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Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 7:4-10

4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! 5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers,[a] though these also are descended from Abraham.6 But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

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Last week’s post offered a lengthy explanation of the importance of Melchizedek and his universal priesthood, not only to Abraham but to us today.

Melchizedek’s priesthood pre-dated that of the Jewish people. Abraham, at that point, had not yet received God’s promises to him, but this encounter with Melchizedek began their fulfilment.

The unknown author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was in the beginning points of his dissertation on Melchizedek being a higher priest than those of Jews, as his priesthood was for all who feared God. The author developed this argument, point by point, weighing heavily on the notion of universal priesthood. Melchizedek was a ‘type’ of Christ, yet not Christ himself. Christ, however, fulfilled God’s will of becoming the great and eternal High Priest for all — including Gentiles.

Furthermore, Melchizedek was also the ‘king of peace’ (Hebrews 7:2), because he was from Salem (which means ‘peace’, probably Jerusalem). Christ is the Prince of Peace: yesterday, today and forever.

We will see how this dissertation on Melchizedek develops in the coming weeks.

John MacArthur summarises the Holy Spirit’s reasoning as follows (emphases mine below):

Now, in this argument, the Holy Spirit shows that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham because He wants to show that he was greater than Aaron and Levi. Now, the point being that Abraham was better than Aaron and Levi. Therefore, if Melchizedek was better than Abraham, he was also better than Aaron and Levi. If he’s better than Aaron and Levi, he’s the mediator of a better covenant, and you ought to turn from Judaism and come to Christ. Do you see the argument?

Last week’s verses covered Abraham’s one-off tithe to Melchizedek: one-tenth of his spoils in battle with a neighbouring king. Those were not cast-offs, either, but the very best of the spoils.

Melchizedek blessed Abraham (verse 6), the man to whom God made promises that continue to be fulfilled today through descendants of Jew and Gentile alike. Abraham is our father in faith.

Considering that Abraham made a tithe to Melchizedek and received his blessing, undoubtedly, Abraham was the inferior of the two men (verse 7).

Matthew Henry says that it was Melchizedek’s:

place and privilege to bless Abraham; and it is an uncontested maxim that the less is blessed of the greater, Hebrews 7:7. He who gives the blessing is greater than he who receives it;

Therefore, in comparing Christ and Melchizedek in their universal priesthood, we can conclude that Christ is superior to the Jewish priests:

and therefore Christ, the antitype of Melchisedec, the meriter and Mediator of all blessings to the children of men, must be greater than all the priests of the order of Aaron.

The author states that in verse 8, as John MacArthur explains the ongoing priesthood in the order of Melchizedek. Even though Melchizedek died, the universal order of priesthood continues and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns forever:

Look at verse 8, “And here men that die receive tithes” – you know, Melchizedek was of an eternal priesthood in the type; Christ is an eternal Priest, and if we tithe to priests that die, “but where he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.” In other words, to be able to exact tithes in a dying kind of priesthood is one thing; how much greater Melchizedek had no death. And so, Jesus Christ is a Priest who is alive forever more. “He receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed He liveth.”

And so, He is a greater priest because He’s a living priest; not a dying one. All men are dying men. The idea that it says in verse 8, “Here men that die” is the – the Greek is “here dying men receive tithes, but this is one who is alive forever more.”

Verses 9 and 10 are interesting, because the author of Hebrews posits that, figuratively, even the Jewish priests paid tithes to Melchizedek through their ancestor Abraham. Therefore, Melchizedek was greater than the Jewish priests. And if Jesus is greater than Melchizedek, it was time for the audience, the Hebrews, to believe that Christ is the eternal Great High Priest.

MacArthur breaks down the Jewish thinking for us:

And then comes this interesting argument in verse 9, “And as I may say” – in other words, he kid of apologizes for the strangeness of the argument; nevertheless it’s valid – “And as I may say so, “Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him.” The only one argument that would be left would be this: a Jew would say, “Now wait a minute. Now let me think this thing through. Melchizedek, yes, Abraham paid him tithes, but Abraham was no priest. Right? Therefore, the Levites were priests, and maybe they were greater than Abraham. And maybe if Abraham had been a priest, he wouldn’t have done that, and maybe the Levites wouldn’t have done it.”

And so He says, “Levi also, who receives tithes, paid them in the loins of Abraham.” Now, this is an interesting argument, and you’ve got to understand the Jewish mind. The Jews viewed heredity in a realistic manner. Levi was in the loins of Abraham since he was to descend from Abraham. When Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, it was as if the entire Levitical priesthood had acknowledged his superiority. And so, that answers the last objection.

Melchizedek, then, is better than Aaron. Now this is a powerful point to the Jewish mind. And in a sense I apologize to you and to me even, because without a Jewish frame of reference, this is difficult for us to understand. But Melchizedek was of a better priesthood. Jesus came after the order of Melchizedek.

Even though Genesis 14:18-20 is the one primary mention of Melchizedek, it had to appear in Scripture to show that a) there were men of God among the Gentiles and b) that Jesus would fulfil a pattern of priesthood that God established through Melchizedek. If that example of universal priesthood were not in Scripture, the Jews would have rejected any arguments about it:

Don’t you see that He couldn’t just invent a new priesthood without a historical precedent or they wouldn’t have bought it?

The argument for the superiority of this universal priesthood unfolds further next week.

In the meantime, Hebrews has many answers to the question, ‘What makes Jesus and Christianity so special?’ We can learn much from what was written to the early Jewish converts.

Next time — Hebrews 7:11-14

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