The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (4)
For years I’ve been hearing this passage from Psalm 110. I’ve wondered at times who Melchizedek was but not enough to look it up. I figured he was some Hebrew priest, offering sacrifices in the Temple. An internet search revealed much about this mysterious figure in the Old Testament. Turns out he wasn’t Jewish, but he did worship one God in a polytheistic culture.
Melchizedek comes from two words, meleck – king, and tsedeq – righteousness. He was the king of Salem, which means peace. So Melchizedek was the king of righteousness and peace. Sound like anyone else we know?
In Genesis 14, Melchizedek presents Abram, later called Abraham, with bread and wine, foreshadowing Christian communion. In return Abram gave him a tithe, ten percent, of his war booty, a sign of tribute to a Lord.
Psalm 110 is a messianic psalm. Written by King David, he acknowledges that the one to come is greater than he. “The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’” (1) God is speaking to David’s Lord, the Messiah, who will be victorious in battle.
People will follow the Messiah. “Your people will offer themselves willingly on the day you lead your forces on the holy mountains. From the womb of the morning, like dew, your youth will come to you.” (3) He will be the great high priest, but what does that mean? Verses 5-6 would indicate that he would leave behind a trail of corpses. “The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter heads over the wide earth.”
The Hebrew people expected a Messiah who was to be a warrior king. What they got was Jesus, king of peace and righteousness, a priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
So who is Melchizedek? There are some who claim he was Jesus before he was born. After all, all things are possible for God and Abraham was known to have had other encounters with God.
They quote from Hebrews 7, in particular verse 3, “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” However Paul was a theologian, not an historian. He constantly saw “types” in the Old Testament that were fulfilled in the New Testament, for example, Adam prefigured Jesus. So perhaps Melchizedek prefigured Jesus as well, rather than being Jesus.
What does this mean for us today? In the Roman Catholic rites of baptism, we are anointed priest, prophet and servant leaders. Some people are set apart to perform liturgical functions as priests, however all of us are called to be priests, following the example of Jesus. Melchizedek was not a Hebrew priest from the tribe of Levi, yet he was a high priest.
We may not be ordained, but we are still a priestly people and so are meant to follow the example of our one high priest, Jesus. The next time you hear this passage, remember that it applies to you.
What about you? What does it mean to you to be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek?