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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Hebrews 7

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

CHRIST; THE ANTITYPE OF MELCHIZEDEK;

JESUS' PRIESTHOOD IS SUPERIOR TO THAT OF THE LEVITES;

A DESCRIPTION OF JESUS; THE PERFECT HIGH PRIEST

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of God Most High, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham divided a tenth part of all (being first by interpretation, King of righteousness, and then also King of Salem, which is King of peace, without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God) abideth a priest continually. (Hebrews 7:1-3)

Melchizedek had already been mentioned a number of times, but here the author of Hebrews turns to a fuller exploitation of what must be termed the boldest argument in the entire Bible, based upon the historical account of Melchizedek in Genesis 14 and what had doubtless seemed for ages like a minor statement in Psalms 110:4. The inspired author of this epistle reveals that the reference in Psalms 110:4 is not a minor thing at all. On the contrary, it was something God swore to! God himself, in that reference, made mention of a priest forever "after the order of Melchizedek," and therein lay the key to unravel the mystery of that Messiah whose kingship descended through Judah, but whose priesthood was that of an altogether different order from the one enjoyed by the Levites. In the verses before us, Melchizedek is said to be like "unto the Son of God," and that Christ is after the likeness of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:14), indicating clearly that Christ must be understood as the antitype of Melchizedek, making all the things of Melchizedek's life typical of certain things in the life of Jesus Christ. The likeness is noted in the following study.

MELCHIZEDEK AND JESUS

The following likenesses in type and antitype are plain: (1) The word "Melchizedek" means "King of righteousness," thus the very name becomes a title of the Lord Jesus Christ. (2) "King of Salem" means "King of peace," and thus the title of Melchizedek is another appropriate title of our Lord (Isaiah 9:6ff; Psalms 72:7). (3) Melchizedek was both king and priest, a double dignity not enjoyed by any illustrious Hebrew, not even Moses, and startlingly typical of Jesus Christ who is both king and high priest. (4) Melchizedek received tithes of Abraham, even as Christ receives gifts of them that love and follow him. (5) Melchizedek brought forth bread and wine; and, although not specifically mentioned here because it was not germane to the argument, the fact itself is a strong suggestion of the Lord's institution of the Lord's Supper. (6) He blessed Abraham; Christ blesses his followers. (7) Melchizedek's priesthood encompassed service to Gentiles and Jews alike, as witnessed by his reception of Abraham; and Christ likewise is the High Priest of all mankind, having no racial or other limitation. (8) The eighth likeness between Melchizedek and Christ is a little more difficult to understand because it is not founded on anything that Melchizedek did or said, and not even upon anything that is said about him in the Genesis narrative, this eighth similarity being made to depend upon the manner and form of the Genesis record, with special reference to what is not said. See below.

The statement by the author of Hebrews that Melchizedek had no father, no mother, no genealogy, no beginning of life, and no end of days, simply means THAT HE HAD NONE OF THOSE THINGS IN THE SCRIPTURAL RECORD, and does not mean that he was actually born in a manner different from other men. Unlike the Levites who received their priestly offices through meticulously kept and guarded genealogies, Melchizedek, in his single glorious appearance in the sacred scriptures, flashes upon the holy record absolutely dissociated from everything either preceding or following that remarkable event. Ancestry? As far as the scriptures were concerned, he had none. Descendants? Not a word about any of them. Beginning of life? There was no record of his ever having been born, being an infant, or youth; he appeared in history once only, in royal, priestly dignity, with not even a hint of how any of this came to exist. End of days? As far as the scriptural record goes, he could be alive yet. There is no record of his death as there was of Moses, and of Aaron (Numbers 20:22ff); and for all the scriptures say to the contrary, he still stands after all those centuries, in endless glory, a priest of the Most High God, receiving tithes of Abraham, and blessing him. The author of Hebrews, through inspiration, saw that it was by God's purposeful design that the story of Melchizedek had been so deployed upon the sacred page in isolated splendor, and that purpose was to make Melchizedek's priesthood suggest the endless priesthood of Jesus. To be sure, Melchizedek's priesthood only gives an impression of being endless whereas that of Jesus is actually so.

Who was this mysterious Melchizedek? And which Salem had him for king? Lenski noted some of the strange speculations on the identity of Melchizedek as follows:

Rabbi Ismael, about 135 B.C., thought him to be Shem, Noah's son; this opinion has been accepted by Luther and others. Philo ... did not regard Melchizedek as a historical person. Origen thought him to be an angel being. Hierakas, at the end of the third century, made him a temporary incarnation of the Holy Spirit, others a similar incarnation of the Logos.[1]

Of course, these speculations are unconvincing, because there is not a word in the Genesis record to make Melchizedek any less historical than Abraham, Amraphel, Arioch, Chederlaomer, or Tidal. Salem is equally historical, there being at least two such ancient places, either of which could have been the dominion of Melchizedek. Josephus identified it with Jerusalem, saying "They afterward called Salem JERUSALEM."[2] Macknight identified it thus,

According to Jerome, who saith he received his information from some learned Jews, it was the town which was mentioned (Genesis 33:18) as a city of Shechem, and which is spoken of in John 3:23, as near to Aenon, 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 city was Melchizedek's city, rather than Jerusalem, which was situated farther to the south.[3]

The difficulty that makes people seek an unhistorical Melchizedek rises not in the Old Testament, where he plainly is historical, but in the New Testament where the reference to "no father, no mother, no genealogy, no beginning of life or ending of days" is confusing until one sees the divine purpose in so presenting him in the Bible. Lenski saw this as follows:

The sudden way in which the scriptures draw back and close the curtain on Melchizedek is the divine way of making him a type of Jesus, the King-Priest, who like Melchizedek, stands alone and unique in his priesthood and is absolutely distinct from the long Aaronic succession of priests.[4]

Priest of God Most High, one of the titles of Melchizedek, is of the utmost significance to religious thought. This means absolutely that the Jews did not develop, evolve, discover, nor in any sense whatever originate monotheism; for this Melchizedek, who was not a Jew, is in the scriptures positively identified with the Most High God, the same Most High God who put the finger of heavenly light upon him as a type of the Messiah in Psalms 110:4. Polytheism was never able completely to crowd out the worship of the one true and only God; and some residue of that original and true worship was centered in Salem while Melchizedek was priest and king there. Westcott commented thus, "There were traces of a primitive (monotheistic) worship of El in Phoenicia side by side with that of Baal, the center of Phoenician polytheism."[5] The revelation of God regarding Melchizedek devastates the common notion that the Hebrews contributed monotheism to the world, in any sense that they originated the concept of it.

The slaughter of the kings can be softened a bit by making it read "the defeat of the kings"; but there is no need for this. The Bible calls things by their right names; hence, sinners are never referred to as the socially immature, nor the poor as the economically disadvantaged!

And blessed him are words that identify Melchizedek as superior in dignity to the great patriarch of all the Hebrews, even Abraham; and later the author appeals to the truism that the less is blessed of the greater. The greater dignity of Melchizedek is further emphasized by the fact that Abraham recognized his authority and paid tithes to him from all the spoils from his victory.

There are only three short verses in Genesis about Melchizedek, and added to that, a single sentence concerning him in Psalms 110:4, written centuries after Melchizedek lived; and yet there is before us an immense amount of dissertation on this ancient type of Christ. The astonishing fact, seized upon by the writer of Hebrews, is that so long after Abraham and Melchizedek lived, GOD HIMSELF by means of his inspired writer in Psalms 110, should WITH AN OATH make that ancient character a likeness of David's greater Son, the Messiah, indicating very forcefully that, from the beginning, God had purposed to provide what Westcott called "a higher order of divine service than that which was established by the Mosaic Law."[6] The reason for bringing all this up at the time our author wrote is plain, as Lenski said,

The readers, former Jews who were now thinking of returning to Judaism, are here confronted with their great forefather Abraham and are shown how he accepted the royal priest Melchizedek long before Levi and Aaron were born and the Aaronic priesthood came into existence. The readers want to be true sons of Abraham, yea, are thinking of returning to Judaism for that very reason. Well, let them look at Abraham and at the one priest to whom Abraham bowed. Let them consider what God said through David regarding the royal priest and regarding the Messiah-Christ who is typified by Melchizedek.[7]

[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1938), p. 207.

[2] Josephus, Life and Works of, translated by William Whiston (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston), p. 44.

[3] James Macknight, Apostolic Epistles (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1960), p. 537.

[4] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 213.

[5] Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), p. 171.

[6] Ibid., p. 170.

[7] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 208.


Verse 4

Now consider how great this man was, unto whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the chief spoils.

Regarding the tithes that Abraham paid to Melchizedek, Bristol observed that

Not only was the amount determined as one tenth, but the Greek word denotes the quality of the gift, in that it consisted of the best of the plunder. It was the best that was usually offered to the gods in Greek warfare.[8]

The chief spoils is in line with the principle that the best belongs to God. The Jewish sacrifices were commanded to be "without blemish"; and the great king David was motivated by the principle that it would be wrong to offer to God that which cost him nothing (2 Samuel 24:24). The existence of the tithe as it pertains to the worship of God Most High is therefore in this place established as antecedent to Judaism, of which more will be said under Hebrews 7:8.

ENDNOTE:

[8] Lyle O. Bristol, Hebrews, A Commentary (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: The Judson Press, 1967), p. 96.


Verse 5

And they indeed of the sons of Levi that receive the priest's office have commanded to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though these have come out of the loins of Abraham.

Hewitt sheds light on a supposed difficulty arising from the fact that the priests did not take tithes directly from the people, but from the Levites who in turn had taken them from the people; but, as he noted, that is going out of the way to find a difficulty. He wrote,

The usual procedure was for the Levites to take tithes, and the priests took a tithe of that tithe. If the priests took tithes from the people through the Levites, they were in actual fact taking tithes from the people. There is no need therefore to alter PEOPLE ([@laon]) into LEVI (@Leuin) as some have done in order to overcome a supposed difficulty.[9]

The big point in this verse is crystal clear, namely, that the Levites themselves in the person of their distinguished ancestor, Abraham, had themselves paid tithes to Melchizedek, thus making their priesthood inferior to his.

"Loins" is the ancient idiomatic name for the reproductive organs of man, being derived, oddly enough, from "kidneys," since the kidneys were once thought to be involved in reproduction. Milligan summed up the thought regarding the Levites and Melchizedek thus, "Throughout, it is implied Melchizedek was greater than Levi, then "a fortiori" Christ was (greater than Levi), of whom Melchizedek was a partial type."[10]

[9] Thomas Hewitt, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1960), p. 118.

[10] Brooke Foss Westcott, op. cit., p. 179.


Verse 6

But he whose genealogy is not counted from them hath taken tithes of Abraham, and hath blessed him that hath the promises. But without any dispute the less is blessed of the better.

The author here is still pressing the greater dignity of Melchizedek; because, in so doing, it proves the greater dignity of Jesus Christ, of whom, after all, Melchizedek was only a type. The Levites who placed such an inordinate weight of importance upon their extensive genealogies are here shown as paying tithes (in the person of Abraham) to one who was not reckoned after such genealogies, indeed having none at all, so far as the record showed! As Milligan said, "In all this, the transcendent dignity of Melchizedek, as the honored priest of the Most High God, is abundantly manifested.[11] "Without dispute" is similar to an expression of Paul, "without controversy" (1 Timothy 3:16). This is only a way of stating that the truth mentioned is so self-evident, axiomatic, and inherently obvious that it does not need to be proved.

ENDNOTE:

[11] R. Milligan, New Testament Commentary (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), p. 200.


Verse 8

And here men that die receive tithes; but there one, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.

The dying men who received tithes at the time this author wrote were, of course, the Levites, in whose enjoyment of the office there was a continual progression throughout history, as the generations of men rose, faded, and passed away, being succeeded by others. The "one" of whom it is witnessed that he liveth is thought by Westcott and others to be Melchizedek; but the peculiar structure of the words "that he liveth" seems to this expositor sufficient reason for understanding the words as a reference to Christ; for the exact words, "he ever liveth," are spoken of Christ in this very chapter (Hebrews 7:25). However, even allowing the opinions of learned men to be correct, and referring the words to Melchizedek, they would still apply to Christ, of whom Melchizedek was typical; and, therefore, we do not hesitate to make this passage a basis for advocating the practice of tithing among Christians.

CONCERNING TITHES

We have already seen that, prior to Judaism, tithing was an established custom with reference to the worship of God and that the custom was honored by no less a person than the patriarchal head of the whole Hebrew nation; but more than this, Abraham is typically the patriarch of Christians as well. Are not all Christian's "Abraham's seed"? (Galatians 3:29). Then what king of children of Abraham are those who vow they have no duty to pay tithes?

The well-known story of Jacob and his pledge of a tenth of all that he had to God should be understood as a promise on Jacob's part to honor a duty already in existence, well known to him by reason of the tithes his grandfather Abraham had paid to Melchizedek, and in all likelihood widely understood as a religious duty toward God by all worshipers of God Most High. On that night when Jacob left his father's house and saw the vision of the ladder from earth to heaven, he set up a pillar, anointed it, and promised to give a tenth of all he had to God (Genesis 28:22); but there is not anything in that passage that would suggest that Jacob invented the tithe. It existed long before Jacob, and his was a vow to honor an existing obligation, long before determined as belonging to God. Members of the Restoration churches have long resisted any thought that tithing is a Christian obligation; but in this they are surely misled, being influenced, doubtless, by the notoriously inadequate teaching of Alexander Campbell on that particular point. The illustrious Alexander Campbell was one of the richest men in the state of Virginia, and a president of the United States traveled across the wilderness to spend the night with him. As a mighty teacher of the word of God, Campbell had no peer in the nineteenth century; but the simple truth is that Campbell did not see the need for Christians to give of their means, and there is no emphasis on that subject in his works. It is not in Campbell's works, then, that we may get any light on this question, but in the word of Jesus Christ who dogmatically affirmed that unless the righteousness of his followers should "exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). Now the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, of which Jesus said the righteousness of Christians should exceed it, certainly included the giving of tithes, a fact acknowledged approvingly by Christ who said,

Ye tithe mint, anise, and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy and faith; but THESE YE OUGHT TO HAVE DONE, and not to have left the others undone (Matthew 23:23).

Nor is it proper to believe that giving "merely" a tithe (tenth) fully discharges a Christian's obligation in this area of duty. A Christian's duty in many instances doubtless exceeds a tithe.

The views of this writer have not always been so positive on this phase of the doctrine of Christ; but passing years and further studies of the word of God, together with an observation of what Christians themselves do and say regarding the virtue of giving, have led inexorably to the conviction expressed above. That there are exceptions, unusual cases, and perhaps outright exemptions pertaining to certain individuals suffering under special hardships or unusual circumstances, it is freely admitted. There is no intention or even any disposition to pass judgment on others regarding this duty. If men cannot perform the duty, God will excuse them; but no preacher of the word of God has the right to excuse men on God's behalf. It is the widespread practice of teaching that "we don't have to do this!" which is rejected here. As the years pass, and as God's work languishes and becomes even impoverished, and when it is considered that a neglect of the duty of giving is an obvious reason for it, one is more and more aware of the contradiction implicit in the obligation of the ancient Jew to give a tenth, and the feeling of many Christians that they are free to give far less than that. Just why should a Christian be expected to give less than Jacob gave?

"There (in heaven) he (Christ) receiveth tithes!" (Hebrews 7:8); and this cannot be unless his disciples give them. Application of these words to Melchizedek, the type and not the antitype is a distinction without a difference; it would not have been mentioned here except for its bearing on the duty of Christians; and the words stand. The only disclaimer that this writer wishes to record here is that he does not wish to thrust this view dogmatically upon any other Christian. It is freely acknowledged that many differ with this view; but it is prayerfully hoped that others will allow this sincere expression of a viewpoint which the writer for many years has accepted as binding upon himself, and also that others will come to accept it for themselves, and come to know the joy of complying with it. More is said in the New Testament on the subject of giving than is said of faith or baptism, or the Lord's Supper; and the need of Christians to heed the word of God regarding giving is urgent and extensive.


Verse 9

And so to say, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes; for he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him.

These verses are the end of the third division of our outline of Hebrews, because with the next verse the subject of the covenant is introduced; but the subject matter of this remarkable book is so interwoven, unified, and interrelated that it defies any elementary classification; therefore, such divisions as people set up are, in reality, merely matters of convenience to students.

The words "and so to say" should not be construed as softening or compromising the statement that follows. Lenski informs that some commentators have made just such a mistake and warns against it in these words:

This common phrase (although found only here in the New Testament) = "to use the right word," "to use a strong expression," (or "to speak out freely"). Any one of these meanings is fitting, for this is exactly what the writer does when he says that Levi was still in the loins of Abraham when Abraham paid the tenth to Melchizedek; he uses the proper expression.[12]

For notes on "loins" see under Hebrews 7:5. The burden of the argument in this place is simply that the priesthood of Melchizedek (and therefore of Christ) is greater than the Levitical priesthood; and the proof offered is that the whole Hebrew nation, including of course the Levites, in the person of Abraham, were tithed by Melchizedek whose priesthood has actually never ended. It should be noted that the purpose of the author is to glorify Christ, not Melchizedek. His argument for the continuity of Melchizedek's priesthood is not that it is an eternal priesthood that was merely extended to Christ; but that it was, by reason of two amazing facts, typical of the truly eternal priesthood of Christ. Those two facts supporting the eternal implication of Melchizedek's priesthood, to the extent of its being typical of an eternal priesthood in Christ, are: (1) the scriptures reveal no end of discontinuation of it, and (2) many centuries after Melchizedek's time, God spoke of Melchizedek's priesthood as a reality in Psalms 110:4. Since it is shown that Christ is a priest forever "after the order of Melchizedek," the superiority of the antitype over the type is evident. For this reason, the superiority of Melchizedek over the Levites, since it was merely typical, is extended and enhanced in Christ.

To be sure, there have sometimes been voiced strong objections against the view that anything done by an ancestor, like Abraham, could have been binding upon his descendants; and yet the whole human race is bound, jeopardized, and committed through the conduct of its common ancestor, Adam (Romans 5:12ff). However people might scoff and sneer at such a thing, the principle of "federal representation," as it is sometimes called, stands, not only from the foundation of the world, but in the countless affairs of men, corporations, and governments all over the world until this day. As Milligan said,

Individuals, corporations, and governments are every day making arrangements, signing pledges, and sealing documents which involve largely the interests and fortunes of others as well as of themselves.[13]

When Edward VII of England renounced his throne, the abdication not only bound him but any posterity that he might have had afterward. The fact, therefore, of Abraham's taking a tithe of the chief spoils and paying them to Melchizedek, priest of God Most High, clearly made any priesthood developed through the descendants of Abraham to be subordinate to that of Melchizedek. Even more significantly, the Aaronic and Levitical system of priests was not confirmed with an oath on the part of God; but God did swear with an oath that the Messiah should be a priest "forever after the order of Melchizedek" (Psalms 110:4); and that oath, or the announcement of it, coming so many centuries after the Levitical system had been in operation, is proof of the most convincing nature that the priesthood of Melchizedek had not expired but was endless, else God would not have spoken of it so long afterward.

[12] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 220.

[13] R. Milligan, op. cit., p. 203.


Verse 11

DIVISION IV

(Hebrews 7:11-8:13)

CHRIST IS THE SURETY OF A BETTER COVENANT

Now if there was perfection through the Levitical priesthood (for under it hath the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should arise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be reckoned after the order of Aaron? (Hebrews 7:11)

The introduction of Aaron's name at this point, connecting it with the Levitical priesthood, is for the purpose of showing that, as far as this argument is concerned, there is no difference between them. It cannot be argued, therefore, that Aaron's priesthood was essentially any different from that of the Levitical priesthood. Still in the mind of the author was that astounding declaration of God in Psalms 110:4, in which the Messiah was revealed as coming not through the Levitical and Aaronic order, but through that of Melchizedek! This divine revelation, centuries after the system of Levi and Aaron had been operative, shows that God never did intend or plan that perfection could come through that system. If he had so planned or intended, what was the use of a Messiah arising after the order of a totally different priesthood?

It cannot escape the attention that this preoccupation on the part of the author with the interest and concern of his readers in the Levitical priesthood plainly shows that they were Jews by birth, had become Christians, and then were in danger of embracing Judaism. If the intended readers had been Gentiles, there could never have been the slightest notion that any of them ever imagined that perfection was through the Jewish priesthood.

Perfection is incidentally revealed here as the purpose of all mediation between God and human beings, such perfection being of a kind that would permit people to draw near unto God, as will be revealed further a little later in this epistle. As a matter of fact, the Levitical priesthood was designed, not to permit people to draw near to God, but to keep them at a distance, and to emphasize their unworthiness, by reason of sin, to draw near to God, such design being evident in the sacred areas of the tabernacle that the people could not enter, and in the most sacred area which not even the priests could enter, but only the high priest; and even he could do so only on one day in the year. As Bruce expressed it,

The Aaronic priesthood was neither designed nor competent to inaugurate the age of fulfillment; that age must be marked by the rise of another priest, whose priesthood was of a different order and character from that of Aaron.[14]

"For if there had been a law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would have been of the law" (Galatians 3:21).

Of the greatest importance in this verse is the parenthesis: ("for under it hath the people received the law"). This is mentioned to prepare the readers for the tremendous implications of the change of the priesthood. Not merely the priesthood is changed to a new order, but EVERYTHING, even all, of which that priesthood was the foundation and support. Hewitt called that priesthood which was changed "the pillar upon which the Mosaic system rests," and concluded that "with its fall is included the whole constitution, not merely the ceremonial."[15] Milligan likewise said, "It was in fact the foundation of the Old Economy, and the whole Law of Moses stood and fell with it."[16] Some commentators disagree, believing that only the ceremonial or priestly laws were abrogated. Lenski, for example, said, "What law is referred to is evident; it is not the whole Mosaic law but the laws that pertain to the priesthood."[17] Whatever the intent of this particular verse there can be no doubt that the entire system of Moses fell with the change of the priesthood, even the Decalogue. Christ himself gave the verdict in this in the Sermon on the Mount, in which, time and again, he enumerated one after another of the Ten Commandments, using the formula, "Ye have heard it said by them of old time ... but I say unto you." (See Matthew 5:21-22,27-28,33-34.) Revolting as the thought seems to many, the Decalogue itself has been taken out of the way, nailed to the cross, and superseded by the teachings of Christ. In fact, a major part of the Sermon on the Mount is given over to an analysis of specific commandments in the Decalogue, setting them aside as originally given, and REAFFIRMING THEM in a much more comprehensive frame of reference. To understand this as saying that "Since the Decalogue has now been taken out of the way, people are free to commit adultery and murder" is ridiculous. Any careful reading of Christ's words will show that quite the contrary is true. He did replace the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," for example, with another, but it is far more strict and binding than the one in Moses' law. Christ did not merely prohibit murder but forbade any thought of depreciation toward a fellow human being. Christ said,

Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say unto his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire (Matthew 5:22).

Now, let a man answer if this is any different from the Decalogue, and if different, is it more strict or not? And thus it is with most of the commandments in the Decalogue. Not only are people forbidden to commit adultery, murder, etc., but guilt is imputed where there is the desire or intention of doing such things, and even where there are present emotions, attitudes, and desires which are antecedent to such sins. An exception of this re-affirmation and extension of the commandments is the fourth commandment, relative to the sabbath. It was never extended by Christ and is therefore not binding on the community of Christ's followers; hence, Christians have never been required to observe the sabbath day. In fact, it may be emphatically affirmed that sabbatarianism and other errors have sprung from a failure to see that in the change of the priesthood there was also a change of the whole system of which the priesthood was the foundation.

[14] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 144.

[15] Thomas Hewitt, op. cit., p. 120.

[16] R. Milligan, op. cit., p. 204.

[17] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 224.


Verse 12

For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.

The law which is here said to be changed cannot be amended to read, "the ceremonial law" or "the priestly law." It has to stand for everything of which the Levitical system was the center and support, namely, the whole Hebrew system of religion. To make the law that was changed apply only to the ceremonies, sacrifices, lustral rites, typical services, etc., without making it apply to the MORAL COMMANDMENTS, the breaking of which required those very offerings, sacrifices, and ceremonies is illogical. ALL OF THE LAW was therefore changed to conform utterly to the will of that great Messiah-Priest-King whose priesthood superseded that of Aaron and the Levites. The undeniable fact that certain principles of the Mosaic Law were brought over into the new covenant, refined, extended, and perfected, is no problem, because even such commandments as required the love of God (Decalogue I) or the love of neighbor (Decalogue X) derive their authority for Christians, not from the Decalogue at all, but from Christ who is prior to the Decalogue and above it, and whose priesthood is of an order older even than Abraham (to say nothing of Moses, Aaron, and the Levites), namely, the order of Melchizedek. Thus in the case of commandments I and X in the Decalogue, the change of the law did not result in the amelioration or diminution of their force, but did result in the shift of their authority to a higher level, that of Christ the Son, as being superior to that of a servant, as was Moses, and in their being redefined on a nobler and higher plane.


Verse 13

For he of whom these things are said belongeth to another tribe, from which no man hath given attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord hath sprung out of Judah; as to which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priests.

Here is another emphasis upon the extraordinary change involved in the establishment of the high priesthood of Christ, in that he came from a tribe hitherto absolutely excluded from any participation in such an office. The author's mention of Judah and the statement that it was "evident" Christ came from the tribe shows that the readers were familiar with the genealogy of Jesus, a genealogy stressed by Christians from the first, and doubtless also by the Pharisees, who would have used it to "prove" Christ could not be a priest! Both Matthew and Luke traced the ancestry of Jesus back through Judah; and the Christian designation of our Lord as "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Revelation 5:5) came from the information thus given.

Belongeth to another tribe does not give the full weight of the meaning, as a glance at the English Revised Version (1885) margin will show. The Greek has "hath partaken of" and shows that it was of Christ's initiative and volition that he was born of the tribe of Judah, a thing that could not possibly be said of a mere human being. The same thought occurs in Hebrews 2:4. As to WHY Jesus elected to be born of the tribe of Judah, it is perfectly evident that he did so because of the prophecies, notably Genesis 49:8-12.

Hath sprung out of is usually seen as an allusion to the springing up of plants, the same figure appearing in Isaiah 11:1; but it is possible that here is imagery comparing the rising of the Messiah to the rising of the sun (Malachi 4:2), or to the rising of a star (Numbers 24:17; 2 Peter 1:19). Also, the dramatic and challenging nature of his sudden appearance is indicated.


Verse 15

And what we say is yet more abundantly evident, if after the likeness of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest.

Milligan summarizes the various views of scholars as to just what is "more abundantly evident," as follows:

(1) The distinction between the Levitical priesthood and that of the New Testament (Chrysostom); (2) the fact that our Lord sprang out of Judah (Ebrard); (3) that the Law of Moses is abrogated (Alford); (4) that perfection was not attainable through the Levitical priesthood (Delitzsch); and (5) that a change of the priesthood involves of necessity a change of the law (Tholuck).[18]

Surely, where there are so many learned opinions, one may not be afraid to risk his own judgment. The big thought under consideration here is the abrogation of the entire Hebrew system of religion, which has already been observed under Hebrews 7:11-12 (which see); and the argument, to paraphrase it, is this: (1) it is evident that with the rising of a new and greater priest, not out of Levi but out of Judah, the law was abrogated; (2) but it is "far more evident" that the law was abrogated, when it is considered that the great new high priest is, in addition to being from an unlawful tribe (Judah) as far as the priesthood was concerned, also from an utterly new and different order, that of Melchizedek. Thus, the words "far more evident" stand as the author's evaluation of the two supporting premises for his conclusion that the law was changed, making the latter of the two stronger. The author then reverts to the comparison between Melchizedek and Christ for the further purpose of stressing Christ's superiority and the temporary nature of the law.

ENDNOTE:

[18] R. Milligan, op. cit., p. 205.


Verse 16

Who hath been made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life; for it is witnessed of him, Thou art a priest forever After the order of Melchizedek.

The Levitical priests were made after the law of a carnal commandment, being subject to sin and death like all others, nor was there in them any special excellence of character. Contrasted with their appointment is that of Christ which was after the power of an endless life, and that combined with the utmost excellence and perfection of character. The shade of meaning implied by "carnal commandment" seems to be accurately stressed by Bruce who said,

The law which established the Aaronic priesthood is called a carnal commandment because it is a system of earth-bound rules; it is concerned with the externalities of religion - the physical descent of priests, a material shrine, animal sacrifices, and so forth.[19]

In this place, the author of Hebrews focuses on a certain word in the great prophecy of Psalms 110:4, to which so much attention has already been directed, and that word is "forever." Thus, he introduces the description "endless life" or "indissoluble life" (English Revised Version margin). But how is it that Christ is a priest "forever"? In exactly the same way that Melchizedek's priesthood was forever, namely, in the sense that there is no record of either the beginning or the ending of it. Melchizedek's priesthood was not said to have begun on such and such a date at this or that place in some formal ceremony; just so, in the Holy Scriptures, people are not allowed to see either the beginning or the ending of Christ's priesthood. Milligan rightly discerned this, saying,

The precise time when he (Christ) was fully invested with the royal and sacerdotal honors and prerogatives of the new dispensation IS NOT KNOWN TO MORTALS.[20]

Furthermore, it is the same with the end of his priesthood when he shall deliver up to the Father the kingdom and all that pertains to it (1 Corinthians 15:24ff); but when is that? No man knows. Again, from Milligan, "But that epoch, like the beginning of his administration, is concealed from the eyes of mortals."[21] Amazingly, therefore, the great Antitype conforms in this unlikeliest particular of all to the type Melchizedek, in that his priesthood has no beginning or ending, but is truly "forever."

In all that has been said relative to the abrogation of the Law of Moses and the fact that it made nothing perfect and did not provide true forgiveness, it should not be doubted that worthy and faithful persons of the Old Testament did enjoy peace of conscience, a sense of forgiveness, and a feeling of unity and identity with the purpose of God, as witness such words as "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity" (Psalms 32:1ff) and "It is good for me to draw near unto God" (Psalms 73:28). How were they able to have such convictions? Exactly as we do, that is, by faith; the difference being this, that in their case it was faith in what God would do, and in our case, faith in what God has done. This does not vitiate the fact that no sin was ever truly and finally forgiven except at Calvary. From Hebrews 7:11 to this place, the author's text has been Psalms 110:4, and appropriately he now quotes it again, as he will do another time in Hebrews 7:21.

[19] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 148.

[20] R. Milligan, op. cit., p. 207.

[21] Ibid., p. 208.


Verse 18

For there is a disannulling of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness.

This turns attention to the very nature of the Levitical system of which that priesthood was the support and center. It was not of caprice that God annulled the old covenant, for it deserved to be annulled because of its weakness and unprofitableness. God had never considered the Levitical system to be complete, final or efficacious in itself; but "it was added because of transgression, until the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made") Galatians 3:19). The law expired, therefore, by limitation, when Jesus was revealed as that "seed" so long anticipated. The weakness and unprofitableness of that foregoing commandment refers to the whole system of Moses; and Macknight explained the weakness of it thus,

The weakness of the law in reforming sinners arose from this, that while it required perfect obedience to all its precepts under penalty of death, it gave the Israelites no encouragement to obey, either by promising them the assistance of God's Spirit to enable them to obey, nor by giving them assurance of pardon upon their repentance in case of failure. The only source from which the Israelites derived their hope of these things was the covenant with Abraham.[22]

In connection with the allegation by some that "the law" here spoken of as "annulled" or the commandment said here to be abrogated was merely the "ceremonial" of Moses' law, it should be pointed out that the weakness and unprofitableness of that system were lodged more in the moral than in the ceremonial element of it. The efficiency and strength of that law, as far as providing and regulating a priesthood are concerned, were absolutely superlative. Paul said that "If there had been a law given that could make alive, verily righteousness would have been of the law" (Galatians 3:21). In those words Paul plainly indicated that the law went as far as it was possible for any law to go toward making people righteous; and yet it left them dead; and therefore, the weakness and unprofitableness of it have to be sought in the very portion of it called the moral law, and principally there. And why weak? Because it dealt with overt actions, rather than inward desire. When Jesus was said by Paul to have taken the "handwriting of ordinances" out of the way, nailing it to the cross, thus making a show of them openly, "triumphing over them in it," of what could he have been speaking if not the moral law, along with all the rest of it, and particularly of the very Decalogue itself?. Certainly not of the rules and specifications bearing upon the commissioning of Levitical priests. And how did Jesus triumph over them openly in it (the Decalogue)? - by showing that people could keep the letter of it and still be guilty and impure in heart. All efforts, then, to restrict the weakness and unprofitableness, here mentioned, to the ceremonial structure of the Mosaic system must be rejected as foreign to the teachings of the scriptures. In this connection, please see under Hebrews 7:11, and also Matthew 5 where the triumph of the Lord over the Pharisees in the Decalogue is dramatically documented.

ENDNOTE:

[22] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 539.


Verse 19

(For the law made nothing perfect), and the bringing in thereupon of a better hope, through which we draw nigh unto God.

Not once in this whole epistle is there the slightest suggestion of a meaning for the expression "the law" that would distinguish it from the law of Moses in general. The great failure of that law was that it could not motivate and inspire people to righteous living, nor reassure and forgive them when they failed, nor provide the Holy Spirit as a comforter within them, nor spell out the nature of the inheritance above, in any manner comparable to the availability of such blessings in the new covenant. Above everything else, it failed to enable people to draw near to God; and, as Bruce accurately observed, "The whole apparatus of worship associated with that ritual and priesthood was calculated rather to keep people at a distance from God than to bring them near."[23] Bruce, of course, as many others, limits the failure of the law to that portion of it associated with that "ritual and priesthood"; but the moral code was just as helpless as the ritual to bring people near to God. Again reference is made to those magnificent portions of the Sermon on the Mount in which the Saviour dealt with this very thing (Matthew 5:21,27,33).

DRAWING NEAR TO GOD

Not only is it a fact that people may draw near to God, they are commanded to do so (James 4:8). (1) The initiative for such action rests with people; and the importance of this is seen in almost anything from a tennis match to a naval battle, where the initiative determines victory or defeat. It is man's move, not God's. See Matthew 11:29,30; John 7:37; Mark 16:15,16, etc. There is nothing else that God could be expected to do, other than what he has already done to save people. The propitiation has been provided (Romans 3:24,25); and all people are invited to participate in the salvation thus made possible; "Whosoever will may come!" (Revelation 22:17). (2) There are great advantages that come from drawing near to god; for, when people draw near to God, he draws near to them, a phenomenon that is true even in the natural world, where the reciprocal pull of gravity is conversely the square of the intervening distances between heavenly bodies in space. (3) The procedure necessary to be followed by them that would draw near to God is more fully outlined under Hebrews 10:19-22.

ENDNOTE:

[23] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 149.


Verse 20

And inasmuch as it is not without the taking of an oath (for they indeed have been made priests without an oath; but he with an oath by him that saith of him, The Lord sware, and will not repent himself, Thou art a priest forever); by so much also hath Jesus become the surety of a better covenant.

The author still focuses on Psalms 110:4, shifting the emphasis to another strategic clause in it, "and will not repent," an expression not particularly noted until here. Milligan's exegesis on this is priceless. He said,

When God is said to repent, the meaning is that he simply wills a change; and when it is said that he will not repent, it means that HE WILL NEVER WILL A CHANGE (emphasis mine). And consequently, there is nothing beyond the priesthood of Christ to which it will ever give place, as a means of accomplishing God's benevolent purposes in the redemption of mankind.[24]

God, therefore, will never set aside the priesthood of Christ, as he did that of the Levites, the proof of this being that they were made priests without an oath of God, whereas Christ was made a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, with an oath of God, and with the further promise that God will never repent of it, that is, never change Christ's priesthood as he did that of the Levites.

How is Jesus the surety of a better covenant? The entire gospel of his glorious life, together with all that he did and is doing, constitutes that surety. By his enduring the cross, rising from the dead, ascending on high, sitting down upon the very throne of God, and interceding for the redeemed - by these and many other things, Christ is the surety of the absolute truth and dependability of all that Christians have received concerning the new covenant and its inherent blessings. A similar thought is expressed in Acts 17:31, where it is related that God has given assurance unto all people in that he has raised Christ from the dead.

A comparison of the KJV and RSV texts on this place shows that "covenant" replaces "testament" in the later version. Perhaps covenant is the better word, but actually no word is capable of giving the full and total meaning of that system by which God will effect the redemption of humanity. As Milligan noted, even the word "covenant" has this objection, that it seems to imply some equality between the parties thereunto, which of course is not the case. No long discussion of the word "covenant" will be attempted here, but a few observations may be helpful. The best understanding of it lies in the fact that it is a "new" covenant, contrasting with the old covenant, and leading to the deduction that, as the totality of the Hebrew system, its laws, shadows, types, and ritual, was all summed up in the words "old covenant," then, in the same manner, "the new covenant" applies to all of the gospel with its ordinances, institutions, warnings, promises, hopes, and benefits, and which gospel exceeds and goes beyond the old covenant. The two covenants are alike in that both were given of God and bear upon the same invariable purpose of human redemption.

ENDNOTE:

[24] R. Milligan, op. cit., p. 210.


Verse 23

And they indeed have been made priests many in number, because that by death they are hindered from continuing; but he, because he abideth forever, hath his priesthood unchangeable. Wherefore also he is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

The most obvious weakness of the Levitical system is seen in the mortality of them who ascended to the office of high priest under its regulations. Each in turn could serve only so long as he lived; and when death overtook him, he was succeeded by another. Aaron was a great high priest, but there came the day when Moses took him and his son Eleazar to the summit of Mount Hor and there stripped Aaron of his priestly regalia and bestowed it upon his son; and, in time, Eleazar was also stripped, and Phinehas received the office; as so on and on, until in the time of Christ, when Joseph Caiphas was high priest (A.D. 26-35), he was the sixty-seventh in the line of Aaron who had held the office. Upon the fall of Jerusalem, in A.D. 70, Phannias became the last of the Jewish high priests, being the 81st, and suggesting that, since the number 81 is the sacred number THREE, squared and squared again, the fullness of God's intention for that whole system was at last achieved in Phannias.

Implicit also in such a changeable priesthood, due to death, was its ineffectiveness. Beloved associations and emotions associated with one holder of the office did not pertain to his successor. Even elementary righteousness was lacking in many of them. Evil and corrupt men occupied even the office of the high priest and changed the very house of God into a "den of thieves and robbers" in the time of our Lord's ministry. Due to human nature and the imperfections of the system, there were many occasions of grief and sorrow associated with it. When poor Hannah with her heartbroken prayers might have expected the encouragement of Eli, the high priest, she received instead his castigation along with an imputation of drunkenness (1 Samuel 1:14); how many other such scandalous examples of unfeeling incompetence of the high priests there must have been, only God knows.

How different it is with Christ, our High Priest. He never dies but lives forever at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens; he is perfect, sinless, and undefiled; and, through his human experience, he is one who can feel, understand, and sympathize with mortals who have fallen through temptation and sin. Also, Christ is shown here to be actively engaged in heaven itself on behalf of Christians, interceding for them and able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him. The ground of this argument is that Christ lives forever and is able without limitation to redeem and help his worshipers, and that there shall never be the slightest interruption or abatement of his marvelous power. His intercession is coupled with infinite love and understanding of human sins and weakness, since it is grounded upon the Saviour's personal testing through his human experience. The fact is that Jesus felt, even more overwhelmingly than men, the power of temptation, as explained by Westcott, who said,

Sympathy with temptation does not require the experience of sin. On the contrary, his sympathy will be fullest who has known the extremest power of temptation because he has conquered. He who yields to temptation has not known its uttermost force.[25]

Regarding Christ's intercession, Bruce warned,

He is not to be thought of as an orant, standing before the Father with outstretched arms, like the figure in the mosaics of the catacombs, and with strong cryings and tears pleading our cause in the presence of a reluctant God; but as a throned King-Priest asking what he will from a Father who always hears and grant his requests.[26]

To the uttermost, as applied to the salvation Christ bestows, means "completely" (English Revised Version margin), which may be extended to mean that Christ saves from the guilt of sin, now, and from the presence, power, and penalty of sin in heaven.

[25] Brooke Foss Westcott, op. cit., p. 193.

[26] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 155.


Verse 26

For such a high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.

Here is the ultimate superiority of Christ, his sinless and perfect character; all the other arguments are true, but this is the climax. The use of the words "became us" is a reference to our human sense of what is fitting and appropriate and indicates that, even from a human point of view, Christ is not lacking in any quality that is either needed or desirable in his incomparable office as our high priest. "Separated from sinners" means that Christ is no longer vexed by the presence of evil men; he has ascended where they cannot go. The Levitical priest dwelt apart in a separate house for a week prior to the day of atonement; and there may be a reference here to the fact that Christ is separated from sinners, not for merely a week but for all eternity. Christ will confront sinners only once more on the great and dreadful day of judgment when the two classes of sinners, embracing all mankind, shall appear before him for the assignment of their respective destinies.

Made higher than the heavens is interesting because of its difference from the expression in Mark 16:19, where it is said that Jesus was received "up into heaven," and from that in Ephesians 4:1, where it affirmed that Christ ascended "far above all heavens." There could be no difference in the places to which it is said that Jesus has gone. They are one. "Into heaven" means into the presence of God; and "far above all heavens" means far above and beyond all the limitations of sense.


Verse 27

Who needed not daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for their own sins, and then for the sins of the people; for this he did once for all, when he offered up himself.

Some commentators see a difficulty in this verse because of its reference to the priest's daily offering for his own sins, whereas it appears that this was done only by the high priest on the day of atonement. Some have even dared to ascribe ignorance to the author of Hebrews; but as Lenski says,

These critics do not have much ground to stand on, for it can readily be observed that the writer says "once a year" (Hebrews 9:7), "year by year" (Hebrews 10:1); and that he knows Leviticus 16:2 ("not at all times"), and Leviticus 16:29, and also has "once a year" (Leviticus 16:34).[27]

It should be noted that this is a comparison between Christ who "daily" intercedes with us, coupled with the hypothetical implication that "if" he had been sinful, he would therefore have had to offer "daily" for his own sins and the sins of others; but, since he is not sinful, he "needeth not daily" to offer, etc. To have done so would have made him like those priests, which he is not. Another possible explanation of the meaning is that the daily sacrifices of the Levitical system was as much founded on the constant, daily sins of the Levites as it was on the sins of the people; and, in that view, every sacrifice, day by day, was made with a view to the sins of the Levites, and then for the sins of all the people as well. These were needed every day because the people sinned every day, the priests being no exception.

Those multiple daily sacrifices are here contrasted with the sacrifice offered by Christ, which was not for his sins but for the sins of others; and which was not offered repeatedly at daily, yearly, or other intervals, but "once for all," finally, and forever. Another difference is seen in the place of the offering, theirs being in an earthly temple, Christ's being in heaven itself. Significantly, Christ's blood was shed on earth but offered in heaven, thus fulfilling the type of the lamb's being slain in the outer court and his blood being offered within the holy of holies.

Once for all is the translation of the Greek word [@hapax] which means "once, without need or possibility of repetition." It means "once, finally." This word is of immense significance and is used in several key statements in the New Testament. (1) Christ has been manifested in human form once for all (Hebrews 9:26). (2) He suffered for man's sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, once for all (1 Peter 3:18). (3) Christ died once for all (Hebrews 9:28). (4) The faith was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:1:3). (5) Christ offered his blood in heaven once for all (Hebrews 9:12,26). (6) It is appointed unto man to die once for all (Hebrews 9:27). (7) Once for all God will shake the earth and the heavens, that is, remove them (Hebrews 12:27).

In the verse at hand, the finality and completeness of Christ's offering his blood in heaven for people is contrasted with the repeated daily sacrifices of the Levitical priests. The doctrinal import of this is extremely important, because here is the sure authority for rejecting any such things as a sacrifice of the mass, or the sacrifice of anything else that a human worshiper might have to offer. Not any gift that people have or might acquire could avail; nor can people offer the blood of Christ (what a presumption!), seeing that Christ himself has already done so "once for all," and that in a place where alone it could do any good, and where none can enter except Christ, that is, in heaven.

ENDNOTE:

[27] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 244.


Verse 28

For the law appointeth men high priests, having infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was after the law, appointed a Son, perfected forevermore.

It is still paramount in the author's mind that the oath by which God swore to bring in a Messiah Priest after the order of Melchizedek came such a long, long time after the law had been in operation; thus he reiterates here, "which was after the law." It is the vast implications of this which he has just been discussing at such length. The verse is a recapitulation of what had already been said - that the Levitical priests were weak, mortal, sinful people; but that the Son of God, the glorious priest forever after the order of Melchizedek is perfected forevermore.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Hebrews 7:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/hebrews-7.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.


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the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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