And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth. And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all. (Genesis 14:18-20)
Today in our readings, we come to Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek. In many ways, Melchizedek is a biblical character shrouded in mystery. He is both a king and a priest; this was not uncommon in the ancient world, though in the law of Moses provisions were made to separate the offices of king and priest.
Who was this Melchizedek? The first thing we notice is that he is the King of Salem – Salem meaning “peace”. Melchizedek blesses Abram and Abram gives him a tithe. What then is the purpose of this scene in Scripture?
It is to point us to Christ, typologically. Scripture contains types (occurrences, statements, or people in the Old Testament) that point to an antitype (which is Christ). Christ is our king, priest, and prophet; these three roles in the Old Testament are fulfilled in Christ. He is the Prince of Peace prophesied in Isaiah 9:6. Where else do we see in Scripture the connection between Christ and Melchizedek?
Paul gives us an inspired commentary on this passage in Hebrews 7. He tell us that Melchizedek was without mother or father, without beginning or end of days (7:3). He concludes from this and from statements in Psalm 110 that Melchizedek’s priesthood is of an eternal character and a greater priesthood than the Levitical one which paid tithes in Abraham (vv.9-10).
We see here that the promise made to Abraham (which is coming in our next chapter) that he would be the father of many nations has a greater redemptive purpose than the administration of the Mosaic covenant. Certainly, the Mosaic covenant was another type to point us to Christ; and yet, those regenerate hearts under Moses who offered sacrifices and kept the law sincerely did so by faith in Christ. However, the sacrificial system of Moses was never meant to be of an eternal character; it was an administration of the one covenant of grace. It always was meant to point to Christ, who is the surety (guarantor, the person who takes responsibility for others in a bond agreement) of a better covenant (Heb.7:22). Christ blesses us with the gift of his active and passive obedience which is the meritorious cause of our justification before the Father. We, in response, offer ourselves as living sacrifices before Him (Romans 12:1) just as Abram sacrificed his tithe to the King of Salem.
We see also that, as Paul tell us, since Melchizedek had no ordinary descent and no recorded death he is like Christ: the Son of God eternal who assumed flesh to save us from our sins.
What a glorious assurance we have of the grace of our God, that he has planned salvation for us since the time of our fall. He has shown us throughout redemptive history his purpose in Christ, who is the one Mediator of the covenant of grace, the surety of a better testament than that of Moses!
Do you meditate upon the grace you have been given? The glory of God revealed in our redemption? Does this renew your heart to love and serve Him more? To reverence Him as He ought to be reverenced?
Another point that must be made here. In offering Abram bread and wine, it has been thought that this is a type of the Lord’s Supper and of a sacrificial character. Most of the Reformed commentators on this passage do not agree with the interpretation that the similarity between Melchizedek and Christ consists in the offering of bread and wine sacrificially. Calvin in his commentary on this passage demonstrates that in all of the Apostle Paul’s comparisons between the two in Hebrews 7, never does the offering of bread and wine come up. It is of a Roman Catholic opinion to maintain this connection for the purpose of establishing the mass as a sacrifice. I’ll conclude with Calvin’s remarks:
For we do not there read that anything was offered to God; but in one continued discourse it is stated, ‘He offered bread and wine; and seeing he was priest of the Most High God, he blessed him.’ Who does not see that the same relative pronoun is common to both verbs; and therefore that Abram was both refreshed with the wine, and honored with the benediction? Utterly ridiculous truly are the Papists, who distort the offering 10 of bread and wine to the sacrifice of their mass. For in order to bring Melchizedek into agreement with themselves, it will be necessary for them to concede that bread and wine are offered in the mass. Where, then, is transubstantiation, which leaves nothing except the bare species of the elements? Then, with what audacity do they declare that the body of Christ is immolated in their sacrifices? Under what pretext, since the Son of God is called the only successor of Melchizedek, do they substitute innumerable successors for him? We see, then, how foolishly they not only deprave this passage, but babble without the color of reason.
This is Calvin.
He didn’t focus on bread and wine being a sacrifice in Genesis 14 because that’s what leads to the mass.
Be like Calvin.