“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of God Most High, met Abraham and blessed him as he returned from defeating the kings, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means king of righteousness, then also, king of Salem, meaning king of peace. Without father, mother, or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. Now consider how great this man was: even Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the plunder to him. The sons of Levi who receive the priestly office have a command according to the law to collect a tenth from the people — that is, from their brothers and sisters — though they have also descended from Abraham. But one without this lineage collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. Without a doubt, the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case, men who will die receive a tenth, but in the other case, Scripture testifies that he lives. And in a sense Levi himself, who receives a tenth, has paid a tenth through Abraham, for he was still within his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We’ve seen his name over and over in this letter. I even stopped and gave some background on who he was. Here at last, though, we arrive at the part where the author of Hebrews finally explains who Melchizedek is and why he has been using him as an illustration of the kind of priest Jesus is vis-a-vis the Levitical priesthood. I included the whole block of text about it here so you didn’t have to click through to read it all. Like the big block from chapter 5 we looked at a few weeks ago, I couldn’t break this up. We’ll take the rest of chapter seven in slightly smaller bits as he draws more contrasts between Melchizedek and Jesus and the Levitical priesthood. For now, though, let’s talk through what’s going on here.
Like we talked about a few weeks ago, after Abraham and his nephew, Lot, parted ways, after Lot had settled near Sodom and Gomorrah, and after he was kidnapped and rescued by Abraham (all of which is chronicled in Genesis 14), as the victory train rolled back home, they were met by this mysterious figure named Melchizedek. This Melchizedek (whose name means “king of righteousness”) is identified as the King of Salem (often assumed to be an early Jerusalem) and a priest of God Most High. He blessed Abraham and in return, Abraham gave him a tenth (that is, a tithe) of his spoils from the battle he had won.
In spite of his obviously high stature, we don’t know anything else about Melchizedek. Where he came from, how he got there, who his family was, and so on and so forth are all a mystery to us. Now, normally we would skip over a detail like that, but the writer of Hebrews makes some hay out of it. His mysterious genealogy is a little like Jesus’ mysterious genealogy. I mean, yes, we know who Jesus’ earthly parents were, but beyond that, He is from eternity past. Furthermore, we never hear anything about Melchizedek ever dying. As far as we are concerned, his priestly ordination still holds. That is, he is a priest forever. Well, so is Jesus.
After marveling about Melchizedek’s lineage for a second, the author shifts gears back to his high stature. And here he does a bit of reaching. Follow his line of reasoning carefully. Abraham was one of the patriarchs of Israel. In fact, he was the first patriarch. He was the guy who got it all started. Yet this great man submitted himself to Melchizedek. That would seem to suggest he recognized that Melchizedek was even higher in position than he was.
There’s more. The author next starts talking about the priestly tribe of Levi. This seems to come a bit out of left field. Why talk about Levi? Because they were the ones who received tithes from the rest of the people of Israel. Levi was in this way being recognized as having a special status over their brothers and sisters that made them worthy of such a gift. Their lineage going back to Moses and Aaron themselves is part of what made them worthy. This all happened the way it did even though they were all descendants of Abraham.
Because Levi was a descendant of Abraham, and because Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek, in a sense, Levi paid this tithe to Melchizedek, thus acknowledging his superiority over Levi. After all, the lesser gives gifts to and is blessed by the greater. In other words, Melchizedek’s priesthood is superior to Levi’s priesthood. And because Jesus is a priest like Melchizedek was a priest (that is, a priest designated specifically by God and not established by the Law), His priesthood is also greater than Levi’s priesthood. That is, Jesus is greater than the Law.
So then, what on earth are we supposed to make of all of this? Well, that’s what the rest of the chapter as well as the next couple of chapters are going to unpack for us. But for now, let me make an observation on how this all relates to us. God doesn’t act without precedent. Jesus was something new in the world, but how He functioned and the role He played was not entirely without precedent. For folks who were paying close enough attention, God had told us what He planned to do. He always tells us what He plans to do.
Let’s get even more personal than this. God’s actions in your life are never without precedent. When He moves, He’s not doing something new. He’s continuing work He has long since started. He has a long history of revealing how He wants to be involved in your life. He wants to save you. He wants to see you become more fully reflective of the incredible design He has for you. He wants you living a life that is abundant and free. He wants to be in a relationship with you through Christ. Everything He does is driven by these things, He has been working to accomplish these things since even before you were born, and He’s going to keep working toward them until He has them. They only question is: Will you receive Him? Will you join Him in the adventure of becoming who He made you to be? I can guarantee you this: you’ll be glad you did.