Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Analysis Of The Chapter
In Heb 5:10-11, the apostle had introduced the name of Melchizedek, and said that Christ was made an high priest after the same order as he. He added, that he had much to say of him, but that they were not in a state of mind then to receive or understand it. He then Heb 5:12-14 rebukes them for the little progress which they had made in Christian knowledge; exhorts them to go on and make higher attainments (Heb 6:1-3); warns them against the danger of apostasy Heb 7:4-8; and encourages them to hold fast their faith and hope to the end, in view of the covenant faithfulness of God, Heb 7:9-20; and now returns to the subject under discussion - "the high priesthood of Christ." His object is to show that he was superior to the Jewish high priest, and for this purpose he institutes the comparison between him and Melchizedek. The "argument" is the following:
I. That which is drawn from the exalted rank of Melchizedek, and the fact that the ancestor of the whole Jewish priesthood and community - Abraham - acknowledged him as his superior, and rendered tribute to him. But Christ was of the order of Melchizedek, and the apostle, therefore, infers his superiority to the Jewish priesthood; Heb 7:1-10. In the prosecution of this argument, the apostle dwells on the import of the name "Melchizedek" Heb 7:1-2; states the fact that he was without any known ancestry or descent, and that he stood alone on the pages of the sacred record, and was therefore worthy to be compared with the Son of God, who had a similar pre-eminence Heb 7:3; urges the consideration that even Abraham, the ancestor of the whole Jewish community and priesthood, paid tithes to him, and thus confessed his inferiority Heb 7:4; shows that he of whom a blessing was received must be superior to the one who receives it Heb 7:6-7; and that even Levi, the ancestor of the whole Levitical priesthood, might be said to have paid tithes in Abraham, and thus to have acknowledged his inferiority to Melchizedek, and consequently to the Son of God, who was of his "order;" Heb 7:9-10.
II. The apostle shows that "perfection" could not arise out of the Levitical priesthood, and that a priesthood that introduced a perfect state must be superior; Heb 7:11-19. In the prosecution of this argument, he states that perfection could not be arrived at under the Hebrew economy, and that there was need that a priesthood of another order should be formed Heb 7:11; that a change of the priesthood involved of necessity a change in the law or administration Heb 7:12; that the necessity of change of the law also followed from the fact that the great high priest was now of another tribe than that of Levi Heb 7:13-14; that the Christian High Priest was constituted not after a commandment pertaining to the flesh and liable to change, but "after the power of an endless life" - adapted to a life that was never to change or to end Heb 7:15-17; that consequently there was a disannulling of the commandment going before, because it was weak and unprofitable Heb 7:18; and that the old Law made "nothing" perfect, but that by the new arrangement a system of entire and eternal perfection was introduced; Heb 7:19.
III. The apostle shows the superiority of the priesthood of Christ to that of the Jewish system from the fact that the great High Priest of the Christian system was constituted with the solemnity of an oath; the Jewish priesthood was not; Heb 7:20-22. His priesthood, therefore, was as much more important and solemn as an oath is superior to a command; and his suretyship became as much more certain as an oath is superior to a simple promise; Heb 7:22.
IV. The superiority of the priesthood of Christ is further shown from the fact that under the former dispensation there were "many" priests; but here there was but "one." There, they lived but a brief period, and then gave way to their successors; but here there was no removal by death, there was no succession, there was an unchangeable priesthood; Heb 7:23-24. He infers, therefore Heb 7:25, that the Christian High Priest was able to save to the uttermost all that came to the Father by him, since he ever lived to make intercession.
V. The last argument is, that under the Levitical priesthood it was necessary for the priest to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. No such necessity, however, existed in regard to the High Priest of the Christian system. He was holy, harmless, and undefiled; he had no need to offer sacrifices for his own sins; and in this respect there was a vast superiority of the Christian priesthood over the Jewish; Heb 7:26-28. The force of these several arguments we shall be able to estimate as we advance in the exposition.
For this Melchisedek; - compare the notes on Heb 5:6. The name Melchizedek, from which the apostle derives a portion of his argument here, is Hebrew, מלכי־צדק Malkiy-Tsedeq, and is correctly explained as meaning "king of righteousness" - being compounded of two words - "king and righteousness." Why this name was given to this man is unknown. Names, however, were frequently given on account of some quality or characteristic of the man: see the notes on Isa 8:18. This name may have been given on account of his eminent integrity. The apostle calls attention to it Heb 7:2 as a circumstance worthy of notice, that his name, and the name of the city where he reigned, were so appropriate to one who, as a priest, was the predecessor of the Messiah. The account of Melchizedek, which is very brief, occurs in Gen 14:18-20. The name occurs in the Bible only in Gen. 14, Psa 110:4, and in this Epistle. Nothing else is certainly known of him.
Grotius supposes that he is the same man who in the history of Sanchoniathon is called Συδύκ Suduk. It has indeed been made a question by some whether such a person ever actually existed, and consequently whether this be a proper name. But the account in Genesis is as simple a historical record as any other in the Bible. In that account there is no difficulty whatever. It is said simply that when Abraham was returning from a successful military expedition, this man, who it seems was well known, and who was respected as a priest of God, came out to express his approbation of what he had done, and to refresh him with bread and wine. As a tribute of gratitude to him, and as a thank-offering to God, Abraham gave him a tenth part of the spoils which he had taken. Such an occurrence was by no means improbable, nor would it have been attended with any special difficulty if it had not been for the use which the apostle makes of it in this Epistle. Yet on no subject has there been a greater variety of opinion than in regard to this man.
The bare recital of the opinions which have been entertained of him would fill a volume. But in a case which "seems" to be plain from the Scripture narrative, it is not necessary even to enumerate these opinions. They only serve to show how easy it is for people to mystify a clear statement of history, and how fond they are of finding what is mysterious and marvelous in the plainest narrative of facts. That he was Shem, as the Jews suppose, or that he was the Son of God himself, as many Christian expositors have maintained, there is not the slightest evidence. That the latter opinion is false is perfectly clear - for if he were the Son of God, with what propriety could the apostle say that he "was made like the Son of God" Heb 7:3; that is, like himself; or that Christ was constituted a priest "after the order of Melchisedek;" that is, that he was a type of himself? The most simple and probable opinion is that given by Josephus, that he was a pious Canaanitish prince; a personage eminently endowed by God, and who acted as the priest of his people.
That he combined in himself the offices of priest and king, furnished to the apostle a beautiful illustration of the offices sustained by the Redeemer, and was in this respect, perhaps, the only one whose history is recorded in the Old Testament, who would furnish such an illustration. That his genealogy was not recorded, while that of every other priest mentioned was so carefully traced and preserved, furnished another striking illustration. In this respect, like the Son of God, he stood alone. He was not in a "line" of priests; he was preceded by no one in the sacerdotal office, nor was he followed by any. That he was superior to Abraham. and consequently to all who descended from Abraham; that a tribute was rendered to him by the great Ancestor of all the fraternity of Jewish priests was just an illustration which suited the purpose of Paul. His name, therefore, the place where he reigned, his solitariness, his lone conspicuity in all the past, his dignity, and perhaps the air of mystery thrown over him in the brief history in Genesis, furnished a beautiful and striking illustration of the solitary grandeur, and the inapproachable eminence of the priesthood of the Son of God. There is no evidence that Melchizedek was "designed" to be a type of the Messiah, or that Abraham so understood it, Nothing of this kind is affirmed; and how shall "we" affirm it when the sacred oracles are silent?
(Doubtless great care and sobriety are requisite in the interpretation of types, and we admire the caution that, in every instance, demands the authority of Scripture, expressed or distinctly implied. From want of this caution, the greatest extravagancies have been committed, the most fanciful analogies established, where none were intended, and every minute circumstance in the Old Testament exalted into a type of something in the New. The very boards and nails of the tabernacle of Moses have been thus exalted.
Yet in our just aversion to one extreme, it is possible we may run into another. Of the typical character of Melchizedek, we had thought no doubt could be entertained. The canon of typical interpretation, indeed, demands, that in order to constitute the relation between type and antitype, there be, in addition to mere resemblance, "precious design," and "pre-ordained connection." And the commentary affirms, that "there is no evidence, that Melchizedek was designed to be a type of the Messiah, or that Abraham so understood it." Let it be observed in reply, that in the Psa 110:1 Psalm the typical character of Melchizedek "seems" expressly acknowledged. It may be alleged, that the prophet simply states resemblance, without affirming that such resemblance was designed or intended. But that a prophet should be commissioned to declare, that Christ's priesthood should be "after such an order," and yet that in the institution of that exalted order there should have been no designed reference to Christ, is improbable.
The prediction seems to involve the original design. And this order of priesthood, too, is far superior to that of Aaron, the typical character of which is admitted. Moreover, the last clause of verse third, in this chapter, according to our English translation as a designed connection. Melchizedek was "made like unto the Son of God." The translation is accurate. Ἀφομοιωμενος Aphomoiōmenos, according to Parkhurst, is "made very like." So also Scott: "The composition is probably intended to add energy; made very like." And Bloomfield adopts, "being made by the divine decree a type of that great High Priest, who, &c,;" see the notes in Greek Testament. Lastly, on any other principle than that of "designed" typical relation, it is difficult, if not impossible, to give any just account of the remarkable omissions, the apparently studied silence, in the history of Melchizedek, in regard to those things that are commonly related in notices of lives, however brief.
He is introduced to us with an air of impenetrable mystery. He appears on the stage as Priest of the most High God, and then disappears, leaving us in complete darkness concerning his birth, parentage, and death. "In all these respects," says Mr. Scott, "the silence of the Scripture is intentional and refers to the great antitype." Melchizedek, therefore, we may remark, seems not only to have been designed as a type, but "special care" has been taken, that the record of him should be in all things suited to that design. That the apostle lighted on a happy coincidence, deserving of a passing thought, is not probable, whether this remark be meant to apply to the name, or to other particulars in this remarkable story. Indeed, divest it of its designed typical character, and the grandeur of the passage vanishes. A simple resemblance has been discovered between Christ and a certain character in the old Testament. This is all the apostle means to affirm! And for this too, he introduces Melchizedek, with such wondrous caution in Heb 5:11; "Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, but ye are dull of hearing." What was hard to be uttered, or difficult to be comprehended about a mere "illustration," or "resemblance?"
The following remarks of Owen are pertinent and beautiful. "The true cause of all these omissions was the same with that of the institution of his (Melchizedek's) priesthood, and the introduction of his person into the story. And this was, that he might he the more express and signal representative of the Lord Christ in his priesthood. And we may herein consider the sovereign wisdom of the Holy Spirit in bringing forth truth unto light, according as the state and condition of the church doth require. And first he prophesieth only a naked story of a person that was a type of Christ. Something the people of the age wherein he lived, might learn by his ministrations, but not much. For what was principally instructive in him, for the use of the church, was not of force until all his circumstances were forgotten. Yea, the contrivance of any tradition concerning his parents, birth, and death, had been contrary to the mind of God, and what instruction he intended the church by him.
Afterward, when, it may be, all thoughts of any use or design in this story were lost, and the church was fully satisfied in a priesthood quite of another nature, the Holy Spirit in one word of prophecy instructs her, not only that the things spoken concerning Melchizedek were not so recorded for his own sake, or on his own account, but with respect to another priest, which was afterward to arise, by him represented. This gave a new consideration to the whole story; but moreover gave the church to know, that the priesthood, which it then had, was not always to continue, but that one of another nature was to be introduced, as was signified long before the institution of that priesthood which they enjoyed, Psa 110:4. Yet the church was left greatly in the dark, and, at the coming of our Saviour, had utterly lost all knowledge of the mystery of the type, and the promise renewed in the Psalm. Wherefore, our apostle entering on the unfolding of this mystery, doth not only preface it with an assertion of its difficulty, but also by a long previous discourse, variously prepareth their minds to a most diligent attention."
The excellence of this quotation will, in the reader's estimation, excuse the length of it. On the whole, he who reflects how all things in the ancient economy were ordered of God, and how great a part of that economy was meant to adumbrate the realities of the gospel, while he will be cautious in admitting typical analogies of a doubtful kind, will be slow to believe that the resemblance between Christ's priesthood, and that of the "most" exalted order previously instituted, is casual, or undesigned - slow to believe, that the apostle would make so large use of such accidental analogy, and found on it an argument so great.)
King of Salem - Such is the record in Gen 14:18. The word "Salem" - שׁלם shalēm - means "peace;" and from this fact the apostle derives his illustration in Heb 7:2. He regards it as a fact worth remarking on, that the "name" of the place over which he ruled expressed so strikingly the nature of the kingdom over which the Messiah was placed. In regard to the "place" here denoted by the name "Salem," the almost uniform opinion has been that it was that afterward known as Jerusalem. The reasons for this opinion are,
(1) that it is a part of the name Jerusalem itself - the name "Jerus," altered from "Jebus," having been afterward added, because it was the residence of the "Jebusites."
(2) the name "Salem" is itself given to Jerusalem; Psa 76:2, "In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion."
(3) Jerusalem would be in the direction through which Abraham would naturally pass on his return from the slaughter of the kings. He had pursued them unto Dan Gen 14:14, and he was returning to Mamre, that is, Hebron; Gen 14:13, on his return, therefore, he would pass in the vicinity of Jerusalem.
Rosenmuller, however, supposes that by the name here, Jerusalem is not intended, but the whole region occupied by the Jebusites and Hittites, or the royal seat of this region, situated not far from the cities of the plain - the vale of Siddim where Sodom and Gomorrah were situated. But I see no reason for doubting that the common opinion that Jerusalem is intended, is correct. That place was favorably situated for a capital of a nation or tribe; was easily fortified; and would be likely to be early selected as a royal residence.
Priest of the most high God - This is the account which is given of him in Gen 14:18. The leading office of "priest" was to offer sacrifice. This duty was probably first performed by the father of the family (compare the notes on Job 1:5; see also Gen 8:20; Gen 22:2), and when he was dead it devolved on the oldest son. It would seem also that in the early ages, among all nations whose records have reached us, the office of priest and king were united in the same person. It was long before it was found that the interests of religion would be promoted by having the office of priest pertain to an order of men set apart for this special work. That Melchizedek, who was a king, should also be a priest, was not, therefore, remarkable. The only thing remarkable is, that be should have been a priest "of the true God." In what way he became acquainted with Him, is wholly unknown. It may have been by tradition preserved from the times of Noah, as it is possible that the arrival of Abraham in that land may have been in some way the means of acquainting him with the existence and character of Jehovah. The "fact" shows at least that the knowledge of the true God was not extinct in the world.
Who met Abraham - He came out to meet him, and brought with him bread and wine. "Why" he did this, is not mentioned. It was probably as an expression of gratitude to Abraham for having freed the country from oppressive and troublesome invaders, and in order to furnish refreshments to the party which Abraham headed who had become weary and exhausted with the pursuit. There is not the slightest evidence that the bread and wine which he brought forth was designed to typify the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, as has been sometimes supposed; compare Bush on Gen 14:18. What did he know of this ordinance? And why should we resort to such a supposition, when the whole case may be met by a simple reference to the ancient rites of hospitality, and by the fact that the deliverance of the country by Abraham from a grievous invasion made some expression of gratitude on the part of this pious king in the highest degree proper?
Returning from the slaughter of the kings - Amraphel, king of Shinar, Arioch, king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and "Tidal, king of nations," who had invaded the valley where Sodom and Gomorrah were, and had departed with a great amount of booty. Those kings Abraham had pursued beyond Dan, and to the neighborhood of Damascus, and had smitten them, and recovered the spoil.
And blessed him - For the important service which he had rendered in taking vengeance on these invaders; in freeing the land from the apprehension of being invaded again; and in recovering the valuable booty which they had taken away. From Heb 7:6-7, it appears that this act of "blessing" was regarded as that of one who was superior to Abraham. That is, he blessed him as a priest and a king. As such he was superior in rank to Abraham, who never claimed the title of "king," and who is not spoken of as a "priest."
To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all - That is, a tenth part of all the spoils which he had taken Gen 14:20, thus acknowledging that in dignity of office Melchizedek was greatly his superior; Heb 7:4, Heb 7:6, Heb 7:8. This does not appear to have been on the part of Abraham so much designed as a present to Melchizedek personally, as an act of pious thankfulness to God. He doubtless recognized in Melchizedek one who was a minister of God, and to him as such he devoted the tenth of all which he had taken, as a proper acknowledgment of the goodness of God and of his claims. From this it is evident that the propriety of devoting a tenth part of what was possessed to God, was regarded as a duty before the appointment of the Levitical law. "Some" expression of this kind is obviously demanded, and piety seems early to have fixed on the "tenth" part as being no more than a proper proportion to consecrate to the service of religion. For the propriety of the use which the apostle makes of this fact, see the notes on Heb 7:4, Heb 7:6, Heb 7:8.
First being - The "first" idea in the interpretation of his name and office, etc. First being mentioned as king of righteousness, and then as king of peace.
King of righteousness - The literal translation of the name Melchizedek; see the notes on ver. 1. The "argument" implied in this by the remarks of the apostle is, that he bore a name which made him a proper emblem of the Messiah. There was a propriety that one in whose "order" the Messiah was to be found, should have such a name. It would be exactly descriptive of him, and it was "worthy of observation" that he of whose "order" it was said the Messiah would be, should have had such a name. Paul does not say that this name was given to him with any such reference; or that it was "designed" to be symbolical of what the Messiah would be, but that there was a "remarkable coincidence;" that it was a fact which was worth at least "a passing thought." This is a kind of remark that might occur to anyone to make, and where the slight use which Paul makes of it would not be improper anywhere; but it cannot be denied that to one accustomed to the Jewish mode of reasoning - accustomed to dwell much on hidden meanings, and to trace out concealed analogies, it would be much more obvious and striking than it is with us.
We are to place ourselves in the situation of those to whom Paul wrote - trained up with Jewish feelings, and Jewish modes of thought, and to ask how this would strike "their" minds. And this is no more unreasonable than it would be in interpreting a Greek classic, or a work of a Hindu philosopher, that we should endeavor to place ourselves in the situation of the writer and of those for whom he wrote, and ascertain what ideas would be conveyed to them by certain expressions. It is not meant by these observations that there was really no intrinsic force in what Paul here said respecting the import of the "name." There was force; and all the use which he makes of it is proper. His meaning appears to be merely that it was a fact worthy of remark, that the "name" had a meaning which corresponded so entirely with the character of him who was to be a high priest of the same "order." "And after that." He is mentioned after that with another appellation equally significant.
King of peace - A literal translation of the appellation "king of Salem;" Heb 7:1. The idea of Paul is, that it was "worthy of remark" that the appellation which he bore was appropriate to one whose ministry it was said the priesthood of the Messiah would resemble.
Without father - The phrase "without father" - ἀπάτωρ apatōr - means literally one who has no father; one who has lost his father; one who is an orphan. Then it denotes one who is born after the death of his father; then one whose father is unknown - "spurious. Passow." The word occurs often in these senses in the classic writers, for numerous examples of which the reader may consult Wetstein in loc. It is morally certain, however, that the apostle did not use the word here in either of the senses, for there is no evidence that Melchizedek was "fatherless" in any of these respects. It was very important in the estimation of the Jews that the line of their priesthood should be carefully kept; that their genealogies should be accurately marked and preserved; and that their direct descent from Aaron should be susceptible of easy and certain proof. But the apostle says that there was no such genealogical table in regard to Melchizedek. There was no "record" made of the name either of his father, his mother, or any of his posterity. "He stood alone."
It is simply said that such a man came out to meet Abraham - and that is the first and the last which we hear of him and of his family. Now, says the apostle, it is distinctly said Psa 110:4, that the Messiah was to be a priest "according to his order" - and in this respect there is a remarkable resemblance, "so far as the point of his being a priest" - which was the point under discussion - "was concerned." The Messiah thus, "as a priest," StooD alone. His name does not appear in the line of priests. He pertained to another tribe; Heb 7:14. No one of his ancestors is mentioned as a priest; and as a priest he has no descendants, and no followers. He has a lonely conspicuity similar to that of Melchizedek; a standing unlike that of any other priest. This should not, therefore, be construed as meaning that the genealogy of Christ could not be traced out - which is not true, for Matthew Matt. 1, and Luke Luke 3, have carefully preserved it; but that he had no genealogical record "as a priest." As the reasoning of the apostle pertains to this point only, it would be unfair to construe it as implying that the Messiah was to stand unconnected with any ancestor, or that his genealogy would be unknown. The meaning of the word rendered "without father" here is therefore, "one the name of whose father is not recorded in the Hebrew genealogies."
Without mother - The name of whose mother is unknown, or is not recorded in the Hebrew genealogical tables. Philo calls Sarah - ἀμήτορα amētora - "without mother," probably because her mother is not mentioned in the sacred records. The Syriac has given the correct view of the meaning of the apostle. In that version it is, "Of whom neither the father nor mother are recorded in the genealogies." The meaning here is not that Melchizedek was of low and obscure origin - as the terms "without father and without mother" often signify in the classic writers, and in Arabic, (compare Wetstein) - for there is no reason to doubt that Melchizedek had an ancestry as honorable as other kings and priests of his time. The simple thought is, that the name of his ancestry does not appear in any record of those in the priestly office.
Without descent - Margin, "pedigree." The Greek word - ἀγενεαλόγητος agenealogētos - means "without genealogy; whose descent is unknown." He is merely mentioned himself, and nothing is said of his family or of his posterity. "Having neither beginning of days, nor end of life." This is a much more difficult expression than any of the others respecting Melchizedek. The obvious meaning of the phrase is, that in the "records of Moses" neither the beginning nor the close of his life is mentioned. It is not said when he was born, or when he died; nor is it said that he was born or that he died. The apostle adverts to this particularly, because it was so unusual in the records of Moses, who is in general so careful to mention the birth and death of the individuals whose lives he mentions. Under the Mosaic dispensation everything respecting the duration of the sacerdotal office was determined accurately by the Law. In the time of Moses, and by his arrangement, the Levites were required to serve from the age of thirty to fifty; Num 4:3, Num 4:23, Num 4:35, Num 4:43, Num 4:47; Num 8:24-25.
After the age of fifty, they were released from the more arduous and severe duties of their office. In later periods of the Jewish history they commenced their duties at the age of twenty; Ch1 23:24, Ch1 23:27. The priests, also, and the high priest entered on their office at thirty years of age, though it is not supposed that they retired from it at any particular period of life. The idea of the apostle here is, that nothing of this kind occurs in regard to Melchizedek. No period is mentioned when he entered on his office; none when he retired from it. From anything that "appears" in the sacred record it might be perpetual - though Paul evidently did not mean to be understood as saying that it was so. It "cannot" be that he meant to say that Melchizedek had "no beginning" of days literally, that is, that he was from eternity; or that he had "no end of life" literally, that is, that he would exist forever - for this would be to make him equal with God. The expression used must be interpreted according to the matter under discussion, and that was the office of Melchizedek "as a priest."
Of that no beginning is mentioned, and no end. That this is the meaning of Paul there can be no doubt; but there is a much more difficult question about the force and pertinency of this reasoning; about the use which he means to make of this fact, and the strength of the argument which he here designs to employ. This inquiry cannot be easily settled. It may be admitted undoubtedly, that it would strike a Jew with much more force than it would any other person, and to see its pertinency we ought to be able to place ourselves in their condition, and to transfer to ourselves as far as possible their state of feeling. It was mentioned in Psa 110:4, that the Messiah was to be a "priest after the order of Melchizedek." It was natural then to turn to the only record which existed of him - the very brief narrative in Gen. 14. There the account is simple and plain - that he was a pious Canaanitish king, who officiated as a priest. In what point, then, it would be asked, was the Messiah to resemble him? In his personal character; his office; his rank; or in what he did? It would be natural, then, to run out the parallel and seize upon the points in which Melchizedek "differed from the Jewish priests" which would be suggested on reading that account, for it was undoubtedly in those points that the resemblance between Christ and Melchizedek was to consist. Here the record was to be the only guide, and the points in which he differed from the Jewish priesthood "according to the record," were such as these.
(1) That there is no account of his ancestry as a priest - neither father nor mother being mentioned as was indispensable in the records of the Levitical priesthood.
(2) There was no account of any descendants in his office, and no reason to believe that he had any, and he thus stood alone.
(3) There was no account of the commencement or close of his office as a priest, but "so far as the record goes," it is just "as it would have been" if his priesthood had neither beginning nor end.
It was inevitable, therefore, that those who read the Psalm, and compared it with the account in Gen. 14, should come to the conclusion that the Messiah was to resemble Melchizedek "in some such points as these" - for these are the points in which he differed from the Levitical priesthood - and to run out these points of comparison is all that the apostle has done here. It is just what would be done by any Jew, or indeed by any other man, and the reasoning grew directly out of the two accounts in the Old Testament. It is not, then, quibble or quirk - it is sound reasoning, based on these two points,
(1) that it was said in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, and
(2) that the only points, "according to the record," in which there was "anything special" about the priesthood of Melchizedek, or in which he differed from the Levitical priesthood, were such as those which Paul specifies.
He reasons "from the record;" and though there is, as was natural, something of a Jewish cast about it, yet it was the "only kind of reasoning that was possible in the case."
But made like - The word used here means to be made like, to be made to resemble; and then to be like, to be compared with. Our translation seems to imply that there was a divine agency or intention by which Melchizedek was" made to resemble the Son of God," but this does not seem to be the idea of the apostle. In the Psalm it is said that the Messiah would resemble Melchizedek in his priestly office, and this is doubtless the idea here. Paul is seeking to illustrate the nature and perpetuity of the office of the Messiah by comparing it with that of Melchizedek. Hence, he pursues the idea of this resemblance, and the true sense of the word used here is, "he was like, or he resembled the Son of God." So Tyndale and Coverdale render it, "is likened unto the Son of God." The points of resemblance are those which have been already "suggested":
(1) in the name - "king of righteousness, and king of peace;"
(2) in the fact that he had no ancestors or successors in the priestly office;
(3) that he was, according to the record, a perpetual priest - there being no account of his death; and perhaps.
(4) that he united in himself the office of king and priest.
It may be added, that the expression here, "was made like unto the Son of God," proves that he was not himself the Son of God, as many have supposed. How could he be "made like" himself? How could a comparison be formally made "between Christ and himself?"
Abideth a priest continually - That is, "as far as the record in Genesis goes" - for it was according to this record that Paul was reasoning. This clause is connected with Heb 7:1; and the intermediate statements are of the nature of a parenthesis, containing important suggestions respecting the character of Melchizedek, which would be useful in preparing the readers for the argument which the apostle proposed to draw from his rank and character. The meaning is, that there is no account of his death, or of his ceasing to exercise the priestly office, and in this respect be may be compared with the Lord Jesus. All other priests cease to exercise their office by death Heb 7:23; but of the death of Melchizedek there is no mention. It must have been true that the priesthood of Melchizedek terminated at his death; and it will be also true that that of Christ will cease when his church shall have been redeemed, and when he shall have given up the mediatorial kingdom to the Father; Co1 15:25-28. The expression, "abideth a priest continually," therefore, is equivalent to saying that he had a "perpetual priesthood" in contradistinction from those whose office terminated at a definite period, or whose office passed over into the hands of others; see the notes on ver. 24.
Now consider how great this man was - The object of the apostle was to exalt the rank and dignity of Melchizedek. The Jews had a profound veneration for Abraham, and if it could be shown that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, then it would be easy to demonstrate the superiority of Christ as a priest to all who descended from Abraham. Accordingly he argues, that he to whom even the patriarch Abraham showed so much respect, must have had an exalted rank. Abraham, according to the views of the East, the illustrious ancestor of the Jewish nation, was regarded as superior to any of his posterity, and of course was to be considered as of higher rank and dignity than the Levitical priests who were descended from him.
Even the patriarch Abraham - One so great as he is acknowledged to have been. On the word "patriarch," see the notes on Act 2:29. It occurs only in Act 2:29; Act 7:8-9, and in this place.
Gave the tenth of the spoils - see the notes, Heb 7:2. The argument here is, that Abraham acknowledged the superiority of Melchizedek by thus devoting the usual part of the spoils of war, or of what was possessed, to God by his hands, as the priest of the Most High. Instead of making a direct consecration by himself, he brought them to him as a minister of religion, and recognized in him one who had a higher official standing in the matter of religion than himself. The Greek word rendered here "spoils" - ἀκροθίνιον akrothinion - means literally, "the top of the heap," from ἄκρον akron, "top," and θίν thin, "heap." The Greeks were accustomed, after a battle, to collect the spoils together, and throw them into a pile, and then, before they were distributed, to take off a portion from the top, and devote it to the gods; Xen. Cyro. 7, 5, 35; Herod. i. 86, 90; 8:121, 122; Dion. Hal. ii. In like manner it was customary to place the harvest in a heap, and as the first thing to take off a portion from the top to consecrate as a thank-offering to God. The word then came to denote the "first-fruits" which were offered to God, and then the best of the spoils of battle. It has that sense here, and denotes the spoils or plunder which Abraham had taken of the discomfited kings.
And verily they that are of the sons of Levi - The meaning of this verse is, that the Levitical priests had a right to receive tithes of their brethren, but still that they were inferior to Melchizedek. The apostle admits that their superiority to the rest of the people was shown by the fact that they had a right to require of them the tenth part of the productions of the land for their maintenance, and for the support of religion. But still he says, that their inferiority to Melchizedek, and consequently to Christ as a priest, was shown by the fact that the illustrious ancestor of all the Jewish people, including the priests as well as others, had confessed his inferiority to Melchizedek by paying him tithes.
Who receive the office of the priesthood - Not all the descendants of Levi were priests. The apostle, therefore, specifies particularly those who "received this office," as being those whom he specially designed, and as those whose inferiority to Christ as a priest it was his object to show.
Have a commandment to take tithes - Have by the Law a commission, or a right to exact tithes of the people. Deu 14:22, Deu 14:27-29.
But he whose descent is not counted from them - Melchizedek. The word "descent" is "pedigree" in the margin. The meaning is, that he was not "in the same genealogy" - μὴ γενεαλογούμενος mē genealogoumenos - he was not of the order of Levitical priests. That Melchizedek is meant there can be no doubt; at the same time, also, the thought is presented with prominence on which Paul so much insists, that he was of a different order from the Levitical priesthood.
And blessed him - Blessed him as a priest of God; blessed him in such a manner as to imply acknowledged superiority; see Heb 7:1.
That had the promises - The promise that he should have a numerous posterity; that in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed; see Heb 6:12-16.
And without all contradiction - It is an admitted principle; a point about which there can be no dispute.
The less is blessed of the better - The act of pronouncing a blessing is understood to imply superiority of rank, age, or station. So when a father lays his hand on his children and blesses them, it is understood to be the act of one superior in age, venerableness, and authority; when a prophet pronounced a blessing on the people, the same thing was understood, and the same is true also when a minister of religion pronounces a blessing on a congregation. It is the act of one who is understood to sustain an office above the people on whom the blessing is pronounced. This was understood of the Saviour when parents brought their children to him to lay his hands on them and bless them Mat 19:13; and the same was true of Jacob when dying he blessed the sons of Joseph; Heb 11:21; Gen. 48:5-20. The word "less" here means the one of inferior rank; who is less in office, honor, or age. It does not imply inferiority of moral or religious character, for this is not the point under consideration. The word "better" means one who is of superior office or rank, not one who has necessarily a purer or holier character. That Melchizedek was thus superior to Abraham, Paul says, is implied by the very declaration that he "blessed him." It is also seen to be true by the whole comparison. Abraham was a petty prince; an "Emir" - the head of a company of Nomades, or migratory shepherds, having, it is true, a large number of dependants, but still not having the rank here given to Melchizedek. Though called "a prophet" Gen 20:7, yet he is nowhere called either a priest or a king. In these respects, it was undoubted that he was inferior to Melchizedek.
And here men that die receive tithes - Another point showing the inferiority of the Levitical priesthood. They who thus received tithes, though by the right to do this they asserted a superiority over their brethren, were mortal. Like others, they would soon die; and in regard to the most essential things they were on a level with their brethren. They had no exemption from sickness, affliction, or bereavement, and death came to them with just as much certainty as he approached other men. The meaning of this is, that they are mortal like their brethren, and the design is to show the inferiority of their office by this fact. Its obvious and natural signification, in the apprehension of the great mass of readers, would not be, as the meaning has been supposed to be, that it refers "to the brief and mutable condition of the Levitical priesthood;" see Stuart in loco. Such an interpretation would not occur to anyone if it were not to avoid the difficulty existing in the correlative member of the verse where it is said of Melchizedek that "he liveth." But is the difficulty avoided then? Is it not as difficult to understand what is meant by his having an immutable and perpetual priesthood, as it is to know what is meant by his not dying literally? Is the one any more true than the other? Whatever difficulties, therefore, there may be, we are bound to adhere to the obvious sense of the expression here; a sense which furnishes also a just and forcible ground of comparison. It seems to me, therefore, that the simple meaning of this passage is, that, under the Levitical economy, those who received tithes were mortal, and were thus placed in strong contrast with him of whom it was said "he liveth." Thus, they were inferior to him - as a mortal is inferior to one who does not die; and thus also they must be inferior to him who was made a priest after the "order" of him who thus "lived."
But there - In contrast with "here" in the same verse. The reference here is to the account of Melchizedek, "Here," in the Levitical economy, men received tithes who are mortal; "there," in the account of Melchizedek, the case is different.
He receiveth them - Melchizedek - for so the connection evidently demands.
Of whom it is witnessed - Of whom the record is. There is not in Genesis, indeed, any direct record that he lives, but there is the absence of a record that he died, and this seems to have been regarded as in fact a record of permanency in the office; or as having an office which did not pass over to successors by the death of the then incumbent.
That he liveth - This is an exceedingly difficult expression, and one which has always greatly perplexed commentators. The fair and obvious meaning is, that all the record we have of Melchizedek is, that he was "alive;" or as Grotins says, the record is merely that he lived. We have no mention of his death. From anything that the record shows, it might appear that he continued to live on, and did not die. "Arguing from the record," therefore, there is a strong contrast between him and the Levitical priests, all of whom we know are mortal; Heb 7:23. The apostle is desirous of making out a contrast between them and the priesthood of Christ on "this point" among others, and in doing this, he appeals to the record in the Old Testament, and says that there was a case which furnished an intimation that the priestly office of the Messiah was not to pass over from him to others by death.
That case was, that he was expressly compared Psa 110:4 with Melchizedek, and that in the account of Melchizedek there was no record of his death. As to the force of this argument, it must be admitted that it would strike a Jew more impressively than it does most readers now; and it may not be improbable that the apostle was reasoning from some interpretation of the passages in Gen. 14: and Ps. cx., which was then prevalent, and which would then be conceded on all hands to be correct. If this was the admitted interpretation, and if there is no equivocation, or mere trick in the reasoning - as there cannot be shown to be - why should we not allow to the Jew a uniqueness of reasoning as we do to all other people? There are modes of reasoning and illustration in all nations, in all societies, and in all professions, which do not strike others as very forcible. The ancient philosophers had methods of reasoning which now seem weak to us; the lawyer often argues in a way which appears to be a mere quirk or quibble, and so the lecturer in science sometimes reasons.
The cause of all this may not be always that there is real quibble or quirk, in the mode of argumentation, but that he who reasons in this manner has in his view certain points which he regards as undisputed which do not appear so to us; or that he argues from what is admitted in the profession, or in the school where he is taught, which are not understood by those whom he addresses. To this should be added also the consideration, that Paul had a constant reference to the Messiah, and that it is possible that in his mind there was here a transition from the type to the antitype, and that the language which he uses may be stronger than if he had been speaking of the mere record of Melchizedek if he had found it standing by itself. Still his reasoning turns mainly on the fact that in the case of Melchizedek there was no one who had preceded him in that office, and that he had no successor, and, in regard to the matter in hand, it was all one as if he had been a perpetual priest, or had continued still alive.
(The reasoning in the whole passage is founded on the Scripture account of Melchizedek. He is not to be regarded absolutely, but typically. View him just as he appears in the record in Genesis, and the difficulty will be greatly lessened, if it do not altogether disappear. There, he is presented to us, in his typical character, as living. All notice of his death is studiously omitted with the express design, that, appearing only as a living priest, he might the better typify our immortal Redeemer. In this view, which indeed is so well brought out in the commentary above, "the apostle's argument unto the dignity, and pre-eminence of Melchizedek above the Levitical priests, in this instance, is of an "unquestionable evidence." For, consider Melchizedek, not in his natural being and existence, which belongs not unto this mystery, but in his Scripture being and existence, and he is immortal, always living, wherein he is more excellent than those who were always obnoxious to death in the exercise of their office" - Owen. McKnight, observing that the Greek verb ζη zē here is not in the present, but the imperfect of the indicative, translates - lived, a priest all his life, in contradistinction from those who ceased to be priests at a certain age. But whatever view may be taken of the passage, whatever solution of the difficulty may be adopted, apology for the mode of reasoning may well be spared. An inspired writer needs it not. All his reasoning has, doubtless, a solid basis in truth. It is impossible he should proceed on any peculiarities or modes of reasoning, but such as are strictly true, the accuracy of which might, any where, and at any time, be admitted, by those who had the means and patience for a right understanding of them.)
And as I may so say - So to speak - ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν hōs epos eipein. For numerous examples in the classic writers of this expression, see Wetstein in loc. It is used precisely as it is with us when we say "so to speak," or "if I may be allowed the expression." It is employed when what is said is not strictly and literally true, but when it amounts to the same thing, or when about the same idea is conveyed. "It is a "softening down" of an expression which a writer supposes his readers may deem too strong, or which may have the appearance of excess or severity. It amounts to an indirect apology for employing an unusual or unexpected assertion or phrase." "Prof. Stuart." Here Paul could not mean that Levi had actually paid tithes in Abraham - for he had not then an existence; or that Abraham was his representative - for there had been no appointment of Abraham to act in that capacity by Levi; or that the act of Abraham was imputed or reckoned to Levi, for that was not true, and would not have been pertinent to the case if it were so. But it means, that in the circumstances of the case, the same thing occurred in regard to the superiority of Melchizedek, and the inferiority of the Levitical priesthood, as if Levi had been present with Abraham, and had himself actually paid tithes on that occasion. This was so because Abraham was the distinguished ancestor of Levi, and when an ancestor has done an act implying inferiority of rank to another, we feel as if the whole family or all the descendants, by that act recognized the inferiority, unless something occurs to change the relative rank of the persons. Here nothing indicating any such change had occurred. Melchizedek had no descendants of which mention is made, and the act of Abraham, as the head of the Hebrew race, stood therefore as if it were the act of all who descended from him.
Levi - The ancestor of the whole Levitical priesthood, and from whom they received their name. He was the third son of Jacob and Leah, and was born in Mesopotamia. On account of the conduct of Simeon and Levi toward Shechem, for the manner in which he had treated their sister Dinah Gen 34:25, and which Jacob characterized as "cruelty" Gen 49:5-6, Jacob said that they should be "scattered in Israel." Gen 49:7. Afterward the whole tribe of Levi was chosen by God to execute the various functions of the priesthood, and were "scattered" over the land, having no inheritance of their own, but deriving their subsistence from the offerings of the people; Num 3:6 ff. Levi is here spoken of as the ancestor of the tribe, or collectively to denote the entire Jewish priesthood.
Who receiveth tithes - That is, his descendants, the priests and Levites, receive tithes.
Payed tithes in Abraham - It is the same as if he had payed tithes in or by Abraham.
For he was yet in the loins of his father - Abraham is here called the father of Levi, by a common use of the word, referring to a more remote ancestor than the literal father. The meaning of the apostle is, that he was even then, in a certain sense, in the loins of Abraham, when Melchizedek met him; or it was all the same as if he were there, and had then an existence. The relation which subsisted between him and Abraham, in the circumstances of the case, implied the same thing as if he had then been born, and had acted for himself by paying tithes. Instances of this occur constantly. A father sells a farm, to which his son would he heir, and it is the same as if the son had sold it. He has no more control over it than if he had been present and disposed of it himself. A father acknowledges fealty to a government for a certain title or property which is to descend to his heirs, and it is all one as if the heir had himself done it; and it is not improper to say that it is the same as if he had been there and acted for himself.
For some valuable remarks on the nature of the reasoning here employed, see Stuart on the Hebrews; Excursus xiv. The reasoning here is, indeed, especially such as would be suited to impress a Jewish mind, and perhaps more forcibly than it does ours. The Jews valued themselves on the dignity and honor of the Levitical priesthood, and it was important to show them on their own principles, and according to their own sacred writings, that the great ancestor of all the Levitical community had himself acknowledged his inferiority to one who was declared also in their own writings Psa 110:1-7 to be like the Messiah, or who was of the same "order." At the same time, the reasoning concedes nothing false; and conveys no wrong impression. It is not mere fancy or accommodation, nor is it framed on allegory or cabalistic principles. It is founded in truth, and such as might be used anywhere, where regard was shown to pedigree, or respect was claimed on account of the illustrious deeds of an ancestor. It would be regarded as sound reasoning in a country like England, where titles and ranks are recognized, and where various orders of nobility exist. The fact that a remote ancestor had done homage or fealty to the ancestor of another class of titled birth, would be regarded as proof of acknowledged inferiority in the family, and might be used with force and propriety in an argument. Paul has done no more than this.
(Several excellent and evangelical commentators explain the passage on the principle of representations, the admission of which relieves it from many difficulties. If we allow that Abraham was the representative of his seed, and of the sons of Levi among the number, then they unquestionably may be said to have paid tithes in him, in a most obvious and intelligible sense. That Abraham is to be here regarded, as not only the natural but covenant head of Israel, is argued from what is said in Psa 110:6, of his having "had the promises," which promises manifestly did not belong to him alone, but to him and to his seed, Gen 17:4-9. The land of Canaan never was actually given to Abraham. He obtained the promise or grant of it, as the representative of his posterity, who came to its enjoyment when four hundred years had expired. By those who adopt this view, the passage is supposed to contain an illustration of the manner in which Adam and Christ represent those who respectively belong to them.
And here let it be noticed, that the objection against Abraham's representative character, grounded by our author on the fact, "that there had been no appointment of Abraham to act in that capacity by Levi," might with equal force be urged against the representation of Adam and Christ, which the reader will find established in the supplementary notes on Rom. 5. As to the force of the argument, on this principle, there can be no doubt. If the representative, the covenant, as well as the natural head, of the sons of Levi, paid tithes and acknowledged inferiority to Melchizedek, their inferiority follows as a matter of course. They are supposed to be comprehended in their head. "This," says Mr. Scott, "incontestibly proved the inferiority of the Levitical priesthood to that of the Messiah, nay, its absolute dependence on him, and subserviency to him;" and, we may add, is sound reasoning alike in every country, in Palestine and in ours, in England or America. On the whole we cannot but think that whatever difficulties some may have in admitting the principle of representation here, far greater difficulties lie on the other side.
Even Prof. Stuart, in his celebrated 14th Excursus, (which for ingenuity deserves, perhaps, all the praise awarded by Bloomfield, Barnes, and others,) resolves the apostle's reasoning into a mere "argumentum a.d. hominem," although, in the passage, there is no evidence of any such thing. He has indeed instanced two cases of "argumentum a.d. hominem," or rather two passages, in both of which the same example occurs Mat 12:27; Luk 11:19. But if the reader consult these passages, he will find that mistake is impossible. The plainest indication is given, that the argument proceeds on the principle of all adversary. It would require no small ingenuity, however, to press this passage into the same rank with those now quoted. It clearly belongs to a different class, and the apostle proceeds with his argument, without the slightest indication that it was grounded rather on what was admitted, than on what was strictly true.)
If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood - As the Jews supposed. They were accustomed to regard the system as perfect. It was an appointment of God, and they were tenacious of the opinion that it was to be permanent, and that it needed no change. But Paul says that this could not be. Even from their own Scriptures it was apparent that a priest was to arise of another order, and of a more permanent character, and this he says was full proof: that there was defect of some kind in the previous order. What this defect was, he does not here specify, but the subsequent reasoning shows that it was in such points as these - that it was not permanent; that it could not make the worshippers perfect; that the blood which they offered in sacrifice could not take away sin, and could not render those who offered it holy; compare Heb 7:19, Heb 7:23-24; Heb 10:1-4.
For under it the people received the law - This assertion seems necessary in order to establish the point maintained in Heb 7:12, that if the priesthood is changed there must be also a change of the Law. In order to this, it was necessary to admit that the Law was received under that economy, and that "it was a part of it," so that the change of one involved also the change of the other. It was not strictly true that the whole Law was given after the various orders of Levitical priest were established - for the Law on Sinai, and several other laws, were given before that distinct arrangement was made; but it was true:
(1) that a considerable part of the laws of Moses were given under that arrangement; and,
(2) that the whole of the ceremonial observances was connected with that. They were parts of one system, and mutually dependent on each other. This is all that the argument demands.
What further need was there ... - "If that system would lead to perfection; if it was sufficient to make the conscience pure, and to remove sin, then there was no necessity of any other. Yet the Scriptures have declared that there "would be" another of a different order, implying that there was some defect in the former." This reasoning is founded on the fact that there was an express prediction of the coming of a priest of a different "order" Psa 110:4, and that this fact implied that there was some deficiency in the former arrangement. To this reasoning it is impossible to conceive that there can be any objection.
For the priesthood being changed - According to the prediction in Ps. cx., that it would be. When that occurs, the consequence specified will also follow.
There is made of necessity a change also of the law - The Law so far as it grew out of that, or was dependent on it. The connection requires us to understand it only of the Law "so far as it was connected with the Levitical priesthood." This could not apply to the ten commandments - for they were given before the institution of the priesthood; nor could it apply to any other part of the moral law, for that was not dependent on the appointment of the Levitical priests. But the meaning is, that since a large number of laws - constituting a code of considerable extent and importance - was given for the regulation of the priesthood, and in reference to the rites of religion, which they were to observe or superintend, it followed that when their office was superseded by "one of a wholly different order," the Law which had regulated them vanished also, or ceased to be binding. This was a very important point in the introduction of Christianity, and hence, it is that it is so often insisted on in the writings of Paul. The argument to show that there had been a change or transfer of the priestly office, he proceeds to establish in the sequel.
For he of whom these things are spoken - The Lord Jesus, the Messiah, to whom they had reference. The things here spoken of pertain to his office as priest; his being of the order of Melchizedek. The apostle here "assumes" it as a point concerning which there could be no dispute, that these things referred to the Lord Jesus. Those whom he addressed would not be disposed to call this in question, and his argument had conducted him to this conclusion.
Pertaineth to another tribe - To the tribe of Judah; Heb 7:14.
Of which no man gave attendance at the altar - The priestly office pertained only to the tribe of Levi. No one of the tribe of Judah had any part in the performance of the duties of that office. This was settled by the Jewish Law.
For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah - It is well known: it cannot be a matter of dispute. About the fact that the Lord Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, there could be no doubt; compare Mat 1:3. But probably the apostle means here to refer to more than that simple fact. It was a doctrine of the Old Testament, and was admitted by the Jews, that the Messiah was to be of that tribe; see Gen 49:10; Isa 11:1; Mic 5:2; Mat 2:6. This was an additional consideration to show that there was to be a change of some kind in the office of the priesthood, since it was declared (Ps. cx) that the Messiah was to be a priest. The fact that the Messiah is to be of the tribe of Judah is still admitted by the Jews. As their distinction of tribes now, however, is broken up, and as it is impossible for them to tell who belongs to the tribe of Judah, it is held by them that when he comes this will be made known by miracle.
Of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood - That is, in the Mosaic laws respecting the office of priest, this tribe is not mentioned. All the arrangements pertain to the tribe of Levi.
And it is yet far more evident - Not that our Lord would spring out of Judah, but the point which he was endeavoring to establish that there must be a change of the priesthood, was rendered still more evident from another consideration. A strong proof of the necessity of such a change of the priesthood was furnished from the fact that the Messiah was to be of the tribe of Judah; but a much stronger, because "as a priest" he was to be of the order of Melchizedek - that is, he was of the same rank with one who did not even belong to that tribe.
After the similitude - Resembling; that is, he was to be of the order of Melchizedek.
Who is made - That is, the other priest is made, to wit, the Messiah. He was made a priest by a special law.
Not after the law of a carnal commandment - Not according to the Law of a commandment pertaining to the flesh. The word "carnal" means "fleshly;" and the idea is, that the Law under which the priests of the old dispensation were made was external, rather than spiritual; it related more to outward observances than to the keeping of the heart. That this was the nature of the Mosaic ritual in the main, it was impossible to doubt, and the apostle proceeds to argue from this undeniable truth.
But after the power of an endless life - By an authority of endless duration. That is, it was not concerned mainly with outward observances, and did not pass over from one to another by death, but was unchanging in its character, and spiritual in its nature. It was enduring and perpetual as a priesthood, and was thus far exalted above the service performed by the priests under the former dispensation.
For he testifieth - "That this is the true account of it is proved by the testimony of God himself, that he was to be a priest for ever;" see the note on Heb 5:6.
For there is verily a disannulling - A setting aside. The Law which existed before in regard to the priesthood becomes now abrogated in consequence of the change which has been made in the priesthood; see the note at Heb 7:12.
Of the commandment - Relating to the office of priest, or to the ceremonial rites in general. This does not refer to the moral law, as if that was abrogated, for:
(1) the reasoning of the apostle does not pertain to that, and,
(2) that law cannot be abrogated. It grows out of the nature of things, and must be perpetual and universal.
Going before - Going before the Christian dispensation and introducing it.
For the weakness and unprofitableness thereof - That is, it was not adapted to save man; it had not power to accomplish what was necessary to be done in human salvation. It answered the end for which it was designed - that of introducing a more perfect plan, and then vanished as a matter of course. It did not expiate guilt; it did not give peace to the conscience; it did not produce perfection Heb 7:11, and therefore it gave place to a better system.
For the law made nothing perfect - The Levitical, ceremonial law. It did not produce a perfect state; it did not do what was desirable to be done for a sinner; see the note on Heb 7:11. That Law, as such, did not reconcile man to God; it did not make an atonement: it did not put away guilt; in one word, "it did not restore things to the condition in which they were before the Law was broken and man became a sinner." If man were saved under that system - as many undoubtedly were - it was not in virtue of any intrinsic efficacy which it possessed, but in virtue of that great sacrifice which it typified.
But the bringing in of a better hope did - Margin, "But it was." The correct rendering is, probably, "but there is the bringing in of a better hope, by which we have access to God." The Law could not effect this. It left the conscience guilty, and sin unexpiated. But there is now the introduction of a better system by which we can approach a reconciled God. The "better hope" here refers to the more sure and certain expectation of heaven introduced by the gospel. There is a better foundation for hope; a more certain way of obtaining the divine favor than the Law could furnish.
By the which - By which better hope; that is, by means of the ground of hope furnished by the gospel, to wit, that God is now reconciled. and that we can approach him with the assurance that he is ready to save us.
We draw nigh unto God - We have access to him; notes, Rom 5:1-2.
And inasmuch as not without an oath - In addition to every other consideration showing the superiority of Christ as a priest, there was the solemnity of the oath by which he was set apart to the office. The appointment of one to the office of priest by an oath, such as occurred in the case of Jesus, was much more solemn and important than where the office was received merely by descent.
For those priests were made without an oath - The Levitical priests were set apart and consecrated without their office being confirmed to them by an oath on the part of God. They received it by regular descent, and when they arrived at a suitable age they entered on it of course. Jesus received his office by special appointment, and it was secured to him by an oath. The word rendered "oath" is in the margin "swearing of an oath." This is the proper meaning of the Greek word, but the sense is not materially varied.
But this with an oath - This priest, the Lord Jesus, became a priest in virtue of an oath.
The Lord sware - see the note at Heb 6:13. The reference here is to Psa 110:4. "The Lord hath sworn."
And will not repent - That is, "will not regret, or will not alter his mind through regret" - for this is the meaning of the Greek word.
By so much - Inasmuch as an oath is more solemn than a mere appointment. The meaning is, that there is all the additional security in the suretyship of Jesus which arises from the solemnity of an oath. It is not implied that God would not be true to his mere promise, but the argument here is derived from the custom of speaking among people. An oath is regarded as much more sacred and binding than a mere promise, and the fact that God has sworn in a given case furnishes the highest security that what he has promised will be performed.
Was Jesus made a surety - The word "surety" - ἐγγυος enguos - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament nor is it found in the Septuagint. It properly means, a bondsman; one who pledges his name, property, or influence, that a certain thing shall be done. When a contract is made, debt contracted, or a note given, a friend often becomes the "security" in the case, and is himself responsible if the terms of the contract are not complied with. In the case of the new covenant between God and man, Jesus is the "security" or the bondsman. But of what, and to whom, is he the surety? It cannot be that he is a bondsman for God that he will maintain the covenant, and be true to the promise which he makes, as Crellius supposes, for we need no such "security" of the divine faithfulness and veracity. It cannot be that he becomes responsible for the divine conduct in any way - for no such responsibility is needed or possible.
But it must mean that he is the security or bondsman on the part of man. He is the pledge that we shall be saved. He becomes responsible, so to speak, to law and justice, that no injury shall be done by our salvation, though we are sinners. He is not a security that we shall be saved at any rate, without holiness, repentance, faith, or true religion - for he never could enter into a suretyship of that kind: but his suretyship extends to this point, that the law shall be honored; that all its demands shall be met; that we may be saved though we have violated it, and that its terrific penalty shall not fall upon us. The case is this. A sinner becomes a true penitent and enters heaven. It might be said that he does this over a broken law; that God treats the good and bad alike, and that no respect has been paid to the law or the penalty in his salvation. Here the Great Surety comes in, and says that it is not so.
He has become responsible for this; he the surety, the pledge, that all proper honor shall be paid to justice, and that the same good effects shall ensue as if the penalty of the law had been fully borne. He himself has died to honor the law, and to open a way by which its penalty may be fully remitted consistently with justice, and he becomes "the everlasting pledge or security" to law, to justice, to the universe, that no injury shall result from the pardon and salvation of the sinner. According to this view, no man can rely on the suretyship of Jesus but he who expects salvation on the terms of the gospel. The suretyship is not at all that he shall be saved in his sins, or that he shall enter heaven no matter what life he leads; it is only that if he believes, repents, and is saved, no injury shall be done to the universe; no dishonor to the law. For this the Lord Jesus is responsible.
Of a better testament - Rather, "of a better covenant." The former covenant was what God made with his people under the Mosaic dispensation; the new covenant is that made by means of Christ. This is "better" because:
(1) the terms are more simple and easy;
(2) the observances and rites are much less onerous and hard;
(3) it relates to all people, not being confined to the Jewish people;
(4) it is now sure. The former was administered through the instrumentality of the Levitical priesthood, this by the Son of God; that was transitory and changing, this is permanent and eternal.
(The word rendered "Surety," is εγγυος enguos. It occurs indeed here only in the New Testament, nor is it found in the Septuagint, i, e. the very word is not. Yet its derivatives occur there, and bear the sense that is ordinarily, and everywhere expressed by suretyship, Pro 17:18; Pro 22:26, and other places. The word itself, too, is found in the Apocrypha Ecclesiasticus 29:15; 2 Macc. 10:28, on which last passage a recent and distinguished writer observes, "we find the word (here) conveying the idea of a covenant engagement, and that too on the part of the Most High. When the Jews joined battle with Timotheus, they are said to have had the Great God for their εγγυος enguos, assuring them of victory. They had prostrated themselves before the altar; they had spread ashes upon their heads, and covered themselves with sackcloth; they had poured out their hearts in prayer, pleading with the Most High, and putting him in mind of his promise - the promise in which he had said that he would be an enemy to their enemies - then seizing their arms and advancing to meet Timotheus, they rushed into the fight, we are told, εγγυον εχοντες ευημεριας και νικης enguon echontes euēmerias kai nikēs." Indeed, about the meaning of the word, and the accuracy of our English translation, there can be no doubt. Critics who are very far from admitting the doctrine of Christ's suretyship in the covenant of redemption, have freely admitted this. "See Peirce on the place."
What then is the sense of the word here? Applied to Christ will it bear its ordinary sense or not? Is he a surety in a sense analogous to that in which people are sureties? Hesitating to answer these questions in the affirmative, a host of commentators, following the Greeks, have observed, that εγγυος enguos is substituted for, and equivalent to, μεσιτης mesitēs, occurring at Heb 8:6; Heb 9:15; Heb 12:24. But because Christ is called, in these places, the μεσιτης mesitēs or mediator of the covenant, it does not follow that εγγυος enguos here has "precisely" the same sense. Or, if so, how shall we account for the introduction of this singular word at all? Why was not μεσιτης mesitēs employed here, as, in other places, in the Epistle? This has, indeed been accounted for by observing, that as the apostle, in the Heb 7:19, had used the word εγγιζομεν engizomen, we draw near, he employed εγγυος enguos in the Heb 7:22, for the sake of the "paronomasia," to which figure he is alleged to have been much attached. But in whatever way the apostle may have been led to the use of the word (and the above account is probable enough), he never would have used it, in a sense altogether different from what ordinarily is attached to it, out of fondness for any figure whatever. "A surety has to pay what they owe, for whom he is engaged; to do, what is to be done by them, which they cannot perform. 'And if this be not the notion of a surety in this place, the apostle makes use of a word, nowhere else used in the whole scripture, to teach us what it doth never signify among people, which is improbable and absurd.' For the sole reason why he did make use of it was, that from the nature and notion of it among people, in other cases, we may understand the signification of it, and what, under that name, he ascribes unto the Lord Jesus" - Owen.
Having thus proved that εγγυος enguos is properly translated "surety," and that Christ is so styled, in a sense not widely different from what is usually attached to the word - let us next inquire, how Christ discharges this suretyship, or what he does in his capacity of surety? Is he surety to us for God? This last question, by orthodox writers, is for the most part, answered in the negative on the ground that there can be no need of security for God, his promise and his oath being sufficient guarantee that he will fulfil his engagement; on the ground also, that a surety must be some one greater than the party for whom he engages, which, in the case of God, renders the thing impossible, since there is none greater than Heb. Thus, Dr. Owen has argued at great length, and is followed by Guyse, Boston, and many others. Yet there are not wanting writers of great reputation for learning and orthodoxy, who scruple not to say that Christ is surety "for God;" (see Mr. Scott on this place).
He undertook, on the part of the Father. that all the promises should be made good to the seed. He acts in the behalf of God toward us, and assures us of the divine favor. "If it be asked, what need was there of a Mediator to assure us of the fulfillment of the promises made by the God of truth, who cannot lie or deceive us, I answer, the same objection might be made against God's adding his oath to his promise, whereby he intended to give us the greater security of accomplishment? - Pierce. The exclusion of this idea from the suretyship of Christ, on the part of so many divines, doubtless arose from the improper use made of it by Socinians, who unwilling to admit that Christ had become bound for our debt of suffering and obedience, and, in this sense, was surety "for us," resolved the suretyship into a mere engagement "in behalf of God." They could not allow more, without allowing the atonement.
While, however, we see no necessity for discarding this idea, because it has been used for bad purposes, we maintain, that this is neither all, nor even the principal part, of the suretyship of Christ. Revert to the original notion of a surety. He is one who engages, in behalf of another, to pay a debt or discharge a duty, which that other may fail to pay or discharge. Christ engaged to stand in that relation toward us, and therefore he is the "surety for us God," that our debt shall be discharged. God the Father, on his part, engages, that Christ shall see his seed, that they shall be saved; and the Son of God, on his part, becomes bound for the debt of penalty and obedience. This is the covenant of redemption, "the counsel of peace" between the Father and the Son, before all worlds; Zac 6:13; Isa 53:10, Isa 53:12. It is unnecessary further to observe, that Christ, in his capacity of surety, has nobly redeemed his pledge, endured the penalty, and honored the precept of the broken law, and thereby secured for his people the blessings of the covenant.
Before concluding this note, we may remark that some difference of opinion exists among those who hold the suretyship of Christ, in reference to another question. Namely, Whether he became surety for the faith, repentance, and evangelical obedience of his people? "I answer," says Thomas Boston. "though the elect's believing, repenting, and sincere obedience are infallibly secured in the covenant, yet I judge, that Christ did not become surety in the covenant, in way of caution to his Father, that the elect should perform these deeds, or any other. These belong rather to the promissory part of the covenant. "They are benefits promised in the covenant" by God unto Christ, the surety, as a reward of his fulfilling the condition of the covenant. And so they are, by the unchangeable truth of God, and his exact justice, ensured beyond all possibility of failure; Psa 22:27, Psa 22:30-31; Psa 110:3; Isa 53:10, with Heb 7:1; Eze 34:26-27, Eze 34:31; Heb 8:10-11." - Boston on the Covenant of Grace; see also Dr. Dick's admirable lectures on the same subject.
It will be seen from this review of the suretyship of Christ, that the sentiments of our author on the subject are not materially different from those of evangelical divines in Scotland. He may not use the same phraseology, but "security to the law, to justice, to the universe, that no injury shall result from the pardon of the sinner," is much the same with "surety to God for us, that our debt shall be discharged, that is, that none of these interests shall suffer.)
And they truly - Under the Jewish dispensation. The object of this verse and the following is, to state one more reason of the excellence of the priesthood of Christ. It is, that owing to the frailty of human nature, and the shortness of life, the office of priest there was continually changing. But here there was no such change. Christ, being exalted to the heavens to live forever there, has now an unchangeable priesthood, and everything in regard to his office is permanent.
But this man - Greek "But he" - referring to Christ.
Because he continueth ever - Greek "Because he remains forever." The idea is because he does not die, but ever lives, he has an unchanging priesthood. There is no necessity that he should yield it to others, as was the case with the Jewish priests because they were mortal. The reason in their case, why it passed to others, was not that they did not perform the office well, but that they were mortal, and could not continue to hold it. But this reason could not operate in the case of the Lord Jesus, and therefore his priesthood would be permanent.
Hath an unchangeable priesthood - Margin, "or, "which passeth not from one to another." The margin expresses the sense of the passage. The idea is not strictly that it was "unchangable," but that "it did not pass over into other hands." The Levitical priesthood passed from one to another as successive generations came on the stage of action. This reasoning is not designed to prove that the priesthood of Christ will be literally "eternal" - for its necessity may cease when all the redeemed are in heaven - but that it is permanent, and does not pass from hand to hand,
Wherefore he is able also - As he ever lives, and ever intercedes, he has power to save. He does not begin the work of salvation, and then relinquish it by reason of death, but he lives on as long as it is necessary that anything should be done for the salvation of his people. We need a Saviour who has power, and Christ has shown that he has all the power which is needful to rescue man from eternal death.
To the uttermost - This does not mean simply "forever" - but that he has power to save them so that their salvation shall be "complete" - εἰς τὸ παντελὲς eis to panteles. He does not abandon the work midway; he does not begin a work which he is unable to finish. He can aid us as long as we need anything done for our salvation; he can save all who will entrust their salvation to his hands.
That come unto God by him - In his name; or depending on him. To come to God, is to approach him for pardon and salvation.
Seeing he ever liveth - He does not die as the Jewish priests did.
To make intercession for them - see the note at Rom 8:34. He constantly presents the merits of his death as a reason why we should be saved. The precise mode, however, in which he makes intercession in heaven for his people is not revealed. The general meaning is, that he undertakes their cause, and assists them in overcoming their foes and in their endeavors to live a holy life; compare Jo1 2:1. He does in heaven whatever is necessary to obtain for us grace and strength; secures the aid which we need against our foes; and is the pledge or security for us that the law shall be honored, and the justice and truth of God maintained, though we are saved. It is reasonable to presume that this is somehow by the presentation of the merits of his great sacrifice, and that that is the ground on which all this grace is obtained. As that is infinite, we need not fear that it will ever be exhausted.
For such an High Priest became us - Was suited to our condition. That is, there was that in our character and circumstances which demanded that a high priest for us should be personally holy. It was not requisite merely that he should have great power; or that he should be of a rank superior to that of the Jewish priesthood; but there was a special propriety that he should surpass all others in "moral" purity. Other priests were mere mortal men, and it was necessary that their office should pass to other hands; they were "sinful" men also, and it was necessary that sacrifices should be made for themselves as well as others. We need, however, a different priest. We need not only one who ever lives, but one who is perfectly holy, and who has no need to bring an offering for himself, and all the merit of whose sacrifice, therefore, may be ours. Such an high priest we have in the person of the Lord Jesus; and there is no truth more interesting, and no proposition more susceptible of proof, than that he is exactly Fitted to man. In his moral character, and in the great work which he has accomplishcd, he is just such a Saviour as is adapted to the wants of ignorant, fallen, wretched, sinful man. He is benevolent, and pities our woes; wise, and is able to enlighten our ignorance; compassionate, and ready to forgive our faults. He has made such a sacrifice as was necessary to put away our guilt, and offers such intercession as we need to have offered for us in order that we may be preserved from falling.
Who is holy - Not merely "outwardly righteous," but pure in heart.
Harmless - Not injuring anyone. To no one did he do wrong. Neither to their name, person, or property, did he ever do injury; nor will he ever. He is the only one who has lived on earth of whom it could be said that he never, in any way, did wrong to another.
Undefiled - By sin; by any improper desire or passion. He was unstained by crime; "unspotted from the world." Sin always defiles the soul; but from every such pollution the Lord Jesus was free.
Separate from sinners - That is, he did not associate with them as such. He did not partake of their feelings, plans, pleasures. Though he mingled with them, yet it was merely to do them good, and in all his life there was an entire separation from the feelings, principles, and views of a sinful world.
And made higher than the heavens - Exalted above the visible heavens; that is, at the right hand of God; see the Eph 1:21 note; Phi 2:9 note. We needed a high priest who is thus exalted that he may manage our cause before the throne of God.
Who needeth not daily, as those high priests - As the Jewish priests. This is an additional circumstance introduced to show the superior excellency of the High Priest of the Christian profession, and to show also how he was suited to our wants. The Jewish high priest was a sinful man. He had the same fallen and corrupt nature as others. He needed an expiatory sacrifice for his own sins as really as they did for theirs. When he approached God to offer sacrifice, it was needful to make an atonement for himself, and when all was done it was still a sacrifice offered by a sinful man. But it was not so in the case of Jesus. He was so holy that he needed no sacrifice for himself, and all that he did was in behalf of others. Besides, it was necessary that the sacrifices in the Jewish service should be constantly repeated. They were imperfect. They were mere types and shadows. They who offered them were frail, sinful men. It became necessary, therefore, to repeat them every day to keep up the proper sense of their transgressions, and to furnish a suitable acknowledgment of the tendency to sin alike among the people and the priests. Neither in the nature of the offering, nor in the character of those who made it, was there any sufficient reason why it should cease to be offered, and it was therefore repeated day by day. But it was not so with the Lord Jesus. The offering which he made, though presented but once, was so ample and perfect that it had sufficient merit for all the sins of the world, and needed never to be repeated. It is not probable that the Jewish high priest himself personally officiated at the offering of sacrifice every day; but the meaning here is, that it was done daily, and that there was need of a daily sacrifice in his behalf. As one of the Jewish people, the sacrifice was offered on his account as well as on the account of others - for he partook of the common infirmities and sinfulness of the nation.
For this he did once - That is, once for all - ἐφάπαξ ephapax. He made such an atonement that it was not needful that it should be repeated. Thus, he put an end to sacrifice, for when he made the great atonement it was complete, and there was no need that any more blood should be shed for human guilt.
For the law - The ceremonial law.
Which have infirmity - Who are weak, frail, sinful, dying. Such were all who were appointed to the office of priest under the Jewish Law.
But the word of the oath - By which one was appointed after the order of Melchizedek; note, Heb 7:21.
Maketh the Son - The Son of God. That appointment has resulted in his being set apart to this work.
Who is consecrated forevermore - Margin, "Perfected;" see the note at Heb 2:10. The idea is, that the appointment is "complete" and "permanent." It does not pass from one to the other. It is perfect in all the arrangements, and will remain so forever.
The subject of this chapter is the exalted high priesthood of the Redeemer. This is a subject which pertains to all Christians, and to all men. All religions imply the priestly office; all suppose sacrifice of some kind. In regard to the priestly office of Christ as illustrated in this chapter, we may observe:
(1) He stands alone. In that office he had no predecessor, and has no one to succeed him. In this respect he was without father, mother, or descent - and he stands in lonely majesty as the only one who sustains the office; Heb 7:3.
(2) he is superior to Abraham. Abraham never laid claim to the ofrice of priest, but he recognized his inferiority to one whom the Messiah was to resemble; Heb 7:2, Heb 7:4.
(3) he is superior to all the Jewish priesthood - sustaining a rank and performing an office above them all. The great ancestor of all the Levitical priests recognized his inferiority to one of the rank or "order" of which the Messiah was to be, and received from him a blessing. In our contemplation of Christ, therefore, as priest, we have the privilege of regarding him as superior to the Jewish high priest - exalted as was his office, and important as were the functions of his office; as more grand, more pure, more worthy of confidence and love.
(4) the great High Priest of the Christian profession is the only perfect priest; Heb 7:11, Heb 7:19. The Jewish priests were all imperfect and sinful men. The sacrifices which they offered were imperfect, and could not give peace to the conscience. There was need of some better system, and they all looked forward to it. But in the Lord Jesus, and in his work, there is absolute perfection. What he did was complete, and his office needs no change.
(5) the office now is permanent. It does not change from hand to hand; Heb 7:23-24. He who sustains this office does not die, and we may ever apply to him and cast our cares on him. Men die; one generation succeeds another; but our High Priest is the same. We may trust in him in whom our fathers found peace and salvation, and then we may teach our children to confide in the same High Priest - and so send the invaluable lesson down to latest generations.
(6) his work is firm and sure; Heb 7:20-22. His office is founded on an oath, and he has become the security for all who will commit their cause to him. Can great interests like those of the soul be entrusted to better hands? Are they not safer in his keeping than in our own?
(7) he is able to save to the uttermost; Heb 7:25. That power he showed when he was on earth; that power he is constantly evincing. No one has asked aid of him and found him unable to render it; no one has been suffered to sink down to hell because his arm was weak. What he has done for a few he can do for "all;" and they who will entrust themselves to him will find him a sure Saviour. So why will people not be persuaded to commit themselves to him? Can they save themselves? Where is there one who has shown that he was able to do it? Do they not need a Saviour? Let the history of the world answer. Can man conduct his own cause before God? How weak, ignorant, and blind is he; how little qualified for such an office! Has anyone suffered wrong by committing himself to the Redeemer? If there is such an one, where is he? Who has ever made this complaint that has tried it? Who ever will make it? In countless millions of instances, the trial has been made whether Christ was "able to save." Men have gone with a troubled spirit; with a guilty conscience; and with awful apprehensions of the wrath to come, and have asked him to save them. Not one of those who have done this has found reason to doubt his ability; not one has regretted that he has committed the deathless interest of the soul into his hands.
(8) Christ saves to the uttermost; Heb 7:25. He makes the salvation complete. So the Bible assures us; and so we see it in fact as far as we can trace the soul. When a Christian friend dies, we stand at his bed-side and accompany him as far as we can into the valley of the shadow of death. We ask him whether he feels that Christ is able to save? He replies, "yes." When he has lost the power of speaking above a whisper, we ask him the same question, and receive the same reply. When he gives us the parting hand, and we, still anxious to know whether all is well, ask the same question, a sign, a smile, a lighting up of the dying eye, declares that all is well. As far as we can trace the departing soul when it goes into the dark valley, we receive the same assurance; and why should we doubt that the same grace is bestowed further onward, and that he saves "to the uttermost?" But what else thus saves? Friends give the parting hand at the gloomy entrance to that valley, and the frivolous and the worldly coolly turn away. The delusions of infidelity there forsake the soul, and minister no comfort then. Flatterers turn away from the dying scene - for who flatters the dying with the praise of beauty or accomplishments? Taste, skill, learning, talent, do not help then, for how can they save a dying soul? None but Jesus saves to the "uttermost;" no other friend but he goes with us entirely through the valley of death. Is it not better to have such a friend than to go alone through that dark, gloomy path? Any other gloomy and dangerous way may be more safely trod without a friend, than the vale of death.
(9) the Christian religion is suited to our condition; Heb 7:26-27. It has just such a High Priest as we need - holy, harmless, undefiled. Just such an atonement has been made as is necessary - ample, rich, full, and not needing to be made again. It reveals just such truth as we want - that respecting the immortality of the soul, and the glorious state of the redeemed beyond the grave. It imparts just such consolation as is suited to our condition - pure, rich, unfailing, elevating. It reconciles us to God just as it should be done - in such a way that God can be honored, and the purity and dignity of his Law maintained. It is the religion adapted to dying, ignorant, sinful, wretched man. No other system so much consults the true dignity of our nature, and the honor of God; no one diffuses such consolations through the life that is, or fills with such hopes in regard to the life to come.
(10) since, then, we have now such a Great High Priest; since the promises of the gospel are settled on so firm a foundation; and since the gospel in its provisions of mercy is all that we can desire it to be, let us yield our hearts entirely to the Saviour, and make this salvation wholly ours. We have the privilege, if we will, of drawing near to God with boldness. We may come near his throne. Though we are poor, and sinful, and deserve neither notice nor mercy, yet we may come and ask for all that we need. We may go to God, and supplicate his favor, with the assurance that he is ready to hear. We may go feeling that the great atonement has been made for our sins, and that no other offering is now needed; that the last bloody offering which God required has been presented, and that all that he now asks is the sacrifice of a contrite and a grateful heart. All that was needful to be done on the part of God to provide a way of salvation has been done; all that remains is for man to forsake his sins and to come back to a God who waits to be gracious.