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, 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. 7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. 8 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. 9 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. – Hebrews 7:4-10 (ESV)
In the previous post in this series, we explained that Melchizedek is likely a “type” of Christ – something that points out to others the work of Jesus. If this is the case, he is being used by the writer of Hebrews to point out the special work of Christ as our High Priest.
The Hebrew audience would obviously know the significance of a priest and they would likely know how he became one and what he did once appointed. The writer of Hebrews is using Melchizedek to highlight the differences between a regular priest and Jesus, our High Priest. Let’s walk through these verses and try to understand what the writer is explaining.
(v. 4) “See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!” – In the first three verses of chapter seven, the writer is explaining who Melchizedek is based on what we are told in Genesis 14. He sums this up by pointing out how “great” Melchizedek was, and also notes that “Abraham the patriarch gave” a tithe to this man. There would obviously be some significance in someone other than a Levitical priest receiving a tithe.
(v. 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, though these also are descended from Abraham.” – Here, the writer explains the normal course for paying and receiving tithes. In this verse, he notes:
- Levitical priests have a “commandment” to receive tithes;
- Levitical priests “take tithes from the people,” i.e. “their brothers”; and
- Levitical priests and their brothers are all descended from Abraham.
(v. 6) “But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.” – Unlike as noted in verse 5, the tithe paid by Abraham and received by Melchizedek did not follow the same pattern. There is no explicit command to pay tithes to Melchizedek, he wasn’t their “brother,” (or he wasn’t equal or the same as them) and he didn’t descend from Abraham.
(v. 7) “It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. “ – The writer is using this simple statement to make a logical argument that will be furthered in the verses that follow.
(v. 8) “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.” – Obviously, the Levites were mortals and they were receiving tithes from their brothers, other mortals. In verse 7:3, Melchizedek is described as,
“He is without father or mother tor genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.”
The “neither beginning of days nor end of life” wording is very interesting, but what we know best is that Melchizedek was a priest without the same Levitical requirements for appointment and time of service. Melchizedek was “a priest forever.” And this helps make the point that Jesus is also a priest without a term that expires, He is “a priest forever.”
(v. 9-10) “One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.” – This is pointing out, again, the superiority of Melchizedek and his role compared to a Levitical priest. This passage argues that Levi, who was a descendent of Abraham, was effectively making tithes with Abraham. As verse 7:7 notes, “the inferior is bless by the superior.” This is an acknowledgement that the Levitical priests are inferior to Melchizedek – and to Jesus Christ in His role as High priest.