Read Genesis Chapters 13-15.
In this narrative of Abraham’s life we find more insight into Abraham’s character (he is still being called by his original name “Abram”). Abraham and Lot have become very wealthy yet are still dwelling in tents, not “houses” as we know them. This being the case the herdsmen of Abraham and the herdsmen of Lot have started to fight over grazing rights as the land cannot sustain them and also the original inhabitants of the land. This is a big problem. Since Abraham and Lot do not wish to fight with each other, they decide to separate. Abraham said told Lot to take his pick of the land, that whatever Lot chose, Abraham would go the the other direction and settle. Now, it turns out that Lot just naturally took the best greenest looking place that he could see, which happened to be the well watered plain of the Jordan river (right next to Sodom).
After a while due to his closeness to Sodom, Lot is embroiled in a war and taken as a captive. Abram hears about this from a survivor who got free, and gets together 318 trained men born in his household to go after Lot and his family and all of Lot’s possessions and rescue them. Abram follows them to Dan, and succeeds in one night to rescue Lot, his possessions and the women and other people who had been taken captive.
After this, Abram returns home. The King of Sodom comes out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (aka The King’s Valley). Then we have this mysterious person suddenly show up in the story by the name of Melchizedek (Mel-key-zed-ek) who is named as the King of Salem (aka Jerusalem). Melchizedek is also identified as priest of the God Most High. Anyway, Melchizedek brings out bread and wine and he blesses Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then an amazing thing happens…Abram gives him a tenth of everything. The king of Sodom tells Abram to give him the people and to keep the goods for himself. Abram tells him no, that he will accept none of the goods belonging to Sodom as he has made a promise to God not to so that the King of Sodom cannot say that “he made Abram rich”. He would only take a share for the men who were with him and for his allies, and what his men had eaten.
After all of this we read in chapter 15 that God blesses Abram and promises him an heir and a land. God tells Abram that he will get a “son from his own body.” Abram had long given up on having a son from his own body and had declared his heir to be Eleazar who lived in his household. God told him this was not going to be the case.
Now there is a lot of info about who people think Melchizedek actually is, but nothing is listed in the Old Testament other than this, and then in Psalm 110:4, which is identifying the Messiah as being from the order of Melchizedek and a priest forever. We also read about Melchizedek again in Hebrews in the new testament. Hebrews chapters 5 thru chapter 7.
In Hebrews it is explained that Melchizedek is obviously the greater person when dealing with Abram because the lesser person is always blessed by the greater person. We are also told that his name means “king of righteousness” then also, “king of Salem” which also means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever. The writer of Hebrews (no one is really sure who wrote this letter to the Hebrews) goes on to remind us how great Melchizedek must have been that Abraham would give him a tenth of the plunder. The writer also reminds us that in the Law handed down after Exodus to the Israelites the Levite priests were ordered to collect a tenth from their brothers, and that by virtue of being descended from Abram… Levi was in a sense present when Abram made the offering of a tenth to Melchizedek. (This is a reference to the idea of being present because the genes from Abram came to Levi through his genetic relationship with Abram.)
Then we are told that Jesus is a perfect priest in the order of Melchizedek one who has become a priest not based on regulation as to his ancestry (all priests per regulation after Exodus were from the tribe of Levi), but one who came to priesthood on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. Meaning Jesus was to be a priest forever in this order of Melchizedek. All of the former priests are human and fallible and had to first make an offering to atone for their own sins, before they could make an offering for the sins of the people. Jesus is sinless, and therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (NIV paraphrased)
Now the prevailing thought about who the Old Testament Melchizedek, King of Salem, would be is that he is Shem, son of Noah. If that is the case, then he would definitely still be alive at the time of this story of Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek…he was 390 years old when Abram was born, and lived to be 500 years old in total. I am willing to follow this line of reasoning, as Noah would have died in Abram’s father Tera’s life time before Abram was born. Shem would have been the elder of mankind who would be living at that time…we know that Noah was a man who raised grapes and made wine…Shem presented the group with bread and wine (I found this interesting in relationship to Jesus and the Last Supper). Shem was the only person of Noah’s sons, who we are given a definite life length of in years, and can calculate that he would be there. He also was not a Levitical priest, but would definitely be the “tribal” leader and a “priest” trained by Noah, and selected by God. Considering his age and that he was the probably the oldest man alive at this time, his priesthood had been “forever” to the others alive on earth in Abram’s time. Although we are given a finite age for him he still lived another 110 years after this meeting with Abram. We are never told whether Abram met him again, or before this time. If it really was Shem, then he probably was very familiar with him, otherwise, we would be wondering how Abram would know to even make an offering to him. So when we look at Jesus and compare him to Melchizedek, we know that Jesus was to be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. It is hard to say whether the Melchizedek in the Old Testament was actually Shem who at some point since the flood had been give the name Melchizedek which I will mention again means “King of Righteousness”. We are told by the author of the book of Hebrews that this Melchizedek is “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” We know that this cannot be Jesus because we are given very specific lineage for Jesus’ ancestry. This Melchizedek is a precursor to Jesus’ priesthood because of his non-Levitical standing, and that he is the “Priest of the Most High God” he however, unlike Jesus has an end of life that is clearly given in the Old Testament. Most of the time in Hebraic prophecy there is a two fold time component….a “this is going to happen soon in your life time so you can witness it” part of the prophecy, and a “this other part is going to happen later own, and you won’t live to see it” part of the prophecy. The reason God does this with prophecy is so that the witnesses to the first part can attest to its fulfillment in documentation to the people who will witness the 2nd part of the prophecy..so that the people (like us who are awaiting Revelation) will be able to trust that the prophet is a true prophet of God. It is to help us to tell the difference between a false prophet and a true prophet. For the writer of the Hebrews the Old Testament and also for us, Melchizedek was certainly a person without a specific genealogy…we will not know exactly who he was beyond that he was a priest of the Most High God, Creator of the Universe, who lived and interacted with Abram. Someone whom Abram thought enough of that he gave him an offering in gratitude for the victory God gave him when he went to rescue his nephew Lot. Considering that Abram was God’s chosen, we really have to wonder…who exactly is Melchizedek of the Old Testament? Logically speaking, Noah’s son Shem is an excellent candidate.