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JESUS THE HIGH PRIEST AFTER THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.
(1) For this Melchisedec.—The sentence is completed in the last words of Hebrews 7:3, . . . “abideth a priest continually;” the connection with the last chapter, therefore, is very clear. Of Melchizedek we know nothing beyond what we learn from the brief narrative of Genesis 14:0. A Jewish legend, preserved in the later Targums on the Pentateuch, but not in the Targum of Onkelos, identifies him with the patriarch Shem; and many conjectures of a later date (stimulated by the remarkable language of these verses) have been far wilder in their extravagance. It may be that the result of these speculations has been to invest this chapter with a mystery which does not belong to it. The object of the writer is, in reality, very simple—to deal with the question, What is the import of the divine utterance that David’s Lord is a “Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”? Not to take up the history of Melchizedek and allegorise each part, but to point out the full meaning of the comparison made in the prophecy, which declares the priesthood of the future King to be “after the order of Melchizedek—i.e., to be such as the priesthood of Melchizedek typically set forth. The first part of this sentence (Hebrews 7:1-2, as far as “. . . tenth part of all”) enumerates the known facts of the history of Melchizedek; the following clauses are occupied with the interpretation of the history, and with inferences from it. Of the facts recorded in Genesis none are passed over, except the gift of bread and wine; the blessing also is mentioned in general terms only. The language of the LXX. is, as a rule, closely followed throughout.
King of Salem.—Jewish tradition affirms strongly that this Salem occupied the site on which Jerusalem afterwards stood; and certainly Salem is a poetic name of Jerusalem (Psalms 76:2). This tradition, found in Josephus and in the earliest of the Targums, agrees well with the circumstances of the narrative as far as we can follow them, and seems to deserve acceptance. Jerome maintained that Salem was situated near Scythopolis, where in his day were pointed out ruins of “Melchizedek’s palace.” Another tradition (probably of Samaritan origin) makes Mount Gerizim the place of meeting, in which case the city of Melchizedek would probably be near Shechem.
The most high God.—A title characteristic of the narrative (Genesis 14:18-20; Genesis 14:22). Melchizedek is the first who in Scripture is spoken of as priest, and the name is given without explanation. As in the earliest times this office was held by the head of a family (Job 1:0), it is not remarkable to find a union of regal and sacerdotal functions in the same man.
Returning from the slaughter.—Rather, from the smiting, or defeat. According to the narrative in Genesis the meeting took place “after Abraham had returned” from the defeat of the king; but probably the meaning does not differ from that here given.
(2) Gave a tenth part.—Literally, divided a tenth. This point is fully treated of in Hebrews 7:4-9.
King of righteousness.—Josephus notes the significance of this name: “The first founder of Jerusalem was a chief of the Canaanites, who in our tongue is called Righteous King; for indeed such he was.” Philo also interprets King of Salem as “King of Peace.” The special interest of these titles for the writer lies in the application to Jesus the Messiah. (See Hebrews 1:8-9; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 32:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Zechariah 9:9; Ephesians 2:14.) On this, as obvious to every Christian reader, he does not further dwell.
(3) Without father, without mother, without descent.—The last words, “without descent” (or rather, without genealogy), throw light on the meaning of those which precede. Not because we find no mention of the parents of Melchizedek is he thus spoken of as fatherless and motherless, but because he is suddenly introduced as priest, without any token whatever that he held the office by right of genealogy, the only claim familiar to Hebrew readers. It is not necessary to adduce proof of the care with which inquiry was made into the parentage of the Jewish priests (Nehemiah 7:64): in their marriages they were subject to strict restraints (Leviticus 21:13-14); their statement of pedigree (in which was given the name not of father only, but also of every mother) must be complete, ascending to Aaron, and containing no doubtful link. He who is a priest “like Melchizedek” holds a priesthood that rests on no such rights or claims. The words that follow are of similar character. No commencement and no close of priestly position or function are recorded in the sacred history. As the Scripture is silent as to his reception of the office, so also as to any transmission of it to another. In these respects “made like (as a divinely ordained type) unto the Son of God,” he bears perpetually the character of priest.
There have from the first been many who have been dissatisfied with such an explanation of these remarkable words, and have understood them to ascribe to Melchizedek a mysterious and superhuman existence and character. It has been maintained that he was the Son of God Himself, or the Holy Spirit,—an angel or a Power of God. The last tenet was the distinguishing mark of a sect bearing the name of Melchizedekians in the third century. The feeling that the most startling of the expressions here used must surely be intended to point to more than the silence of Scripture on certain points, is not at all unnatural; but perhaps it is not too much to say that every such difficulty is removed by the consideration that here the writer is simply analysing the thought of the inspired Psalmist. Such an oracle as that of Psalms 110:4 must yield up to him its full significance. The divine words are not to be measured by the meaning which man may at first assign to them. The true import of the prophecy which declared that the future priesthood would bear the likeness of Melchizedek’s can only be known when all the characteristics of that priesthood have been traced. The narrative of Genesis was the basis of the prophecy; all that the history presented was taken up in the Psalm.
(4) How great this man was.—Better, is: the greatness abides, set forth in the words of Scripture. In the rest of the verse (where the best MSS. omit the word “even”) it is well to follow the literal rendering, unto whom Abraham gave a tenth out of the chief spoils—(Abraham) the patriarch. “He gave him tithes of all” (Genesis 14:20), but the tenth was selected from the choicest part of the spoils. “Patriarch” is a word used in the LXX. (in Chronicles only) for the head of a family or chief of a clan. In the New Testament it is used of David in Acts 2:29, and twice in Acts 7:0 of Jacob’s sons.
The next verse deals with the same subject, but under a new aspect. Here the thought is, Melchizedek received tithes even from Abraham the patriarch; there, He has been thus honoured, though no enactment of law invested him with superior rights.
(5) They that are of the sons.—Rather, those of the sons of Levi that receive, &c. There is an apparent difficulty here. The priests, it is urged, did not receive tithes from the people; the tithe was paid to the Levites, and but the tenth part of this tithe fell to the lot of the priests. Two considerations seem entirely to remove this difficulty. (1) The question is not one of emolument, but of position. The authority to exact tithes was in strictness vested in the priests, the supreme guardians of the laws relating to all religious duties and observances, and the Levites were but their assistants. That the priests received for their own use but a part of the tribute paid by the nation is a matter of no moment here. (2) The Levites themselves paid tithes to the priests, who therefore stood alone in receiving tithes but paying none. It is the positive ordinance of the law, and nothing but this, that raises brethren above brethren, and gives to the priest this claim upon men who would otherwise be on an equality with himself through common descent from Abraham.
(6) Whose descent.—Better, whose genealogy (Hebrews 7:3).
Received tithes.—Rather, hath taken tithes of Abraham, and hath blessed him that hath the promises. In Melchizedek we see a man who, though no law gave him pre-eminence, takes tithes of Abraham, and therefore appears in Scripture as holding a position of inherent and acknowledged superiority. This superiority is not dwelt upon, for the same thought will be presented still more strikingly in connection with the blessing (Hebrews 7:8). “Hath taken tithes,” “hath blessed:” here, as in many other passages, the writer refers to facts recorded in Scripture not as belonging to the past, but as they now stand before us in the unchanging and ever present word of God.
(7) And without all contradiction.—Better, but without any dispute. Two parts of the argument are specified in this verse and Hebrews 7:6. Melchizedek has blessed Abraham; but certainly (in every such act of blessing as is here contemplated) it is the less that is blessed by the greater. The conclusion, that Melchizedek in this act appears as Abraham’s superior, it did not seem necessary to express.
(8) “Here,” under the Levitical economy, dying men receive the various tithes. Men enter by birth into a state with which this right is associated, and by death again pass out of it. No special significance, therefore, attaches to the men themselves. “There,” in the history now considered, one (receives tithes) of whom the Scripture simply witnesses that he lives. The narrative of Genesis gives no other basis for his priesthood than the mere fact of his life. What he holds, he holds by personal right.
(9) And as I may so say.—Or, so to speak: an apologetic mode of introducing an expression which might seem strange. In the thought itself there is no real difficulty, if we are careful to take into account the principle which prevailed throughout, that pre-eminence depended upon descent alone. Had Judah possessed an inherent superiority over his brother Levi, the descendants of Judah (in such a system as is here before us) might have claimed the like pre-eminence over the descendants of Levi. “Through Abraham even Levi, who receiveth tithes, hath payed tithes.” The descendants of Abraham cannot but occupy a lower position in presence of one who appears as Abraham’s superior.
(11) The connection of thought may be given thus:—It has been shown that the position of Melchizedek towards Abraham involves of necessity his superiority to Abraham, to Levi also and his descendants, so that “the order of Melchizedek” is altogether different from, and higher than, “the order of Aaron.” This being so, how could this other priesthood take the place of the Levitical if this latter had answered its full purpose?
Perfection.—Literally, the making perfect—the full accomplishment of the essential aim of priesthood, in bringing men “near to God.”
Received.—The better reading is hath received.—The object of this parenthesis is to point out the intimate relation between the Law and the priesthood: “I speak of the Levitical priesthood, for it is on the basis of this that the Law given to the people rests.”
Another priest.—That is (as the Greek implies), a priest of a different kind (Hebrews 7:13; Hebrews 7:15). The question is equivalent to a strong denial: there could be no such need.
(12) This verse connects itself with the parenthesis in Hebrews 7:11. “For if the priesthood is changed there takes place also of necessity a change of law.” It is no light matter to speak of the order of Aaron as set aside: this carries with it a change of law.
(13) In Hebrews 7:11 the “other priest” is spoken of as not connected with Aaron; Hebrews 7:12 is interposed to show the serious significance of such a fact; here the assertion of Hebrews 7:11 is substantiated—not, however, from the words of the Psalm, but from their fulfilment in Jesus.
Pertaineth.—Literally, hath partaken of: the same word is used in Hebrews 2:14, “He also . . . . took part of the same.”
Another tribe, of which no man gave . . .—Better, a different tribe, from which no man hath given attendance at the altar. In comparison with Levi every tribe was not merely “another,” but essentially, in regard to the subject before us, “a different tribe.”
(14) Evident.—That is to say, manifest before the eyes of all.
Sprang.—Better, hath arisen out of Judah. In every other place in the New Testament this word is applied to the rising of the sun, the light, the day-star (2 Peter 1:19), or the clouds (Luke 12:54); and in the prophecies of Numbers 24:17 and Malachi 4:2 the same word is used. On the other hand, the word also denotes the springing up of plants (Isaiah 44:4; Ezekiel 17:6), and a word closely connected with it occurs in the LXX. in the Messianic prophecy of “the Branch” (Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 3:8). The latter meaning seems much more suitable here.
(15, 16) And it is.—That which is “yet far more evident” is the proposition of the preceding verses, viz., the failure of the Levitical priesthood to bring “perfection” (Hebrews 7:11), a failure placed beyond doubt by the change of priesthood (Hebrews 7:13-14). “And what we are speaking of is yet more abundantly evident if after the likeness of Melchizedek there ariseth a different priest, who hath been made (priest) not according to a law of a carnal commandment, but according to power of indissoluble life.” Hitherto, in Hebrews 7:12-14, the thought has rested on what is given up,—viz., the priesthood of Aaron, set aside by the words of prophecy (Psalms 110:4); and so far as these three verses are concerned, nothing more might be intended than the transference of the priesthood to another line of men. Far more striking will the proof appear, when we look on the other side, and observe what is brought in—a priesthood like Melchizedek’s, resting not on mere positive enactment, but assumed by inherent power, by right of “life” (Hebrews 7:8).
(16) A carnal commandment.—Literally (according to the true reading of the Greek), a commandment of flesh: one that is limited to the sphere of man’s nature of flesh. As such, it is bound up with distinctions of race and tribe and family; it is limited by human infirmity and the changes wrought by sickness and death; what it accomplishes is the purifying of the flesh; in its own nature it is temporary, and may be set aside. (See Hebrews 9:10; Hebrews 9:13.) In contrast to the enactment is placed an essential right, possessed by Him of whom Melchizedek was the type: in contrast to all that is temporary and limited is placed an indissoluble life. Because He lives—in virtue of what He is—He is Priest: in virtue of an endless life He is priest for ever.
(17) For he testifieth.—A slight change of reading makes the sense clearer: “For witness is borne to him”—as to this “power” of indissoluble life—in the words of the prophecy itself.
(18, 19) The intimate connection between these two verses is obscured by the ordinary translation. They point out with greater fulness and clearness what is involved in the statement of Hebrews 7:16. “For there is an annulling of a preceding commandment, because of its weakness and unprofitableness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and a bringing in thereupon of a better hope, by which we draw nigh unto God.” (It must be borne in mind throughout that by the “commandment” is meant the ordinance which created the Levitical priesthood, not the Law in general.) That Jesus was not made Priest according to a law of a carnal commandment (Hebrews 7:16) involves the annulling of that commandment; in His becoming Priest according to a power of indissoluble life is involved the introduction of a better hope. This is the general meaning, but each division of the thought is expanded. The appointment of a different priest by the very authority on which the former commandment rested, the divine decree, showed that commandment to be of force no longer: as we have already seen (Hebrews 7:11), this is because the commandment is weak and unprofitable—because the priesthood it creates cannot attain the end of its institution, which is to bring men into fellowship with God. The parenthesis, “for the Law made nothing perfect,” points out that the weakness just spoken of corresponds to that imperfection which confessedly belongs to the earlier dispensation: even the Jew (who would have accounted a change of priestly line impossible) expected perfection only when Messiah should have appeared. When the earlier commandment is annulled, in its place there is brought in a better hope. The “better hope” stands connected with the “better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22) and the “better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). “And by this (better hope) we draw nigh unto God.” The end of the priesthood therefore is attained. (See Hebrews 7:11.) In the Law (Leviticus 10:3) the priests are “those who come nigh unto God,” that is, in the service of the sanctuary: with a nobler meaning this name shall now belong to all God’s people.
(20) This and the next two verses constitute one sentence, the third verse answering to the first, and Hebrews 7:21 being parenthetical. Hitherto no reference has been made to the remarkable opening of Psalms 110:4, so often quoted: these three verses are occupied with the thought of the oath—or rather (for a very uncommon word is used, one that answers well to the importance of the thought) the “swearing of an oath.” This is a further illustration of the words of Hebrews 7:15, “a different priest.”
He was made priest.—Some supplement is needed to give clearness to the English sentence; but one of general meaning, such as “all this was done,” will best answer the purpose.
(21) For those priests.—Rather, For they indeed have been made priests without an oath.
By him that said unto him.—Better, by (or, through) Him that saith of Him. The last five words of the verse are absent from the best authorities: they were not needed for this part of the argument, and are therefore omitted from the quotation. All that has been said in chap. 6 (Hebrews 6:13-18) on confirmation by oath must be brought in here (see Notes on Hebrews 6:16-17): the words of the Psalm are really words of promise, and the “more abundant encouragement” is given us by means of the oath that shall never be reversed.
(22) By so much was Jesus made.—Better, by so much also hath Jesus become surety of a better covenant. The form of the sentence recalls Hebrews 1:4. As the priest whose appointment is confirmed by the oath of God is raised above all former priests, in the same proportion is the covenant of which Jesus is surety higher, better, than the former covenant. For the “better hope” of Hebrews 7:19 we now read “better covenant”; the new idea is not different in substance, but is more definite and clear. The very promise of the “other priest” brought with it a “better hope”; the recollection of the divine oath is fitly succeeded by the mention of a “covenant.”
This is the first occurrence in this Epistle of a very interesting word (diathçkç) which hereafter will occupy an important place in the argument. Throughout the Greek translation of the Old Testament it is used to represent a Hebrew word which is (more than 200 times) rightly rendered covenant in our version; and, like the Hebrew word, it is applied both to mutual agreements between man and man, and to “covenants” or engagements into which God enters in regard to man. In classical writers diathçkç commonly denotes a testament; and hence in the old Latin translation of the Scriptures testamentum became the common rendering of the word. As, however, this rendering is very often found where it is impossible to think of such a meaning as will (for example, in Psalms 83:5, where no one will suppose the Psalmist to say that the enemies of God “have arranged a testament against Him”), it is plain that the Latin testamentum was used with an extended meaning, answering to the wide application of the Greek word. St. Paul’s designation of the Jewish Scriptures as “the Old Covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:14) thus became familiarly known as The Old Testament. In the New Testament the Authorised version more commonly presents the better rendering; but, through the influence of the Latin, testament is retained in several places—viz., in the various accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper; in 2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 3:14; in Revelation 11:19 (“the ark of His testament,” a very strange translation); in the present verse; and especially in the very important passage, Hebrews 9:15-20. There is a very general agreement of opinion that “covenant” must be the true meaning in all passages of the New Testament except the one last mentioned; and even in that place there are strong reasons for retaining the same rendering. (See the Note on Hebrews 9:15.) In this verse, at all events, we cannot doubt that the writer is thinking of a covenant. (See Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 8:8.) Here only is Jesus spoken of as Surety, elsewhere as Mediator (Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:24). As through the Son of Man the covenant becomes established, so in Him it remains secure; the words addressed by God to Him as Priest and King contain the pledge of its validity and permanence.
(23) Were many priests.—Rather, have been made priests many (i.e., in large numbers), because by death they were prevented from continuing. (Comp. Hebrews 7:8, where the thought is somewhat similar.)
(24) But this man.—Better, But He, because He remaineth for ever, hath His priesthood inviolable (or, unchangeable). The former ordinance related to a race, and the individuals were ever passing away; since His life is “indissoluble” (Hebrews 7:16), none can trespass on His right and invade His priesthood. The rendering of the margin, “that passeth not from one to another,” expresses nearly the same thought; but it is very doubtful whether the Greek will bear this meaning.
(25) Wherefore.—Since His priesthood is inviolable, His power of saving is complete. The association of the thought of “salvation” with the priesthood recalls Hebrews 5:9-10; as indeed several points in the later verses of this chapter show that the writer’s thought is resting on the first section of Hebrews 5:0. In His supplication unto God, “who was able to save Him out of death,” He was heard; this was the type—and more than the type (see the Note on Hebrews 5:7)—of the eternal salvation of which He, when made perfect, becomes the Author. The connecting link between the priestly office and “salvation” appears, therefore, to be the prevalent intercession of which this verse speaks—an intercession which implies all that has preceded in His priestly ministration. (See Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:24.)
That come unto God by him.—Better, that approach through Him to God. See Hebrews 10:19-22, where full expression is given to the thought here briefly indicated. He leads and represents His people, and is the medium of their approach to God.
To make intercession for them.—The word occurs in Romans 8:34 in reference to Christ; in Romans 8:27 it is applied to the intercession of the Holy Spirit. The thought meets us in Hebrews 9:24; John 14:16; 1 John 2:2. With the high priest’s confession of the sins of the people on the Day of Atonement was joined fervent intercession on their behalf; this intercession was also symbolised in the offering of the incense.
Hebrews 7:26-28 look back on all that has preceded, since the beginning of the fifth chapter, and prepare the way for the subsequent sections. The type afforded by Melchizedek has yielded its lessons, and to this there is no further reference. The mention of the high priest (Hebrews 6:20, taking up Hebrews 5:10) is resumed. The unique special teaching of Psalms 110:4 was far from bringing out the full significance of the priesthood of Jesus; for the sacred history does not connect Melchizedek with any of the most prominent high-priestly functions, or with any temple or place of ministration. The abrogation of the Levitical priesthood and the infinite elevation of the “other Priest” above those of the order of Aaron have been so clearly set forth that it is possible henceforth to concentrate attention on the types and lessons furnished by the Jewish ritual itself. Hence there is the closest connection (as has been already mentioned) between these verses and Hebrews 5:1-5.
(26) For such an high priest.—Better, For such a one also became us as (our) High Priest. Such a priest as has been portrayed was the High Priest that befitted us—no one less exalted could have met our necessities. The added words carry the description farther still. The thought of high priest immediately brings to mind the annual Day of Atonement, to which belonged the characteristic ministration of the high priest. As we read the following words we cannot doubt their direct reference to the ceremonial observances of that day.
Holy.—Not the word of Hebrews 3:1, but a word seldom used in the New Testament (except in quotations), though of frequent occurrence in the LXX. (as in Deuteronomy 33:8; Psalms 4:3; Psalms 16:10; Psalms 132:9; Psalms 132:16): the idea contained is that of holy purity. The next word may denote either freedom from malice or evil, or freedom from guile (Romans 16:18); the former meaning is more likely here. The three words, denoting personal purity and innocence and freedom from all pollution of sin, present the idea of which the ceremonial purity of the high priest was the type. Seven days before the Day of Atonement the high priest left his house and took up his abode in the Temple, that, thus separated from men and things unclean, he might when the day arrived be found free from all defilement; five washings and ten purifications were required of him on the day itself.
Separate from sinners.—These words may be understood in two ways—as connecting themselves either with what goes before or with the following words. If they extend the idea expressed by “undefined,” they point to the perfect sinlessness of our Lord, who lived amongst sinners and yet was ever separated from their sin—not needing external separation to preserve Him from pollution. If this member is to be joined with the following, it points to the complete severance which now exists: our exalted Lord is for ever removed from a life in the midst of transgressors. The latter view receives some support from Hebrews 9:28, but is on other grounds less probable. With the concluding words comp. Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 8:1; Ephesians 4:10.
(27) This verse carries on the description, presenting what follows from this purity and sinlessness.
As those high priests.—The high priest’s offering up sacrifices first for himself and then for the people constituted a chief part of his duty upon the Day of Atonement. (See Hebrews 5:3.) The annual recurrence of that day is distinctly referred to more than once in this Epistle (see Hebrews 9:25; Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 10:3): hence the words now before us, which seem to imply daily sacrifices thus offered by the high priests, have given rise to much discussion. Neither the morning and evening sacrifices nor the daily meat-offering of the high priest could have been spoken of in the terms here used, which in their natural meaning suit the ritual of the Day of Atonement, and that alone. It is true—and passages of Philo and the Talmud are appositely quoted to illustrate the fact—that, as the high priest was represented by all other priests, their actions were counted as his; but it seems impossible to think that the words have no more significance than this. Either we must take “daily” as equivalent to “day by day” (as the Jews were accustomed to speak of the Day of Atonement as “the day”),—which will give us the meaning, “on each recurrence of this sacred day;” or we must connect the word, not with the Jewish high priests, but with Jesus alone. The order of the Greek would of itself suggest this latter arrangement of the words. If it is correct, the choice of the word “daily” presents but little difficulty. There could be no question of years in regard to the ministration of the Lord Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary; and “daily” was perhaps the most natural word in such a case, when the frequently stated repetition of a sacrifice was the thought to be expressed.
For this he did once.—Rather, once for all. These words and those that follow, “when He offered up Himself,” are best understood as a parenthesis. The truth stated in the former part of the verse, that Jesus needeth not, like the high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then “for those of the people,” finds its explanation in Hebrews 7:28, “For the Law,” &c. But, having introduced the thought of a sacrifice for the sins of the people—a thought not yet expressly mentioned in any part of the Epistle in connection with Jesus, though virtually presented, as we have seen, in many earlier words—the writer will not pass on without the most emphatic statement that such a sacrifice was offered, once for all, in the sacrifice of Himself.
(28) For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity . . .—Better, For the Law appointeth men high priests, (men) having infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was after the Law, appointeth a Son, who hath been perfected for ever. On “the word of the oath” see Hebrews 7:20-21. Coming “after the Law,” it revoked the commandment (Hebrews 7:18), and was not revoked by it. (“A Son,” see Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 5:8. “Perfected,” see Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:10.) We are not to understand that Jesus was first “perfected” and then appointed as High Priest: this would contradict what has just been taught (Hebrews 7:27), for it was as High Priest that He offered the sacrifice of Himself. In these closing words are united the two cardinal predictions of Psalms 2, 110 (comp. Hebrews 5:5-6): Thou art My Son,” “Thou art a Priest for ever.”
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Hebrews 7". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29