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Barnes' New Testament Notes
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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS - Chapter 7 - Verse 1

 

CHAPTER VII.

 

ANALYSIS OF THE CHAPTER.

IN Heb 5:10,11, the apostle had introduced the name of Melchisedek, 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 6:4-8; and encourages them to hold fast their faith and hope to the end, in view of the covenant faithfulness of God, Heb 6:9-20; 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 Melchisedek. The argument is the following :—

I. That which is drawn from the exalted rank of Melchisedek, 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 Melchisedek, 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 Melchisedek, 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 of 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 7:25,26, 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.

Verse 1. For this Melchisedec. See Barnes "Heb 5:6".

The name, Melehisedek, from which the apostle derives a portion of his argument here, is Hebrew

HEBREW

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 Barnes "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 Melchisedek, which is very brief, occurs in Ge 14:18-20. The name occurs in the Bible only in Ge 14, Ps 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 sudukSydyc. 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 an 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 men to mystify a clear statement of history, and how fond they are of finding what is mysterious and marvellous 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 Melchisedec;" 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 careful 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 Melchisedek 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?

King of Salem. Such is the record in Ge 14:18. The word Salem

HEBREW

—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 ever 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 afterwards 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 afterwards added, because it was the residence of the Jebusites.

(2.) The name Salem is itself given to Jerusalem. Ps 86:2: "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, Ge 14:14, and he was returning to Mamre, that is, Hebron, Ge 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 favourably 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 Ge 14:18. The leading office of priest was to offer sacrifice. This duty was probably first performed by the father of the family, (comp. See Barnes "Job 1:5"; see also Ge 8:20; 22:2; and when he was dead it devolved on the eldest 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 Melchisedek, who was a king, should also be a priest, was not, therefore, remarkable. The only thing remarkable is, that he 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. Comp. Bush on Ge 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 Shiner, 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 neighbourhood 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.

{a} "king of Salem" Ge 14:18

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