Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Priest out of Line: Hebrews 7

In Summary:

Well, Hebrews 7 continues the “wait, what is he talking about?” portion of Hebrews. Melchizedek is nearly the focus of this chapter—he’s not, Jesus is—and we just don’t know much about Melchizedek. Apart from the mentions in the Epsitle to the Hebrews, we would probably count him as a minor character from Genesis 14. Instead, we take a long, hard look at him as an important figure who is a “type” (literary example) of Christ.

The identity and heritage of Melchizedek is addressed in this chapter. Well, actually his lack of lineage. Melchizedek is spoken of as having no ancestry. Rather, he is identified as remaining a priest forever because his death is not noted in Scripture. (There’s two ways to see this: he never died, and was a theophany; he did die but it’s not recorded so he remains “listed” as a priest. Sound study does not solve this on the basis of this chapter alone.)

Melchizedek, though, is not the focus of the chapter. Neither are Abraham or Levi, who are also mentioned. Jesus is. Not just because the whole Bible is about Jesus but because the Patriarchal Age figures are brought up to show the supremacy of Christ over the Law. How so?

In Focus:

Let us make Hebrews 7:14 in focus today. Hebrews is addressing an early objection to Jesus as the One True High Priest of God. The priesthood, after all, is supposed to descend from the Levitical line. This rule goes back to Exodus and the whole golden calf problem. Levi’s descendants showed a zeal for God’s holiness that the other Israelites were disregarding and so God appointed the Levites as priests.

Jesus, though, is from the line of the tribe of Judah. For Him to be the High Priest (as Hebrews alleges,) He should have come from the Levites. Rather than resorting to all sorts of lineage gymnastics, though, the Lord provides the answer in this manner: even Levi, the great-grandson of Abraham, counted Melchizedek as a priest over him. (How? Because Abraham did, so it passed on.) Therefore, it’s possible to be a priest higher than the priestly line—and it is from this lineage that Jesus is accounted a priest. Not for biology but by the declaration of God.

In Practice:

One thing this does NOT mean, for the record, is that anybody else gets to come along and declare themselves a priest like Melchizedek. The author of Hebrews is declaring the fulfillment of that line just as much as the fulfillment of the Levitical line of priests and the Judahite line of kings. It all culminates with Jesus.

Beyond that, a few thoughts:

1. As a minister, this one speaks clearly to me: the frailty of human priests. I’m not a priest. Never have been, never will be—but just the same, if the priests needed daily sacrifices even with their insulated lives, how much more so do I need them? I’m not fit to be the priest of God’s people because I’m just as sinful. (7:26-27)

2. As a believer, stop trying to sort everyone and everything according to my own understanding. God works according to His character and His word, not according to my rationale. There will be times that this looks like I expect. And times it looks very different.

3. Furthermore, as a believer, proclaim the salvation in the great High Priest, Jesus. Not salvation according to religious traditions or spirituality, but according to the One who is perfect forever. (7:28)

In Nerdiness: 

Well, there’s plenty to nerd out about with Melchizedek, but we’ll leave it aside. You can find many viewpoints, including that he was really Jesus before the Incarnation, much like the Commander of the Army of Yahweh in Joshua 5-6. I’m not sure…check some Old Testament scholars on that idea.

And that’s actually one of the challenges about researching Melchizedek. This bears a challenge to you nerd folk: typically, we find a specialty area and pursue it. That’s great. Some concepts, though, break across those areas. Melchizedek is really an Old Testament figure. OT scholars are usually well-versed in Hebrew and other older Israelite issues. But the bulk of the Scriptural references to Melchizedek are found in Greek in the New Testament. One has to work across that divide to dig out the ideas.

In other words: build your silo, but don’t neglect the truth found in the other silos on the farm. They may interrelate more than you expect.

No comments:

Post a Comment

To deal with SPAM comments, all comments are moderated. I'm typically willing to post contrary views...but I also only check the list once a day, so if you posted within the last 24 hours, I may not be to it yet.

Historical Thinking for June 18 2024

 So, one of the things that has me struggling with blogging for the last, oh, 3 or 4 years is that I am supposed to be writing a dissertatio...