A Word for Today: Melek


The overwhelming majority of British monarchs have been kings and very few of these have been constitutional monarchs. Most have been able to exercise supreme and absolute authority over their subjects without limitation. And this is how the basic Hebrew word for king or counsellor, melec, which occurs over 2,000 times in the Old Testament, is to be understood, subject, however, to the periodic intervention of God. For example, when Elihu seeks to glorify God, he does so in terms of God’s supremacy over the natural world, including His oversight of reigning kings, Job 36. 7b. From a human point of view, earthly kings appear to be totally in control of their own destinies, yet as Daniel forcibly reminds us about God’s power, ‘he removeth kings, and setteth up kings’, Dan. 2. 21b.

The office of a king was common in the Middle East, and in places such as Egypt, kings were regarded as supreme or divine beings rather than simply viewed as God’s representatives on earth. The first mention of a king is in Genesis chapter 14, where four Canaanite kings engage in battle against five other kings, including the kings of Sodom (Bera) and Gomorrah (Birsha), vv. 8, 9. The symbolism of these two names: Bera meaning ‘in evil’; and Birsha meaning ‘in wickedness’, is in sharp contrast with Melchizedec the king of Salem, who appears in this chapter through the intervention of God, v. 18, and whose name is interpreted for us by the writer to the Hebrews as ‘King of righteousness’, 7. 2. Whilst Abram declines any share of the spoils of war offered to him by the king of Sodom, he readily accepts a blessing from Melchizedec and subsequently pays him tithes, Gen. 14. 20, 23. Thus confirming Melchizedec’s superiority over him, Heb. 7. 7.

Throughout Israel’s early history, the patriarchal role characterized their method of leadership before God, and the office of a king was usually confined to that of pagan tribal communities living around them, e.g. Gen. 20. What this emphasized was that Israel, unlike these other nations, was essentially a theocracy, i.e. God ruling over His people as a king, 1 Sam. 8. 7; Ps. 74. 12. However, Israel’s disillusionment with Samuel’s corrupt sons, and its desire to mimic the world around them, became the basis of their request for a king to be appointed to judge over them, 1 Sam. 8. 5. Although Saul, the first king appointed by God, did well at the outset of his reign, it soon because apparent that he feared men more than God. In appointing Saul as their king, Israel had rejected God as their king, v. 7. Now God rejects Saul as their king, 15. 23, and brings in ‘David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart’, Acts 13. 22. David would form a unique and everlasting dynasty that will find its true fulfilment in his greater Son, who one day will be acknowledged as ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS’.1

In the Septuagint (LXX) the Hebrew word melek is translated by the Greek word basileus, which is the word that occurs in the Greek New Testament to describe both secular kings and Christ’s office as king. During the intertestamental period the Maccabean high priests were often referred to as kings, but it is only when we move into the New Testament that the Davidic dynasty is fully revived, and prophecy is seen to be fulfilled in Jesus being identified as Israel’s rightful king, Zech. 9. 9; Matt. 21. 5. Even Pilate asks Jesus, ‘Art thou the king of the Jews?’, and Jesus confirms that the reason why He was born was to be a king, Matt. 27. 11; John 18. 37. Throughout his interrogation of Jesus, Pilate tries to establish whether the charge of the Sanhedrin against Jesus was well founded. They were of the view that His claims were capital offences, hence their desire for Him to be judicially sentenced to death. Notice that even at the moment of crucifixion the chief priests still try to change what Pilate had written that Jesus was the king of the Jews, 19. 21. As F. F. Bruce states, ‘The Crucified One is the true king, the kingliest king of all; because it is he who is stretched on the cross, he turns an obscene instrument of torture into a throne of glory and “reigns from the tree”’.2 The terms ‘king’ and ‘kingdom’ are closely related words in both the Old and New Testaments, but limited space prevents us from developing this correlation. Nevertheless, we should be in no doubt as to the importance that God places on the subject of kingship. As Stephen Renn explains, ‘At the heart of this phenomenon lies the theme of Yahweh as king. His rule over the earth and its peoples is symbolised through the theocratic kingship in Israel and consummated on earth through the person of his son, Jesus Christ, who perfectly mirrors the kingly rule of God in human form’.3 May the Saviour always be King of our hearts, as we anticipate that day when ‘he shall reign for ever and ever’, Rev. 11. 15.

For further reading/study


  • King, Kingship in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, General Editors Leland Ryken et al, pp. 476-481.


  • God as King and Judge in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Editors Gerald F. Hawthorne et al, pp. 358, 359.



2 Sam. 7. 11-16; Heb. 1. 5b; Rev. 19. 16.


The Gospel of John; Introduction, Exposition and Notes, pg. 369.


Expository Dictionary of Bible Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts, Stephen D. Renn, (Ed.), Hendrickson, 2005.


Your Basket

Your Basket Is Empty