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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Melchiz´edek, (king of righteousness), 'priest of the most high God,' and king of Salem, who went forth to meet Abraham on his return from the pursuit of Chedorlaomer and his allies, who had carried Lot away captive. He brought refreshment, described in the general terms of 'bread and wine,' for the fatigued warriors, and bestowed his blessing upon their leader, who, in return, gave to the royal priest a tenth of all the spoil which had been acquired in his expedition (; ).

This statement seems sufficiently plain, and to offer nothing very extraordinary; yet it has formed the basis of much speculation and controversy. In particular, the fact that Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek attracted much attention among the later Jews. In one of the Messianic Psalms (), it is foretold that the Messiah should be 'a priest after the order of Melchizedek;' which the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews () cites as showing that Melchizedek was a type of Christ, and the Jews themselves, certainly on the authority of this passage of the Psalms, regarded Melchizedek as a type of the regal-priesthood, higher than that of Aaron, to which the Messiah should belong. The bread and wine which were set forth on the table of show-bread, was also supposed to be represented by the bread and wine which the King of Salem brought forth to Abraham (Schottgen, Hor. Heb. ii. 645). A mysterious supremacy came also to be assigned to Melchizedek, by reason of his having received tithes from the Hebrew patriarch; and on this point the Epistle to the Hebrews () expatiates strongly, as showing the inferiority of the priesthood represented, to that of Melchizedek, to which the Messiah belonged. 'Consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils;' and he goes on to argue that the Aaronic priesthood, who themselves received tithes of the Jews, actually paid tithes to Melchizedek in the person of their great ancestor. This superiority is, as we take it, inherent in his typical rather than his personal character. But the Jews, in admitting this official or personal superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham, sought to account for it by alleging that the royal priest was no other than Shem, the most pious of Noah's sons, who, according to the shorter chronology, might have lived to the time of Abraham. Such conjectures require no refutation. The best founded opinion seems to be that of Carpzov and the most judicious moderns, who, after Josephus, allege that Melchizedek was a principal person among the Canaanites and posterity of Noah, and eminent for holiness and justice, and therefore discharged the priestly as well as regal functions among the people: and we may conclude that his twofold capacity of king and priest (characters very commonly united in the remote ages) afforded Abraham an opportunity of testifying his thankfulness to God in the manner usual in those times, by offering a tenth of all the spoil. This combination of characters happens for the first time in Scripture to be exhibited in his person, which, with the abrupt manner in which he is introduced, and the nature of the intercourse between him and Abraham, render him in various respects an appropriate and obvious type of the Messiah in his united regal and priestly character.

Salem, of which Melchizedek was king, is usually supposed to have been the original of Jerusalem.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Melchizedek'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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