At the time when Abraham, in obedience to the command of the Lord, took up his residence in the land of Canaan, the Canaanites were fast deteriorating morally in all their branches. This is implied in the saying of God to Abraham that the measure of iniquity of the Canaanites was not yet full. That the tribes of Canaan, even at that early date, were steeped in idolatry is also indicated by the doing of the patriarchs that consisted in their building, in agreement with their calling, an altar to the Lord in every place where they would temporarily pitch their tent. They must have done so, surely, with a view to providing the inhabitants of Canaan with the glorious re reuse of their idolatry.
Thus did heathenism gather gradually, as a general twilight, through which glimmered the men of God, as individual stars. One of these stars is Melchisedec. In this writing we draw a comparison between him and the patriarch Abraham. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews does so directly and purposely, in the following scripture found at Hebrews 7:1-5:
“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;
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.
Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
And verily, they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.
And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.
And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.
And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham.
For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.’’
Let us mark the statement, “And without contradiction the less is blessed of the better.” Abraham then was the less; Melchisedec was the better. The proof of this is that (1) Abraham was blessed by Melchisedec; (2) to Melchisedec Abraham gave the tenths of the spoils. However, we may not rest here with Abraham. The point to the whole argument of the sacred writer is that Levi as priest was the less and that Melchisedec as priest-king was the better. The indication of this is that Levi, being in the loins of Abraham, gave the tenths to Melchisedec and was blessed by the latter. So, rightly considered, the comparison here is in the final instance between the Levitical priesthood and that of Melchisedec. Let us then concentrate on the theme:
Melchisedec the better, Levi (Abraham) the less.
Let us see (1) in what sense this was true; (2) the evidence of this.
It is plain that the comparison is not between the persons of Melchisedec and Levi but between the priesthood of these two personages. It was in their capacity of priests that Melchisedec was the better and Levi the less. Melchisedec was the better for two reasons: (1) Besides being priest of the Most High God, he was at once king—-king of righteousness and king of Salem, which is, king of peace; (2) Melchisedec, that is, his priesthood, abideth continually. The latter implies certainly, that Melchisedec was made priest after the power of an endless life and also by an oath.
‘Levi, on the other hand, was no king. He was priest only. Secondly, his priesthood had beginning and end. In agreement herewith, Levi, that is, Aaron, was made priest, not by the power of an endless life, but after the law of a carnal commandment and without an oath.
Let us now delineate on these differences. Melchisedec was king of Salem and priest of the Most High God. Of him it is related that he was without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God. It need not surprise that his appearance had been variously explained. According to one view, Melchisedec is Sem, who still lived in the days of Abraham. Another view has it that he was the son of Kenan, who kept watch on the hill of Golgotha, where Adam lay hurried, who died in the days of Kenan. Some, recoiling from the view that this great one among men was an ordinary mortal, maintain that we are to think here, in connection with the name Melchisedec, of an angel, or of an incarnation of the Holy Spirit, or of the Logos, or perhaps of the appearance of a higher God. But all such views must be set aside as being without the slightest support in Scripture. Fact is that in Holy Writ, Melchisedec stands before us a man among men, who, living in the days of Abraham, was king of Salem, the latter Jerusalem, and priest of the Most High God. The scripture at Hebrews 7:1-5 is to be taken as the record of the appearance of a real man of flesh and blood on the stage of sacred history.
But how is this priest of the Most High God, ruling in the midst of an idolatrous land, and standing outside the line of Abraham, to be explained, and wherein must the origin of his priesthood be sought? According to Abraham Kuyper, the priesthood of Melchisedec is to be regarded as a remnant of the original priesthood of creation. Adam was priest. And this priesthood, with which man in the state of integrity was clothed, by virtue of the original ordinance of creation, reappeared in Melchisedec. That this priesthood persisted and could still flower so beautifully in the person of Melchisedec, despite the entrance of sin, is to be ascribed to the operation of common grace, checking sin in the human race and staying the corruption. So he wrote in De Gemeene Gratie.
According to Kuiper then, this priesthood is the original priesthood of the ordinance of creation. It has been transmitted to Melchisedec directly from Paradise. Now this conception is not according to Scripture. Certain it is that there was a priesthood according to the original ordinance of creation. Adam in the state of integrity was priest of the most high God. He was the servant of God and stood in covenant fellowship with God, with his whole being and with the whole of the earthy creation. And it was his calling as prophet to know God and to declare and glorify His name in the midst of creation, and as priest to love God with his whole heart and with all his strength and in that love to offer himself and all things to God. However, through sin this priesthood turned into its very opposite. In the language of the Confession, man corrupted his whole nature. He became wicked, corrupt and perverse in all his ways. He died spiritually. His love became enmity. If he originally consecrated himself to God with all his strength, he now wallows in the mire of sin. Not gradually and eventually but immediately he changed from priest of the most high God to priest of the devil. There appeared immediately the priesthood of men in the person of Cain and in his generations perpetuating itself. After the flood it reappeared, did this false priesthood. It revealed itself in the idolatry of the heathen world and in the modern civilized world in the rejection of the atonement of Christ. In the line of the development of this priesthood there is no room for the priesthood of Melchisedec.
Melchisedec was a historical figure. This certainly must be maintained. But it is also certain that he cannot be explained as an after-glow of the original priesthood of the ordinance of creation.
The explanation of Melchisedec as a historical phenomenon in his priesthood is not the so-called common grace but simply the grace of God, which is in Christ Jesus and which operated in the generations of the true people of God, The narrative of Genesis strongly suggests that in Melchisedec we have to do with a common historical phenomenon. He was king-priest and there was to him a people over which he ruled and whose high priest he was. The appearance of Melchisedec implies that even at the time of Abraham there was found in the land of Canaan a tribe or group of people, who knew the Lord and worshipped the most high God and who through their priest-king brought Him sacrifices in his sanctuary. Melchisedec was king-priest of Salem and in this place there was still found a people who truly loved and served the Lord. The land was also inhabited by the Canaanites. But in the midst of the Canaanites there also lived a people that knew the Lord and were represented by Melchisedec. If the priesthood of Melchisedec sprang from redeeming grace, it was a remnant not out of Paradise but out of the ark. In the ark was the church of God. And out of the visible church there will again come forth the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent according to the two lines of election and reprobation. The main line of the covenant runs through the generation of Sem and is limited to the seed of Abraham. But this does not mean that with the calling of Abraham all God’s people had died with the exception of Abraham. Only gradually was the fear of God limited to the seed of Abraham. In the light of these observations, it is not strange that even at the time of Abraham there was found in the land of Canaan a people who truly feared God. So much for the historical appearance of Melchisedec.
Now, as compared with the priesthood of Aaron (Levi) the priesthood of Melchisedec was the better. It was this because it was a kingly priesthood. In Melchisedec the priesthood and the kingship were connected. Second, the priesthood of Melchisedec was eternal. Of Melchisedec the sacred narrator, directing attention to his name, says that he is a king of righteousness and king of peace. The first is the meaning of the name Melchisedec, which this king bore, certainly on account of his being righteous. The second is derived from the name of the place, Salem, meaning peace. As to his priesthood, the writer tells us that he was priest of the most high God, without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life. Thus he was made like unto the Son of God. This description must be made to apply solely to Melchisedec as priest and not to him as a historical personage. The key to the correct understanding of this scripture is the word descent. Its Greek equivalent signifies a generation not described or recorded, or in the express words of the writer, not counted. Melchisedec then is a priest whose parentage, generation, birth and decease was not recorded, because his priesthood did not depend on such descent. He did not have to point to father and mother to make plain that he had a right to the priesthood. It was different with the sons of Aaron. Their parentage was recorded because only the sons of Aaron might be vested with the priesthood. This priesthood therefore had beginning, and end. Not so that of Melchisedec. And that it is said of him that he was king of Salem must imply something more than that he was a civil magistrate ruling in a particular place and over a definite people. For the writer acids, “which is king of peace.” He was a righteous and peaceable king, one that ruled righteously and lived peaceably. Absolutely in himself, and as unto his own personal qualifications, he was so and no more, nor could he be more. Really lie was a righteous and peaceable king. Typically he, in distinction from Aaron was the “king of righteousness and peace.” And his priesthood was eternal. As person, Melchisedec was born and died. But his priesthood had no end.
Could it not be that even more is intended. It is to be considered that his priesthood abided continually. This would seem to suggest that we are to think of this priesthood as springing from the life of regeneration, thus as the priesthood of all believers.
Abraham pays the tenths to Melchisedec. He did so after having gained a signal victory over the invading host, representative of the forces of iniquity, the world-power. Abraham paying the tenths to Melchisedec and the latter providing the former with food and drink and in addition blessing him—forms the figure of the company of redeemed, blessed and nourished by Christ, in whom they triumph and to whom, therefore, they do homage.