This study looks at the character and status of Malki-Tzedek.
“Malki-Tzedek king of Shalem brought forth bread and wine: and he was priest of El `Elyon. He blessed him, and said, ‘Blessed be Avram of El `Elyon, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be El `Elyon, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Avram gave him a tenth of all.” (Gen. 14:18-20).
There is very little written in Scripture regarding Malki-Tzedek, but what is written is of primary importance. This study will examine the name and status of Malki-Tzedek with the emphasis on his role as priest.
The general consensus of scholars is that Avram lived during the Middle Bronze Age in the periods known as Ur III or Isin-Larsa dating between 2100 and 1900 B.C.E. depending upon interpretation of Biblical/archaeology research. Tradition has the Book of Iyov (Job) set around the time of Avram, so it is wrong to think that Avram was the only righteous person at that time. Malki-Tzedek (Gen. 14:18) was also a righteous person contemporary with Iyov. The Bible only concentrates on the direct lineage of Messiah, hence the lack of mentioning other righteous people. However, it does demonstrate that there were Believers in Kana`an and that paganism was not universal (Fairbairn).
This is the first coming together of the Set Apart people (through Avram) and the Set Apart city (Yerushalayim through Malki-Tzedek). This took place in the Valley of Shaveh, later to be called Vale of Kings. It is uncertain whether it was known as the latter before this account or was a consequence of this account. It was also noted to be the location of Absalom’s Pillar (2 Sam. 18:15), approximately 370m or a little less than a quarter of a mile from Yerushalayim (Skinner).
It has been said that Gen. 14 is a parenthical chapter, in that it does not add to the account of Avram and thus, the patriarchial lineage of Messiah. There are no direct quotes form יְהֹוָה therefore this chapter has been inserted specifically to introduce the character of Malki-Tzedek (FFOZ). The insertion of Gen. 14 giving details of the names of kings and cities has been verified as historically accurate by the archaeological discoveries of clay tablets of cuneiform writing found at Mari (present day Tell Hariri – [thoughtco.com]) and Ebla (Tell Mardikh [icr.org]. These give credence to the historical persons of Avram (Skinner) and thus Malki-Tzedek.
#H4428 מַלְכִּי melek *1199a head of government such as an emperor, king, governor or vasal ruler + #H6664 צֶדֶק tedeq *1879a righteousness. The overwhelming consideration is that Malki-Tzedek means either king of righteousness or my king is righteous. Ancient city-states that had organised governments usually inferred divine status upon, or was claimed by the ruler, hence the dual role of king and priest (Skinner). This was proscribed by Torah.
The appellation ‘tzedek’ may well be a dynastic name (e.g. Queen Elizabeth II is from the House of Windsor). The Tel el Amarna tablets of the 15th. Century B.C.E. has an Adoni-Tzedek who was a vassal king of Uru-Salim (Yerushalayim). Scripture also notes an Adoni-Tzedek (Josh. 10:1, 3) that means my lord is righteous. There is no indication as to whether Malki-Tzedek was the first in a long line of Kana`ani rulers, but it would seem strange that this appellation was given to pagan rulers because of their character (Hertz). It may well be that the ruler of Yerushalayim was considered righteous because of the nature of the city that they ruled, Yerushalayim was considered a holy site by its inhabitants.
King of Salem
This is the first reference of a Priest-King being mention in Torah (FFOZ). Common agreement is that Salem is the Kana`ani city later to be known as Yerushalayim. This is the city of peace or wholeness. It should be noted that righteousness (tsadaq) always comes before peace (shalom [cf Rom. 5:1)] Fruchtenbaum). In writing his epistle to the Messianic Jews, Sha`ul gave a hint (remez) drawing the recipients attention to the close correlation between righteousness and peace (AENT).
Much has been written on the dual role of Priest-King. However, there is a third role carried out by Malki-Tzedek, that of prophet. A prophet is a man that acts on behalf of יְהֹוָה towards Man. The two aspects of a prophet’s work are fore-telling (giving יְהֹוָה’s word regarding a future event) and forth-telling (giving יְהֹוָה’s word regarding a current situation).
Malki-Tzedek forth-tells two conditions:
- a) Malki-Tzedek came out to meet Avram. In this, it would be the custom for Avram to kill an animal for his guest, Malki-Tzedek. However, Malki-Tzedek brought out some bread and wine, as a substitute for the slain animal. Adam was shown by יְהֹוָה `Elohiym that atonement could only come through the shedding of the blood of a sacrificial animal ( 3:21).
- b) Malki-Tzedek came with a blessing from El `Elyon. El was a common title of a false deity whereas #H5945 עֶלְיוֹן ‘elyown *1624g, 1624h most high, highest, supreme. Malki-Tzedek was reminding Avram that although he was to sojourn in a land where false deities were worshipped; there was One that was supreme above all others.
By far the most recognized, and written about, role of Malki-Tzedek is that of priest.
There is no record of the parentage of Malki-Tzedek. Barclay notes that the writer of the Letter to a Group of Messianic Hebrews uses a typical rabbinic method of interpretation using Scripture silences. “without father, without mother, without genealogy…” (Heb. 7:3a). #G540 ἀπάτωρ apatōr without father, #G282 ἀμήτωρ amētōr without mother is a technical term, not indicating no parents but signifies low or humble birth (Barclay). B’resheet/Genesis is the book containing genealogies, notably Parashah Tol’dot (History). These play an important part in the introduction of all the major characters. Malki-Tzedek is the exception to this rule.
Genealogies also play an essential role in the selection of Aharonic Priesthood and the High Priest. The High Priest must be able to show that he was from the lineage of Aharon for at least four generations. Malki-Tzedek’s role as priest was not a result of ancestry but upon his individual calling. It was a common custom that the head of the household would act as priest and so should it be today. The Aharonic High Priest actually ministered to his family, his brothers and sisters of the House of Yisra`el. However, a priest does not have any influence outside his own family, clan, tribe or nation. Malki-Tzedek, having his mandate from El `Elyon, has a universal sphere of influence. Therefore, the universal priesthood is superior to a localized priesthood (Fairbairn).
- b) Eternal
“having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of יְהֹוָה, remains a priest continually.” (Heb. 7:3b). The Levitical priest officiated between 25 and 50 years of age. “יְהֹוָה has sworn, and will not change His mind: ‘You are a Priest forever in the order of Malki-Tzedek.’” (Psa. 110:4). In this verse, Malki-Tzedek’s priesthood is of an eternal nature. יְהֹוָה has given an oath that He will raise up a High Priest who will have an everlasting Priesthood. This cannot be revoked (Hewitt).
“For there is an annulling of a foregoing instruction because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect), and a bringing in thereupon of a better hope, through which we draw near to יְהֹוָה.” (Heb.7:18,19). Prior to Torah being given at Mount Sinai, people came to salvation and the priesthood is symbolized by the order of Malki-Tzedek. Due to the degeneration of Man, a codified system of laws was required that necessitated a structured priesthood overseen by a
High Priest. With the death and resurrection of Messiah Yehshua, the eternal Priesthood of Messiah Yehshua was instigated. The Levitical priesthood was of a temporary nature, all pointing to the perfect Priesthood.
The law gave instructions for the ministry of the Aharonic priesthood. However, contrary to a wide-spread belief, Torah was never meant to save. Salvation came to Adam and all his descendents for all time in the same way, “in whom you also, having heard the word of the truth, the Good News of your salvation, in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the Ruach HaKodesh of promise” (Eph.1:13). “So that Torah has become our tutor to bring us to Messiah, that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal.3:24). The written Torah set down the oral instructions that emanated from Gan Eden. This is not to be confused with the later Oral Law that was a man-made expansion of Torah. The priesthood that arose as part of Torah being given to Moshe, was a means for sinful Man to approach Set Apart יְהֹוָה.
This system of Head Priest and Levitical priesthood required a corresponding system of offerings and sacrifices. Yearly, at Yom Kippur, the Head Priest had to offer a sacrifice on behalf of himself and his family (Lev. 16:6), and twice daily for the sanctuary. All offerings and sacrifices were a type of the sacrificial death of Messiah Yehshua. The anti-type, the perfect sacrifice for a sin was offered up at Golgotha and was accepted by His resurrection, this once for all sacrifice annulled the requirement for a sin offering. It did not abolish the requirement for all other sacrifices and offerings that will be re-instated once the Millennial Sanctuary is built. The Mosaic Law provided only a temporary atonement through the Temple sacrifices, these were administered by a temporary priesthood (Fruchtembaum).
- c) Superiority
Blessings are given by a superior to an inferior. Malki-Tzedek shows that the priest of El `Elyon is superior to the priest of Avram’s household, Avram himself. The priesthood of Malki-Tzedek was superior as it was eternal and spiritual and was not like the Levitical priesthood which was earthly and temporary and administered a superior sacrifice symbolized by the bread and wine.
- d) Tithes
“He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative, Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people…Avram gave him a tenth [ma`aser] of all.” (Gen.14:16-20). This forms the conclusion of the passage regarding Malki-Tzedek and is often quoted as Avram instigating the principal of tithing. However, this falls down on three accounts:
1) that tithing was commonplace well before Avram’s time where people gave offerings to the priests and false gods and Avram would have carried on the traditions of his fathers;
2) that in this passage, the tithe was only a tenth of the booty that Avram had retrieved from the five kings and not of everything that Avram owned or its increase. Avram did not keep any of the retrieved goods.
3) #H4643 מַעֲשֵׂר ma`aser *1711h a tenth part.
#H6237 עָשַׂר `asar *1711c to take or give a tithe. This is the technical term of that which יְהֹוָה required to be given back to Himself. It was not restricted to 10%. ‘Christian church’ unfortunately derives its doctrine of tithing from this mis-translation and confusion over these two terms. This is one of those ‘selective’ laws that seem to be readily accepted by ‘Christian churches’.
Therefore, this offering of Avram’s was a free-will or thanksgiving offering whereby Avram was acknowledging יְהֹוָה’s role in bringing back everyone safely. Avram gave the offering to the priest of El `Elyon, Malki-Tzedek.
“Avram said to the king of Sedom, ‘I have lifted up my hand to יְהֹוָה, El `Elyon, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-latchet nor anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Avram rich.’’” (Gen. 14:22, 23). After giving Malki-Tzedek a tenth, Avram distributed all the remaining spoils between all those who risked their lives in the rescue.
This, again, demonstrates the superiority of the Malki-Tzedek priesthood over the Levitical priesthood. Tradition has it that Avram’s descendent Levi was considered to be’ in the loins’ of Avram. All Hebrews/Yisra`elites had to tithe to the Levites who, in turn, had to tithe to Aharonic priesthood.
Theophany or Type
Much has been written on the personage of Malki-Tzedek, whether he was a pre-incarnate appearance of Messiah or that he was a type, a fore-shadowing of the future Messiah.
A theopany in Scripture was of short duration and came about by a specific incident. In this passage in B`resheet/Genesis, Malki-Tzedek was described as the King of Shalem. This would indicate that Malki-Tzedek was known by many other people and not of a brief, temporary nature (Fruchtenbaum).
“For this Malki-Tzedek…but made like the Son of יְהֹוָה …” (Heb. 7:1a, 3b). Sha`ul made it clear that Malki-Tzedek was like and not was the Son.
“יְהֹוָה has sworn, and will not change His mind: ‘You are a Priest forever in the order of Malki-Tzedek.’” (Psa. 110:4). The Psalmist records יְהֹוָה comparing Yehshua to Malki-Tzedek not equating the two.
Barclay W. (1959) The Letter To The Hebrews, Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh.
Fairbairn Rev. P The Imperial Bible-Dictionary Vol.IV, Blackie, Glasgow.
FFOZ Torah Club Messianic Commentary on the Parashot
HaShavuah Vol.I – Torah Treasures, FFOZ, Littleton, Colorado.
Fruchtenbaum Dr. A.G. The Messianic Jewish Epistles, Ariel Ministries, Tustin, CA.
Hertz Dr. J.H. (1987) Pentateuch & Haftorahs, 2nd. Ed., Socino Press, London.
Harris R.L., Archer G.L., Thoelogical Wordbook of the Old Testament, Moody, Chicago, Waltke B.K. (1980) Il.
Hewitt Rev. T. The Epistle to the Hebrews, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Skinner J. (1912) A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, T&T Clark,
Strong J. (1994) Strong’s New Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, World Bible Publishers Inc., Madison.
Strong J. (1996) The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, Thomas Nelson, Nashville.
AENT “Scripture taken from the Aramaic English New Testament Copyright 2008. Used by permission of Netzari Press.”
HNV The Hebrew Names Version is based off the World English Bible, an update of the American Standard Version of 1901. This version of the Bible is in the public domain.