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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Hebrews 7

 

 

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Verse 1

B. FULL UNFOLDING OF THE HIGH PRIESTHOOD, Hebrews 7:1 to Hebrews 10:18.

I. IT IS NOT LOCAL AND TRANSIENT, LIKE THE AARONIC, BUT UNIVERSAL AND PERPETUAL, LIKE THE MELCHIZEDEKIAN, Hebrews 7:1-28.

1. For—Connecting with Hebrews 5:10, after the intervening digression. See last note above. About this Melchizedek more puerile speculation has been written, extending from Hierax to Alford, than has been expended upon any human character in Scripture. Whenever we see an essay headed, “Who was Melchizedek?” we promptly direct our attention elsewhere. By successive speculators in different ages he has been conjectured to be the Holy Spirit; one of the δυναμεις, or powers of God; the Logos; an angel; an ante-mundane man, created, not out of matter, but spirit; Enoch descended from heaven; Shem, Job, a great Unknown. Our opinion is, that Melchizedek was nobody but himself; himself as simply narrated in Genesis 14:18-20; in which narrative both David, in Psalms 110, and our author after him, find every point they specify in making him a king-priest, typical of the king-priesthood of Christ. Yet it is not in the person of Melchizedek alone, but in the grouping, also, of circumstances around and in his person, that the inspired imagination of the psalmist finds the shadowing points. Melchizedek, in Genesis, suddenly appears upon the historic stage, without antecedents or consequents. He is a king-priest not of Judaism, but of Gentilism universally. He appears an unlineal priest, without father, mother, or pedigree. He is preceded and succeeded by an everlasting silence, so as to present neither beginning nor end of life. And he is, as an historic picture, forever there divinely suspended, the very image of a perpetual king-priest. It is thus not in his actual unknown reality, but in the Scripture presentation, that the group of shadowings appears. It is by optical truth only, not by corporeal facts, that he becomes a picture, and with his surroundings a visible tableau, into which the psalmist first reads the conception of an adumbration of the eternal priesthood of the Messiah; and all our author does is to develop the particulars which are in mass presupposed by the psalmist.

King of Salem—The celebrated Jewish traveller, Joseph Wolfe, “no mean authority on such a subject,” is quoted by Mr. Grove, in Smith’s Biblical Dictionary, as expressing the belief that Salem, signifying peace, is here not the name of a place but a part of Melchizedek’s title. Mr. Wolfe had as a friend a sheik in the kingdom of Khiva, whose name was Abder-Rahman, signifying “Slave of the merciful God.” He is also called Shahe-Adaalat, “King of Righteousness,” the same as the Hebrew Melchizedek. “And when he makes peace between the kings he bears the title, ‘Shahe-Soolkh,’ king of peace, in Hebrew, Melek-Salem.” But the best ancient Jewish authorities, the Targums and Josephus, agree that Salem here is an ancient name of Jerusalem. There are other Salems mentioned as competitors for this honour, but their claims are very slender. Wordsworth endeavours to identify Salem with Shechem, which was, indeed, a most memorable spot in patriarchal times, but he only shows a Salem near Shechem, yet not Shechem itself. Abraham was, at the time of meeting Melchizedek, returning from the region of Damascus to his home at Mamre, or Hebron, and would pass in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. In Psalms 76:2, “In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion,” unquestionably gives the name of Salem to Jerusalem. This same Jerusalem, where dwelt the Hebrews to whom this epistle was addressed, was the dwelling-place of the type of our great High Priest, as afterward the chosen “dwelling-place” of Jehovah. Our Hebrews are on the spot, and can look back through the Antitype to his primeval type, the primitive “King of righteousness” and “peace.” Wordsworth, indeed, objects that Jerusalem, being the special locality of the Hebrew theocracy, was not the proper place for a universal representative priest; but that is forgetting that Jerusalem was then not Hebrew but Gentile. As king of Salem, Melchizedek was, doubtless, an Amorite prince, and a descendant of Ham. Abraham was a lonely Shemite, who had but lately come into the country, a brother, yet a foreigner; a brave sheik with a goodly band of followers, and a predicted progenitor of a great people; but as yet he was entirely inferior to a settled king in the land, like Melchizedek.

Priest of the most high God—A dignitary of high rank; both king and priest, worshipping the true God with acceptable rites before the apostasy of Ham had, in this region, established idolatry.

Blessed him—The Shemite immigrant rejoiced in the benediction of the Amorite pontiff. He had well earned the benediction by his heroic expulsion of the invaders out of Palestine.

Priest… God—In a tribe not yet apostate.

Most high—Says Philo, “The Logos, who is shadowed forth by Melchizedek, is ‘Priest of the Most High;’ not as though there were other gods not most high, for God is as the One in heaven above, and in the earth beneath, and there is none besides him.”


Verse 2

2. Tenth part of all—That is, of all the spoils he had taken. The tithes were, no doubt, a confession by Abraham of the priestly character of Melchizedek, offered as by a layman. It is a marked proof of the authenticity of this narrative that the father of Hebraism is described as doing sacred homage to the Hamite.

By interpretation—That is, interpretation of his name Melchizedek, which signifies, in Hebrew, king of righteousness.

After that—For righteousness precedes peace, as, without it, there can be no real peace.


Verse 3

3. Without descent—Without place in any priestly genealogical table, and so without father, without mother, as a priest, showing his unlikeness to, and superiority over, the Aaronic priest, and his likeness to Christ. The want of priestly genealogy, which is his unlikeness to the Jewish priests, is his likeness to Christ; who, being of the tribe of Judah, was, as to the priestly record, without father, without mother. Personally and humanly, Jesus had a mother, the blessed Virgin.

Neither beginning… nor end— Some one has said, that when an infant dies it remains to the parent an infant forever. It never grows old, but is ever the same image of infancy. And so the image of this king-priest, as seen in the divine tableau, is not born, and never dies. The Aaronic priests are successively dying. A genealogical successor pushes his predecessor out of office and out of life. This priest has no genealogical successor or predecessor. He is thus the image of perpetuity, the type of the permanent priesthood of our Christ.

Made like unto—The group of traits are seen to frame an image and likeness in shadow of the Son of God.

Abideth a priest continually— One thousand years after this king-priest lived, the inspired psalmist contemplated the tableau, and there beheld him still, a priest forever. One thousand years later our writer looked, and there was the same, a priest forever; shadowy and only conceptual, indeed, yet the definite shadow of our great High Priest. Alford objects, that language so strong as “neither beginning of days nor end of life,” is unsatisfactorily accounted for by the birth and life not being mentioned; he even styles this exposition “childish;” and he thinks there must be some mysterious literal fulfilment which he admits to be above explanation. But why are the name-types of Hebrews 7:2 any less “childish?” We do not, wisely, require that the type should be a literal, but a shadowy, representation of its object. And, inevitably, any fulfilment, as demanded by Alford, would require two literal eternal high priests, which is entirely inadmissible. He further objects, that to make a transient appearance on the stage typical, would require us to make a type of Hobab, for instance. The reply is, that no such isolated trait could possess any typical significance. There must be a full assemblage of traits to form a definite typical image. The question may be raised, Whence did this grouping of shadowy traits into a significant image arise? Was it purposed by Providence in shaping the existence of the facts so as to form a type? Or did inspiration in Genesis purposely so narrate the facts? Or did the inspired imagination of the psalmist, seeing the facts as incidentally narrated, group them into form? These questions, interesting as they are, we leave a beautiful and sacred mystery. But we may note that in Genesis the passage of the tableau stands in a striking isolation. If a primitive pair of scissors had cut the passage out, we should not miss it, and should never imagine what a gem we had lost. We may easily concede, therefore, that it is placed and modelled there for this typical purpose.

THE PARALLEL SUPERIORITIES OF MELCHIZEDEK AND CHRIST OVER AARON MAY BE REPRESENTED BY THE FOLLOWING TABULATION:—

Melchizedek.

Aaron.

Christ.

A priest-king.

Priest only.

Priest-king.

King of righteousness—of peace.

———

King of righteousness—of peace.

Universal.

Limited to Hebraism.

Universal.

Unlineal.

Lineal.

Unlineal.

Without beginning or end.

Beginning and ending.

Without beginning or end.

Without priestly ancestry or descent

With father and mother.

Without priestly parentage.

But this superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham is not literal. The former has no such real importance as the latter in human history. His superiority is solely within the tableau. As indicated by blessing and tithes, it is theocratic; and so forms basis for a typical superiority. That is, Melchizedek is superior to Abraham only as a type of Christ. It is, therefore, good only for our author’s argument.


Verse 4

4. Patriarch—Derived from patria, a tribe or lineal house or family, and arche, origin, founder. Abraham was the acknowledged founder of the Hebrew race. Hence great must Melchizedek be if greater than he.

Tenth—Even among patriarchal peoples the custom of tithes, that is, of devoting one tenth of an income to religious purposes, had existence. Abraham performed sacrifices, and is called a prophet, but nowhere a priest.

Spoils—The spolia opima, or chief and best spoils, selected for the leaders in the war.

According to our analysis, in 5-28 our writer makes six successive points showing how great the typical superiority of the Melchizedekian priesthood was over the Aaronic, the consequent permanence of the former as antityped in Christ, and its transcendency over the latter.


Verse 5

5. They… of the sons of Levi—Especially Aaron’s line, to whom, within the tribe of Levi, the priesthood was limited.

Receive—By descent recorded in the genealogical table.

A commandment—A special ordinance according to, and forming part of, the general law. Take tithes… of their brethren, of all Israelites.

Though—Exalting the Levites as tithing sons of Abraham, in order to exalt Melchizedek still higher. The Levites, indeed, tithe the Israelites, though Abraham’s sons; but Melchizedek, far greater, tithed Abraham himself.


Verses 5-7

5-7. First point. The lineal Levites tithe the people—even though descendants of Abraham; but unlineal Melchizedek tithed and conferred blessing on Abraham himself.


Verse 6

6. Descent is not countedUnlineal Melchizedek, in contrast with lineal Levites.

Received tithes—As being pontiff, treating Abraham himself as Levites treat ordinary sons of Abraham.

Blessed him—As a pontiff blesses his spiritual subjects.

Promises—Note on Hebrews 6:12. This type of the Messiah is therein superior to the progenitor of Messiah.


Verse 7

7. Less… of the better—That is, in sacerdotal blessing, where the performer is assumed to stand as agent of God himself. Abraham, in accepting the blessing, therein acknowledged himself the inferior of Melchizedek.


Verse 8

8. Point second. Here, under Mosaic law, the priests that tithe are only lifelong; there, under patriarchal law, there is a perpetual priest.

Here—Under the law of Moses. Those who receive tithes are men that die; and so their priesthood is but life-long. The priest dies with the man, and a new priest succeeds.

But there—In Genesis and in Psalms 110.

Witnessed—By the testimony of the inspired psalmist.

He liveth—This priest “never dies,” as truly as the king “never dies,” though for a different reason. The king, conceptually, never dies, because he lives in his successor; this priest, conceptually, never dies, because he stands forever without a successor. Alford objects that the die of the Levitical priest is personal, and, therefore, the never die of Melchizedek must be personal, and so he must be, mysteriously but literally, still living. But the die of the priest was not only personal but official; the priest died with the man. And it is the official death at the personal death that is here the point.


Verse 9

9. May so say—Indicating that he must be understood to speak, not literally nor physically, but conceptually. Levi had no literal existence with or in Abraham. He could not be, literally, responsible for Abraham’s act, nor chargeable with any crime of his. Notes on Romans 5:12, and Ephesians 2:3. Yet, by the natural law of descent, the founder of a race usually fixes the condition and rank of the race. Aaron and all his descendants acknowledged their inferiority to their great founder, Abraham. And hence, when Abraham performed this act, so typical of the future, he humbled all his race, save one, before this priest forever. That one was Christ, who had no Abrahamic father, and whose divine descent placed him above the Abrahamic line.


Verse 9-10

9, 10. Point third. Levi himself, in the loins of Abraham, conceptually paid tithes to Melchizedek, and so Melchizedek is superior to the whole Aaronic line.


Verse 11

11. If the Levitical priesthood was not defective, what need of another order, as predicted by the psalmist?


Verses 11-19

11-19. Point fourth. The declaration of the psalmist, affirming another order of priesthood than the Levitical: also a change of the law of descent, and showing that one order, the Levitical, is transient, and the other, Melchizedekian, is supreme and permanent.


Verse 12

12. A change of the priesthood so predicted necessitated a change also of the law of succession, limiting it no longer to the tribe of Levi.


Verse 13

13. And this accords with fact.

For he—Christ.

These things—In the psalmist.

Another tribe—Than Levi.

No man… altar—Discharged priestly functions.


Verse 15

15. And it—The transfer of the priesthood from Levi.

For—The reason that, according to the psalmist, there is a new order.


Verse 16

16. A carnal—Or fleshly; that is, feeble and transitory, as all flesh is: in antithesis with endless. The only vitality of the former priesthood was the force of a positive but transient enactment; but the vitality animating the new priesthood is the power of an endless, immortal, life. Immortal life is in the priest, in his priesthood, and in all who are redeemed by its power.

Endless—Literally, indissoluble life, not to be dissolved or fused away into space or ether.


Verse 17

17. He—The psalmist, or the Spirit that inspired him.

Testifieth—Upon the testimony of this psalm our author grounds himself by repeated quotations as impregnably sustaining all his positions. This testimony involves in itself all the particulars he evolves from it. It is the middle point between him and the Melchizedekian passage in Genesis.


Verse 18

18. The commandment—Which established the Aaronic priesthood.

Weakness—Incapacity in itself to complete our pardon and salvation.


Verse 19

19. Law made nothing perfect—Explaining the weakness of the previous verse. The law, without the efficacy of Christ’s atonement, only shadowed pardon and life, but could not effectuate them.

A better hope—Based upon the expiation shadowed by the old ritual, but accomplished by the real sacrifice on the cross.

We draw nigh—Through a real high priest and mediator.


Verse 20

20. Not without an oath—Christ’s high priesthood, as the highest and surest inauguration, the oath of God. Note on Hebrews 6:13.


Verses 20-22

20-22. Point fifth. The high priesthood forever was inaugurated by an oath, the Levitical not.


Verse 21

21. Without an oath—By Moses, through God’s direction, with no oath of permanence.

The Lord sware—Our author, by inspired authority, reads into these words a perpetuity, an eternity, more fixed than any ritual.


Verse 22

22. By so much—By the measure of the unmeasurable veracity of God.

Better testament—Covenant or dispensation.


Verse 23

23. Many priests… by… death—Poor mortals, alas! can send a line of life through centuries only by a succession of living and dying men.


Verses 23-28

23-28. Point sixth. An undying priest and priesthood, able to save to the uttermost, is just suitable for us sinners.


Verse 24

24. This man—Extends his own line of unbroken individual life through ages, into and throughout eternity.


Verse 25

25. Wherefore—By his unchanging, undying priesthood.

Able also to save—Through his ever-availing expiation.

To the uttermost—To the fullest completion.

Them… that come—The solemn condition of this salvation. The very uttermost does not reach those who refuse to come. Nay, the fuller the salvation the deeper the damnation.

Ever liveth— Though he died he still lives.

Intercession—By ever presenting the merits of his sacrifice. Note on Romans 8:24.


Verse 26

26. Such a high priest became us—Is he not, in the power of his sacrifice and the perpetuity of his intercession, just the high priest we human sinners need?

Holy… sinners—A beautiful delineation of the sinlessness of Jesus, an ideal so perfectly maintained throughout the New Testament.

It was an ideal above the powers of the writers or of the age to fabricate. It was impressed upon the mind of the Church, in the fulness of its beauty, by the living, divine Reality himself. Thus perfect it became him to be, as our ultimate model; but here, especially, it is commemorated as the condition of the perfectness of his expiation, as shown next verse.

Higher than the heavens—Note on Ephesians 4:10. However perfect his human character, it would not avail could he not appear in heaven for us.


Verse 27

27. First for his own sins—Sinlessness is the necessary condition of a perfect atonement. One sinner cannot efficiently die for another sinner; for he deserves that death for his own sin.

Once—And not daily. The Romish pretence that the daily mass is a real sacrifice is here contradicted. The divine victim can never be offered but once.


Verse 28

28. The Mosaic law—In antithesis with the psalmist’s word, or expression of the oath inaugurating the perpetual High Priest. Notes on Hebrews 7:20-21.

Since the law—For the psalm is later than the Pentateuch, and unfolds the later revelation of God’s purposes.

The Son—Of Hebrews 1:1. It stands in antithesis with men… which have infirmity. The divine Son has no infirmity. He is unmarred by sin.

Consecrated—Rather, perfected, absolutely completed, as the Model, Expiator, and Saviour.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Hebrews 7:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/hebrews-7.html. 1874-1909.

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