Hebrews 7:1-10

David H. Linden  University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, NM  USA    (revised January 2011)

 

 

Hebrews sometimes mentions a subject and then deals with it later. That Christ is a Priest in the order of Melchizedek was mentioned without further explanation in 5:6 &10. The writer said he had much to say of this, then digressed into another matter before returning in 6:20 to say again that Jesus’ priesthood was in the order of Melchizedek. Finally, in chapter 7 he will focus on this; Melchizedek is not mentioned again after 7:17.

 

We learn first that Christ will be a Priest of this kind in the OT only from Psalm 110:4. To know what that means it is necessary to review what earlier Scripture had said about Melchizedek; it says very little: Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18-20).

 

Hebrews 7 does not discuss the serving of bread and wine, nor even that Melchizedek blessed God! It wants to show the significance of him as a real priest who lived well before Levi, Aaron and the later priests of Israel. Hebrews 7 establishes that Melchizedek is the greater man; Abraham paid the tenth to him, and he blessed Abraham. It will stress that Melchizedek has no recorded genealogy. The chief thing the writer wants to establish is that Jesus has a permanent priesthood, one far superior to the temporary priests who came through Levi.

 

Many would question how Jesus could ever be a genuine Priest. He was not of the tribe of Levi, and the law of God stipulated that priests must be of that tribe. It would appear that believing in Jesus as our Great High Priest is contrary to God’s Word and therefore a false doctrine. Hebrews 7 will show to the Jewish people from their own Scriptures that the strong statement in Psalm 110 that David’s Lord would be a priest in the order of Melchizedek has been there in their Bibles for 1000 years. That man had been a priest in Abraham’s day, a true priest who served Abraham’s God. He was not a Levite, so Jesus also can be a real priest even though He is not one according to the law of Moses. This fact demonstrates that a great change has come to Israel, because a priest outside the line of Levi shows there has been a change in the law itself, and that the promised Messiah has come. To some it would be apostasy to believe in a different kind of priest. Jesus was not qualified to be a priest by genealogy; He was not qualified to serve in the Tabernacle or Temple. He was of a different order, not One here to offer repeated sacrifices, but one! Later Hebrews will make plain that not believing in Christ as the promised Priest of Psalm 110:4, is to fall away from the true faith God revealed to Israel.

 

To study this part of Hebrews, it is important to pay attention to the historical details found in Genesis 14 and also to the significance of them to understand the kind of priest Jesus is.  

 

 

7:1   It is essential to Hebrews that there was a man in history named Melchizedek. This is not a myth. He lived at a certain time – the time of Abraham. He lived in a certain place – Salem, even if we are not sure where Salem was. Melchizedek had a known name, and as a priest he acted at a specific moment in history when he met Abraham.[1] The record is clear that there was such a man. Someone might try to argue that since Melchizedek is not a priest who is a son of Aaron that he is the priest of some other god, one not identified! That objection cannot stand for there is only one God Most High. The Lord God of Israel is that God Most High and He will later speak of Melchizedek as a legitimate priest in Psalm 110:4.

 

7:2   Later the significance of paying a tithe will be made. Hebrews 7 begins by establishing the facts of this very brief moment in Abraham’s history. Zedek is the word for righteousness and Salem sounds like shalom, the Hebrew word for peace. Maybe if this appeared in Romans, Paul would make a point from this fact. Hebrews will remain focused on Melchizedek as a priest. It shows He is a king priest, and so is Christ as Psalm 110 makes clear when we consider vv.1 & 4, but nothing further is said of kingship.

 

7:3   A feature not stated in Genesis 14 is emphasized vigorously. We do not read that Melchizedek had no parents. He is not stated to be fatherless,[2] or that he had no mother. It is not simple to translate this since unusual words are used. Clearly, it means that there is no record of his father or mother. There is no mention of his birth or death. It does not say he was never born; nor does it say he never died. We have here a strong argument from silence. The only account we have of Melchizedek is limited to one occasion. He was a priest of God Most High not because of a certain genealogy, but because God appointed him as priest. He appeared in history as an-ever-living priest of the true God, apart from any qualification as to his ancestors. The picture is of a living man in a continuing ministry, and in that way he is a model of the Son of God. This is a clear example of the Holy Spirit restricting information so as to give a specific picture of this priest. The special purpose was to have in place, long before Israel’s priests appeared, one who was different from them and the model of Christ to come.

 

The high priests of Israel were a type of Christ when we view their sacrificial ministry. The Bible says nothing of any sacrifices Melchizedek may have offered. The silence of Genesis is important. Of course Melchizedek offered sacrifices, because all priests do that, but he does not witness to Christ by his function. What he does do is serve as one outside the tribe of Levi who is still a genuine priest. The point is that he holds the office of priest. Neither Genesis nor Hebrews mention his offerings, for in that way he would be like the priests of Levi. It is the record of him as ever-living which is his chief likeness to Jesus. In function, the Levitical priests foreshadow Christ; from the standpoint of office, Melchizedek does. 

 

By suppressing Melchizedek’s genealogy God was giving a message. Melchizedek was made to resemble the Son of God Who remains without change (1:10-12). The Greek verb in “he remains a priest” in v.3 is passive, so the idea is that he was made deliberately by God to be like the Son of God. Jesus also would serve at God’s call, not because one priest was father to another one. By saying a “priest forever” (which Genesis does not say), the writer reveals how much Psalm 110:4 influences his reading of Genesis. The right way to read the Bible is by having one part interpret another part. He knows the Old Testament predicted that an eternal priest was coming. He knew from the psalm that in some way Melchizedek would be a pattern of the priesthood of Jesus, so he looked for similarity. 

 

Is Melchizedek an Old Testament Appearance of Jesus?   The Old Testament does have some appearances of God assuming the form of a creature, since God Himself has no form! (Deuteronomy 4:9-24).  The Angel of the Lord is the Lord (Genesis 22:15; Judges 2:1), Who appeared as a flame to Moses (Exodus 3:2), and in some visual way to Balaam (Numbers 22:31) and Gideon (Judges 6:11,12). Is Melchizedek another appearance of the Lord similar to this? 

 

He is not called the Angel of the Lord. He is not said to be the Son of God, but one who resembles the Son of God. He is the human king of a certain city, which indicates his regular residence there. He was a man (7:4) centuries before Jesus became a man. It makes no sense to say that Christ is a Priest in the order of Himself in a previous appearance. Melchizedek is not Christ; he foreshadows Christ.   

 

 

7:4-10   Abraham paying a tithe to this great man   With no mention of any sacrifice being offered by Melchizedek, Genesis speaks of other things in the encounter of this “great man” with Abraham. Since his tithe went to Melchizedek, this demonstrates the honor Abraham had for this priest. If the Patriarch Abraham could honor this priest in this way, Abraham’s children should see how great he was. 

 

 

 

Priests as sons of Levi   Abraham was the father of Isaac, who was the father of Jacob, who was the father of Levi. For their faithfulness Levites were set apart to the Lord (Exodus 32:27-29). Later God said, “Appoint Aaron and his sons [who were Levites] to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death” (Numbers 3:10). God chose them to serve not by a specific call to each one but by His choice of them as a group: “The LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister and to pronounce blessings in his name…,” Deuteronomy 10:8. One son was anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest (Leviticus 16:32). When offerings were made, the Levites collected the tenth from the other Israelites (Numbers 18:25-29).

 

 

The mention of what was given to Melchizedek reveals how crucial it is to Hebrews that Genesis records real history. There was a battle between kings. Abraham responded to it and brought home the spoils of war for his men, but a tenth of all he gave to this great man. The writer wants his readers to grasp that this really happened and that there was a man named Melchizedek. If they can escape the facts of this, they will have some reason to reject another priesthood and so also to reject Christ.  

 

The law requires that Levites collect the tenth. When Melchizedek received the tenth, the law was not in effect. This fact shows that the law concerning priests had a temporary nature. Genesis says that Abraham gave the tenth. It does not say that Melchizedek collected it, but if Abraham gave it and Melchizedek accepted it then it is parallel to the Levites collecting. The writer wants us to see that Levites collect, and so did Melchizedek. Further, Father Abraham, in making this presentation of the tenth, represented his offspring. Levi in his great grandfather’s action paid his tithe also. Not only was Abraham showing recognition of Melchizedek, so, in this way was Levi. Therefore Melchizedek has a priesthood greater than all the sons of Levi, and since Christ is a Priest in that order, He too has a position and ministry greater than all the other priests serving when Hebrews was written. To reject the priesthood of Jesus and His sacrifice is to depend on an inferior ministry when the Old Testament taught that a greater one was coming.

 

The writer is preaching; He exhorts then to think, and this is not the first time he made that sort of appeal. (See 3:1.) Melchizedek is great as the receiver of the tenth, and he is greater as the one who pronounces the blessing on Abraham. Abraham did not bless Melchizedek. Melchizedek as priest of the Most High God blessed him, and speaking that way indicates he had the rank of a spokesman for God. Pleading for them to consider what happened that day long ago, they must conclude that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham and thus Levi too. Further, he was a king as well, a feature found in no priest in the tribe of Levi. This increases his role as a fitting type of Christ, the Greater One to come. (See Luke 11:29-32.) Abraham took Melchizedek seriously. Anyone reading Genesis 14 could see Abraham as greater than the other nine kings mentioned there, but they cannot miss the very special respect shown to Melchizedek.  

 

In 7:6 Abraham is mentioned as the one “who had the promises.” The way Hebrews speaks is always deliberate. Galatians 3 & 4 teach that Abraham received what is promised not by obedience to the law but by faith in the promises of God. The appropriate response to a promise is to believe that it is true, because the one promising has veracity. Here in Hebrews there is a suggestion of this law/promise distinction. Abraham would be blessed because of the faithfulness of God, which is the basis of Abraham’s inheritance. In chapter 7, promise is only mentioned; later in 11:8-19 it will be emphasized. The promise preceded the law; the promise is the basis of our salvation. The priests from Levi carried out the ceremonies of the law, but Abraham had the covenanted word of God and thus a guaranteed inheritance before the law was given through Moses. On the basis of law the sons of Levi served; this is a way that the writer indicates the inferiority of the old covenant. Entirely apart from the law’s regulation, Jesus was appointed a priest in the order of Melchizedek. He fulfilled the law, but His ministry for us does not benefit us because of our law keeping, but because of God’s promise. Thus Jesus’ priestly ministry is of the nature of the gospel itself.   

 

 

A Priest forever   If all we ever knew about Melchizedek was that he was greater than Abraham, that would not show as much about Christ as the distinction that priests from Levi are “men who die” while Scripture declared Melchizedek to be one who is living. This is why Hebrews reports that he was “without end of life”. It is as a priest who lives forever that Melchizedek is a witness to Christ to come. Jesus is fully like the Father including God’s eternal existence. Hebrews 1 begins by affirming Christ’s deity. In addition, what was especially needed by the readers was to see the enduring nature of Jesus’ service as Priest, so that faith would be in Him and His offering. Melchizedek, and the way he is reported was a shadow designed by God to show Christ as a priest on the basis of the power of an indestructible life (v.16), a priest forever (v.17), One Who lives forever and has a permanent priesthood (v.24), One Who always lives to intercede for them (v.25).

 

 

A Problem We Do Not Have   There is a very large problem we do NOT have. It is not that the Old Testament told us of only one kind of priest, and then the New Testament surprises us with Jesus as a Priest of a different kind. If that were so, the Jews would have a very strong argument for retaining their system of priests and rejecting Jesus. They could use their Bibles to do so.  It was in their Scriptures that we learn of another priest; it was not added later.  This Melchizedek was mentioned in the days of Abraham, well before any mention of priests in the tribe of Levi ever comes up in the Bible. Then in Psalm 110 we have a very strong statement that God has – by an oath even – sworn that one specific person is a Priest. He is a Priest in a different order, the order of Melchizedek. This Person is the Lord Who sits at the Lord’s right hand in heaven (Psalm 110:1). We did not make all this up. It has been there in the Word of God for centuries before Jesus was born. By rejecting Christ the real Priest, the Jewish people have ended up with no priest at all, just as the prophet said in Hosea 3:4,5. 

 

 

 



[1] The “met Abraham” is an inclusio appearing in vv. 1&10.  This indicates that it is a literary section.  In Genesis 14 the King of Sodom met Abraham.  Of course, if Melchizedek and Abraham were together they also met.  But for these words to appear only here in the Bible serves to mark a deliberate boundary for this section. 

[2]   The very unusual word in Greek, found only here in all of the Bible, appears in another Greek writer not to mean fatherless but “father unknown”.  It is a way of saying “without genealogy.”