Hebrews 7:1-28

Submitted by admin on Wed, 2010-06-09 13:53.

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After Abraham returned from having defeated “the kings” (Amraphel of Shinar, Arioch of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer of Elam, and Tidal of Goiim who had invaded Canaan and defeated the rulers of five city kingdoms in the vicinity of the Dead Sea), “Melchizedek, king of Salem [and] priest of the Most High God,” met him “and blessed him.” Abraham, with 318 slaves and his allies Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre (who doubtless were accompanied by other fighting men), had pursued the invading kings to rescue his nephew Lot who had been taken captive. (7:1; Genesis 14:1-24)

From the booty he and his slaves had taken from the invaders, Abraham gave a tenth of everything to Melchizedek. The writer of Hebrews defined Melchizedek as meaning “king of righteousness,” and “king of Salem” as signifying “king of peace.” (7:2)

He then described Melchizedek as being “fatherless, motherless, without genealogy, [having] neither a beginning of days nor an end of life.” This description may be understood in relation to what is contained in the holy writings. In the Genesis account, Melchizedek is introduced without any reference to his father, mother, genealogy, or birth, and no mention of his death is later included. Therefore, from the standpoint of the preserved record, he is without father, mother, and genealogy. Nothing can be proved from the account about his birth nor about his death. Without any record of his death, Melchizedek remains a priest perpetually. In this respect, he is like Jesus Christ. (7:3)

The fact that the patriarch Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the booty is indicative of this priest-king’s greatness. (7:4) In later centuries, the Levites (“sons of Levi”) were entrusted with priestly services, and the law authorized them to receive tithes from their “brothers,” fellow Israelites of the other tribes who, like they, were descendants of Abraham (literally, “from the loins” of Abraham). (7:5) Yet Melchizedek, a person who was not from the tribe of Levi, received the tenth of the spoils from Abraham and also blessed him, the very man to whom God had given his promises. (7:6)

Based on his having blessed him, Melchizedek proved to be greater than Abraham. This is in keeping with the indisputable principle that the lesser is the one whom the greater one blesses. (7:7)

The Levites, though mortal humans, received tithes. On the other hand, Melchizedek, who also received tithes, is represented as living. There being no record of his death, the only existing testimony is that he lives. (7:8) Accordingly, in a manner of speaking, Levi, who received tithes, paid a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek through his forefather Abraham. (7:9) The writer of Hebrews said this because Levi was still in his forefather’s loins at the time Melchizedek met Abraham. (7:10)

If, then, “perfection” or “completeness” had been effected “through the Levitical priesthood,” there would have been no need (as the answer to the rhetorical question indicates) for a different priest to arise “according to the order of Melchizedek” and “not according to the order of Aaron” of the tribe of Levi. The “perfection” that the levitical priesthood could not produce included total forgiveness of sins, the complete cleansing of the conscience, and full reconciliation with God. Therefore, this necessitated the arising of a different priest (not one like Aaron) who could effect “perfection” or “completeness.” This would be a priest like Melchizedek, a priest who continues to live and who is greater than Abraham and than any of the priests in the line of Aaron. (7:11)

Requirements for the levitical priesthood and its functions were part of the law, and the writer of Hebrews purposefully seems to have included this aspect as part of his question (literally, “for upon it [the priesthood] the people had the law established”). In the Greek text, the verb for “established the law” is a passive form of nomothetéo, a compound of nómos (“law”) and títhemi (“place” “establish,” “ordain”) and has been rendered “received the law.” (7:11)

Numerous translations represent the entire parenthetical phrase as meaning that the people received the law on the basis of the levitical priesthood. (NAB, NIV, NJB, REB) “The people were given the law based on a system of priests from the tribe of Levi.” (NCV) It could be said that the Israelites received the commands about sacrifices and other ceremonial features on the basis of an existing priesthood, for without the priesthood the people could not have carried out this significant part of the law. The biblical context as a whole, however, suggests that the people received the law which included commands about the levitical priesthood. (7:11; see the Notes section.)

With a change in the priesthood, there would also have to be a change respecting the law, for the law included no provision for anyone other than a member of the tribe of Levi to function as a priest. (7:12) The man (Jesus Christ) about whom various things were said relating to his priesthood was from another tribe, a tribe from which no one had ever served at the altar in the courtyard of the sanctuary. (7:13) Indisputable evidence indicated that our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the human line of descent, arose from Judah, a tribe about which Moses said nothing regarding priests. (7:14)

It is still more evident that, when a different priest arises, one like Melchizedek, he is not such “according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an indestructible life, for it is testified [in Psalm 110:4, LXX], ‘You are a priest forever [literally, “into the age”], according to the order of Melchizedek.’” To be a priest for the ages to come or for eternity, the one thus officiating would have to be in possession of a life that cannot be destroyed. In the case of priests of the tribe of Levi, their authorization to serve and continue officiating depended on the “law of a fleshly commandment.” The commandment is identified as “fleshly” because it involved physical qualifications. Men who served as priests had to be descendants of Aaron, meet the legal requirements of being in a physically sound condition, and maintain ceremonial purity. The primary fleshly command requiring that a priest be a descendant of Aaron did not apply in the case of the one who would be a priest according to the order of, or like, Melchizedek. (7:15-17)

The introduction of a priest like Melchizedek meant that the earlier “commandment” was set aside. This “commandment” is the one that was previously identified as being “fleshly,” for the requirements for serving as priests depended on physical conditions — descent from Aaron, bodily soundness, and ceremonial purity. The earlier commandment was set aside because it proved to be “weak and ineffectual.” Its physical requirements revealed its weakness, for the levitical priests were mortal and had to be replaced. Additionally, the priests also were sinners, making it necessary for them to offer sacrifices for themselves. The ineffectual aspect related to the fact that the priestly services could not cleanse the consciences of the people. Sacrifices had to be continually repeated and only effected ceremonial cleanness. (7:18; compare 7:23-25, 28; 9:9-14.)

The law that was given to the Israelites through Moses did not perfect or complete anything, for it could not remove the sinful condition of the people. The introduction of a “better hope” accomplished what the law could not, opening up a nearness of approach to God that was formerly not possible. In this context, the “better hope” relates to the fulfillment of God’s promise to provide a priest like Melchizedek. The promise served as the basis for hope. In this context, the “better hope” is not one in prospect but one that has been realized. On account of the priestly services of Jesus Christ, the high priest like Melchizedek, believers can draw near to God with a clean conscience as persons who have been forgiven of their sins. They can be confident that he will always intercede for them as they draw near to his Father through prayer. (7:19)

It was not apart from a sworn oath that Jesus Christ came to be high priest. By implication, this reveals that his priesthood is superior to the levitical priesthood. (7:20)

The way in which Jesus Christ came to be a priest differed from the usual manner in which individuals came to have that office. Men from the tribe of Levi became priests without having been previously designated as such by God’s oath. When Aaron was installed as high priest, Moses washed him with water, clothed him in specially made attire, anointed him with oil, and offered sacrifices for him and his sons. (7:21; Leviticus 8:1-30)

Jesus Christ, however, became priest on the basis of his Father’s sworn oath. This is confirmed by what is said to him (in Psalm 110:4, LXX), “The Lord [YHWH, Hebrew text] has sworn and will not regret, ‘You are a priest forever’” (literally, “into the age”). God’s oath respecting the priesthood of his Son is unchangeable. Never will God regret or change his mind with reference to having made an oath guaranteeing the enduring nature of his Son’s priesthood. (7:21; see the Notes section.)

In view of the superiority of Jesus Christ’s priesthood in relation to the levitical priesthood, he has also become the guarantee of a “better covenant.” When laying down his life in sacrifice, Jesus provided the basis for forgiveness of sins and full reconciliation with his Father to all who would accept his death for them. According to the terms of the new covenant prophetically set forth in Jeremiah 31:31-34, God would forgive iniquity and no longer remember sin. His law would be written on “hearts,” indicating that the motivation for following his ways would stem from the inmost selves of those who would benefit from the new covenant. Through everything that Jesus Christ accomplished while on earth, he guaranteed that all the terms of the new covenant would be fulfilled, thereby becoming the “sure pledge” of a “better covenant.” It was superior to the law covenant, for the law covenant condemned sinners and could not save them from the death to which condemnation leads. (7:22)

Moreover, the priesthood that existed under the law covenant had limitations. There had to be a succession of numerous priests serving over the centuries because death prevented them from continuing to function in this capacity. (7:23)

Jesus Christ, however, remains alive forever and so his priesthood requires no successors. (7:24) Therefore, he is able to save completely all who make their approach to God through him. As priest, he is always alive to intercede for those petitioning his Father. In making their approach in prayer “through” Jesus Christ, believers do so with full faith that he will make their request acceptable to his Father and be an advocate for them. The Son of God is able to save them completely, assuring their full entrance into the eternal life of an enduring relationship with him and his Father as persons totally liberated from sin. (7:25)

In the case of believers, their sense of fitness or suitableness makes them recognize that Jesus Christ is fully qualified to be their high priest. He is “holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners,” and he came to be “higher than the heavens.” In every respect, Jesus Christ is clean or pure, no taint of badness clings to him, and nothing of a defiling nature has tarnished his purity. Although he lived among sinners on earth, he was never like them, for he flawlessly reflected his Father’s love and loyally submitted to his will. Although he still deals with sinners as high priest, he (unlike the levitical priests) has no sins of his own. In his exalted heavenly state, he is in a realm where there are no sinners. The unparalleled degree of his exaltation is conveyed by the expression “higher than the heavens.” (7:26)

Jesus Christ does not need to offer sacrifices daily as did priests in the line of Aaron. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest offered a sacrifice first for himself and then for the people, repeating this year after year for as long as he lived. Jesus Christ offered himself up once for all, his sacrifice requiring no repeating and providing the basis for the forgiveness of all past, present, and future sins. (7:27; see the Notes section.)

Under the law, men in the line of the Levite Aaron, all having weaknesses, were appointed as priests. They were mortal and had to contend with their own sins. “The word of the oath, however, which [came] after the law, [appointed the] Son, who has been perfected forever.” This “word of the oath” is God’s oath-bound promise that there would be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. In keeping with this “word” that was made known long after the time of Moses and which is found in Psalm 110:4, the Son has been appointed as high priest. By what he experienced while on earth and through his death for sinners, the Son was perfected for the ages to come to serve as a compassionate high priest who genuinely understands the sinful human condition. (7:28)

Notes:

In the parenthetical phrase of verse 11, the pronoun autés, translated “it,” is in the genitive case and, therefore, the preceding preposition epí could be translated “concerning” or “about” (“about it [the levitical priesthood] the people received the law”). Numerous later manuscripts have the dative case for the pronoun rendered “it” (auté), which would support rendering epí as “on the basis of” (“on the basis of which the people received the law” [NAB]).

A Hebrew edition of the book of Hebrews, edited in the sixteenth century by Sebastian Münster, represents the people as receiving the Torah (law) at the mouth of the levitical priesthood. This would mean that the reference is to the priests teaching the law to the people. A similar meaning may be conveyed by translating epí as “under” (“the people received the law under this priesthood” [NRSV]). During the time it functioned (or under it), the Israelites received the teaching of the law from the levitical priesthood. (Compare Malachi 2:7.)

The parenthetical phrase in verse 11 has also been rendered to convey still other meanings. “In connection with the levitical priesthood, the people received the law.” (German revised Elberfelder Bible) “Clear requirements about the levitical priesthood are contained in the law.” (German, Hoffnung für alle) “The law that was given to our people recognizes no other priesthood.” (German, Neue Genfer Übersetzung) “The levitical priesthood was ordained through the law, and the law stands or falls with it.” (German, Gute Nachricht Bibel) “The people received legal requirements about the levitical priesthood.” (German, Einheitsübersetzung)

At the end of verse 21, many manuscripts add, “according to the order of Melchizedek.”

According to the law, priests offered a morning and an evening sacrifice each day. The sacrificial service, though, was not limited to the high priest. Possibly the writer of Hebrews attributed it to the high priest, as he would have been responsible for carrying out the requirements of the law. Only on the Day of Atonement did the high priest offer a sacrifice first for himself and then for the people. Some have reasoned that the writer of Hebrews conflated what happened on the Day of Atonement with the daily arrangement for sacrifice, and certain renderings of verse 27 support this view. “He is not like the other priests who had to offer sacrifices every day, first for their own sins, and then for the sins of the people. Christ offered his sacrifice only once and for all time when he offered himself.” (NCV) “He has no need to offer sacrifices daily, as the high priests do, first for their own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” (REB)

The words of verse 27, however, may also be rendered to indicate that Christ did not have to make daily sacrifices like the high priests, not needing to present daily offerings for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. “And he is better than any other high priest. Jesus doesn’t need to offer sacrifices each day for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. He offered a sacrifice once for all, when he gave himself.” (CEV) “He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself.” (NAB)