🔼The name Melchizedek: Summary
- King Of Righteousness
- From (1) the noun מלך (melek), king, and (2) the verb צדק (sadeq), to be just.
🔼The name Melchizedek in the Bible
Melchizedek is the king of Salem and priest of El Elyon (Genesis 14:18). He has a small but far stretching role in the War of Four against Five Kings, in the aftermath of which Abraham's nephew Lot is abducted by the survivors of that war and subsequently freed by Abraham and his coalition.
Since these stories were (apart from divinely inspired) based on oral traditions, glossed with verifiable facts, and written in their present form in Babylon, the story in which Abraham beats the vast armies of the Mesopotamian alliance with 318 good old boys and takes home his kin (Genesis 14:14), is quite openly an allusion to the return from Babylonian exile and the restoration of the temple and worship of YHWH.
Melchizedek gives Abraham bread and wine and blesses him, and Abraham gives Melchizedek a tenth of the goods that he retrieved from the looters. This action gave rise to the law of tithing (via Genesis 28:22, via Leviticus 27:30 to Deuteronomy 14:22-29; also see Hebrews 7:1-10).
King David seems to have access to Scriptures (or direct revelation) that are lost to us when he cites God in Psalm 110:4, "You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek". That there used to be a strong tradition about this Melchizedek becomes evident in Paul's letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 5:6, 5:10, 6:20 etc.). In this sense there is a huge difference between Melchizedek and Jethro, another famous priest, although at first he is perhaps not a priest of the God of Israel. Jethro is the father of Zipporah, the first wife of Moses, whose allegiance to God becomes evident only after he sees the success of Israel (Exodus 18:11).
But the bottom line is that Melchizedek, like all other major players from the early Old Testament, represents a school of thought or level of social development. He famously had no mother or father or genealogy, which indicates that he represents a natural wisdom tradition that had sprang up spontaneously as part of human nature, and not based on a previous tradition or external authority (Isaiah 59:21, Jeremiah 31:33, Romans 2:12, Hebrews 8:10). But he also famously joined Abraham in forming the earliest formal form of Yahwism, and this appears to indicate that although Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek (not based on something prior or external), he certainly embraces whatever human tradition has allowed the Creator to steer it toward the promised land (Matthew 17:3).
🔼Etymology of the name Melchizedek
The use of a hyphen in a name is quite unusual, and although Melchizedek seems a personal name, it looks more like a title. It consists of two elements, the first one taken from the noun מלך (melek), meaning king:
The noun מלך (melek) means king, and a king is not merely a glorified tribal chief but the alpha of a complex, stratified society, implying a court and a complex government.
The Bible insists that a society must be governed by a triad of anointed sovereigns, namely prophets, priests and the king. A good king causes his people to be prosperous and peaceful whereas a bad one causes poverty and strife. The difference between the two is dictated by how close to the Law of Nature (a.k.a. the Word of God) the king operates. A kingdom that is wholly in tune with the Law consists of only sovereign individuals and is thus without a physical king.
An Aramaic cognate verb מלך (malak) means to consult, which confirms that the concept of royalty indeed evolved from wisdom and intellectual prowess rather than brute physical or political strength, as is commonly suggested.
From this noun derives the verb מלך (malak): to be or become king, the nouns מלכה (malka) and מלכת (meleket): queen or court-lady, the noun מלוכה (meluka): kingship or royalty, and the nouns מלכות (malkut), ממלכה (mamlaka) and ממלכות (mamlakut), meaning sovereignty or kinghood.
The letter י is possessive, and the form מלכי means either my king, or king of.
The second part of the name Melchizedek comes from the verb צדק (sadeq), meaning to be just:
The verb צדק (sadeq) means to be just or righteous; to be efficient with social energy. Adjective צדיק (saddiq) means just or righteous, noun צדק (sedeq) means justice or rightness, noun צדקה (sadaqa) means righteousness.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names and NOBSE Study Bible Name List agree on the meaning of Melchizedek: King Of Righteousness. BDB Theological Dictionary sees in the zedek-part a reference to someone (some god?) named Sedeq, and reads My King Is Sedeq.