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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Hebrews 7

 

 

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Verse 1

Hebrews 7:1. For, &c. — The apostle having promised to lead the believing Hebrews forward to the perfection of Christian knowledge, (Hebrews 6:1-4,) particularly with regard to the high-priesthood of Christ as typified by that of Melchisedec, which he had repeatedly mentioned, (namely, Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 5:10; Hebrews 6:20,) as a figure of it he proceeds now to fulfil his promise; and, in order thereto, points out the deep meaning of the oath recorded Psalms 110:4. And by accurately examining the particulars concerning Melchisedec, related in the Mosaic history, he shows that Melchisedec was a far more excellent priest than Aaron and all his sons, and consequently that Jesus, whom God had made a High-Priest for ever after the similitude of Melchisedec, exercised a priesthood both more acceptable to God, and more effectual for procuring the pardon of sin, than the priesthood which the sons of Aaron exercised under the law. For the design of the apostle in this chapter is not to declare the nature or the exercise of the priesthood of Christ, though occasionally mentioned; having spoken of the former, chap. 5., and intending to treat of the latter at large afterward, which he does chap. 9. But it is of its excellence and dignity that he discourses here, and yet not absolutely, but in comparison with the Levitical priesthood, which method was both necessary, and directly conducive to his end. For if the priesthood of Christ were not so excellent as that of Aaron, it was to no purpose to persuade them to embrace the former, and reject the latter. This, therefore, he designs to prove upon principles avowed among themselves, by arguments taken from what had been received and acknowledged in the Jewish Church from the first foundation of it. To this end he shows, that antecedently to the giving of the law, and the institution of the Levitical priesthood, God had, without any respect thereto, given a typical prefiguration of this priesthood of Christ, in one who was on all accounts superior to the future Levitical priests. This sacred truth, which had been hid for so many ages in the church, and which undeniably manifests the certain future introduction of another and better priesthood, is here brought to light by the apostle and improved. For this Melchisedec — Of whom Moses speaks, Genesis 14:18, &c., (the passage to which David refers,) was king of Salem — “According to Josephus, (Antiq. lib. 1. cap. 11,) Salem, the city of Melchisedec, was Jerusalem. But according to Jerome, who says he received his information from some learned Jews, it was the town which is mentioned Genesis 33:18, as a city of Shechem, and which is spoken of (John 3:23) as near to Enon, where John baptized. This city being in Abraham’s way, as he returned from Damascus to Sodom, after the slaughter of the kings, many are of Jerome’s opinion, that the northern Salem was Melchisedec’s city rather than Jerusalem, which was situated farther to the south.” Priest of the most high God — This title given him by Moses, and here taken notice of by the apostle, implies that he had been appointed to that office in a solemn and public manner; and, of consequence, “that there was a priest divinely appointed to officiate for the worshippers of the true God in Canaan, long before the days of Aaron, and before God formed to himself a visible church from any particular family or nation of mankind. The Hebrew word, indeed, translated a priest, sometimes signifies a prince, but the historian hath removed the ambiguity by adding the words, of the most high God.” Who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings — Who had taken Lot prisoner, with the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the neighbouring cities of the plain; and blessed him — Pronounced on him a blessing in the name of God, to whom he ministered; and in his manner of blessing him showed himself to be a priest of the only true God, his words being, Blessed be Abraham of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth.


Verse 2-3

Hebrews 7:2-3. To whom also Abraham gave a tenth of all — Namely, of all the spoils of the vanquished kings, (Hebrews 7:4,) but not a tenth also of the goods that had been taken from the king of Sodom and from Lot; for of these Abraham took nothing to himself. By paying tithes to Melchisedec, Abraham acknowledged him to be a priest of the true God. It seems, indeed, his being supernaturally appointed a priest by God, was known through all that country. Being first — According to the meaning of his own name; king of righteousness; and after that also — According to the name of his city; king of peace — So that in him, as in Christ, righteousness and peace were joined. And so they are in all that believe in him. “In ancient times, it was usual to give names to persons and places expressive of their qualities, or in commemoration of some remarkable events. Thus Abram’s name was changed into Abraham, to signify that he was made the father of many nations; and Sarai was named Sarah, because she was made the mother of nations; and Jacob obtained the name of Israel, because he had power with God. Viewed in the light of this ancient practice, the apostle’s argument, from these names, is conclusive, to show what an excellent person Melchisedec was, and how fit to be made a type of the Son of God. Without father, without mother — Without any mention of his parents; without descent — Or rather, without genealogy, or pedigree, recorded; for so the word here used, αγενεαλογητος, signifies; not a person who hath no descent or genealogy, but one whose descent and pedigree is nowhere entered on record. This was the case with Melchisedec. He was assuredly born, and did no less certainly die than other men; but neither his birth nor his death are recorded. Or the apostle’s principal meaning may be, that there is no account of his being descended from any ancestors of the priestly order, and that therefore he did not derive his priesthood from his parents, but was a priest of the most high God by a particular appointment. Having neither beginning of days nor end of life — Mentioned by Moses. But whence was it that Moses should introduce so great and excellent a person as Melchisedec, without making any mention of his race or stock, of his parents or progenitors, of his rise or fall, contrary to his own custom in other cases, and contrary to all rules of useful history? The true cause of the omission of all these things was the same with that of the institution of his priesthood, and the introduction of his person in the story. And this was that he might be a more express and signal representative of the Lord Christ in his priesthood. But in all these respects, made like the Son of God — Who was really without father as to his human nature, without mother as to his divine; and in this also, without pedigree; and not descending, even in human nature, from any ancestors of the priestly order; abideth a priest continually — That is, no mention is made of the end of the priesthood of his order, nor of the termination of his own personal administration of his office by death; and so he stands in the story as a kind of immortal priest, without any successor being mentioned. And this is that which the apostle chiefly designed to confirm from hence, namely, that there was in the Scripture, before the institution of the Aaronical priesthood, a representation of an eternal, unchangeable one, namely, that of Christ, who, as he was without beginning of days, alone does really remain without death and without successor.


Verses 4-7

Hebrews 7:4-7. Consider how great this man was — The greatness of Melchisedec is described in all the preceding and following particulars. But the most manifest proof of it was, that Abraham gave him tithes as a priest of God, and a superior; though he was himself a patriarch, greater than a king, and a progenitor of many kings. The sons of Levi take tithes of their brethren — Sprung from Abraham as well as themselves. The Levites, therefore, are greater than they; but the priests are greater than the Levites; the patriarch Abraham than the priests, and Melchisedec than him. But he whose descent is not counted from them — From that people who come out of the loins of Abraham, not only received tithes of Abraham, but blessed him — Another proof of Melchisedec’s superiority; even him that had the promises — With whom God made the covenant of grace, as with the Father of all the blessed seed. Thus Galatians 3:16 : To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. And without all contradiction — Without all question; the less is blessed authoritatively of the better — Or greater; that is, when a man does, in God’s name and stead, and by his authority, declare and pronounce another to be blessed, he that gives the blessing is, in that respect, greater than he who receives it.


Verses 8-10

Hebrews 7:8-10. And here — In the Levitical priesthood; men that die, receive tithes, but there — In the case of Melchisedec; he of whom it is witnessed that he liveth — Who is not spoken of as one that died for another to succeed him, but is represented only as living, being mentioned in such a way as if he lived for ever. And even Levi, who received tithes — Not in person, but in his successors, as it were, paid tithes in the person of Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father — “This might justly be said of Levi, who descended from Abraham in the ordinary course of generation. But it cannot be said of Christ, who was born in a miraculous manner, without any human father. While, therefore, the apostle’s argument, taken from Abraham’s paying tithes to Melchisedec, and his receiving the blessing from him, proves that both Abraham and the Levitical priests, his natural descendants, were inferior to Melchisedec, it does not apply to Christ at all.” — Macknight.


Verse 11

Hebrews 7:11. The apostle, having cleared his way from objections, now enters on his principal argument concerning the priesthood of Christ, and all the consequences of it with respect to righteousness, salvation, and the worship of God which depend thereon. If, therefore, or, now if perfection were by the Levitical priesthood — If it perfectly answered all God’s designs and man’s wants; what further need was there that another priest — A priest of a new order; should rise — Or be set up; and not one after the order of Aaron? — As if he had said, Since by what has been advanced it appears from Scripture that another priesthood was to arise after Aaron’s, of another order, it follows hence that perfection could not be attained by that of Aaron; for if it could, that certainly would not have been removed, and another substituted in its place. In other words, the prediction of the rising up of a priest of a different order from that of Aaron, is a declaration of the inefficacy of the Levitical priesthood, and of God’s intention to change it. Instead of the clause, for under it, (namely, the Levitical priesthood,) Macknight reads, on account of it, the people received the law — Observing that the law “was prior to the priesthood, being given for the purpose of forming and establishing the priesthood; and that the Jewish people themselves were separated from the rest of mankind, and made a people by the law, merely that they might, as a nation, worship the only true God according to the Levitical ritual, in settling which most of the precepts of the law were employed. This being the case, is it any wonder that such of the Jews as looked no farther than the outside of the priesthood and law, imagined that perfection, in respect of pardon and acceptance with God, was to be obtained by the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices, and in that persuasion believed they never would be abolished? Nevertheless, if they had understood the true meaning of the law, they would have known that it was a typical oracle, in which, by its services, the priesthood and sacrifice of the Son of God were prefigured, and that by calling his Son a priest, not after the order of Aaron, but after that of Melchisedec, God declared that his services as a High-Priest, and the sacrifice of himself which he was to offer, were entirely different, both in their nature and effects, from the Levitical services and sacrifices, and that they were to be substituted in the room of these services, for which there was no occasion after the priest and sacrifices which they prefigured, were come.”


Verses 12-14

Hebrews 7:12-14. For, or, wherefore, the priesthood — On account of which the law was given; being changed, of necessity there must be a change also of the law — As if he had said, Since there is such a near relation between the priesthood and the law, and since the whole administration of the law, as the rule of worship, depended absolutely on the Aaronical priesthood, therefore the one being changed, the other must be changed also. “Under the law the offices of the priesthood consisted in offering the sacrifices of beasts, and in performing various rites for purifying the bodies of the worshippers from ceremonial defilement, that they might be fit to join the congregation in the public worship of God. But when the priesthood was changed by raising up from another tribe a priest after the order of Melchisedec, whose services had for their object to purify the conscience of the worshippers, not by the sacrifice of beasts, but by the sacrifice of himself,” and to sanctify their souls by the influences of the Holy Spirit; “the whole law concerning the sacrifices of beasts, and the sanctifying of the flesh of the Israelites by washing, was of necessity entirely abolished.” For he of whom — Or, to whom; these things are spoken — That is, he to whom it was said, Thou art a priest for ever, &c., was of a different tribe, namely, that of Judah; of which no man gave attendance at the altar — Or, was suffered by the law to minister there, so that the priesthood is manifestly changed from one order to another, and from one tribe to another. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah — “That the Messiah was to spring up from Judah is plain from the prophecies concerning his descent: and it is likewise plain that this part of his character was verified in our Lord, whose genealogy Matthew and Luke have traced up to King David from the public tables. For that such tables of their descent were kept by the Jews Josephus testifies, (section 1. of his Life, at the end,) saying, ‘I give you these successions of our family as I find them written in the public tables.’ By these tables Paul knew himself to be of the tribe of Benjamin.”


Verses 15-17

Hebrews 7:15-17. And it is yet far more evident — That both the priesthood and the law are changed, because the priest now raised up is not only of another tribe, and of a quite different order, but is made a priest; not after the law of a carnal commandment — With such carnal rites and outward solemnities as the law prescribed for those priests, which reached no further than to the purifying of the flesh; but after the power of an endless life — Which he has in himself as the eternal Son of God. Being a sacrifice, as well as a priest, it was indeed necessary that he, as a man, should die; but as he continued only a short while in the state of the dead, and arose to die no more, he may justly be said to have an endless life, even as to his human nature. Besides, it should be considered that his life, as a priest, did not begin till after his ascension, when he passed through the heavens into the holiest of all, with the sacrifice of his crucified body. And having offered that body there, he sat down at the right hand of the throne of his Father’s majesty, where he remains the minister of that true tabernacle, making continual intercession for his people.


Verse 18-19

Hebrews 7:18-19. For there is verily — Implied in this new and everlasting priesthood, and in the new dispensation connected therewith; a disannulling of the preceding commandment — An abrogation of the Mosaic law; for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof — In comparison of the new priesthood and dispensation. See on Romans 8:3. For the law — The dispensation of Moses, taken by itself, separate from the light and grace of the gospel: made nothing perfect — Either as to the state of God’s church, (which was then in its minority, Galatians 4:1-3,) or the religion of its members. The institutions of divine worship were imperfect, being mere shadowy representations of good things to come; the promises made to Abraham were but imperfectly fulfilled, and divine revelation was very incomplete, and in many respects obscure. Therefore that dispensation did not perfect the illumination of the people of God in things spiritual or divine, but they were still in comparative darkness as to divers particulars of great importance. See on Luke 1:76; Luke 1:79. It did not perfect their justification and reconciliation with God, or remove their guilt before God, or a sense of it in their own consciences; it only did this typically and figuratively, Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 10:1-4. It did not perfect their sanctification and conformity to God, Romans 7:5, &c. For the truths, precepts, and promises which it revealed, were chiefly of a worldly and carnal nature, and not calculated to sanctify the minds and hearts of those that received them, or to render them heavenly and holy. And the sanctifying Spirit, and the salvation consequent thereon, were not so largely given as under the gospel, John 7:37-38; 1 Peter 1:10-12. But the bringing in of a better hope — The Christian dispensation, or the priesthood of Christ and the promises of the gospel, which afford more solid grounds for hope, did, or does; making full provision both for our justification and sanctification, and for our living in the practice of universal holiness and righteousness, and therefore furnishing us with a title to, and a meetness for, eternal life. “Promissa terrestria non operantur mortis contemptum, sed eum operantur spes melior vitæ eternæ, atque celestis. Inde tam crebra martyria.” Earthly promises do not produce a contempt of death, but the better hope of a heavenly and eternal life produces it. Hence so many martyrdoms, namely, in the first church. — Grotius. The word επεισαγωγη, rendered the bringing in, literally means, the introduction of a thing after, or upon, another. The priesthood and sacrifice of Christ, and the dispensation thereupon, were brought in after the law, upon it, in the room of it, to effect what the law could not do. This, therefore, says Dr. Owen, is the sense of the words: “The introduction of the better hope after and upon the law, when a sufficient discovery had been made of its weakness and insufficiency as to this end, made all things perfect, or hath brought the church to that state of consummation which was designed for it. It is called better with respect to the law, and all it contained, or could effect.” By which we draw nigh unto God — Have free liberty to draw nigh in faith and prayer, through the sacrifice and intercession of our ever-living and glorious High-Priest and Mediator. It is an expression, says Grotius, “properly sacerdotal, denoting the approach of the priests to God and his worship.” Under the Levitical priesthood the priests, in their sacrifices and solemn services, drew nigh to God: the same liberty is now granted to all true believers, under the sacerdotal ministration of the Lord Jesus; through him they have access by one Spirit unto the Father, at all times, and particularly in their prayers and praises, and all acts of worship; and may draw so nigh as to become one spirit with him, which is true Christian perfection.


Verses 20-22

Hebrews 7:20-22. And inasmuch as, &c. — Here is another argument from the words of the psalmist, to prove the appointment of a new priesthood, the removal of the old, and the superior excellence of the new to the old; not without an oath — Which argues the weightiness of the matter, and the eternal continuance of Christ’s priesthood. “The apostle’s reasoning here is founded on this, that God never interposed his oath except to show the certainty and immutability of the thing sworn. Thus he sware to Abraham, that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed, Genesis 22:16-18; and to the rebellious Israelites, that they should not enter into his rest, Deuteronomy 1:34-35; and to Moses, that he should not go into Canaan, Deuteronomy 4:21; and to David, that his seed should endure for ever, and his throne unto all generations, Psalms 89:4. Wherefore, since Christ was made a priest not without an oath, that he should be a priest for ever, &c., that circumstance showed God’s immutable resolution never to change or abolish his priesthood, or the covenant established thereon. Whereas the Levitical priesthood and the law of Moses being established without an oath were thereby declared to be changeable at God’s pleasure.” — Macknight. The Lord sware and will not repent — Hence also it appears that his priesthood is unchangeable. God not only sware that he would make him a priest for ever, but sware also that he would never repent of doing it. By so much, &c. — By how much the priesthood of Christ was better than the former, by so much the testament, or rather covenant, of which he was to be surety, was better also. The word covenant frequently occurs in the remaining part of this epistle. The original word means either a covenant, or a last will and testament. St. Paul takes it sometimes in the former, sometimes in the latter sense; sometimes he includes both. The word surety or sponsor, may here mean one who has undertaken, on our behalf, to satisfy divine justice for our sins, making atonement for them; and to give to all that sincerely, earnestly, and perseveringly ask it, grace sufficient to enable them to perform the conditions of the covenant, and thereupon to receive its blessings. But it is proper to observe, that the Greek commentators explain the word εγγυος, here rendered a surety, by μεσιτης, a mediator, which is its etymological meaning. “For it comes from εγγυς, near, and signifies one who draws near, or who causes another to draw near. Now, as in this passage a comparison is stated between Jesus, as a High-Priest, and the Levitical high-priests; and as these were justly considered by the apostle as the mediators of the Sinai covenant, because through their mediation the Israelites worshipped God with sacrifices, and received from him, as their king, a political pardon, in consequence of the sacrifices offered by the high-priest on the day of atonement, it is evident that the apostle, in this passage, calls Jesus the High-Priest, or Mediator, of the better covenant, because through his mediation believers receive all the blessings of the better covenant. And, as the apostle had said, (Hebrews 7:19,) that, by the introduction of a better hope, εγγιζομεν, we draw near to God, he, in this verse, very properly called Jesus εγγυος, rather than μεσιτης, to denote the effect of his mediation. See Hebrews 7:25. Our translators, indeed, following the Vulgate and Beza, have rendered the word surety, a sense which it hath, Sirach 29:16, and which naturally enough follows from its etymological meaning. For the person who becomes surety for the good behaviour of another, or for his performing something stipulated, brings that other near to the party to whom he gives the security; he reconciles the two. But in this sense, the word εγγυος, is not applicable to the Jewish high-priests. For to be a proper surety, one must either have power to compel the party to perform that for which he hath become his surety, or, in case of his not performing it, he must be able to perform it himself. As little is the appellation, surety of the new covenant, applicable to Jesus. For since the new covenant doth not require perfect obedience, but only the obedience of faith; if the obedience of faith is not given by men themselves, it cannot be given by another in their room, unless we suppose that men can be saved without personal faith; I therefore infer, that they who speak of Jesus as the surety of the new covenant, must hold that it requires perfect obedience, which not being in the power of believers to give, Jesus hath performed it for them. But is not this to make the covenant of grace a covenant of works, contrary to the whole tenor of Scripture? For these reasons, I think the Greek commentators have given the true meaning of the word εγγυος in this passage, when they explain it by μεσιτης, Mediator.” — Macknight.


Verses 23-25

Hebrews 7:23-25. And there were many priests — One after another, because they were hindered by death from continuing in the perpetual execution of their office. But this man, because he continueth ever — In life and in his office; hath an unchangeable priesthood — One that passes not from one to another. Wherefore — From whence it appears; that he is able to save to the uttermost — From sin and its consequences, into the favour and image of God, and to preserve to eternal life, all that by faith and prayer come to God through him — As their priest; seeing he ever liveth to make intercession — That is, he lives and intercedes, in every circumstance of their respective lives, through all successive ages and generations. He died once, he intercedes perpetually. “The nature of the apostle’s argument requires that by Christ’s always living we understand his always living in the body: for it is thus that he is a sympathizing High-Priest, who in his intercession pleads the merit of his death to procure the salvation of all who come unto God through him. Agreeably to this account of Christ’s intercession, the apostle (Hebrews 7:27) mentions the sacrifice of himself, which Christ offered as the foundation of his intercession. Now, as he offered that sacrifice in heaven, (Hebrews 8:2-3,) by presenting his crucified body there, and as he continually resides there in the body, some of the ancients were of opinion that his continual intercession consists in the continual presentation of his humanity before his Father, because it is a continual declaration of his earnest desire of the salvation of men, and of his having, in obedience to his Father’s will, made himself flesh, and suffered death to accomplish it. This opinion is confirmed by the manner in which the Jewish high-priest made intercession for the people on the day of atonement, and which was a type of Christ’s intercession in heaven. He made it not [merely or chiefly] by offering prayers for them in the most holy place, but by sprinkling the blood of the sacrifices on the mercy-seat, in token of their death. And as by that action he opened the earthly holy places to the prayers and worship of the Israelites during the ensuing year; so Jesus, by presenting his humanity continually before the presence of his Father, opens heaven to the prayers of his people in the present life, and to their persons after the resurrection.” See Macknight.


Verses 26-28

Hebrews 7:26-28. Such a High-Priest became us — Or rather, was suited to us, who are unholy, mischievous, defiled sinners; who is holy — With respect to God; harmless — With respect to men; undefiled — In himself by any sin; separate from sinners — That is, from all defiling society of sinners, though mercifully conversant among them; and, to complete all, made higher — Even in his human nature, than the heavens, and than all their inhabitants; being far more superior to the noblest of them than Aaron was to the meanest Levite who ministered in the temple. Who needeth not daily — That is, on every yearly day of expiation; as those high-priests, to offer sacrifice, first for his own sins — For he had no sins of his own; and then for the people’s — Which last he did once for all, when he offered up himself — A spotless and acceptable sacrifice to God. “In this passage,” says Macknight, “the apostle notices three particulars, which distinguish the sacrifice offered by Christ from those offered by the Jewish high- priests: 1st, He offered no sacrifice for himself, but only for the people. 2d, He did not offer that sacrifice annually, but once for all. 3d, The sacrifice which he offered was not of calves and goats, but of himself.” For the law maketh men high-priests which have infirmity — Who are weak, sinful, and mortal; but the oath which was since the law — Namely, in the time of David; maketh the Son — A priest; who is consecrated — Or perfected, as τετελειωμενον properly signifies; see note on Hebrews 5:9; for evermore — Who, having finished his whole process, undertaken and accomplished to effect the work of our redemption, and being without blemish, and perfectly free from every natural and moral infirmity, and invested with all authority and power in heaven and on earth, remaineth a priest for ever.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Hebrews 7:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/hebrews-7.html. 1857.


Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, July 25th, 2017
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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