The Mysterious St. Melchizedek of the Old Testament

“The Christian tradition considers Melchizedek, ‘priest of God Most High,’ as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ...” (CCC 1544)

Thomas Christian Wink, “Abraham and Melchizedek”, 1770
Thomas Christian Wink, “Abraham and Melchizedek”, 1770 (photo: Public Domain / Public Domain)

“Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was a priest of God Most High. He blessed Abram with these words: ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth …’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” ―Genesis 14:18–19, 20b

St. Melchizedek is a particularly intriguing Bible saint. He briefly appears in the Old Testament as a priest-king who brought gifts and a blessing to Abram (before the name change to Abraham) as a way to honor a battle victory Abram had over a group of four kings. Why he appears on the scene at this time is rather mysterious. He was the king of “Salem,” a town which many generations later became the Israelite capital of Jerusalem. Salem means “peace,” so in a sense he was the king of peace ― an interesting parallel to Christianity’s king, Christ, who proclaimed a message of peace.

The origin of the order of Melchizedek’s priesthood is curiously not specified. The writer of Psalm 110 (possibly King David) asserted that Melchizedek was/is a priest forever, prompting many to consider his eternal priesthood to have been appointed by God.

The biblical Book of Hebrews offers strong intonations of comparison between Melchizedek and Jesus, especially how they were of the same priesthood ― a divine and everlasting priesthood. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1544) explains that the extraordinary priesthood of Melchizedek is traditionally believed to have foreshadowed the priesthood of Christ.

Melchizedek’s gifts to Abram of bread and wine seem to herald the elements used by Jesus during the Last Supper. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1333) considers these gifts to have been a presentiment of the offerings of the Church. The way Abram respectfully gave to the king one tenth of everything strongly illustrates that this father of all Judaism sensed something enormously worthy and profound in Melchizedek.

“Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them, as once you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.” ―Eucharistic Prayer I

 

A Biblical Novena to St. Melchizedek

St. Melchizedek is remembered Aug. 26 in the Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church. Perhaps priests, those who enjoy gift-giving, or those who appreciate mysticism might feel drawn to this Old Testament saint. Consider spending nine days with this mysterious St. Melchizedek — read, ponder, and pray about the passages below. Jot down some notes if desired, and ask St. Melchizedek to pray for you during the nine days. 

  • Day 1) Genesis 14:17–20
  • Day 2) Psalm 110:4
  • Day 3) Hebrews 5:5–10
  • Day 4) Hebrews 6:19–20
  • Day 5) Hebrews 7:1–3
  • Day 6) Hebrews 7:4–10
  • Day 7) Hebrews 7:11–12
  • Day 8) Hebrews 7:13–16
  • Day 9) Hebrews 7:17–22
Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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