Inferior to Melchizedek
“One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham” (v. 9, Hebrews 7:9–10).
In chapter 7, the author of Hebrews demonstrates the superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham. Melchizedek is superior because he confers the blessing upon, and receives tithes from, Abraham, the father of the covenant people of God (7:4–7). This also implies that Christ is superior to Abraham since Christ resembles Melchizedek, and this is possible only because Melchizedek first resembles Christ (7:3).
But Melchizedek is not only superior to Abraham, he is superior to Levi as well. This is hinted at in 7:5 where the Levites have to be commanded to collect tithes but where Melchizedek, in verse 6, does not have to be commanded to collect tithes from their father. This implicit comparison is made explicit in verse 8, which says that the Levites are mortal in contrast to the living Melchizedek.
At this point, we should begin to realize that the author is speaking predominantly of the priesthood of these different groups and not seeking to teach that Melchizedek never died. Unlike the priests of the Levitical order whose deaths are recorded (Num. 33:38–39), we never read of the death of Melchizedek. This is a literary device used by Moses in the book of Genesis and by the author of Hebrews to stress the relationship of Melchizedek to Christ and thus, the superiority of Melchizedek’s priestly order to Levi’s.
Today’s passage further reinforces the superiority of Melchizedek to the sons of Levi. The inferior pays tithes to the superior, and Levi, not yet born but nonetheless represented by his father Abraham, pays tithes to Melchizedek when Abraham pays them to Melchizedek. Melchizedek is superior to all the sons of Abraham, including Levi, since they pay tithes to him through their father Abraham.
Since Jesus is a descendant of Judah and also would have paid tithes through Abraham, does that make Him also inferior to Melchizedek? The answer is no. On this point, John Calvin reminds us that Jesus is not simply a son of Abraham but is different from them because He is also their Lord. Moreover, as a type of Christ, Melchizedek is not in opposition to Him. Though as a type Melchizedek falls short of the reality of Christ, he is not opposed to Christ because of their implied equality. In other words, when Christ paid tithes to Melchizedek through Abraham, He was ultimately paying tithes to Himself.
There is a tendency among Christians to think that our salvation depends on our own faithfulness to the Law. But when we act as if this is so, we deny that Christ’s priesthood is superior to the priesthood of Levi. Remember that your salvation is based not in you, but in the person and work of Christ.
Passages for Further Study
Ps. 110; Zech. 6:9–15; Mark 2:23–28; Luke 23:26–49
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