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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Hebrews 7

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1-2

The writer referred to Melchizedek (lit. righteous king, probably a title rather than a proper name) as the head of a priestly order. It was not uncommon for one individual to combine the roles of priest and king in antiquity. [Note: Morris, pp62-63.] Aaron was also the head of a priestly order. The writer explained that Jesus Christ was a member of Melchizedek"s order, not Aaron"s ( Hebrews 6:20). Melchizedek was a prototype of Jesus Christ in two respects. He was both a king and a priest, and what characterized him was righteousness and peace (cf. Hebrews 12:10-11; Psalm 85:10; Isaiah 32:17; Romans 5:1; James 3:17-18). The fact that Melchizedek was a priest is clear from two facts: he blessed Abraham, and Abraham paid tithes to him of all the spoils that he had taken in war ( Hebrews 7:4; cf. Genesis 14:23-24). According to Moffatt, the Jews under the Mosaic Covenant did not pay tithes from the spoils of war. [Note: Moffatt, p91.] This was a pagan custom.

These verses point out four important facts about Melchizedek: (1) he was a king-priest, (2) he was a blesser, (3) he received tithes, and (4) he had a significant name.


Verses 1-3

The particulars of Melchizedek"s significance7:1-3


Verses 1-10

The significance of Melchizedek7:1-10

The writer began by explaining the significance of Melchizedek since understanding him is foundational to appreciating Jesus Christ"s high priestly ministry. [Note: See James Swetnam, "Form and Content in Hebrews 7-13 ," Biblica55 (1974):333-48.]

"The dominant text in Hebrews 7:1-10 is Genesis 14:17-20, but in chap7 as a whole Genesis 14:17-20 is subordinated to Psalm 110:4 ...

"The limits of the first section are confirmed literarily by an inclusio established between Hebrews 7:1; Hebrews 7:10 by the repeated statement that Melchizedek met Abraham." [Note: Lane, p159.]


Verses 1-18

C. The Son"s High Priestly Ministry7:1-10:18

The great resource of Christians when tempted to apostatize is our high priest, Jesus Christ. The writer therefore spent considerable time and space expounding His high priesthood to enable his readers to benefit from their resource. This section of the book continues to glorify Jesus Christ so the readers would appreciate Him sufficiently and not turn from Him. The priesthood of Melchizedek provided an analogy, for the writer, of Jesus" priesthood.

"Here begins the longest single expository passage in the epistle. Its very length suggests its importance. Its theme is the core theme of Hebrews. The real resource of the readership, in the midst of their pressures, is the high priesthood of Christ. They must realize the greatness of that priesthood, its superiority to the Levitical institutions, and the perfect access they have to it on the basis of Christ"s death." [Note: Hodges, " Hebrews ," p797.]

"In Hebrews 7 , the writer argued that Christ"s priesthood, like Melchizedek"s, is superior in its order. In Hebrews 8 , the emphasis is on Christ"s better covenant; in Hebrews 9 , it is His better sanctuary; and Hebrews 10 concludes the section by arguing for Christ"s better sacrifice." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:299.]


Verse 3

A literal interpretation of this verse might lead one to conclude that Melchizedek was an angelic being, and the Qumran Community evidently regarded Melchizedek as an angel. [Note: Hodges, " Hebrews ," p798.] But there is no indication elsewhere in Scripture that he was anything but a human being. Consequently most commentators have adopted a metaphorical interpretation of what the writer said of him here. Limiting our knowledge of Melchizedek to what Moses specifically stated, this first priest mentioned in Scripture had no parents or children and no birth or death. In this, too, he represented the eternal Son of God. It was essential that the Levitical priests be able to prove their ancestry (cf. Ezra 2:61-63; Nehemiah 7:63-65). Since Moses did not record Melchizedek"s death, this writer could say that he continued as a priest forever, another respect in which he was like Jesus Christ.

"When nothing is recorded of the parentage of this Prayer of Manasseh , it is not necessarily to be assumed that he had no parents but simply that the absence of the record is significant.

"What was true of Melchizedek simply as a matter of record was true of Christ in a fuller and more literal sense. So the silence of the Scripture points to an important theological truth.... Thus it is not that Melchizedek sets the pattern and Jesus follows it. Rather, the record about Melchizedek is so arranged that it brings out certain truths, that apply far more fully to Jesus than they do to Melchizedek. With the latter, these truths are simply a matter of record; but with Jesus they are not only historically true, they also have significant spiritual dimensions." [Note: Morris, pp63 , 64. See also Charles P. Baylis, "The Author of Hebrews" Use of Melchizedek from the Context of Genesis ," (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1989); and Lane, pp164 , 166.]

"It is when the writer bases his exposition on the silence of Scripture that his method of exegesis seems strangest to modern readers.

"The idea of basing exegesis on silence is familiar in Philo"s writings and would not in itself have seemed strange to Jewish readers." [Note: Guthrie, pp156 , 157.]

This verse highlights a fifth important fact about Melchizedek: he had a significant family history, according to the biblical record.


Verse 4

The writer"s purpose was to show how great Melchizedek was compared to the venerated patriarch Abraham.


Verses 4-10

The exposition of Melchizedek"s significance7:4-10

In these straightforward verses, which expound Hebrews 7:1-3, the writer explained further how Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, the ancestor of Levi, the head of the priestly tribe under the Old (Mosaic) Covenant. He said more about three of the facts mentioned above: Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham, he blessed Abraham, and he lived longer than Abraham.


Verse 5-6

The descendants of Abraham paid tithes to their priests, the sons of Levi, but Abraham himself paid tithes to Melchizedek. The writer was really contrasting Aaron and Melchizedek more than Abraham and Melchizedek in this section. The writer implied that the one to whom Abraham paid tithes (Melchizedek) was superior to the one to whom Abraham"s descendants paid tithes (the Levitical priests).


Verse 6-7

Greater people bless lesser people, so the fact that Melchizedek blessed Abraham shows his superiority over Abraham.


Verse 8

The sons of Levi, who received tithes from their brethren, died, but Melchizedek, who received tithes from Abraham, lived on. Melchizedek was immortal as far as the specific revelation of Scripture states. In contrast, Moses wrote that Abraham, Levi, and the Aaronic priests all died.


Verse 9-10

In a sense even Levi himself paid tithes to Melchizedek since he was still in the loins of Abraham when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek. In the ancient Near Eastern view of things, people regarded a descendant as in one sense participating in the actions of his ancestors ( Genesis 25:23; Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:11-13). This is true to reality in certain respects (cf. Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:22), though we are responsible for our own actions too ( Ezekiel 18:20). Levi, the head of the priestly tribe in Israel, had not yet begun his independent existence, but he was involved, in this sense, in everything that Abraham did. [Note: See Ellingworth, p369. Cf. Romans 5:12-21.]


Verse 11

The writer"s point was that since God promised in Psalm 110:4 that the coming Messiah would be a priest after Melchizedek"s order, He intended to terminate the Levitical priesthood because it was inadequate. If the Levitical priesthood had been adequate, the Messiah would have functioned as a Levitical priest.


Verses 11-14

The imperfection of the Levitical priesthood and the Mosaic Law7:11-14


Verses 11-25

The superior priesthood of Jesus7:11-25

Having shown the superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham and Levi, the writer proceeded to point out the superiority of Melchizedek"s priesthood and Jesus" priesthood. He did so to clarify for his readers the inferiority of the Mosaic Covenant and its priesthood. Not only was Melchizedek greater than Aaron, Melchizedek, though he preceded Aaron in time, also replaced Aaron.

"Within the structure of the homily, Hebrews 7:1-28 is clearly defined as a literary unit. The reference to "the Son of God" in Hebrews 7:3 prepares for the climactic reference to the "Son" in Hebrews 7:28. The entire chapter is concerned with the Son as priest, or high priest, "like Melchizedek," who is superior to the Levitical priests. The fact that Hebrews 7:28 summarizes and concludes the comparison of Jesus as Son with the Levitical priesthood, a subject that occupies the writer in a preparatory way in Hebrews 7:1-10 and directly in Hebrews 7:11-28, is of special importance ..." [Note: Lane, p177.]

Genesis 14:17-20 now falls into the background, and Psalm 110:4 becomes dominant. [Note: Cf. G. L. Cockerill, The Melchizedek Christology in Hebrews 7:1-28 , pp16-20.] Note also the keywords "perfection" ( Hebrews 7:11) and "perfect" ( Hebrews 7:19; Hebrews 7:28). These two words not only form an inclusio but begin and end the argument of the pericope. Perfection did not come through the Old Covenant priests but through the Son the New Covenant Priest. Why would God replace the Levitical priesthood? Four reasons follow.


Verse 12

The priesthood was such a major part of the whole Mosaic Covenant that this predicted change in the priesthood signaled a change in the whole Covenant. This verse is one of the clearest single statements in the New Testament indicating that God has terminated the Mosaic Law (Covenant; cf. Romans 10:4). Paul went on to say that Christians, therefore, are not under it ( Romans 6:14-15; Galatians 3:24-25; Galatians 5:1; Galatians 6:2; 2 Corinthians 3:7-11). That Isaiah , it is not what God has given to regulate the lives of Christians.

"If Christ is our high priest today, then there has to be a change in the law, since He could not qualify as a priest under the Levitical arrangement (being of the tribe of Judah). If the law has not been done away today, then neither has the Levitical priesthood; but if Christ is our high priest, we cannot be under the law. Every prayer offered in the name of Christ is an affirmation of the end of the law." [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, "The End of the Law," Bibliotheca Sacra124:495 (July-September1967):244. Cf. Morris, p67; and Hal Harless, "The Cessation of the Mosaic Covenant," Bibliotheca Sacra160:639 (July-September2003):349-66.]

"So by his own independent line of argument our author reaches the same conclusion as Paul: the law was a temporary provision, "our tutor to bring us unto Christ ... but now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" ( Galatians 3:24 f.)." [Note: Bruce, p145.]


Verse 13-14

Further confirmation of this change is the prophecy that Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah, not from the priestly tribe of Levi ( Genesis 49:10; Micah 5:2; Isaiah 11:1).


Verses 15-17

A third proof that God made a change in the priesthood is that God predicted that Messiah would live forever ( Psalm 110:4). Jesus Christ did not become a priest because He met a physical requirement, namely, was born into the priestly tribe and qualified by his descent to serve as high priest. He became a priest because He would not die. In this He showed Himself to be a member of Melchizedek"s "order" since Melchizedek appears from the scriptural record to have lived forever. Jesus is a priest forever because of His resurrection. [Note: See Manson, p116.]


Verses 15-19

The need for a better replacement7:15-19


Verse 18-19

These verses summarize the argument that God has superseded the Levitical priesthood and the Mosaic Law (Covenant). He has replaced the old system with a system that can do what the old one could not do, namely, bring us into intimate relationship with God.

"The term athetesis, "annulment," is a stronger term than metathesis, "alteration" ( Hebrews 7:12)." [Note: Lane, p185.]

The "better hope" we have is the assurance that this relationship is now possible for us to experience thanks to our great High Priest.


Verse 20-21

Another oath from God ( Psalm 110:4) launched Messiah"s priesthood. The Levitical priesthood had no such origin, another indication of its inferiority.


Verses 20-22

The inviolability of God"s oath7:20-22

Hebrews 7:20-25 draw out the pastoral implications of the conclusion that the writer reached in Hebrews 7:18-19.


Verse 22

Because God promised on oath to install Messiah permanently as our priest, the writer could say that Jesus is the guarantee of a better covenant. Since the old priesthood was the heart of the Old Covenant, and God terminated both of them, a new priesthood must accompany the New Covenant that is superior to the Old Covenant. Since the new Priest has come, so must the New Covenant have come (cf. Luke 22:20). This is the first mention in the epistle of the word "covenant" that will play a major role in the writer"s argument to follow.

"Hebrews develops the theme of the new covenant more fully than any other NT writer, the epistle accounting for just over half the occurrences of diatheke ["covenant] in the NT." [Note: Ellingworth, p386.]

The writer used this word (Gr. diatheke) 17 times, far more than it occurs in any other New Testament book. He preferred this word to the more common syntheke ("covenant") evidently because syntheke suggests an agreement made on relatively equal terms. Diatheke has the idea of a more absolute will, such as a last will and testament.


Verse 23-24

The Levitical priests had to succeed one another because they kept dying, but Jesus Christ needs no successor because He will not die.


Verses 23-25

The mortality of the Levitical priests7:23-25


Verse 25

The fact that Christ will not die and need replacement by another priest means that He can see His work of delivering His people through to the end. He can deliver completely (better than "forever," Hebrews 7:25) in the sense of seeing us through to the realization of our full salvation, our rest (inheritance) in God"s presence (cf. Hebrews 1:14).

"Here the author is not referring to His saving work as the salvation of sinners from judgment and death, but rather using the words to save in the sense of "to bring to God"s desired end" ..." [Note: Pentecost, p126.]

(The writer just quoted viewed God"s goal for every Christian as spiritual maturity in this life rather than the attainment of a full reward in the future.)

Our trials and temptations need not separate us from our inheritance since Jesus Christ can continue to support us by providing mercy and grace ( Hebrews 4:14-16) all the way to our ultimate reward. What a comfort and assurance it is to realize that Jesus Christ Himself is praying for us constantly!

This verse is not talking about eternal security but about remaining faithful to the Lord and as a result receiving our full reward. Our eternal security does rest on the intercessory ministry of Jesus Christ, but that was not the writer"s point here (cf. Romans 8:33-34).

"It is important to emphasize this, for the character of our Lord"s intercession has at times been grotesquely misrepresented in popular Christian thought. He is not to be thought of "as an orante, standing ever before the Father with outstretched arms, like the figures in the mosaics of the catacombs, and with strong crying and tears pleading our cause in the presence of a reluctant God; but as a throned Priest-King, asking what He will from a Father who always hears and grants His request."" [Note: Bruce, p155. His quotation is from H. B. Swete, The Ascended Christ, p95.]

"Despite these exhortations to faithfulness and warnings against unfaithfulness [in Hebrews 6:4-6], Hebrews does not base the believer"s assurance on works. The basis of ongoing assurance is Christ"s high-priestly work of intercession." [Note: Colijn, p585.]

"In Hebrews "salvation" is presented as a future eschatological inheritance ( Hebrews 1:14; Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 9:28). There Isaiah , nevertheless, a definite sense in which the community has already begun to participate in salvation as a result of the obedience and sacrificial death of Christ and his subsequent exaltation (cf. Hebrews 2:3-4; Hebrews 6:4-5; Hebrews 6:9)." [Note: Lane, p189.]

"Just as Christ"s priesthood is permanent, so is the salvation which he makes possible." [Note: Ellingworth, p391.]


Verse 26

In view of His superior ministry it is only fitting that our High Priest should be a superior Person. "Holy" (Gr. hosios) stresses blamelessness. (Another word translated "holy," hagios, stresses separateness.) "Innocent" means without guile or malice. "Undefiled" looks at His absolute purity. "Separated from sinners" probably refers to His being in a different class from sinful people. [Note: Manson, pp116-17.] Jesus was not only inherently pure, but He remains pure in all His contacts with sinners. [Note: Guthrie, p168.]

"The exposition is brought to a conclusion in Hebrews 7:26-28 with a majestic statement concerning Jesus" character, achievement, and status as high priest." [Note: Lane, p191.]


Verses 26-28

The summary conclusion concerning Christ"s superiority as a person7:26-28


Verse 27

In Israel"s daily sacrifices, the priest had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins before he could offer one for the sins of others ( Exodus 29:38-46; Leviticus 4:3-12). Also on the Day of Atonement the high priest would offer a sin offering for expiation for himself and then another one for the sins of the people ( Leviticus 16:6-10). Jesus Christ does not need to offer up periodic sacrifices to atone for sin either for His own sins or for those of His people. His one sacrifice of both worship and expiation on the cross completely satisfied God. No subsequent sacrifices are necessary for that purpose. The writer proceeded to develop this thought more fully in Hebrews 9:11-14 and Hebrews 10:1-15, after introducing it initially here.


Verse 28

"The profound difference between the two priesthoods is detailed in a concluding contrast summarizing the argument of the entire chapter." [Note: Ibid, p194.]

Jesus Christ is superior because He is a Son rather than a mere Prayer of Manasseh , because God appointed Him more recently than He appointed the Levitical priests, and because God appointed Him with an oath ( Hebrews 7:21). He is "perfect" because He offered one sacrifice for sin that was adequate to satisfy God completely (cf. Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:8-10; Hebrews 7:28; Hebrews 12:2; 1 John 2:2). Because He is perfect He can intercede effectively for us. Consequently we can go to Him confidently any time we need His help overcoming trials and temptations, specifically those trials that might result in our apostatizing. "Perfect forever" has the idea of not being subject to defects. He will never fail us, and another high priest will never replace Him.

In view of the superior order of priesthood that Melchizedek foreshadowed and that Jesus Christ fulfilled, why would anyone want to go back to the old Aaronic order? The person of our high priest is superior. The order of His priesthood is superior. Christ is completely adequate in His person and preeminent in His order. We should worship His person and rely on His intercession because of His order. And we should not abandon Him. [Note: See also David J. MacLeod, "Christ, the Believer"s High Priest: An Exposition of Hebrews 7:26-28 ," Bibliotheca Sacra162:647 (July-September2005):331-43.]

"One of the most distinctive themes in the theology of Hebrews is the change from old to new in God"s dealings with humankind. In Jesus Christ a decisive shift in salvation-history has occurred according to God"s plan. What was provisional and ineffective has been superseded by the final and full salvation in the Son of God, a change anticipated in the Old Testament itself." [Note: Fanning, p398.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hebrews 7:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/hebrews-7.html. 2012.


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Sunday, July 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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