Genesis (Part 59)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 14:17-20

17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.


We find that word of Abram’s attack and victory spread to the kings of (at least) Sodom and Salem. They came to greet him after. This passage is, to say the very least, confusion. We have been told prior that the Canaanite kings are evil – even employing giants for use in warfare on their behalf. Then we meet the character of Melchizedek, king of Salem, and we are told he is priest of God Most high AND a king?

The section concludes with Abram giving something that looks very much like what a modern Christian would think of as a “tithe” offering.

Here are a few comments/notes about verse 17 from the Pulpit Commentary:

And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale.Verse 17. – And the king of Sodom – Bera, or his successor (vide Ver. 10) – went out to meet him (i.e. Abram) after his return from the slaughter (perhaps too forcible an expression for mere defeat) of Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him (the entire clause from “after” is parenthetical), at the valley of Shaveh. A valley about two stadia north of Jerusalem (Josephus, ‘Ant.,’ 8:10), supposed to be the valley of the Upper Kedron, where Absalom s pillar was after. wards erected (2 Samuel 18:10); which may be correct if the Salem afterwards mentioned was Jerusalem (vide infra); but if it was not, then the exact site of Shaveh must be left undetermined. Which is the king’s dale. Or valley (emek); so styled because suitable for kingly sports or military exercises (Onkelos); because of its beauty (Poole); because Melchisedeck had his camp and palace there (Malvenda); or most likely because of the interview between him and Abram which there occurred (Keil, Lange), with which agrees the rendering τὸ πεδίον τῶν βασιλέων, (LXX.).

In the midst of exploring the potential location of the valley, the note also makes a reference to Salem being or becoming Jerusalem. That leads us into verse 18. We’re going to spend a lot of time on verse 18 because this verse is one of the great mysteries of the Bible.

From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

Verse 18

(18) Melchizedek king of Salem.—There is a Salem near Scythopolis in the tribe of Ephraim, near to which John baptised (John 3:23, where it is called Salim), and Jerome mentions that some local ruins there were said to be the remains of Melchizedek’s palace. But such traditions are of little value, and we may eel certain that the place was really Jerusalem (Psalms 76:2); for it lay on Abram’s route homeward, and was within a reasonable distance of Sodom, which, as we have seen, lay in the Ciccar of Jericho, at the northern end of the Dead Sea. Salem is a common name for towns in Palestine (Conder, Tent-work, i. 91), and the village in Ephraim is too remote to have been the place of meeting.

Ellicott starts by addressing whether his belief is that Salem = Jerusalem. The comment above makes reference to the Psalms.

Psalm 76:2 His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.

As this verse seems clearly to be indicating Jerusalem, though saying Salem, there is some precedent for one being the other. Strong’s Definition for Salem says outright that Salem was an early name for Jerusalem.

Salem = שָׁלֵם Shâlêm, shaw-lame’; the same as H8003; peaceful; Shalem, an early name of Jerusalem:—Salem.; שָׁלֵם shâlêm, shaw-lame’; from H7999; complete (literally or figuratively); especially friendly:—full, just, made ready, peaceable, perfect(-ed), quiet, Shalem (by mistake for a name), whole.; שָׁלַם shâlam, shaw-lam’; a primitive root; to be safe (in mind, body or estate); figuratively, to be (causatively, make) completed; by implication, to be friendly; by extension, to reciprocate (in various applications):—make amends, (make an) end, finish, full, give again, make good, (re-) pay (again), (make) (to) (be at) peace(-able), that is perfect, perform, (make) prosper(-ous), recompense, render, requite, make restitution, restore, reward, × surely.

Continuing on with Ellicott’s notes we move to a discussion of Melchizedek himself:

In Melchizedek we have a type of Christ (Psalms 110:4Hebrews 5:6Hebrews 5:10Hebrews 7:1-21), and so venerable is his character and aspect that Jewish tradition identified him with the patriarch Shem, thus reconciling also to themselves his superiority over their forefather Abraham. But this idea is contradicted by Hebrews 7:3. He was more probably the king of some Semitic race who still occupied Salem, but from whom it was at a subsequent period wrested by the Jebusites, who called it Jebus, after the name of their ancestor (Judges 19:10-11). Up to David’s days it seems to have still had a titular king (2 Samuel 24:23), and upon his conquest of it its old name reappears, but with a prefix, and henceforward it was known as Jeru-salem, that is (probably), the possession of Salem.

Don’t slide by the comment above. Jewish tradition identifies Melchizedek with Shem himself. Let’s revisit our patriarch timeline chart.

Assuming this is correct, there are 150 years of lifespan overlap between Shem and Abram (Abram only lives 25 years after Shem passes.) We also do not know what became of Shem after the Table of Nations chapters of Genesis (Ch. 10 and 11)

There is an article at explaining who Melchizedek is:

Taken alone, this tiny anecdote does indeed seem strange. The Torah tells us nothing else about this man and his relationship to Abraham.

The ancient Targumim (Aramaic interpretive translations) identify Melchizedek as Shem—son of Noah. Shem was one of the links in the chain who transmitted the G‑dly traditions that originated with Adam. These traditions were carefully handed down from generation to generation, and Shem—who headed an academy—was a key conductor of these teachings. The Midrash tells us that he was so perfect and so spiritually advanced that he was born circumcised.2

So why did the priesthood pass from him to Abraham’s children? The Talmud explains that this happened as a result of his having blessed Abraham before blessing G‑d in the verses above. This is reflected in the only other place in Scripture where Melchizedek is mentioned: in Psalms 110:4, where we read, “. . . you are a priest forever because of the speech of Melchizedek.” Because of Melchizedek’s ill-chosen speech, the priesthood was taken from him and given to the seed of Abraham forever.3

I want to define a few more things before we look at this some more. You might be asking yourself, “what is Targumim? For that I will take you to wiki:

targum (Aramaic: תרגום‎ ‘interpretation, translation, version’) was an originally spoken translation of the Hebrew Bible (also called the Tanakh) that a professional translator (מְתוּרגְמָן mǝturgǝmān) would give in the common language of the listeners when that was not Hebrew. This had become necessary near the end of the first century BCE, as the common language was Aramaic and Hebrew was used for little more than schooling and worship.[1] The translator frequently expanded his translation with paraphrases, explanations and examples so it became a kind of sermon.

Writing down the targum was initially prohibited; nevertheless, some targumitic writings appeared as early as the middle of the first century CE.[1] They were not then recognized as authoritative by the religious leaders.[1] Some subsequent Jewish traditions (beginning with the Babylonian Jews) accepted the written targumim as authoritative translations of the Hebrew scriptures into Aramaic. Today, the common meaning of targum is a written Aramaic translation of the Bible. Only Yemenite Jews continue to use the targumim liturgically.

As translations, the targumim largely reflect midrashic interpretation of the Tanakh from the time they were written and are notable for favoring allegorical readings over anthropomorphisms.[2] (Maimonides, for one, notes this often in The Guide for the Perplexed.) That is true both for those targums that are fairly literal as well as for those that contain many midrashic expansions. In 1541, Elia Levita wrote and published the Sefer Meturgeman, explaining all the Aramaic words found in the Targum[which?].[3][4]

Targumim are used today as sources in text-critical editions of the Bible (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia refers to them with the abbreviation 𝔗).

Not everyone knows what Midrash is, either, so I will again turn to wiki for a quick summary:

Midrash (/ˈmɪdrɑːʃ/;[1] Hebrew: מִדְרָשׁ‎; pl. Hebrew: מִדְרָשִׁים‎ midrashim) is biblical exegesis by ancient Judaic authorities,[2] using a mode of interpretation prominent in the Talmud. The word itself means “textual interpretation”, “study”.[3]

Midrash and rabbinic readings “discern value in texts, words, and letters, as potential revelatory spaces”, writes the Hebrew scholar Wilda C. Gafney. “They reimagine dominant narratival readings while crafting new ones to stand alongside—not replace—former readings. Midrash also asks questions of the text; sometimes it provides answers, sometimes it leaves the reader to answer the questions”.[4]

Vanessa Lovelace defines midrash as “a Jewish mode of interpretation that not only engages the words of the text, behind the text, and beyond the text, but also focuses on each letter, and the words left unsaid by each line”.[5]

The term is also used of a rabbinic work that interprets Scripture in that manner.[6][7] Such works contain early interpretations and commentaries on the Written Torah and Oral Torah (spoken law and sermons), as well as non-legalistic rabbinic literature (aggadah) and occasionally Jewish religious laws (halakha), which usually form a running commentary on specific passages in the Hebrew Scripture (Tanakh).[8]

“Midrash”, especially if capitalized, can refer to a specific compilation of these rabbinic writings composed between 400 and 1200 CE.[1][9]

According to Gary Porton and Jacob Neusner, “midrash” has three technical meanings:

Is it that straight-forward? Well, no, of course not. The major argument against Shem as Melchizedek is found in the Septuagint chronology. In the Septuagint chronology, Shem dies six hundred years before Abram is born. This is actually an important and hotly debated topic. Here is the rough argument.

Many scholars believe that the Masoretic timeline of the patriarchs – among other things – was corrupted by Jewish scholars at Zippori in 160 CE in order to defend Judaism against adversaries. The Septuagint was translated from earlier Hebrew writing, between 325-350 BCE. The Greek translation from the ancient Hebrew is actually older than the oldest known Hebrew writings for the text. As a result, we have a situation where one side says “your translation into Greek was wrong” and the other side says “you changed the Hebrew text from which we translated.” From Wiki:

The Masoretic Text (MT or 𝕸) (נוסח המסורה) is the authoritative Hebrew Aramaic text of the 24 books of the Tanakh in Rabbinic Judaism. The Masoretic Text defines the Jewish canon and its precise letter-text, with its vocalization and accentuation known as the masorah. It was primarily copied, edited and distributed by a group of Jews known as the Masoretes between the 7th and 10th centuries of the Common Era (CE).

The oldest extant manuscripts date from around the 9th century.[b] The Aleppo Codex (once the oldest-known complete copy but since 1947 missing the Torah) dates from the 10th century.

The ancient Hebrew word mesorah (מסורה, alt. מסורת) broadly refers to the whole chain of Jewish tradition (see Oral Torah), which is claimed (by Orthodox Judaism) to be unchanged and infallible. Referring to the Masoretic Text, mesorah specifically means the diacritic markings of the text of the Hebrew scriptures and the concise marginal notes in manuscripts (and later printings) of the Tanakh which note textual details, usually about the precise spelling of words.

Modern scholars, and believers seeking to understand the writings of the Old Testament use a range of sources other than the Masoretic Text.[2] These include early Greek (Septuagint) and Syriac (Peshitta) translations, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea Scrolls and quotations from rabbinic manuscripts. Most of these are older than the oldest surviving Masoretic text and occasionally present notable differences.[3] Which of the three commonly known versions (Septuagint, Masoretic Text, Samaritan Pentateuch) is closest to the theoretical Urtext is disputed.[4] The text of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Peshitta reads somewhat in-between the Masoretic Text and the old Greek.[5] Although the consonants of the Masoretic Text differ little from some Qumran texts of the early 2nd century, it has many differences of both great and lesser significance when compared to the manuscripts of the Septuagint, a Greek translation (about 1000 years older than the MT from 3rd to 2nd centuries BCE) of a more ancient Hebrew Scriptures that was in popular use by Jews in Egypt and the Holy Land (and matches the quotations in the New Testament of Christianity, especially by Paul the Apostle).[6] A recent finding of a short Leviticus fragment, recovered from the ancient En-Gedi Scroll, carbon-dated to the 3rd or 4th century CE, is completely identical with the Masoretic Text.[c]

The Masoretic Text was used as the basis for translations of the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles such as the King James Version and American Standard Version and (after 1943) for some versions of Catholic Bibles.

Sometimes, we are left with competing arguments for what a thing says or means. Most of us do not have the time – or intellect – to be scholars in the necessary areas to make individual judgments. We can hope to someday find the Urtext buried and preserved under desert sand or inside an ancient library such that disputes can be settled. Until then, it is important that we are aware these arguments exist. In addition, I think it is also important to not be too prideful in taking one side of the argument or the other. Do the differences create significant issues? Yes. But that is all the more reason to walk lightly.


Back to the topic at hand – Melchizedek.

Melchizedek = “my king is Sedek” Looking for more wit Strong’s you find the following:

מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק Malkîy-Tsedeq, mal-kee-tseh’-dek; from H4428 and H6664; king of right; Malki-Tsedek, an early king in Palestine:—Melchizedek.

מֶלֶךְ melek, meh’-lek; from H4427; a king:—king, royal.

צֶדֶק tsedeq, tseh’-dek; from H6663; the right (natural, moral or legal); also (abstractly) equity or (figuratively) prosperity:—× even, (× that which is altogether) just(-ice), (un-)right(-eous) (cause, -ly, -ness).

King of Salem means King of Peace.

Melchizedek means King of Righteousness.

Melchizedek and Salem are not mentioned as taking part of The Battle of Nine Kings. The priest of The Most High, therefore, is not a participant in the evil from either side. Word of Abram’s actions reached him anyway and he met Abram to bless him.

Take note of this: Though there is argument over his identity, there is agreement upon the existence of a priest of God *before* the time of the Levites and before the time The Law was given. We do not know what the priesthood / worship looked like but we can look for clues.

From Ellicot:

Priest of the most high God.—Heb., of El ‘elyon. The mention of the term priest (used here for the first time) shows that some sort of sacrificial worship existed at Salem. Sacrifice had, however, been practised before; for Abel had acted as a priest when offering his firstlings, and Abram at the various altars which he built. Apparently, however, Melchizedek had been set apart for the priesthood in some more definite way. El ‘elyon means “the supreme God,” and though the two words are so similar in English, they are altogether unlike in Hebrew. In Psalms 7:17 the epithet ‘elyon is applied to Jehovah. With that precision in the use of the names of Deity which we have so often noticed before, Melchizedek is described as a priest of El ‘elyon, the Supreme Ruler of the universe; but Abram swears by Jehovah El ‘elyon, thus claiming that Jehovah was that Supreme Deity whom Melchizedek served, though without the special knowledge of Him which the patriarch possessed.

Christians have long identified Melchizedek with Jesus Christ. That identification is attributed as the alleged motivation for changing the Masoretic timeline to something else – such that Melchizedek can be identified as *someone* else (namely Shem.)

Looking at the New Testament Book of Hebrews Chapter 7:

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10 because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.

11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared:

“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:

“The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
    ‘You are a priest forever.’”

22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.

23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely[c] those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.


We are presented with another name / title for God in this section, too.

‘elyown ‘el

עֶלְיוֹן ʻelyôwn, el-yone’; from H5927; an elevation, i.e. (adj.) lofty (comparison); as title, the Supreme:—(Most, on) high(-er, -est), upper(-most).

אֵל ʼêl, ale; shortened from H352; strength; as adjective, mighty; especially the Almighty (but used also of any deity):—God (god), × goodly, × great, idol, might(-y one), power, strong. Compare names in ‘-el.’

I am struck by the mystery of God in these last few chapters.

God called Abram – a worshipper of idols from a family of idol worshipers – to the Promised Land… even though God already had a King/Priest present in Salem? Abram the outsider was used by God, perhaps to defend Salem, and perhaps also more broadly to bring more people into His presence. If those in Salem were praying to the Lord for protection from the fighting around them, one wonders if that protection, via Abram, was provided in a way they could not have predicted or guessed.

Something interesting happens in the section with the blessing, too.

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

From the Pulpit Commentary:

Genesis 14:19And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:Verse 19. – And he blessed him (in which act appears his distinctively sacerdotal character), and said (the form of the benediction is poetical, consisting of two parallel stanzas), Blessed be Abram – so Isaac blessed Jacob (Genesis 27:27), and Jacob Joseph (Genesis 48:15), conveying in each case a Divine bone-diction – of the most high God – לְ after a passive verb indicating the efficient cause (vide Gesenius, § 143, 2, and cf. Genesis 31:15; Proverbs 14:50) – possessor – so Onkelos and Calvin; but koneh, from kanah, to erect, set up, hence found or create, means founder and creator (Gesenius), combines the meanings of κτίζειν and κτᾶσθαι (Keil), contains no indistinct allusion to the doctrine of Genesis 1:1 (Murphy), and is rendered ο{ς ἔκτισε (LXX.) and qui creavit (Vulgate) – of heaven and earth.Genesis 14:20And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.Verse 20. – And blessed be the most high God (cf. Genesis 9:56), who hath delivered – miggen, a word peculiar to poetry – nathan (cf. Proverbs 4:9Hosea 11:8) – thine enemies – tsarecha, also a poetical expression – oyeb (cf. Deuteronomy 32:27Job 16:9Psalm 81:15) – into thy hand.

We see that the blessing is considered by some the moment when Melchizedek passed his priesthood to Abram. Some have argued functionally that this occurred by virtue of blessing Abram first before he blessed God. However it was accomplished, though, it is through Abram that the priesthood eventually is bestowed on his Levite descendants.

Judaic midrash (exegesis) identifies Melchizedek with Shem the son of Noah.[4] Although the Book of Genesis affirms that Melchizedek was “priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18), the Midrash and Babylonian Talmud maintain that the priesthood held by Melchizedek, who pre-dated the patriarch Levi by five generations (Melchizedek pre-dates Aaron by six generations; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kehoth, Amram, Aaron), was given in his stead to Abraham who, in turn, passed it on to his patrilineal descendants, Isaac and then to Jacob. Midrashic literature attributes this transition as a consequence due to Melchizedek preceding the name of Abraham to that of God, such as in the Midrash Rabbah to Genesis,[5] while some Jewish commentators, such as Chaim ibn Attar, write that Melchizedek gave the priesthood to Abraham willingly.

Maimonides, in his Mishna Torah compilation, explains that Jacob separated his son Levi from his other sons and appointed him to instruct and teach the ways of “service to God”, specifically the servicial methods used by his forefather Abraham, to his brothers. He also instructed his sons to perpetuate this status of Levi (“Shevet Levi”) for eternity (Maimonides, Avodah Zorah 1:15). For the prelude of this choice see Targum Yonathan to Genesis 32:25, and/or Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer ch. 37. In midrash, it is written that Amram the son of Kohath the son of Levi was the spiritual leader of the sons of Jacob (“Israel”) during their Egyptian Bondage.[citation needed] Following his passing, his post was assumed by his son Aaron.

At the time of the erection of the Tabernacle, God commanded Moses to appoint Aaron and his sons to the Jewish priestly service as a precondition to God revealing his Shechinah amongst the nation of Israel;

Something else of interest occurs in this section. Abram tithes. The Pulpit Commentary notes:

The practice of paying tithes, primarily a voluntary tax for the servants of the sanctuary, appears to have obtained among different nations from the remotest antiquity (vide Dr. Ginsburg in ‘Kitto’s Cyclopedia,’ art. Tithes). The tithal law was afterwards incorporated among the Mosaic statutes (Leviticus 27:30-33Numbers 18:31-32) – of all – the spoils which he had taken (Hebrews 7:4.)

From Ellicot:

(20) He gave him tithes.—Abram thus consecrated the war by a thank-offering to God, Who had given him the victory. But he also, by paying tithes, acknowledged the priesthood of Melchizedek, and that the God Whom he served was the true God. See Hebrews 7:4-11.

Tithing pre-dates “The Law” given to Moses. As a result, Christians who might view themselves as “not under The Law” due to Christ, still feel obligated to present a tithe at church.

6 thoughts on “Genesis (Part 59)

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