Melchizedek and Levi Hebrews 7:4-10
We have been listening as the writer to the Hebrews taught us about Melchizedek who is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. The information that he gave to us is vitally important if we are to understand how our Lord Jesus who was not a Levite could be our great high priest. Last time, the writer introduced us to Melchizedek, the historical person. We learned three things about him. First, we learned that he was the only God sanctioned king and priest in the Bible. This prefigures our Savior as King and Priest. Second, we discovered that Melchizedek demonstrated that he was greater than the greatest man in Jewish history, Abraham, by blessing him and receiving tithes from him. Third, we learned that his name and title also foreshadow our Lord and Savior. He was “king of righteousness” and “king of peace.” Finally, we learned that he was a type of our Savior. He was created to show us how our Savior could be our high priest.
As we pick up our study we are going to look in more detail at the second point of last week’s study. In verses 4-10, the writer under the direction of the Holy Spirit delves into greater detail about the tithe that Melchizedek took from Abraham and the blessing that he pronounced upon Abraham. The writer demonstrates that Melchizedek the historical person is superior to Abraham and all of the Jewish priests. The one he prefigured, the Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest high priest of all.
The writer says in verse 4: “Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.” This is the writer’s thesis statement for the whole paragraph (verses 4-10). “Consider how great this man was.”
The writer’s burden is to demonstrate that our Lord’s priesthood, patterned after the priesthood of Melchizedek, is superior to the Levitical priesthood. He does this by first showing that the historical type is superior to the greatest Jew who ever lived, Abraham. If Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, He was also superior to all of Abraham’s descendants, including the Levites. If Melchizedek the type was superior, how much greater is the fulfillment of the type, the Lord Jesus Christ, a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Consider how God rates greatness. Melchizedek was not great because he was a king and a priest. He was not great because he had incredible military or monetary might. He was great because he had a special standing with God as the priest of the Most High God. Melchizedek’s greatness was spiritual greatness. He was great because he had a relationship with the true and living God and he served the Lord faithfully.
Many who think that they are great in this present age will find out in the end that their greatness was fleeting and their identity was really nothing at all in the eyes of God. In Psalm 49:16-20, we read, “Do not be afraid when one becomes rich, when the glory of his house is increased; For when he dies he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him. Though while he lives he blesses himself (For men will praise you when you do well for yourself), he shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. A man who is in honor, yet does not understand, is like the beasts that perish.” Be careful how we measure greatness. God’s standard is the only one that counts.
The writer now cites his most important piece of evidence to demonstrate irrefutably Melchizedek’s greatness. Abraham paid him a tithe of the spoils of the battle. Abraham, the Father of the Jewish people, the Father of the faithful, he paid tithes to Melchizedek.
We can almost hear the Jewish folks sitting in the back when this letter was read saying, “Big deal, Levitical priests have been collecting tithes for centuries.” The writer would respond, “True, but there is a very important difference between Levitical tithes and the tithe given to Melchizedek.” He says in verses 5-6, “And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.” The writer makes several important points in these two verses.
The sons of Levi receive tithes, but that is because they have received the priesthood. In the Law, a son of Aaron could become a priest at age twenty and serve until age fifty. They were not priests for all of their lives.
Second, they receive tithes because the Law commands it. Their authority is derived from the Mosaic Law. They could only receive tithes from others who were born to Abraham. They could not legally receive tithes from all people.
Melchizedek, on the other hand, had no recorded genealogy, thus giving us a picture of an eternal priesthood. He was not of the line of Abraham at all, yet, he received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who received all the promises under which the Jewish people live. Melchizedek’s priesthood then was entirely different from the Levitical priesthood. And it was clearly superior to the Levitical priesthood because Melchizedek blessed Abraham showing that Abraham is the lesser and Melchizedek is the greater. “Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.”
Melchizedek as a type of our Lord Jesus Christ clearly was superior to Aaron’s priesthood. In verses 8-10 the writer made two more very important points. “Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.”
The Levitical priests who receive the tithes were mortal men. The genealogy of each of these priests was established. Their fathers were known. They could mark the beginning of their priestly ministry; they also knew that there would be an end to their ministry. Theirs was a finite priesthood. The Levitical priesthood is a limited priesthood.
Melchizedek, on the other hand, left no recorded genealogy. We do not know who his father was nor do we know when he died. So, he perfectly prefigures the Lord Jesus who is a priest forever because He will never die. The priesthood of Melchizedek is an eternal, unlimited priesthood.
Levi, who was the father of all the Levitical priests, paid a tithe (and thus acknowledged the superiority of Melchizedek) through Abraham. If Abraham demonstrated that Melchizedek was superior to him because he gave him a tithe, then it follows that Levi, who was in Abraham, also is shown to be inferior to Melchizedek in the paying of this tithe.
What does all of this teach us? First, it underlines a truth that the writer is going to elaborate upon in the next paragraph. The Levitical priesthood was always supposed to be a temporary priesthood. A better priesthood, the priesthood of our Lord Jesus who is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, is the permanent priesthood to replace the temporary Levitical priesthood. We can always come to God through Him.
Second, there is the issue of the tithe. Some folks say that the tithe is not for the New Testament. They argue that just as the Levitical priesthood and the ceremonial Law were set aside at the cross, so also was the practice of the tithe. Is this true?
Is there one statement in the New Testament that teaches this principle? For one thing, our writer establishes beyond the shadow of a doubt that the practice of the tithe predates the giving of the Law.
Interestingly, he also states that two of the functions of a high priest that he uses to identify Melchizedek as a high priest is the receiving of the tithe as a representative of God and pronouncing blessings upon God’s people. If the Lord Jesus Christ is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, should we not expect Him to function as a high priest in these two ways in which Melchizedek functioned? Should we then not pay Him tithes and ask for blessings from Him even in this New Testament age?
Further, we learned in our text today that Abraham acknowledged the greatness of Melchizedek by paying a tithe to him. What are we doing if we refuse to pay a tithe to the Lord of Glory, our great high priest?