Having introduced Melchizedek in 5:10-11, our author temporarily put him aside to give in chapter six an exhortation to diligence and steadfastness and a warning regarding the end of slothfulness. He then returned in 6:20 to Melchizedek. Now he discusses him at length in chapter seven, which follows.
7:1. This Melchizedek was the subject of much speculation in Jewish circles, including the Essene community of the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls. He is mentioned in Scripture, however, only in Hebrews, Psalm 110 and Genesis 14. Melchizedek was a king-priest, contemporary of Abraham, and a servant of God. Salem is probably an ancient name for Jerusalem (see Psalm 76:2). Adoni-zedek, another Old Testament king of Jerusalem (Joshua 10:1), had the same element in his name as Melchizedek, which also indicates an identification of Salem with Jerusalem. Some have suggested that Salem here is the Salim of John 3:23; a few take the term figuratively as a title (see verse two) devoid of any geographical intent. It is in line with known facts to suppose that Melchizedek was an actual priest-king of the city-state captured by David from the Jebusites and known to us as Jerusalem (see comments at 12:22).
Melchizedek is priest of the most high God, and this point interests our author. Although the Hebrew term parallels the name of a Canaanite god, there is no reason to think that Melchizedek served any deity other than Jehovah. The Most High God is identified in Genesis as the God of Abraham; the Greek Old Testament lies behind the phrase in our present passage; Old and New Testament writers alike present Melchizedek as a servant of Jehovah.
Genesis 14:17-20 reports that Melchizedek met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings of the East who had taken Lot captive in the course of a plundering campaign. That text also says that Melchizedek blessed Abraham, a point our author will consider later.
7:2. Abraham gave a tenth part or tithe of all that he had to Melchizedek. Melchizedek’s name is now analyzed in its separate Hebrew components. This practice, though strange by Western logic, was not an uncommon method of reasoning when Hebrews was written — and here it has the approval of the Holy Spirit. The name Melchizedek is composed of two Hebrew words; melek means “king” and tsedek means “righteousness.” Together they mean king of righteousness, which, by interpretation, Melchizedek was. He is also called King of Salem, and since Salem stands for the Hebrew shalom or “peace,” Melchizedek is here called king of peace.
Righteousness and peace appear together frequently in the Old Testament Scriptures (see for example Psalm 72:7; Isaiah 9:6-7; Zechariah 9:9-10). To the Hebrew, “righteousness” meant the faithful performing of all duties proper to a relationship. In a spiritual sense that meant faithfulness to God first of all, because of His covenant mercies to Israel, then faithfulness to fellow-Jews who were recipients of the same covenant blessings.
In Isaiah 5:7, God looks among His people for righteousness but finds instead a cry. The cry speaks of perverted justice, cruelty and a general absence of the life described by righteousness. There is also a play on words in the Hebrew text of this verse, but that does not concern us here.
When the people maintained righteousness, “peace” was the result. Again the term has first a spiritual significance of peace with God, and then of peace with one’s fellows under God’s covenant care and rule. There could be no peace apart from righteousness, and righteousness was expected to result in peace (Isaiah 32:17). Melchizedek of Salem incorporated both these concepts in his name and office, and even in this foreshadowed the Lord who is our Righteousness and our Peace (I Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 2:14).
7:3. Melchizedek had no ancestor in the priesthood. Unlike the Jewish priests who had to establish their genealogy to qualify for service (Nehemiah 7:63-64; Leviticus 21:17; Ezekiel 44:22), this man neither received his office by hereditary right nor passed it on to a physical descendant. So far as we are told in Scripture, he was without father or mother; not that he was other than human, but that he did not belong to any line of priests
Without descent is better translated “without genealogy.” See the point just above. Neither beginning of days nor end of life means that Melchizedek’s priesthood is not recorded as to origin or end. He is a lone figure who suddenly appears on the stage of history for a brief moment, then as suddenly and mysteriously removes from the scene. No one can say of this strange man, “here is the beginning of his priestly service” or “here is the end of his priesthood.”
Because God opened the curtain in the middle of Melchizedek’s priestly service and closed it in the same place, Melchizedek is made like unto the Son of God, who is also alone in a unique priesthood. Continually is not the phrase usually translated “forever,” but may be translated “for the duration,” “perpetually,” or “without interruption” This term will appear later in the chapter.
7:4. In the following verses we will consider how great Melchizedek was. In the first place, Abraham — not another by the same name, but the patriarch himself — paid tithes to Melchizedek. Nor was this a poor tithe, but of the spoils, literally “off the top of the heap” — the choicest tenth.
7:5. The sons of Levi or the Levitical priests, who receive the office they hold, take tithes because of a commandment and a law. They also take tithes from their own brethren, who are descendants of Abraham.
7:6. Melchizedek is one whose descent is not from them, who had no commandments or law requiring Abraham to pay him tithes, and who had not received his priesthood by virtue of a lineage. Yet he received tithes, and that not from just any passing stranger, but from Abraham! To this add the fact that Melchizedek then blessed Abraham — the Abraham who had the promises from God.
7:7. It is indisputable that the less is blessed in this sense by the better. If Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek, it follows that Melchizedek was a “better” man in terms of rank and office than the patriarch. Both men acknowledged this relative position: Abraham, by paying tithes to Melchizedek; Melchizedek, by blessing Abraham.
7:8. By comparison, note also that here in the Levitical priesthood men that die receive tithes (see I Chronicles 6:49-53), but there in Melchizedek’s case one received them who had no successor.
7:9. To cap it all, and to be perfectly truthful about it, Levi also, who receiveth tithes under the law from his Jewish brethren, there paid tithes instead, in Abraham.
7:10. If one objects that Levi was not present in Genesis 14, the writer notes that he was yet in the loins of his father Abraham when Melchizedek met him. Just as he can say that Levi received tithes (in the person of his descendants), so he can say as well that Levi paid tithes (in the person of his ancestor).Levi was forefather of the priestly tribe; therefore Melchizedek’s priesthood was greater than Aaron’s.
Our author has dealt with Melchizedek’s characteristics as a person (verses one through three) and in relation to the Levitical priests (verses four through ten). Now he turns to his primary point, an exaltation of the priesthood of Christ in comparison with the Old Testament Jewish priesthood. Verses 11-14 show that the priesthood was the basis of the law, and that because Christ’s priesthood after the order of Melchizedek is permanent, so is the law which rests upon it. This is in contrast with the priesthood of Aaron, for it changed, necessitating a change in the law related to it.
7:11. If perfection (a key word in Hebrews, consult a concordance) were by the Levitical priesthood, there would have been no further need for another priest after another order — that of Melchizedek and not of Aaron. An institution is perfect when it accomplishes the purpose for which it was instituted. The Aaronic priesthood did not do that.
The purpose of a priesthood is to bring men to God, to atone for their sins. The author will show clearly in the following chapters that the Levitical sacrifices and priesthood could not do this — either perfectly or permanently. In the present passage, then, he refers to this imperfection in the Old Testament priestly order. He also shows that it had to be replaced by a perfect order which could fulfill these purposes.
We are accustomed to thinking of the priesthood as dependent on the law. Our author says the opposite. The law depended on the priesthood. This suggests that in God’s ordering of affairs the priesthood was first in importance, then the law. Law pointed men to the reality of sin and to the fact that they were sinners. This recognition called for the priesthood as the divine ordinance and institution for the removal of sins. But the imperfection of the Old Testament priesthood pointed them even further to the future when the Son of God would come as great high priest and Lamb of God, completely removing all sins forever by one offering of Himself. The priesthood, then, was the basis and grounds of the law.
7:12. When the priesthood was changed, there was of necessity a change also of the law. When the foundation is removed the building collapses. There can be no legal code unless there is provision for those who break it. In the case of Israel, the priesthood is changed (to one which is perfect), then a new law is given based on that perfect priesthood and relating to it. There is room for thought along this line, that the new law (perfectly suited to its priesthood) is as far superior in nature as well as content to the old, as the new priesthood of Christ is superior to the priesthood of Aaron’s sons. The purpose of each law is suited to its particular priesthood.
7:13. He of whom these things are spoken is the Lord Jesus Christ, as the next verse will state, and He belongs to another or a different tribe from Levi. He is of a tribe from which no man ever served at the priestly altar.
7:14. It is evident on the basis of His genealogies in Matthew chapter one and Luke chapter three that our Lord descended from Judah, a tribe from which the Law of Moses said absolutely nothing so far as priesthood is concerned. The priesthood has therefore been changed, and the next verse will adduce still another proof of this.
7:15. The priesthood has been changed, not only in tribe, but in the quality and sort of its priest. This point makes far more evident than the former point the change A priest has arisen now who is another in quality and kind. He is a different type of priest, not resembling the Levitical priests at all, but after the likeness of Melchizedek.
7:16. Christ has become a priest twice-different in nature from the sons of Aaron. His priesthood rests not on the law of a carnal commandment but on the power of an endless life. Old Testament priests were priests by virtue of a law, outside and apart from themselves or their personal fitness. That law did not attempt to select on the basis of moral or spiritual qualities, but simply according to physical ancestors. It was thus a carnal commandment, having to do only with physical restrictions and requirements.
Christ has been made priest, not on this basis, but because He possesses an inherent power that fits Him for the position He is to occupy. The term power here does not signify authority, but might, and speaks of a characteristic of Christ Himself, inherent in His righteous person. This was the power or might of an endless life.
Because He was not a sinner, though He was fully tempted, the Son of God could not be held by Satan in death (see comments at 2:14). He possessed the strength or dynamic of a life that, literally, “could not break down.” A perfect life has no weak spot; sin is the weakness which brings down all other men, including the Old Testament priests. Christ’s priesthood and service are firmly grounded in the inherent power of a life that will never end. The writer will return to this wonderful thought in verse 25.
7:17. To this agrees the Scripture introduced much earlier (Psalm 110:4) which says, “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
7:18. The familiar Greek construction “on the one hand/on the other hand” is used in verses 18 and 19. On the one hand there is a disannulling or placing aside or removing of the previous or former commandment regulating priests (verses 5, 15). This setting aside was necessary because of the inherent weakness and unprofitableness of that system which could not bring perfection (verse 11), which was based on a carnal requirement (verse 16) and which was manned by imperfect priests (verses 27-28).
7:19. The law made nothing perfect (see Romans 8:3; Galatians 2:21; 3:21), for it rested on a priesthood which could not perfect (verse 11). “The law made beginnings, taught rudiments, gave initial impulses, hinted, foreshadowed, but brought nothing to perfection, did not in itself provide for man’s perfect entrance into God’s fellowship” (Expositor’s Greek Testament).
Perfection did come, however, in Christ’s work and in the better hope which He introduced and confirmed. Better is a key word in Hebrews, and the serious student will profit from a study of its many occurrences in this epistle. The hope spoken of here has already been discussed to some extent (see notes on 6:18-20).
The blessed feature of this hope, and the ultimate basis of comparison between all that belonged to the inadequate Old system and all that pertains to the perfect New, is that by it we draw nigh unto God. The verb translated draw nigh is the same one used in the Greek Old Testament at Exodus 19:21, when, at the giving of the Law, God specifically commanded the people not to draw near to God. They could not draw near to God under that system because their lives were unholy and their sins were ever-present. Under the covenant of the Son, men in themselves are no better, but they can draw near to God by virtue of Christ’s life which is holy and His blood which atones for their sins. Such a blessed thought this is for meditation and such a holy basis for living!
7:20-22. The three verses go together, joined in the Greek and English by the connecting phrases translated inasmuch as (verse 20) and by so much (verse 22), and including verse 21 which is parenthetical. The author presents a ratio. Inasmuch as, or to the extent, that Christ supersedes the Old Testament priests by an oath-appointment versus a simple appointment, by so much or to that same extent, Jesus is surety of a better testament than theirs.
It was not without an oath that Christ became priest; rather it was with an oath. This is proved by a chief passage on the subject, Psalm 110:4. Jehovah swore to Jesus, “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Earlier the Hebrews author dealt with the forever in this psalm; here he is concerned with the swore.
To say that God will not repent does not speak of repentance of sin, for by nature God cannot sin. Repent here is not the word normally translated that way (which itself has the basic meaning “to change the mind,” see 12:17), but stands for a word which emphasizes the thought of concern or care. God will not change His mind because of afterthought or later concern, as He did — for example — with the house of Eli (see I Samuel 2:27-36). Christ is a priest forever.
Because God will never change His mind about Christ, Jesus has become surety of a better testament. The word translated surety is a noun form of the verb translated “draw nigh” in verse 19 (see comments there). The same life of Jesus which enables us to draw nigh to God remains forever, because Jesus has the “power of an endless life” (verse 16). Nor will God change His mind about that life presented as an offering, for He has so given His oath (verse 21). Jesus is therefore surety of His covenant. He is a guarantor to man from God that God has accepted a perfect sacrifice on man’s behalf. And Jesus ever lives to make intercession for them that come to God by Him (verse 25).
Testament appears here for the first time in Hebrews, and will be discussed in the following chapters. The same word is sometimes translated “covenant” though in the Old and New Testament Scriptures it frequently has the force of a one-sided disposition or will involving two parties, rather than a two-sided agreement or bargain between equals. God’s testament or covenant is given to man by God, man accepts or rejects it, but he may not change it. More on this later.
7:23. They who served under the Old covenant were many priests, one taking the place of the other because no single one could continue in the priesthood forever by reason of his own death. Josephus says that 83 high priests officiated from Aaron to the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. Our writer gives no specific number but notes simply that they all died!
7:24. In contrast to this, Jesus has an unchangeable priesthood because He continueth forever. He will never die. He will never need a successor. His priesthood is authenticated by God’s oath. In short, His is an unerring and immovable priesthood and priestly service. it is perfect in every sense of the word.
7:25. Wherefore, because of all these considerations, Christ is able to save to the uttermost. This may be taken either with regard to time (He saves forever), or extent (He saves completely), or both. Neither should be excluded. Both are true. Christ’s complete and eternal salvation is for them that come to God by him. They are those who come to Him as priest, who lay their sins on Him as God’s Lamb, who trust His offering of a perfect life as sufficient in God’s sight for blessing, and who by faithful perseverance rely on His intercession for all these things. It is for no one else, though “whosoever will” may take advantage of it, and it is offered by God to all men.
Christ is priest because He has the power of an endless life. Because he ever liveth, He needs no successor. He now sits beside the Father to make intercession for His people.
Christ made but one sacrifice, but He ever lives to make intercession on the basis of that sacrifice. In teens of His death, He was the sin-offering. In terms of His resurrection and present work, He is high priest. The priest of the Old Testament did not merely kill the sacrifice; he then presented its blood, standing for its life, as an appeal to God for forgiveness and blessing (Leviticus 17:11-12). In both particulars he had an imperfect priesthood. The sacrifice was amoral and could not take away sin (see 10:1-4); the priest was mortal and had to be replaced (as the present chapter has shown).
Christ, however, offered a perfect sacrifice (His own sinless life), was then raised (as a sign of God’s acceptance of that life given in death) and will never die again. Unlike the Old Testament priests and their sacrifices, Christ died once, but forever makes intercession for His people (see I John 1:7b, 9; 2:1-2).
The one who is in Christ rests his salvation, forgiveness and hope of blessing on the vicarious death and perfect obedience of Jesus his high priest. Because Jesus died, though sinless, He was able to be sin-bearer, “taking away the sins of the world.” Because He offered God a sinless life, the Father is pleased with one Man (though with no other on his own merit) and is justly able to dispense full blessings. Yet because the Christian is one with Christ, His death counts for him and His life does as well. God can, therefore, forgive the one “in Christ” on the basis of Christ’s blood and can also give him every blessing and favor on the basis of Christ’s life so long as he clings to Him in faith (see Isaiah 53:4-6, 10-12 Romans 4 25; 5:8-11; II Corinthians 5 21; I Peter 2 24; Revelation 1:5; 7:9-17).
7:26. Such an high priest as Christ is just what man needs. He became us, that is, He was fitted to our needs. Man needs a priest who is holy, for he himself is not. The word translated holy here also includes the idea of compassion and tender mercy. Man’s priest must be undefiled and separate from sinners, but every Aaronic priest was weak and sinful. Our priest needs to be higher than the heavens, living forever to intercede on our behalf.
7:27. Christ does not need daily to make a sacrifice for his own sins and then for the people’s. He had no sin Himself, and so He offered himself as a perfect sacrifice for the people. Because He had a perfect sacrifice He did not need to offer it but once.
7:28. The law of the Old Testament priesthood made men high priests who had infirmity or weakness. In contrast to this the word of the oath (see verse 21), which was since the law in origin but replaced it, made the Son a priest — and He is consecrated for evermore.
The beautiful point of these last verses found wonderful expression in the following hymn, written in 1742 by Charles Wesley.
Arise, my soul, arise, shake off thy guilty fears:
The bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears.
Before the Throne my Surety stands;
My name is written on His hands.
He ever lives above, for me to intercede
His all-redeeming love, His precious blood to plead;
His blood atoned for every race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.
Five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary.
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me.
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”
My God is reconciled; His pard’ning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear.
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father!” cry.
Next: Chapter Eight