Lesson 20

The Epistle to the Hebrews

World English Bible translation

 Today's Scripture

7:4 Now consider how great this man was, to whom even Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth out of the best spoils. 7:5 They indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brothers, though these have come out of the loins of Abraham, 7:6 but he whose genealogy is not counted from them has taken tithes of Abraham, and has blessed him who has the promises. 7:7 But without any dispute the less is blessed by the better. 7:8 Here people who die receive tithes, but there one receives tithes of whom it is testified that he lives. 7:9 So to say, through Abraham even Levi, who receives tithes, has paid tithes, 7:10 for he was yet in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

Today's Lesson  

The Epistle to the Hebrews began with the idea that the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth was greater than the prophets were and even greater than the angels. To which of the angels did God say, "Sit on my right hand until I make your enemies the footstool under your feet?" Jesus is the radiance of God's glory and the image of God's substance. Having atoned for our sins by the sacrifice of His life, He sat down and became a high priest for God's people. There He lives to intercede for those that God has called. He has become for us a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.


Now in the last lesson we examined the story of Melchizedek and drew out several interesting points. Melchizedek was both king and priest. He was, at least as far as the written record is concerned, without beginning or end. When he came forward to greet Abraham, he shared bread and wine. He accepted a tenth of all of the spoils of war from Abraham and left him with a blessing, saying,

"Blessed be Abraham by God Most High,
The Creator of heaven and earth.
Blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into
your hand."


This story informs us that Melchizedek was a great man of high status. Abraham received the blessing from Melchizedek and, "without any dispute the less is blessed by the better." Melchizedek is one without lineage and without the end of the grave. His priesthood continues through sacred text without end.


Now, to understand the thrust of the argument of Today's Scripture one must understand a very basic point of Jewish thought. To the Jews of this time, the descendants of a man are present with him in his own body. With this reasoning Paul, in Romans, could argue that all of mankind was in Adam when Adam sinned. In the same way, the author of Hebrews reasons that Levi, the grandson of Abraham, was present in Abraham when he paid tithes to Melchizedek. From this line of reasoning it is clear that a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek is superior to a priesthood after the order of Levi.


At Sinai, God established and codified that the tribe of Levi would hold no land when they entered into the Promised Land. They would receive their inheritance from a tithe that was given by all of the other tribes. This would allow them to devote their time and their lives to God instead of to growing crops and rearing cattle. All of the sons of Levi in their turn received the tithe of all of the other brothers. And yet all of the sons of Levi died.


But Melchizedek received a tithe from all of Israel through Abraham their father. He even received a tithe from Levi who was present in Abraham. And Melchizedek was never said to have died. His priesthood goes on forever. By these two lines of reasoning it is clear that the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to that of the Levitical priesthood.


This reasoning seems difficult for our modern minds to follow, but just imagine what it must have meant to its original audience. To people considering a return to Judaism, such logic must have seemed very convincing. If it is accepted that Christ is the one whom the psalmist prophesied when he wrote, "You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek," then how could they return to a lesser priesthood? A lesser priesthood assuredly meant a lesser covenant. How could they turn from the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek to the lesser one of Levi?


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