Who Was Melchizedek?

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After Abraham and Lot settled in the land of Canaan, Lot fought in a battle and was taken prisoner. Abraham and 318 of his servants rescued him from his captors (Genesis 14:1-16). Upon their return, they were met by the king of Sodom (Bera) and the king of Salem (Melchizedek).

The author of Genesis tells us that Melchizedek was not only a king, but was also “the priest of the most high God.” He blessed Abraham, and Abraham paid tithing to him (Genesis 14:17-20).

About 1,000 years later, King David wrote that God would tell the Messiah, “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4).

In 82 B.C., in the city of Ammonihah, the prophet Alma provided more information about Melchizedek. After describing a pattern by which many people became high priests and “entered into the rest of the Lord their God,” Alma tells us that Melchizedek “was also a high priest after this same order…who also took upon him the high priesthood forever” (Alma 13:12, 15). Then he provided some additional history:

Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness;
But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.
Now, there were many before him, and also there were many afterwards, but none were greater; therefore, of him they have more particularly made mention (Alma 13:17-19).

The name Salem (שָׁלֵם) means “peaceful.” This is why Alma connects the title “prince of peace” with the king of Salem.

The name Melchizedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) is a compound name with two roots:

  • melek (מֶלֶךְ), which means “king”
  • tsedeq (צֶדֶק), which means “righteousness”

The apostle Paul highlighted both of these titles in his epistle to the Hebrews:

For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;
To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace (Hebrews 7:1-2).

The following verse appears to be a continuation of Paul’s description of Melchizedek, but makes him sound larger than life:

Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually (Hebrews 7:3).

However, in Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible, he clarified that these descriptions refer to the priesthood held by Melchizedek, not the man himself:

For this Melchizedek was ordained a priest after the order of the Son of God, which order was without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life. And all those who are ordained unto this priesthood are made like unto the Son of God, abiding a priest continually (JST, Hebrews 7:3, differences from KJV underlined)

This reading is consistent with Alma’s description of the high priesthood:

…being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity (Alma 13:7).

Joseph Smith also makes clear, in his translation of Genesis 14, that Melchizedek was himself following in the footsteps of righteous priests who had gone before, particularly Enoch:

…having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,
It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God;
And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name (JST, Genesis 14:27-29).

Today, I will be grateful for righteous men like Melchizedek, who have received and honored the priesthood of God, used their influence to establish peace and righteousness, and ultimately entered the rest of the Lord. I will remember that priesthood power is eternal—”without beginning of days or end of years”—and that those who receive it must use it with reverence and respect.

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