Hebrewsby Robert M. Solomon
The author urges his readers to ″just think how great [Melchizedek] was″ (Hebrews 7:4). He notes the amazing picture, recorded in Genesis, of patriarch Abraham tithing to this mysterious priest-king. Abraham had just rescued Lot and the other inhabitants of Sodom who had been taken captive by a coalition of local kings. Abraham gave Melchizedek ″a tenth of the plunder″ (v. 4). According to the law, Israelites were to give a tithe to the priests who had descended from the tribe of Levi (v. 5; Numbers 18:21, 26). But Melchizedek was not a Levite, or even an Israelite. In fact, he appeared even before Levi, 430 years before the law was given through Moses (Exodus 12:40; Galatians 3:17). Why would Abraham present him with a tithe when he was a stranger?
By referring to this historical event, the writer shows that Melchizedek was one who was greater than Abraham. It was Melchizedek who blessed Abraham, not the other way around. ″And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater″ (Hebrews 7:7). The writer further pushes home his point by differentiating the tithe received by the Levitical priesthood of the Jews and that received by Melchizedek from Abraham. The Levitical priests are ″people who die″ while Melchizedek ″is declared to be living″ (v. 8; see Hebrews 5:6; 6:20). Using typical rabbinic ways of interpreting Scripture (in other words, sometimes going beyond the literal and finding symbolic or allegorical meaning),29 the author indicates that when Abraham paid the tithe to Melchizedek, we could say that Levi, who was not yet born but in some way existed potentially in Abraham, participated in that tithe-giving. Levi and his descendants, who collected their rightful tithes from Israel, had in fact already given their tithe to Melchizedek through Abraham their forefather (7:9-10).
The argument here is that the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to that of the Levitical one. All this is designed to make the Jewish Christians, who were the original readers, pay attention to the uniqueness of Christ. Christ was their High Priest like no other high priest before Him. By declaring that the priesthood of Christ is of the order of Melchizedek, the author uses this mysterious character from the past to shed light on Christ and His unique ministry and office. It urges us to pay closer attention to Jesus.
29Barclay, ″The Letter to the Hebrews″, 67-68.
How do you think the original readers of Hebrews would have responded to what is explained in this passage? What do you learn about Christ from this?
What is the author saying about the limitations of the Levitical priesthood? Why was it necessary for Jesus to assume the role of High Priest? Turn your thoughts into prayer and praise.