If you are like me when you read this part of Genesis, you might say “Who in the world is Melchizedek?” There is no other mention of him in Genesis anywhere and he is only mentioned two more times in all of Scripture with those being Psalm 110:4; and Hebrews 7. We are not told much about him, but the controversy that surrounds him is very interesting, there are some people who will tell you he was just a man mentioned in passing or he was in fact Shem, others will say he was a Christophany, and lastly some will say that he was a foreshadow of the coming Christ.
Let us take a closer look at this man, his name Melchizedek means “righteous king”. He was not only the king of Salem (which means peace), he was also a priest of the Most High God. Now concerning Salem most commentators agree that it was probably ancient Jerusalem.
Pastor John MacArthur says this about Melchizedek, “The lack of biographical and genealogical particulars for this ruler, whose name meant “righteous king” and who was a king-priest over ancient Jerusalem, allowed for later revelation to use him as a type of Christ (cf. Ps 110:4, Heb7:17,21)… The use of El Elyon (Sovereign Lord) for God’s name indicated that Melchizedek, who used the title two times (vv. 18,19), worshiped, served, and represented no Canaanite deity, but the same one whom Abram called Yahweh El Elyon (v. 22)” (MacArthur 2005, 34) Pastor MacArthur makes some very valid points, ones which are hard to argue against. He also mentions how Melchizedek was probably a greater figure in that time than Abram himself.
John Walton in his commentary on Genesis takes a very firm stance, pointing out, “In the Talmud (b. Ned. 32b) and Targum Neofiti, Melchizedek is identified as Shem.” In support of his views of the king of Salem, Walton goes on to say, “The author of Hebrews is not drawing his information on Melchizedek solely from the Old Testament; he is also interacting with the traditions known to his audience. … As a result there is nothing in Hebrews or anywhere else to suggest that we need to believe that Melchizedek was anything other than the Canaanite king he is depicted as in Genesis 14.” (Walton 2001, 426-27) Walton makes his point rather clear that he believes that Melchizedek was nothing more than a regular king with whom Abram ate a meal.
Warren Wiersbe also speaks of Melchizedek’s Christ likeness, saying, “Hebrews 7 and Psalm 110 both connect Melchizedek with Jesus Christ, the “King of peace” and the “King of righteousness” (85:10). Like Melchizedek in Abraham’s day, Jesus Christ is our King-Priest in heaven, enabling us to enjoy righteousness and peace as we serve Him (Isa.32:17; Heb 12:11). Certainly we can see in the bread and wine a reminder of our Lord’s death for us on the cross.” (Wiersbe 2007, 65)
Throughout all of my readings the best conclusion that I can come to is that Melchizedek was a great king and priest who loved and served the Lord (El Elyon). John MacArthur and Warren Wiersbe have the strongest points, in believing that he was more than a mere earthly king but an allusion to the coming Christ. The largest support for this view is found in Hebrews 7, showing how Christ is in the line and a greater Melchizedek.
MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2005.
Walton, John H. The NIV Application Commentary on Genesis. Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 2001.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary. Colorado Springs,CO: David C. Cook, 2007.