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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

May 16, 2012

Hebrews 7:1-4

Notes taken from excerpts of works from Russ Kelley, PHD

I.    It was essential for the writer of Hebrews to convince the church in Jerusalem that their current earthly city of Jerusalem with its temple, high priesthood, sacrifices and support structure were no longer a necessary part of God’s plan for the church! They must immediately break away from their immature faith in, and mistaken dependence upon, the city of Jerusalem, the temple and the high priesthood. Otherwise, when all of these soon disappeared, within a few years at most, their spiritual lives would suffer severe devastation. In order to break this connection, the Jewish Christians must stop going to the temple for festivals, vows and sacrifices. They must also immediately stop accepting the Levitical high priesthood as legitimate and stop paying tithes to support the system. The careful wording of the letter of Hebrews was necessary because of the inaccurate theology of the Jewish Christians. Again, since they still accepted the legitimacy of the Jewish temple and priesthood, they must have also continued to pay their law-commanded tithes to it. Thus tithing plays an important part in the dismantling of the Jewish priesthood in Hebrews, chapter 7. Jesus Christ is presented in the Letter to the Hebrews as the answer to all of their imminent problems. “In Christ” the believer has a better country, a better city, a better sanctuary, a better high priesthood, a better priesthood, better sacrifices and-consequently, a better financial support system! The better country, city and sanctuary are heavenly for the church. The better high priest is Christ. The better priests are all believers (not pastor-teachers). The better sacrifices from believers are those of praise and thanksgiving. The better financial system is grace giving motivated by love instead of fear and law. Only by understanding these truths could the Jewish Christian survive the culture shock which occurred after A.D. 70.

II.    Verse l. "Historically" speaking, Melchizedek was the "king of Salem" (considered by most commentators to be Jerusalem) approximately 2000-1970 B.C. However, the writer of Hebrews uses Melchizedek “typically,” not “historically." The phrase the Most High God (El Elyon and its Aramaic equivalent) was a common non-Hebrew title for one of the "gods" who occupied the high place or the highest place. The most important revelation of Genesis 14 is that the Canaanite concept of the "Most High God" was, in reality, the LORD (Yahweh) the Most High God. The Gentiles had not been given the revelation of his Name but were cognizant of his Divinity. Perhaps the writer of Hebrews was inspired to use the Gentile version of the title (rather than Abraham’s) in order to strengthen the argument that God, and Christ’s royal high priesthood, are not exclusively Hebrew, which required knowing the name "Yahweh" as a qualifier. This difference is lost by many when reading this text.

III.    Verses 2. After rescuing Lot and recovering the goods stolen from the region around Sodom, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils of war (also verse 5). "First of all," Melchizedek’s historical identity was "being by interpretation" only, but not in reality. In Hebrew, “melchi” means “king,” “zedek,” means “righteousness,” and “salem,” evolved to mean “peace.” Therefore Melchizedek was, typically, by interpreting his name, the ‘“King of Righteousness" and also the “King of Peace.” Both of these titles are appropriate for the Messiah in the Old Testament. Historically speaking, though, Melchizedek was not actually “the” King of Righteousness or “the” King of Peace (that is, Christ); he was only that person “typically,” “by interpretation.” The article "the" before the title is absent in the Greek. It is also recorded that Abraham gave a tenth "of all" to Melchizedek. Verse 4 limits this to the “spoils of war.” Actually, according to Genesis 14, Abraham kept absolutely nothing from these spoils of war. Except for what his personal army had consumed, the rest was freely returned to its owners in Sodom and Gomorrah through the king of Sodom. God had blessed Abraham so that he required nothing else. Neither did he want to give the king of Sodom an opportunity to brag that he had made Abraham rich.

IV.    Verse 3. Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without descent.“ Historically, these facts disqualified him as a Hebrew priest. Also, in the ancient world, this term could merely mean the parents were “obscure,” “of no importance,” or even “slaves.” To an Israelite, one who applied to serve as a priest and had Gentile parents or wife was considered to be “without father, and without mother.” Both Ezra 2:6l-62 and Nehemiah 7:63-64 record that some claiming to be priests were not “reckoned by genealogy” because they had become “polluted” and were “put from the priesthood.” No records identify Melchizedek’s father, his mother, or any ancestors. Because of this lack of genealogy, the Israelites would never have accepted the historical Melchizedek as either king or priest. “Having neither beginning of days, nor end of life“ must be understood “as a type,” but not literally. Why? Because Melchizedek was not Jesus Christ living in the flesh before his virgin birth. Jesus DID have family trees in both his deity and humanity! As God, he always existed. As the God-man, he often declared that the Father sent him. As the Son of David, his physical genealogy is recorded in Matthew and Luke. There is no doubt concerning the descent, or genealogy, of Jesus Christ. Therefore, legally (through the law), Jesus Christ would never have been accepted as high priest without Aaronic credentials. HOWEVER, “as a type,“ these non-credentials of Melchizedek actually make him eternal, and not limited to death as was Aaron’s priesthood, and spiritually superior to the law and its qualifications. “Made like the Son of God.” The historical Melchizedek was not THE Son of God, but was “made LIKE the Son of God.” His name, title, and lack of genealogy all make him into a type of Christ—not his person! Christ is “after the order of,” “like” (v. 3), or “after the similitude” or of Melchizedek (v. 15). The Christ-event, not Melchizedek’s rule as priest-king, is the time when God took on flesh and personally lived among his created beings. We MUST realize the difference between the “historical” Melchizedek of Genesis 14, and the “type” “prophetic” Melchizedek of Psalm 110 and Hebrews 7. “Out of Egypt I have called my Son” “historically” means “national Israel,” but “as a type” and “prophetically” it means Jesus Christ (Hos. 11:1 cf. Matt. 2:15). First, the “historical” Melchizedek appeared in Genesis 14. Second, Melchizedek appeared “prophetically” when David mentioned him in Psalm 110 almost a thousand years later. And, third, Hebrews 7 uses him both “prophetically” and “typically.” This is important! "Negative” features about Melchizedek are actually reversed to become “positive” features of Christ in Psalm 110 and Hebrews 5-7. Negatively, Melchizedek most likely only worshiped the Gentile concept of a god called “El Elyon, God Most High.” He did not know God as “Yahweh, the LORD,” the, God of Abraham’s household. Also negatively, his family record did not exist. Without a proven genealogy, he would never qualify later under the Old Covenant, either as a Levitical priest, or as a legitimate king from one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The genealogies of Genesis do not link him to Abraham, Noah, nor anybody else! Psalm 110 and Hebrews use Melchizedek’s “negatives” as “positives.” Whereas, the LORD (Yahweh) was the exclusive covenant God of Abraham and Old Covenant Israel, in the New Covenant, God expanded special knowledge of himself beyond national Israel. When God reached out as "God Most High"’ to all nations, Melchizedek’s unrecorded family tree is used to illustrate that Christ was eternal, pre-existed his incarnation, and was superior to the law.

V.    Verse 7:4 With “now consider“ the author of Hebrews begins laying the groundwork for his crucial declaration in verse 18 that the entire Levitical system of worship, including its high priesthood and tithing, has been “set aside,” or “disannulled.” “Now consider” begins a presentation of four evidences which prove to the Hebrew mind that Melchizedek’s priesthood replaced that of Aaron. This list of evidences is found in verses 4-10 and the conclusions begin in verse 11. It is important to note that the “tithe” is a vital part of every evidence used! Melchizedek was greater than the Levitical priests because Abraham “gave a tenth of the choicest spoils” to him. While Abraham’s pre-law tithe was the first mention of tithing before the law began, this chapter in Hebrews is the only mention of tithing after the law ended at Calvary. In Hebrews 7, tithing is merely used as a means of understanding Melchizedek, both before and after the Mosaic Law. As seen in Genesis 14, Abraham acknowledged Melchizedek’s authority when he gave the expected tithe-tax of the spoils of war. Melchizedek’s rule may have reached to Mamre and Hebron where Abraham lived. Since it is evident that no Mosaic Law of tithing existed, Abraham was following long-established Semitic Canaanite custom recognized by most commentaries in their discussion of Genesis 14:21. He was paying a mandatory tribute to his Semitic king.

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