumph of foreign kings. However, due to the degrading nature of Canaanite religious practices it would not be likely that a Canaanite priest-king would worship the God of the Bible.
So, the mystery remains. It would seem to this writer that Melchizedek was just that, Melchizedek. He was a great man of God, chosen by God, prior to the existence of the Levitical priesthood, to be a high priest forever. Since he was a man of God he will reside with God in Heaven forever. This is not a very glamorous conclusion, but it seems to be the correct one.