Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
In general, the noun מלך (melek) describes the alpha of a stratified society: the king or chief ruler, implying a complex government with sub-chiefs and ministers and such.
Most pagan societies, then and now, are based on some supreme leader — king, president, chairman; all that — but in Israel the king was one of three sovereigns, the other two being priests (from the tribe of Levi) and prophets (from any tribe). These three were sovereign in that they had no earthly superiors and took their instructions directly from the Creator. That means that all three were "anointed," which translates from the familiar words Messiah (that's Hebrew) and Christ (that's Greek).
Intuition may suggest that the solitary king would surely "outrank" any of the many priests and prophets, but in the Bible the king is consistently regarded the lesser of the three: the runt of the litter, whose ultimate potential was to be a sort of chief housekeeper who governed society's infrastructure, its money and its wastes, but who had no real link to the divine himself and had to be drilled in matters of the Word like any other commoner (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). Israel's first king, Saul of Benjamin, famously tried to ascend into the company of prophets (1 Samuel 10:6) and priests (1 Samuel 13:8-14) but was in both cases violently demoted to the position of mere king, until he even fell from there. His successor, David of Judah, indeed was also a prophet (Acts 2:30).
But the bottom line is that since all of nature is governed by the Law of Nature (a.k.a. the Word of God), only a society that operates according to that Law won't be attacked by natural principles and processes, and will in turn be stable. That means that only a society that has knowledge-of-natural-law as "king" can last forever. All other empires, nations, federations, kingdoms and even companies will eventually fail. A society that is governed by natural law alone is governed by the same freedom that is fundamental to nature, and is even a perfect manifestation of that fundamental freedom. This is why all members of such a society are both priests and kings (Exodus 19:6), and thus Christs. Freedom is the ultimate goal of creation and the purpose of Christ's ministry. Or as Paul puts it: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Galatians 5:1).
Long before the office of YHWH's Anointed split into three — physics calls this a breach of symmetry — that office was one. But this split was foreseen even in the time of Moses and the laws that described the office of the king, and strongly limited the king's powers, were penned down in the book of Deuteronomy (17:14-20). That's really quite remarkable because in most societies law comes from the king rather than the other way around. A king of Israel had to be chosen by YHWH and not by the people (17:15). He couldn't be a foreigner (17:15), he couldn't "multiply horses" (probably a poetic way of speaking about the military; 17:16), he couldn't sport a harem (perhaps to prevent distraction, but perhaps also to not unfairly flood the gene pool) or otherwise enrich himself at the cost of his people (17:17). This also means that when the Israelites demanded a king, they could have done so without rejecting the Creator as king (1 Samuel 8:7), and allow their society to mature into a temple of global freedom with their royalty as a kind of scaffolding for extra support.
Obviously, humankind managed to let herself get kidnapped by her own kings, who became more and more corrupt and self-serving over the centuries. Fortunately, our prophets gave us stories such as the Iliad (of Helen in Troy) and Esther (of Hadassah in Persia) to contemplate, and lately a woken humanity has started to ditch her kings and embrace first the republic, to then envision and build toward libertarian utopias. Long live the blockchain!
Quite telling, our modern word "monarch" comes from the familiar Greek word μονος (monos), meaning alone, which was probably meant to flatter but which reminds anybody with some sense of the equally familiar word ιδιωτης (idiotes), meaning "in a category of one's own." The origin of our Hebrew word מלך (melek) is strikingly obscure, but in Assyrian exists the verb malaku, which means to counsel or advise. And sure enough, in Nehemiah 5:7 the Aramaic verb מלך (malak) occurs clearly in connection with intense introspection followed by a group discussion.
Also note the striking similarity with the noun מלאך (mal'ak), which is the Hebrew word for angel. Despite modern lore, an angel's primary function is to protect and shield, which is why angels have wings (the primary function of bird wings is to protect chicks; flight is a side effect; see for much more on angels our article on the Greek equivalent αγγελος, aggelos). This noun מלאך (mal'ak), angel, is probably not etymologically related to our noun מלך (melek), king, and its verb מלך (malak), to be king, but rather comes from the particle מ (mem), which indicates agency, and the verb לאך (la'ak), to convey [a message or charge]. All this nevertheless suggests a very strong associative link between the Hebrew view on angels and on kings.
Also note the noun מלח (melah or melach), which means salt. Before refrigeration, salt was the primary means of preserving food as it tends to absorb liquids. For this same reason, salt was used as a cleaning agent and disinfectant, and was even applied, but probably proverbially, to new born babies (Ezekiel 16:4).
In other words: the main function of a Hebrew king was to accommodate and facilitate the great human dialogue (1 Kings 10:24-25), and to provide a global temple (or inn, if you will) in which the Word could ultimately be received in the Flesh.
Our noun מלך (melek) is such an important word in the Bible that it, its plural (מלכים) and its pseudo-genitive plural (מלכי, meaning kings of) together occur more than 2,500 times. It additionally comes with several variations and derivations:
- The verb מלך (malak), to be or become king or act as one: to rule or reign. This verb obviously also occurs all over the Bible.
- The feminine noun מלכה (malka), meaning queen or lady of the court. This word occurs 35 times in Scriptures but, with the apparent exception of two plurals, מלכות (milkut), in Song of Solomon 6:8-9, it exclusively denotes foreigners; sometimes heads of state (1 Kings 10:1) but often ladies associated to a foreign monarchy but without formal authority themselves (Esther 1:9, Daniel 5:10).
- The noun מלוכה (meluka), meaning kingship, royalty or kingly office.
- The noun מלכות (malkut), meaning royalty, sovereign power, realm or reign.
- The noun ממלכה (mamlaka), meaning sovereignty, or literally "that in which kingship is manifested".
- The noun ממלכות (mamlakut), also meaning sovereignty.