David and Melchizedek


by Doug Ward

After being anointed king of Israel in his youth, David son of Jesse had to wait a number of years before ascending to the throne. During those years, while he was ducking King Saul's spear and building a base of political support from the tribe of Judah, David had time to make plans for his future reign.


Some of those plans concerned Jerusalem (also known as Salem-Ps 76:2), located six miles north of his hometown of Bethlehem. Jerusalem would make an ideal capital for David's kingdom, since it was centrally located in Israel and well-fortified. Unfortunately, it was not yet under Israelite control. While David was growing up, Jerusalem was occupied by the Jebusites, who were safely ensconced in a fortress on the city's southeastern hill.


At some point early on, David decided that one day he would take Jerusalem. We see a hint of his intentions in 1 Sam 17:54, where we read that David, after slaying Goliath of Gath, "took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem." We can imagine David displaying the giant's head on the wall of Jerusalem to send a message to the Jebusites: "Here is what happens to those who defy the God of Israel! Be warned that in due time we will be coming for you as well."1


It would be some years before David could follow through on his plan. After Saul's death, it took seven additional years for the fractious tribes of Israel to unite behind him. Frequent attacks from the Philistines were also an obstacle. But eventually David led his troops to Jerusalem and captured this prize for Israel, silencing the jeers of the Jebusites (2 Sam 5:6-7).


David King of Salem

For David, taking Jerusalem was more than just a military and political move. The new capital would also provide a fitting and secure home for the ark of the covenant, which for years had been stored at the house of Abinadab at Kiriath-jearim (1 Sam 7:1-2). Working closely with the priests and Levites, David organized a festive celebration around the ark's journey to Jerusalem (I Chron 15-16) Clothed as a priest himself in a linen ephod and a linen robe (I Chron 15:27), he directed sacrifices of thanksgiving and danced with joyful abandon as singers and instrumentalists performed.


In officiating at the ark ceremony, David may have seen himself following in the footsteps of an earlier leader in Jerusalem.2 In the days of Abram, a thousand years before, Jerusalem was led by Melchizedek, a man who was both "king of Salem" and "priest of God Most High" (Gen 14:18). When Abram returned from recovering the goods and people taken from that region by an enemy army, Melchizedek provided food and drink ("bread and wine") for Abram's exhausted men and blessed both Abram and God. Similarly, as part of the ark celebration, David king of Salem "blessed the people in the name of the Lord and distributed to all Israel, both men and women, to each a loaf of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins" (1 Chron 16:2-3).


Melchizedek and the Messiah

David aspired to be a ruler like Melchizedek, functioning as both king and priest. Later God made a promise to David that exceeded all of his aspirations and plans: David's dynasty would continue forever (2 Sam 7; Ps 89:20-37). Overwhelmed by this news, David marveled, "This is instruction for mankind, O Lord God!" (2 Sam 7:19) In other words, God's promise to David was vital for the future of the whole human race.3


David had high hopes for the kings who would succeed him, and he undoubtedly shared those hopes with God, who in turn provided further revelation. In Psalm 110, God communicated to David a message for David's "Lord," a mighty king who would also be "a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (v. 4). Jesus himself identified this Lord as the Messiah (Matt 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44) and used Psalm 110 to explain to the sages of his day that the Messiah was much more than just a human descendant of David.


Following the lead of their Master, early Christians turned to Psalm 110 for Christological understanding and insight. (This psalm is the chapter from the Hebrew Scriptures quoted most often in the New Testament.) From Psalm 110:1, they understood that the resurrected Christ is in an exalted position, seated at the right hand of God. He is therefore greater than the angels (Heb 1:13). With his sacrifice complete (Heb 10:11-12), he intercedes for us (Rom 8:34).


Early Christians also learned much from the declaration in Psalm 110:4 that the Messiah is "a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." The seventh chapter of the book of Hebrews draws out the implications of Jesus' connection to the mysterious ancient priest-king of Salem. The author notes that Melchizedek's name and position identify him as "king of righteousness" and "king of peace" (v. 2). Since Melchizedek blessed Abram and received a tithe from him, he must be greater than Abram. Therefore the Melchizedek priesthood must be greater than that of Abram's descendant Levi (vv. 4-10). Furthermore, since the Messiah is made a priest by an oath (Ps 110:4), the new covenant established by that oath must be even better than the Sinai covenant under which the Aaronic priests served (Heb 7:20-22). Finally, since nothing is mentioned in scripture about the birth, ancestry, or death of Melchizedek (v. 3), it is appropriate that a priest of his order be "a priest forever." And indeed, since Jesus has been resurrected to eternal life, "he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (v. 25).


When we consider the truth about Jesus the Messiah, the eternal king and priest of the order of Melchizedek, we are overwhelmed as David was. This truth continues to be the most important "instruction for mankind."


1See James K. Hoffmeier, "The Aftermath of David's Triumph Over Goliath: 1 Samuel 17:54 in Light of Near Eastern Parallels," Archaeology in the Biblical World, Vol. 1 (1991), No. 1, p. 22.

2Robert D. Bergen, 1,2 Samuel, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, 1996, pp. 332-333.

3Walter Kaiser suggests the translation, "This is the charter for humanity, O Lord God!" for David's exclamation in 2 Sam 7:19. See The Messiah in the Old Testament, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1995, p. 79.

Issue 31


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