on Hebrews 7 :1
For this Melchisedec, king of Salem - See the whole of this history largely explained in the notes, See Genesis 14:18 (note), etc., and the concluding observations at the end of that chapter.
The name Melchisedec, מלכי צדק is thus expounded in Bereshith Rabba, sec. 43, fol. 42, מצדיק את יושביו matsdie eth Yoshebaiv, "The Justifier of those who dwell in him;" and this is sufficiently true of Christ, but false of Jerusalem, to which the rabbins apply it, who state that it was originally called Tsedek, and that it justified its inhabitants.
Salem is generally understood to be Jerusalem; but some think that it was that city of Shechem mentioned Joshua 20:7. St. Jerome was of this opinion.
on Hebrews 7 :1
For this Melchisedek; - compare the notes on Hebrews 5:6. The name Melchizedek, from which the apostle derives a portion of his argument here, is Hebrew, מלכי־צדק Malkiy-Tsedeq, and is correctly explained as meaning "king of righteousness" - being compounded of two words - "king and righteousness." Why this name was given to this man is unknown. Names, however, were frequently given on account of some quality or characteristic of the man: see the notes on Isaiah 8:18. This name may have been given on account of his eminent integrity. The apostle calls attention to it Hebrews 7:2 as a circumstance worthy of notice, that his name, and the name of the city where he reigned, were so appropriate to one who, as a priest, was the predecessor of the Messiah. The account of Melchizedek, which is very brief, occurs in Genesis 14:18-20. The name occurs in the Bible only in Genesis 14, Psalm 110:4, and in this Epistle. Nothing else is certainly known of him.
Grotius supposes that he is the same man who in the history of Sanchoniathon is called Συδύκ Suduk. It has indeed been made a question by some whether such a person ever actually existed, and consequently whether this be a proper name. But the account in Genesis is as simple a historical record as any other in the Bible. In that account there is no difficulty whatever. It is said simply that when Abraham was returning from a successful military expedition, this man, who it seems was well known, and who was respected as a priest of God, came out to express his approbation of what he had done, and to refresh him with bread and wine. As a tribute of gratitude to him, and as a thank-offering to God, Abraham gave him a tenth part of the spoils which he had taken. Such an occurrence was by no means improbable, nor would it have been attended with any special difficulty if it had not been for the use which the apostle makes of it in this Epistle. Yet on no subject has there been a greater variety of opinion than in regard to this man.
The bare recital of the opinions which have been entertained of him would fill a volume. But in a case which "seems" to be plain from the Scripture narrative, it is not necessary even to enumerate these opinions. They only serve to show how easy it is for people to mystify a clear statement of history, and how fond they are of finding what is mysterious and marvelous in the plainest narrative of facts. That he was Shem, as the Jews suppose, or that he was the Son of God himself, as many Christian expositors have maintained, there is not the slightest evidence. That the latter opinion is false is perfectly clear - for if he were the Son of God, with what propriety could the apostle say that he "was made like the Son of God" Hebrews 7:3; that is, like himself; or that Christ was constituted a priest "after the order of Melchisedek;" that is, that he was a type of himself? The most simple and probable opinion is that given by Josephus, that he was a pious Canaanitish prince; a personage eminently endowed by God, and who acted as the priest of his people.
That he combined in himself the offices of priest and king, furnished to the apostle a beautiful illustration of the offices sustained by the Redeemer, and was in this respect, perhaps, the only one whose history is recorded in the Old Testament, who would furnish such an illustration. That his genealogy was not recorded, while that of every other priest mentioned was so carefully traced and preserved, furnished another striking illustration. In this respect, like the Son of God, he stood alone. He was not in a "line" of priests; he was preceded by no one in the sacerdotal office, nor was he followed by any. That he was superior to Abraham. and consequently to all who descended from Abraham; that a tribute was rendered to him by the great Ancestor of all the fraternity of Jewish priests was just an illustration which suited the purpose of Paul. His name, therefore, the place where he reigned, his solitariness, his lone conspicuity in all the past, his dignity, and perhaps the air of mystery thrown over him in the brief history in Genesis, furnished a beautiful and striking illustration of the solitary grandeur, and the inapproachable eminence of the priesthood of the Son of God. There is no evidence that Melchizedek was "designed" to be a type of the Messiah, or that Abraham so understood it, Nothing of this kind is affirmed; and how shall "we" affirm it when the sacred oracles are silent?
(Doubtless great care and sobriety are requisite in the interpretation of types, and we admire the caution that, in every instance, demands the authority of Scripture, expressed or distinctly implied. From want of this caution, the greatest extravagancies have been committed, the most fanciful analogies established, where none were intended, and every minute circumstance in the Old Testament exalted into a type of something in the New. The very boards and nails of the tabernacle of Moses have been thus exalted.
Yet in our just aversion to one extreme, it is possible we may run into another. Of the typical character of Melchizedek, we had thought no doubt could be entertained. The canon of typical interpretation, indeed, demands, that in order to constitute the relation between type and antitype, there be, in addition to mere resemblance, "precious design," and "pre-ordained connection." And the commentary affirms, that "there is no evidence, that Melchizedek was designed to be a type of the Messiah, or that Abraham so understood it." Let it be observed in reply, that in the Psalm 110:1 Psalm the typical character of Melchizedek "seems" expressly acknowledged. It may be alleged, that the prophet simply states resemblance, without affirming that such resemblance was designed or intended. But that a prophet should be commissioned to declare, that Christ's priesthood should be "after such an order," and yet that in the institution of that exalted order there should have been no designed reference to Christ, is improbable.
The prediction seems to involve the original design. And this order of priesthood, too, is far superior to that of Aaron, the typical character of which is admitted. Moreover, the last clause of verse third, in this chapter, according to our English translation as a designed connection. Melchizedek was "made like unto the Son of God." The translation is accurate. Ἀφομοιωμενος Aphomoiōmenos, according to Parkhurst, is "made very like." So also Scott: "The composition is probably intended to add energy; made very like." And Bloomfield adopts, "being made by the divine decree a type of that great High Priest, who, &c,;" see the notes in Greek Testament. Lastly, on any other principle than that of "designed" typical relation, it is difficult, if not impossible, to give any just account of the remarkable omissions, the apparently studied silence, in the history of Melchizedek, in regard to those things that are commonly related in notices of lives, however brief.
He is introduced to us with an air of impenetrable mystery. He appears on the stage as Priest of the most High God, and then disappears, leaving us in complete darkness concerning his birth, parentage, and death. "In all these respects," says Mr. Scott, "the silence of the Scripture is intentional and refers to the great antitype." Melchizedek, therefore, we may remark, seems not only to have been designed as a type, but "special care" has been taken, that the record of him should be in all things suited to that design. That the apostle lighted on a happy coincidence, deserving of a passing thought, is not probable, whether this remark be meant to apply to the name, or to other particulars in this remarkable story. Indeed, divest it of its designed typical character, and the grandeur of the passage vanishes. A simple resemblance has been discovered between Christ and a certain character in the old Testament. This is all the apostle means to affirm! And for this too, he introduces Melchizedek, with such wondrous caution in Hebrews 5:11; "Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, but ye are dull of hearing." What was hard to be uttered, or difficult to be comprehended about a mere "illustration," or "resemblance?"
The following remarks of Owen are pertinent and beautiful. "The true cause of all these omissions was the same with that of the institution of his (Melchizedek's) priesthood, and the introduction of his person into the story. And this was, that he might he the more express and signal representative of the Lord Christ in his priesthood. And we may herein consider the sovereign wisdom of the Holy Spirit in bringing forth truth unto light, according as the state and condition of the church doth require. And first he prophesieth only a naked story of a person that was a type of Christ. Something the people of the age wherein he lived, might learn by his ministrations, but not much. For what was principally instructive in him, for the use of the church, was not of force until all his circumstances were forgotten. Yea, the contrivance of any tradition concerning his parents, birth, and death, had been contrary to the mind of God, and what instruction he intended the church by him.
Afterward, when, it may be, all thoughts of any use or design in this story were lost, and the church was fully satisfied in a priesthood quite of another nature, the Holy Spirit in one word of prophecy instructs her, not only that the things spoken concerning Melchizedek were not so recorded for his own sake, or on his own account, but with respect to another priest, which was afterward to arise, by him represented. This gave a new consideration to the whole story; but moreover gave the church to know, that the priesthood, which it then had, was not always to continue, but that one of another nature was to be introduced, as was signified long before the institution of that priesthood which they enjoyed, Psalm 110:4. Yet the church was left greatly in the dark, and, at the coming of our Saviour, had utterly lost all knowledge of the mystery of the type, and the promise renewed in the Psalm. Wherefore, our apostle entering on the unfolding of this mystery, doth not only preface it with an assertion of its difficulty, but also by a long previous discourse, variously prepareth their minds to a most diligent attention."
The excellence of this quotation will, in the reader's estimation, excuse the length of it. On the whole, he who reflects how all things in the ancient economy were ordered of God, and how great a part of that economy was meant to adumbrate the realities of the gospel, while he will be cautious in admitting typical analogies of a doubtful kind, will be slow to believe that the resemblance between Christ's priesthood, and that of the "most" exalted order previously instituted, is casual, or undesigned - slow to believe, that the apostle would make so large use of such accidental analogy, and found on it an argument so great.)
King of Salem - Such is the record in Genesis 14:18. The word "Salem" - שׁלם shalēm - means "peace;" and from this fact the apostle derives his illustration in Hebrews 7:2. He regards it as a fact worth remarking on, that the "name" of the place over which he ruled expressed so strikingly the nature of the kingdom over which the Messiah was placed. In regard to the "place" here denoted by the name "Salem," the almost uniform opinion has been that it was that afterward known as Jerusalem. The reasons for this opinion are,
(1) that it is a part of the name Jerusalem itself - the name "Jerus," altered from "Jebus," having been afterward added, because it was the residence of the "Jebusites."
(2) the name "Salem" is itself given to Jerusalem; Psalm 76:2, "In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion."
on Hebrews 7 :1
7:1 The sum of this chapter is, Christ, as appears from his type, Melchisedec, who was greater than Abraham himself, from whom Levi descended, has a priesthood altogether excellent, new, firm, perpetual. Gen 14:18, and c.