Kings And Kingdoms Melchizedek Genesis 14

Several kings of Canaan are mentioned in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis. We must not allow ourselves to entertain any large ideas of their power and greatness. In the area of the present Dead Sea alone, which if not even then,  as some suppose, occupied by a lake, did not exceed some of our lesser English counties in extent, there were no less than five “kings;” and at even a considerably later period there were not fewer than thirty-one, in that portion of this small country of Canaan which Joshua was enabled to conquer. The fact clearly is, that each of these kings was no other than the head man, sheikh, or chief, of every considerable town and the district belonging thereto. They seem to have been independent of each other in their own particular affairs; but, as in the case of the kings of the plain, the princes of a particular district appear to have combined in such matters as were of general concernment to them all. Whether, with respect to such outside affairs, they allowed a sort of superiority to one of their number—say the chief of the most important town in the locality—cannot with certainty be stated. But we think that this was the case; not only because it is seen that this is the course which small tribes or communities are led by experience to regard as the best in times of war and trouble, but because there appears, even in this narrative, some faint indication that the king of Sodom was during this transaction regarded as the leader of the five kings of the plain. We know also that at the later period to which we have just referred, and in the same neighborhood, one of five “kings” of this description assumed the leadership of the others in a time of danger, and directed the movements of their united force (Joshua 10). Such power was probably only temporary, for we find that under analogous circumstances, among the Syro-Arabian tribes, great and jealous care is taken to exact the entire abdication, on the return of peace, of all the authority of leadership conceded, for the common good, in time of war and trouble. It is indeed highly probable that the eventual formation of larger dominions, originated in the successful attempts of such leaders to retain permanently the power thus temporarily entrusted to them.

It may be stated that, even at the present day, the same and the neighboring countries offer some tolerable analogies  to the state of things indicated. Every town and village has its sheikh, by whom almost all its concerns are managed, with the aid and counsel of the other principal inhabitants. If the country is not in a well-organized state, he makes war with other towns, and enters into alliance with the wandering tribes that frequent the neighborhood, and on him devolves the duty of entertaining strangers. He is accountable to the general government; but he is rarely interfered with, so long as he provides the taxes due from his place, and so long as the inhabitants make no complaint against him. Suppose this sheikh independent, instead of subject to a general government, we have in him, as it seems to us, one whose situation very nearly corresponds to that of the kings of Canaan. In fact, except in the Syro-Arabian provinces of the Turkish empire, these chiefs are called sultans; and we can well remember the surprise which the large ideas attached to this title, as appropriated by us to the grand signior, created when we first heard its application to a rough old man, nowise distinguishable in manner, appearance, dress, or mode of living, from the other inhabitants of the place. Now here is a perfectly analogous instance to the scriptural one, of the same title being applied to the chief of a village and the lord of an empire. Our own small island once formed many kingdoms; but the kings of the Heptarchy were, in regard to extent of dominion, mighty sovereigns compared with the ancient kings of Canaan.

A disorganized society falls back into the same state as an unorganized society; and when the general government is weak, the local chiefs become almost or wholly independent. Hence we read, in William of Tyre, that during the crusades, when King Bohemund laid siege to Arsur, “several kings” came down from the mountains of Samaria to the plain of Antipatris, bringing with them bread and wine, and dried figs and raisins. These “kings” were doubtless such as we have described, and such as the ancient kings of Canaan were.

This incident is in itself strikingly analogous to what happened to Abraham, for we are told that Melchizedek, king  of Salem, “brought forth bread and wine” to him, on his victorious return from the slaughter of the kings. The simple fact of the similarity, not only of the act, but of the refreshments offered, is the best answer to the opinion advanced by some of the old Romanists, and lately also by other writers, that “the bread and wine” were emblematic of the eucharistic elements. Figs and raisins were probably also included, in the one case as in the other, for, in the language of Scripture, “bread and wine,” as the chief articles of meat and drink, represent all kinds of food.
Melchizedek himself, who brought these presents to Abraham as his troop arrived at, or passed near his town, is a remarkable person in Scripture. It is said that “he was priest of the most high God,” and he bestows a solemn blessing upon Abraham in the name of “the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth;” and which is more extraordinary, Abraham gives to him “tithes (or a tenth) of all.” Who was this Melchizedek, who is honored with such high titles, and whom Abraham treats with such respect? The question is a large one, upon which volumes have been written. The union, in his person, of the royal and sacerdotal characters, excites no surprise, as this was usual in ancient times. The Jews generally think that he was Shem, for their short chronology of the period would allow him to have lived down to this time. But without now questioning that chronology, it may be asked, how came Shem to be living and reigning here, among people of the Canaanitish race? and if it were Shem, how is it that Abraham, who had now been a considerable time in the land, had no previous intercourse with his venerable ancestor? Besides, why should Moses speak of Shem by another name than that by which he had previously described that personage? and if he were known to be Shem, how could Paul say that his parentage was unknown (Heb_7:3), seeing that we are very well acquainted with the genealogy of Shem? The probability seems to be, as Josephus indicates, that Melchizedek was a Canaanitish prince, belonging to the older long-lived generation, who  maintained the worship and knowledge of the true God; which, indeed, does not seem to have been, up to this time, so generally lost in Canaan as in the land from which Abraham came; for we find no traces of idolatry, and we know, from Scripture itself, that the iniquity of the Canaanites was not full, until four hundred years later. The essential difference of their religious training, while both adored the same God, is shown in the fact, that while to Abraham God is known as Jehovah, or simply as Elohim, with Melchizedek he is the “Most High God, the possessor of heaven and earth;” and it is not a little remarkable, that Abraham himself adopts the same title, for that once only, when naming God in the presence of Melchizedek, or rather combining it with his own more usual designation of the Almighty—“I have lifted up my hand to Jehovah, the Most High God, the possessor of heaven and earth.”

There is, and must always remain, great obscurity upon the history of Melchizedek, and upon some important points in Abraham’s intercourse with him. It seems to us far from improbable that Moses, writing under Divine direction, was withheld from furnishing further information respecting Melchizedek, for the very purpose of his being rendered the more efficient type of Christ in his priestly office; and of enabling sacred writers in later ages to find the means of illustrating, from what is known, and more from what is not known, of Melchizedek, this important feature in the official character of the Divine Redeemer. Note: See Psa_110:4; and Hebrews 7.]

Some of our readers will have heard, that the Salem, of which Melchizedek was king, was no other than Jerusalem. But we see no proof of this. It seems far more likely that Salem was some town between the lake of Gennesaret and the Dead Sea, as was indeed formerly understood. Jerusalem is indeed called Salem, in Psa_76:2; but this, probably, is no more than a poetical contraction. All the circumstances of the history are in favor of a more northern position. The interview between these illustrious personages  took place in “the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale;” and we are referred to the parallel text (2Sa_18:18), “Absalom had reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king’s dale.” But this passage throws no light on the geographical position of the “king’s dale;” and to assume that it is near Jerusalem, is to beg the only point in question.