Hebrew Roots/Holy Priesthood/Origin
The Two Priesthoods
There are two types of priesthood mentioned in the scriptures; and they are the Levitical and the Melchizedek priesthoods. For the greater part of their history, Israel functioned under the Levitical priesthood.
The Levitical priesthood constituted the whole tribe of Levi being ordained to function as priests for the rest of the nation. This originated out of the default of the nation to be faithful to their covenant with YHWH at Sinai. This involved their sin of substituting the golden calf as their object of worship, in the absence of Moshe (Exodus 32). YHWH's original intention was that they be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6) which is according to the Melchizedek priesthood that had been passed down from the functioning “priest of the Most High God” (Melchizedek, king of Salem), onto Abraham in Genesis 14:18-20.
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him (Abram) and said: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." And he gave him a tithe of all.” - Genesis 14:18-20
In the Aramaic Peshitta text of Genesis 14:19 there is a slight variation that makes the ordaining of Abraham into the order of Melchizedek more obvious. It reads, “ Blessed be Abram TO EL-Elyon”. Most texts read “of” El Elyon. The word “TO” indicates the ordaining and setting apart of Abraham as a priest TO YHWH, as opposed to YHWH merely being His Elohim. This is a record of the priesthood being handed down to next contender in line for the position.
Who is this priest of the Most High God who is King of Salem?
The traditional Judaic interpretation was that the figure named as “Melchizedek” here, was Shem and that the priesthood after the flood was centered at Jerusalem (Salem). This is supported by the Book of Jasher which states: “And Adonizedek king of Jerusalem, the same was Shem, went out with his men to meet Abram and his people, with bread and wine, and they remained together in the valley of Melech. 12 And Adonizedek blessed Abram, and Abram gave him a tenth from all that he had brought from the spoil of his enemies, for Adonizedek was a priest before God.” Book of Jasher 16: 11-12
The Aramaic targums of Genesis 14 also identify Melchizedek as ‘Shem, the son of Noah’. The historian Josephus recounts the meeting of Abram and Melchizedek and identifies Melchizedek as the king of Jerusalem (Josephus, Ant. 1.180); and Philo calls Melchizedek ‘king of peace’ - 'Salem' means peace.
However, Shem, the son of Noah could not possibly be this historic figure based on Hebrews 7:3:
Hebrews 7:1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. 3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually. (NASB)
The name “Melchizedek” is a combination of two words 'Melech Tzedek'; My King is Righteousness or My King is Justice (both being synonymous). It is a title of a position, and not a name of a person. He, Shem was king (melech) over a righteous place (tsedek) (Rashi; Abraham ibn Ezra & Nachmanides). The title appears to have been the hereditary designation of the king of Jerusalem (or Uru-salaim). Later in Israel's history, during the conquest of the land under Joshua, there is another king bearing a similar title, “Adonizedek”, My Lord is Righteousness, who was the rule of Jerusalem (Joshua 10:1). The Book of Jasher uses this variation of the title for the ruler of Salem/Jerusalem in Abram's time, and by Joshua's time it had become a hereditary title for its king. This place was where the temple would be built for the Divine Presence, which the Rabbis apply to Jerusalem as a whole, from the text Righteousness lodged in her (Isa. 1:21) (ibn Ezra & Nachmanides, see Soncino, fn. Gen 14:18)
The Lineage of the Priesthood
Before the division of the land in the days of Peleg, the descendants of Noah were of one language and under one priesthood which was centered at Jerusalem (Genesis 11). From the movement of the descendants of Noah after the Flood, and the known settlements of all these, the area of Jerusalem falls to either Shem and/or Arphaxad., seeing we know the settlements of the other sons in Genesis 10. Shem is called the father of all the sons of Eber (Gen. 10:21) which indicates that he remained the family head – i.e. the functioning priest during the lifetimes of all the sons of Eber. Therefore the conclusion is that Shem occupied the land of Jerusalem and was King of Salem (Jerusalem) up until, and during the lifetimes of Eber's sons.
In Genesis 10:22 the five male sons of Shem and their descendants are listed. But they did not inherit the position of priest according to the order of Melchizedek, as Shem maintained it during their lifetime and outlived them. In Gen. 11:10-26 an official list is given of the commencement of the order of Melchizedek after the Flood. YHWH seems to have isolated the lineage of the Melchizedek priesthood separately from the already given lineage of Shem's sons. There was no sense in repeating this portion of the genealogy just for the sake of repetition.
Shem outlived Arphaxad and Salah and therefore they were bypassed. Eber was the first to obtain the priesthood after Shem and took over the Torah school from him; and we know from the Book of Jasher that Jacob came under Eber's ministry. Reu, Serug, Nahor & Terah were not functional; Shem and Ever functioned as priests during this period. Then the ministry is conferred upon Abraham.
Shem, the son of Noah was still alive at that time, according to the scriptures. He lived after the flood for 502 years and his lifespan extended down to Isaac (Yitzak), the promised son of Abraham, and also to Jacob (Ya'acov). The righteous lineage is established by priesthood and by covenant from Abraham to Yitzak and finally to Ya'acov. The foundation of the nation was established in Abraham, Yitzak and Ya'acov before the exile into Egypt. When the nation is brought forth out of captivity, Moshe takes on the role of headship through the Melchizedek order.
The Restoration of the Melchizedek Order
As said, the Melchizedek order of priesthood was aborted when the nation broke covenant with YHWH and the Levitical priesthood was instituted instead. The nation functioned with YHWH as their king and the Levites. as their priests until the time of the monarchy. Then David was given the revelation of the Melchizedek order of priesthood coming through the Son of God, his Lord (Adonai).
“YHWH said to my Lord (Adonai), "Sit at My right hand,till I make Your enemies Your footstool." YHWH shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. 'Rule in the midst of Your enemies! Your people shall be volunteers in the day of Your power; In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth. YHWH has sworn and will not relent,"You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." Psalm 110:1-4
This came into effect in the new covenant through the incarnation of the Son as the Messiah. He was not born into the lineage of Levitical priests, being of the tribe of Judah of which nothing had been said regarding priesthood (Hebrews 7:14-17). Like Abraham, He became a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek through the sacrificial laying down of His life in obedience as a servant/priest and finally in the offering up of His own life for the sins of the nation. “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as a High priest after the order of Melchizedek” Hebrews 5:8-10
And we, just like Abraham, “after he had patiently endured, inherited the promises” (Hebrews 6:13-15) We also are re-instated to function in the Melchizedek priesthood under our great High Priest's oversight, if we walk in obedience to His commandments, by the empowering of His life.
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” 1Peter 2:9
Through Messiah, YHWH's original order of priesthood has been restored to the nation of Israel. It is “royal priesthood” - 'royal' in the sense that it exercises divinely appointed authority. The Levitical priesthood had no authority beyond offering the specified sacrifices for sins committed. Anything effected by the sacrifices was temporary and limited in its effect. But priests according to the Melchizedek order serve in the capacity of His victory over sin and Satan and in the power of His life which has atoned for all sin. His servants are endued with power through His Spirit (Acts 1:8).
Messiah sits enthroned at the right-hand of the Father, waiting for his enemies to be made his footstool (Psalm 110:1). Our Great High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, shall rule and reign through His royal priesthood over the nations of the earth with a rod of iron, to bring justice and to establish righteousness for all peoples (Psalm 2:1-9) Our King of Righteousness shall rule from the city of 'Salem', His holy city, Jerusalem.