THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS

Lesson 6: Chapter 5:1- 10

Jesus the Compassionate Priest-King of the New Covenantal Order

 

Beloved Lord,

You have never left Your Church without the leadership she has needed to guide her on her journey through this earthly exile.  We ask Your blessing, Lord, on the Vicar of Christ's heavenly Kingdom on earth, our beloved Pope Benedict XVI, and on all of Christ's ministers, the Bishops and priests of the Universal Church, that they receive the physical and spiritual strength they need to daily rise to the challenge of serving Jesus by ministering to Your holy people.  Give Your ministers wisdom, fortitude, and compassion as they guide the faithful, and give us faith, obedience, and trust to yield to Your ministers was they lead us on our journey to eternity.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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Jesus Christ is the one whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit and established as priest, prophet, and king.  The whole People of God participates in these three offices of Christ and bears the responsibilities for mission and service that flow from them. Catechism of the Catholic Church # 783

 

This Melchizedech is Shem, who became a king due to his greatness; he was the head of fourteen nations.  In addition, he was a priest.  He received this from Noah, his father, through the rights of succession.  Shem lived not only to the time of Abraham, as Scripture says, but even to the time of Jacob and Esau, the grandsons of Abraham.  St. Ephraim, doctor of the Church: Teaching on Genesis 14:18-20

 

"The priest continues the work of redemption on earth...If we really understood the priest on earth, we would die not of fright but of love...The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus." Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, Cure d'Ars

 

Everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the "one mediator between God and men." Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1544

 

All Biblical quotations are from the New American Bible translation unless otherwise noted.

 

The subject of Jesus' role as High Priest of the new covenantal order was first introduced in Hebrews 2:17 with the inspired writer's statement that Jesus,

 

and again in Hebrews 4:14-15 when he said,

 

The subject of Jesus' role as High Priest of the New Covenant is now developed as a major theme of the discourse from Hebrews 5:1 to Hebrews 10:18.  In Hebrews 5:1-10 the inspired writer develops the theme of Jesus' priesthood by continuing his argument concerning the superiority of Jesus Christ.  It is a theme he began earlier in his discourse when he affirmed Jesus'

  1. superiority to angels [Hebrews 1:4-2:13]
  2. superiority in His fulfillment of the promised Davidic king in the covenant God formed with King David [Hebrews 1:5b, 8-9, 13b], and
  3. His superiority over the great prophet/ law-giver of the Old Covenant, Moses [Hebrews 3:1-19]

 

With the statement that Jesus is superior in His royal priesthood over the angels, over Moses as law-giver and now in this section over Aaron, God's selected High Priest of the first sacred assembly of the Old Covenant priesthood, St. Thomas Aquinas writes that the inspired writer has established Jesus' superiority over those from whom the old law had its authority:

  1. Angels: by whose ministry the Law of Sinai was given [Galatians 3:19].
  2. Moses: who was the Old Covenant law-giver [John 1:17] and covenant mediator [Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:7-8].
  3. Aaron: the priest through whom the old law was administered [Exodus 28:1-5].

The writer of Hebrews is establishing in this section that the Old Covenant priesthood was only a foretaste of the perfect priesthood that was to come: Everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the "one mediator between God and men" [CCC # 1544]. 

 

It has always been the claim of the New Covenant Church that Jesus the Messiah came fulfilling the 3 holy offices of the Old Covenant; the offices of king, prophet, and priest.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms in article # 783, Jesus Christ is the one whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit and established as priest, prophet, and king.  The whole People of God participates in these three offices of Christ and bears the responsibilities for mission and service that flow from them.

 

  1. Jesus the King: He is the fulfillment of the promise made to King David in 2 Samuel 7:16, Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me, your throne shall stand firm forever and to the prophets like Isaiah in the Book of Isaiah 9:5-6, For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.  They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince-of-Peace.  His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David's throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice both now and forever.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts (Yahweh Sabaoth) will do this!

 

  1. Jesus God's Holy Prophet: Jesus fulfills the role of covenant mediator as God's supreme prophet, a role defined in Deuteronomy 18:18-20, I will raise up for them a prophet like you [Moses] from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.  If any man will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.  It was the prophet's role to speak the word of God and not his own, he must speak the words of truth: If you say to yourselves, 'How can we recognize an oracle which the LORD has spoken?, know that, even though a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if his oracle is not fulfilled or verified, it is an oracle which the LORD did not speak.  The prophet has spoken it presumptuously, and you shall have no fear of him [Deuteronomy 18:21-22].  Jesus testified that He spoke the truth and that He spoke only what the Father wanted Him to speak [John 12:49-50; 14:6, 10].

 

  1. Jesus the royal High Priest of the New eternal Covenant: Jesus fulfills the role of High Priest in a royal priesthood superior to the priesthood Aaron and like that of Melchizedech, priest-king of Salem [Genesis 14:18]'a role which Jesus attributed to Himself when He quoted Psalm 110 in Matthew 22:43-44: He said to them, "How then, does David, inspired by the Spirit, call him "Lord," saying" [quoting Psalm 110:1]: 'The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your feet'?  If David calls him 'Lord,' how can he be his son?" Verse 4 of this psalm says: The LORD has sworn and will not waver: "Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever."   

 

In the previous chapter the inspired writer referred to Jesus as our great High Priest who has passed through the heavens whose "throne of grace and mercy" we can approach with confidence [Hebrews 4:14-16]. 

Question: Why is His throne one of grace and mercy? What is the mention of Jesus' "passing through the heavens" significant in His role as our High Priest?

Answer: Jesus "passed through the heavens" upon His Ascension to glory and now ministers on our behalf in the heavenly Sanctuary.  We must understand His priestly role in light of His resurrection and ascension to His priestly and kingly throne at the "right hand" of God the Father in the heavenly sanctuary.  In His humanity He was able to sympathize with our weaknesses and in His glory He offers us His divine mercy in our suffering and His justice.  As our High Priest He intimately knows and understands us in the weakness of our human nature because He is true man, and in the goodness we are capable of achieving as the God who created us.  Therefore, better than any human High Priest, He has the capacity to act on our behalf.  In his commentary St. John Chrysostom notes that Jesus heavenly throne is a throne of grace and mercy and not a throne of judgment. Christ in His role as royal priest [by virtue of His Davidic kingship] compassionately identifies not with kings and conquerors but with the weak and the poor that the world rejects and to whom He both blessed and promised justice in the Beatitudes of Luke chapter 6.

 

Please read Hebrews 5:1-10, Jesus the Compassionate High Priest:

1 Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.  2 He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness 3 and so, for this reason must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.  4 No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.  5 In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: "You are my son; this day I have begotten you"; 6 just as he says in another place: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."  7 In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.  8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; 9 and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. 

 

Hebrews 5:1: Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.  God in His mercy intended in the Old Covenant as well as in the New that the covenant mediator who serves in the role of High Priest should possess human nature in order to lead the people to salvation with an understanding of and sympathy for the struggles the people must wage against the temptation to sin. In the Old Covenant Church it was the High Priest's role to act as the covenant representative of the "people of God." 

 

Question: Who were the "people of God" in the Old Testament?  Who are the "people of God" in the New Covenant Church?  See CCC# 782

Answer: In the Old Testament the "people of God" were those people bonded in covenant with Yahweh.  In this present age it is the Universal [Catholic] Church of Jesus Christ that is designated "the People of God"'those who are of the New Covenant in Christ's blood [Luke 22:20].  God is not the property of any one ethnic race or world power [CCC# 782]; He calls all nations and peoples to Himself.  But those who respond to His invitation to form a universal covenant family become a "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" [1 Peter 2:9].   

 

Question: To which "people" did God first make His invitation to become His "chosen people"?  Hint: see Exodus 19:3-8

Answer: It was an invitation He first made in covenant with ancient Israel at Sinai: So now, if you are really prepared to obey me and keep my covenant, you, out of all peoples, shall be my personal possession, for the whole world is mine.  For me you shall be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation [Exodus 19:5, New Jerusalem Bible translation]It is this invitation to union that St. Peter quotes and applies to the New Covenant people of God in 1 Peter 2:9: But you are a "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises" of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 

 

Question: How did one become a member of this "chosen people" in the Old Covenant Church?  How is that election different in the New Covenant "people of God"?

Answer: In the Old Covenant Church one entered the covenant through physical birth or conversion into the nation of Israel through baptism (ritual water purification) and for males, circumcision'signs of rebirth that prefigured Christian baptism.  From the time of the covenant with Abraham, circumcision was required of all males as a covenantal sign of that union with God much like the rainbow was the covenantal sign for Noah and his family [Genesis 9:12; 17:2].  The sign of circumcision indicated that the old physical life was "cut off" and a new spiritual life had begun that pointed to a spiritual circumcision of the heart [Genesis 17:9-14; Exodus 12:3; 44; Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; 9:25-26; Acts 7:8].  In the new Covenant in Christ one becomes a member of God's family not by physical birth but through being reborn into divine son/daughter-ship through a birth "of water and the Spirit" [John 3:3-7] in the Sacrament of Christian Baptism [see CCC# 782] which generates the "circumcision" God sought in His covenant people, not circumcision of the flesh but of the heart which is only possible through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit [Romans 2:25-28; 15:8; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 6:12-13; Colossians 2:9-12; Philippians 3:3].  For more information on Old Covenant conversion see The Jewish Book of Why page 297.

 

Hebrews 5:1b: to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.     

Part of the duties of a priest was the offering of sacrifices on behalf of the people and for himself.  Prior to the Sinai experience, every father of a family and his sons served in a priestly role offing sacrifices to Yahweh.  For example the sacrifices offered by Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:3-5; Noah offered sacrifices in Genesis 8:20; Abraham in Genesis 15; 22:13; Jacob/Israel in Genesis 31:54 and 46:1ordained priesthood through one father, Aaron.  It was to be a priesthood which was to be continued through his sons and their descendants [Exodus 28: 1-2] and, after the sin of the Golden Calf, the Aaronic priests were to be assisted in their priestly duties by one tribe, Aaron's tribe of Levi who would serve as ministers within the priesthood of Aaron, supplanting the "firstborn" redeemed in Egypt who were intended to serve God in the ministerial priesthood but who had fallen from grace and had become "dispossessed" firstborn sons in the sin of the Golden Calf [Exodus 32:25-29; Numbers 3:11-13].  But only Aaron's clan, the Levite clan of Kohath, would serve as high priests and from among their families, one member would be selected Kohen Gadol [Hebrew for high or great priest] for life.

 

Question: How did the duties of a high priest differ from the duties of a Levite from the clans of Gershon and Merari?  All three clans were descendants of the 3 sons of Levi, son of Jacob/Israel.  See Exodus 32:25-29; Numbers 1:48-53; 3:1-13; 44-51; 4:1-33; 8:5-26; 18:1-7; 1 Chronicles 9:14-33; 15:16-23; 23:28-32; 25:1-8; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 7:6; Nehemiah 8:7-9; 9:4-5; 10:37-40.

Answer: The high priests came from the Levitical clan of Kohath.  The Levites from the other two clans of Gershon and Merari served the Kohath and were "inferior" ministers of the Sanctuary who assist the priests of Kohath and perform sacred but not sacerdotal functions.  They are given as a "gift" to the Kohath for their courage in defending Moses in the rebellion of the Golden Calf and became the substitutes for the dispossessed
"firstborn sons" of Israel.  They oversee the work of the house of Yahweh as doorkeepers, musicians and choirs of singers.  They lead prayer, instruct the people of God in the Law, and collect tithes.  They attend the priests by purifying the holy things of the Sanctuary, prepare the "bread of the presence" in the Holy Place, and in lighting the Golden Menorah, but are denied access to the Holy of Holies. Only the Kohen offer sacrifice to Yahweh while the other Levite serve the Sanctuary by caring for the sacred vessels and the administration of the Tabernacle Sanctuary.  Only the Levites have the privilege of carrying the Ark of the Covenant when it is transported.  In the rebellion of Korah in Numbers chapters 16-17 some Levites claim equality with the priests of Kohath.  God rejects their claim and as a punishment the rebels are swallowed by the earth.  Levites like the high priests enter service at age 25 but achieve their full responsibilities at age 30.  They retired from permanent service at age 50 but could still officiate if needed.  All the priests, the high priests and the Levites were responsible for communicating the truth of God's law to the people and were frequently condemned by the prophets for failure to properly instruct the people in holiness: ...it is you priest that I denounce.  [..].  My people perish for want of knowledge.  Since you yourself have rejected knowledge, so I shall reject you from my priesthood; since you have forgotten the teaching of your God..[Hosea 4:4b-6].  Also see Ezekiel 34; Malachi 2:5-9; and Jesus' disappointment with lack of instruction for the people in Matthew 9:36.

 

Question: What were the duties of the Old Covenant High Priest?  See Exodus 28:1, 40-43; 29:1-7, 22-46; Leviticus 2:13; 4:20, 31; Numbers 15:25; 18:19; Deuteronomy 33:7-11; Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] 45:1-22; Jeremiah 33:21.

Answer: It was the duty of the Kohen Gadol, to serve as the people's representative before God, to communicate to the people God's instructions to them in the Law of Moses and to offer sacrifices to God on their behalf.  In this role he stood as a symbol of redeemed man-God's desire and the destiny of every child of the covenant: and once the priest has performed the rite of expiation for the people, they will be forgiven. [Leviticus 4:20b]. 

 

Yahweh made a perpetual covenant with the line of Aaron.  Only the priests descended directly from Aaron [Moses' brother who was the first High Priest selected by God] could offer sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin and to establish restoration of fellowship with Yahweh on His Holy Altar of sacrifice.  The other Levites were ministers who served the Aaronic priesthood and cared for the sanctuary and the liturgical vessels by virtue of their rallying to Moses' defense in the rebellion of the Golden Calf when the tribe of Levi displaced the "firstborn sons" redeemed the night of the first Passover in Egypt [see Exodus 32:25-29; Numbers 3:11-13].  Every high priest was of the tribe of Levi but not every Levite could serve as a high priest.  The office of high priest was limited to the descendants of Aaron who were of the clan Kohath, one of the 3 clans of Levi, therefore, priests were known as Kohan [in Hebrew pronounced koh-hain] and the great or high priest as the Kohan Gadol [see Numbers 3:14-17]. 

 

The writer of Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] 45:1-22 recalls God's covenant with Aaron for a perpetual ministerial priesthood and outlines the duties of the priesthood in 45:15-17; the passage reads:  Moses consecrated him and anointed him with holy oil; and this was an everlasting covenant for him, and for his descendants as long as the heavens endure, that he should preside over worship, act as priest, and bless the people in the name of the Lord.  He chose him out of all the living to offer sacrifices to the Lord, incense and perfume as a memorial to make expiation for the people.  He entrusted him with his commandments, committed him to the statues of the Law for him to teach Jacob and his decrees and enlighten Israel on his law. [New Jerusalem translation].

Question: In this passage from Ecclesiasticus [Sirach], what four elements identify the office of the priesthood of God's covenant with Israel?

Answer:

  1. His dignity and responsibility as God's representative
  2. The purpose of the spiritual side of his priestly mission which is to act on behalf of the covenant people in their relationship with God, instructing them in the Law of God and in living lives of holiness
  3. The purpose of priestly service to God and the people in the liturgy of covenant worship
  4. To offer sacrifice for the atonement of sin and the restoration of communion.

The High Priest also served in Jesus' time as the president of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court of civil and religious law.

 

Question: How does Christ perform these priestly services?

Question: How does a Catholic priest, whose authority comes from Jesus, perform these services for the New Covenant people of God? See CCC# 1548-51; 1565-66.

 

In the Old Covenant it was the function of the ministerial priesthood to officiate at God's sacrificial altar in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The principle altar was the great Bronze Sacrificial Altar that stood in the courtyard of the Tabernacle complex where animals were sacrificed and offered to God in the fire of the altar.  The other altars were the Golden Altar of Incense and, the Mercy Seat which covered the Ark of the Covenant.  Once a year at the feast of Yom Kippur, in English, the Day of Atonement, the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant functioned as an altar, the writer of Hebrews is probably thinking of this particular feast when the High Priest offered sacrifice for the people as well as for himself.  Later in Hebrews 9:7 and 10:3-4 he refers directly to the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement.

 

In the daily liturgy of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem, animal sacrifices, were offered on the great Bronze Altar in the courtyard of the Temple.  Blood sacrifices were offered for sins and for restoration of communion with God: Since the life of a living body is in its blood, I have made you put it on the altar, so that atonement may thereby be made for your own lives, because it is the blood, as the seat of life that makes atonement.  That is why I have told the Israelites: No one among you, not even a resident alien, may partake of blood [Leviticus 17:11-12].  The inspired writer of Hebrews attests to this doctrine in Hebrews 9:22: According to the law almost everything is purified by blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

 

There were 7 classes of blood sacrifice offered from 5 kinds of animals:

  1. cattle
  2. sheep
  3. goats
  4. pigeons
  5. turtledoves

 

These were the same 5 animals God commanded Abraham to offer in sacrifice in Genesis 15:9 when God formed the first part of the 3-fold covenant with Abraham [Genesis 15:18], promising his descendants the Promise Land of Canaan.  In addition to the blood sacrifices, unbloody sacrifices were also offered in the form of grain offerings, baked cakes of wheat with leavened and others with unleavened flour [depending on the sacrifice], and wine libations [see the chart: "Levitical Sacrifices of the Old Covenant" in the Charts section of Agape Bible Study; Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 7:11-15 (7:1-5 in some translations)].  One of the classes of blood sacrifices consisted of "remembrance sacrifices" in the form of 7 sacred feasts [see the chart:  "The Seven Sacred Feasts of the Old Covenant" in the chart section, and Leviticus chapter 23].   The "remembrance sacrifices" were re-enactments or re-actualizations of the Exodus experience that not only looked back in time to the formation of the Sinai Covenant but forward in time to the promised coming of the Messiah.  The inspired writer clearly has the sacrifices of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement in mind in Hebrews 9:7 and 10:3-4 he can only be referring to this particular feast.  The Feast of the Day of Atonement [in Hebrew Yom hakkipurim] which was celebrated every early fall on the 10th day of the 7th month, remembered the collective sin of the people in the incident of the Golden Calf which resulted in Israel's fall from grace.  The inspired writer's reference to priestly sacrifice seems to be in reference to this feast where only the High Priest could officiate in the offering of the sacrifices.  Please read about the event that led to the establishment of this feast and the requirements for keeping this feast of remembrance in Exodus 32:1- 33:6; Leviticus 16:1-34; 23:26-32; and Numbers 29:7-11

 

As prescribed by God, the Kohen Gadol wore vestments that identified his position as the chief priest, while the other priests and the ordinary Levitical ministers wore only the seamless white linen tunic.  The High Priest's vestments consisted of 8 different garments/ items:

 

THE KOHEN GADOL AND HIS VESTMENTS:  Exodus 28:1-43

For the glorious adornment of your brother Aaron you shall have sacred vestments made [Exodus 28:2]

 

  1. The Kesones [Tunic]: made of white linen, woven all of one piece with a boxlike knit.
  2. The Me'il [ Robe]: made of turquoise wool.  The Hem of the Me'il was of alternating pomegranates and bells.  The pomegranates were of turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool and they were alternated with gold bells.  The robe was one piece of material which was pulled over the priest's head and may have had open sleeves.
  3. The Girdle or sash of variegated work
  4. The Tzitz [Head-plate]: made of pure gold, inscribed with the words "Holy to Yahweh", and tied with a turquoise blue wool cord.
  5. The Ephod: garment with shoulder straps and stones on the shoulders [avnei shoham stones] with the engraved names of the sons of Israel according to birth order, six on each shoulder, with a tie belt made of gold, turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool and twisted linen.
  6. The Choshen [Breastplate], the breastplate of judgment: a folded pocket worn on the breast with 12 stones in 4 rows of 3, one stone for each of the 12 Tribes of Israel engraved with the name of each tribe and in which the Urim and Tumim [Thummim] are carried.  The Chosen [Breastplate] is attached on to the Ephod with straps/ties
  7. The Turban/ Mitre: [with embroidered sash]
  8. The Linen Breeches: that went from the hips to the thighs

 

Question: Instead of wearing his full priestly vestments, what was the High Priest required to wear on the Day of Atonement in addition to his undergarment, waistband and mitre?  See Leviticus 16:4

Answer: The High Priest was required to dress in the simple seamless white linen tunic. 

 

Question: What garment did Jesus wear to the Last Supper?  Hint: see John 19:23

Answer: He wore the seamless tunic of a priest.  At the remembrance sacrifice of the Last Supper [Feast of Unleavened Bread] Jesus began His walk to the Cross in which He fulfilled all the blood sacrifices of the Old Covenant.  He went to the sacrifice dressed in the tunic a priest would wear on the Day of Atonement.  His one perfect sacrifice on the altar of the Cross would fulfill all the requirements of the different Old Covenant blood sacrifices from that of the daily Tamid Lamb Sacrifice to the Passover and of Unleavened Bread Feasts, to the Day of Atonement and the all the other sacred feasts.

 

Question: What animals were selected for the Day of Atonement sacrifices and why?  See Leviticus 16:3-5.

Answer: High Priest would select:

  1. two perfect young male goats from among the flock as a sin-offering,
  2. a ram as a whole burnt offering for the entire community, and
  3. a young bull as a sin offering for himself in remembrance of the idol of the Golden Calf that the High Priest Aaron made for the community of Israel at Sinai. 

To be offered after the daily Tamid sacrifice.

 

The blood of the sacrificed bull was to be sprinkled on the horns of the Golden Altar of Incense from which clouds of incense were rising and to sprinkle blood seven times on the front of the incense altar.  The blood of the peoples sacrificed goat was brought inside to the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  Afterward the blood of both sacrifices would be sprinkled on the great Bronze Altar in the courtyard: When he has made atonement for himself and his household, as well as for the whole Israelite community, he shall come out to the altar before the LORD and make atonement of it also.  Taking some of the bullock's and the goat's blood, he shall put it on the horns around the altar, and with his finger sprinkle some of the blood on it seven times.  Thus he shall render it clean and holy, purged of the defilements of the Israelites [Leviticus 16:17B-19]. 

 

On the Day of Atonement lots were cast over the two goats to determine which sacrifice was for Yahweh and which for the azazel [Leviticus 16:8, 10, 20, 26].  The High Priest then confessed the sins of the people as he laid his hands upon this animal which was intended to carry the sins of the people away as it was led out into the wilderness to go to its doom [Leviticus 16:21].  The etymology of the word azazel is unknown nor is it explained in the text [see Leviticus 16:8, 9, 10, 26 where this word is used in the literal text].  In the opinion of some scholars it is the name of a desert demon, perhaps the one who tempted the Israelites to make the Golden Calf while other scholars suggest the word translates as "precipice"'the goat being thrown off a precipice to its death in the wilderness.  After the priest laid his hands upon the live goat and confessed the sins of the people it was then led out into the wilderness, Since the goat is to carry off their iniquities to an isolated region, it must be sent away into the desert [Leviticus 16:27], where it would be pushed over a cliff to its death by a Levitical priest. Thus the people, the priests and the sanctuary [Leviticus 16:16] were cleansed of defilement, atonement was made and fellowship with God reestablished for a covenant people, but unlike the other blood sacrifices, the bodies of the sacrificed animals were to be burned outside the Sanctuary, outside the camp of Israel: The sin-offering bullock and goat whose blood was brought into the sanctuary to make atonement, shall be taken outside the camp, where their hides and flesh and offal shall be burned up in the fire [Leviticus 16:27].  This practice was unique to the Day of Atonement and was unlike any of the other animal blood sacrifices which were offered up on the great Bronze Sacrificial Altar and either burned entirely [holocaust offering and Tamid offering] or eaten in a sacred meal after the blood was poured out at the foot of the Altar and the fat burned [communion sacrifices and the Passover sacrifice were eaten by the offerer and his family and friends].

 

Question: The city of Jerusalem was considered to be "the camp of Yahweh."  Where was the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, consumed on the altar of the Cross which became for us the Mercy Seat of God the Son?  See John 19:17-21; Hebrews 13:11-12

Answer:  He was sacrificed outside the city walls from which the Jews standing on the city walls could read the inscription "The King of the Jews."

 

On the Day of Atonement, sacrifices of atonement were made for the collective sins of the people: This atonement is to be made by the priest who has been anointed and ordained to the priesthood in succession to his father.  He shall wear the linen garments, the sacred vestments, and make atonement for the sacred sanctuary, the meeting tent and the altar, as well as for the priests and all the people of the community.  This, then, shall be an everlasting ordinance for you: once a year atonement shall be made for all the sins of the Israelites [Leviticus 16:32-34].  Atonement means "at-one-ment" or "bringing together" in English and in Hebrew kapper, "to cover" or "to conceal."  Atonement includes the concepts of expiation for sin and the reconciliation of man with God.  In the Old Covenant this "covering" was accomplished by covering or concealing the offense of sin and thereby removing the obstacle to reconciliation by the application of the blood of the sacrificial victim: Since the life of a living body is in its blood, I have made you put it on the altar, so that atonement may thereby be made for your own lives, because it is the blood, as the seat a of life, that makes atonement [Leviticus 17:11].

 

Question: Reconciliation then, as now, is a two step process.  What are the two steps to reconciliation with God for the New Covenant believer?

Answer: For Christians confession and repentance is the first step and forgiveness through absolution by a priest acting for Christ in the sacrament of Penance is the second.  Question: What was the two step process under the Old Covenant?  How was the Day of Atonement part of the reconciliation process?

Answer: Confession and the offering of the sacrifice was the first step in Old Covenant reconciliation; the second step was made by Yahweh Himself in accepting the sacrifice and offering forgiveness: once the priest has performed the rite of expiation for the people, they will be forgiven [Leviticus 4:20b].  The Day of Atonement was a communal day of reconciliation.  On the feast of the Day of Atonement it was the only day of the year in which the golden Mercy Seat [also called the Seat of Atonement], which was the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, served as Yahweh's most sacred altar.  It became the "place of atonement", in Hebrew the kapporet, the place where God received expiation for the sins of the people.  Their collective sins were "covered" so the sin or guilt for which atonement is made was no longer an effective obstacle to communal reconciliation. 

 

Question: How is the act of atonement or "at-one-ment" with God accomplished in the New Covenant?  How is this "at-one-ment" different from the old covenant concept of "covering" sins?  See Jeremiah 31:31-34.

Answer: Christ Himself becomes both the sacrificial victim and High Priest.  No longer are sins simply "covered"; now "at-one-ment" takes on the meaning of "complete cleansing" from sin through the expiation of sin by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, as St. John the Baptist identified Jesus in John 1:29 & 36.   Expiation means: Atonement for some wrongdoing. It implies an attempt to undo the wrong that one has done by suffering a penalty, by performing some penance, or by making reparation or redress. (Etmy. Latin ex -, fully + piare, to propitiate: expiare, to atone for fully.) Catholic Dictionary, page 139.

 

God reconciles us and the world to Himself through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus the Messiah: And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ .... [2 Corinthians 5:18].  Reconciliation for our sins is made by the offering of Jesus' perfect sacrifice which the Father has accepted. 

In His perfect sacrifice he has made it possible for us to be cleansed of all sins:

 

Unlike the Old Covenant priesthood, our High Priest, Jesus Christ, is both the means (sacrifice) and the agent (offerer) of atonement as the representative of man and God is the agent of reconciliation.  This concept of the atoning work of Christ and God's response is one of the major themes of the Letter to the Hebrews where the Jesus' role as both High Priest and perfect sacrifice are compared with the priesthood and sacrifice of the High Priest Aaron who performed the act of atonement for the people of God in the Old Covenant by offering a blood sacrifice just as Jesus as our High Priest offers the sacrifice in atonement for the sins of mankind.

 

Question: In the New Covenant Church, who was given the responsibility of both the message and the ministry of reconciliation?

Answer: The Apostles and their successors have the ministry of reconciliation:

 

Hebrews 5:2-4:   2 He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness 3 and so, for this reason must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.  4 No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

 

 The inspired writer already introduced the necessity of a priest being able to sympathize with the struggles of the people in Hebrews 4:15 when he wrote of Jesus' role as high priest: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way yet without sin.  Jesus in His humanity experienced our struggles and understands our weaknesses since He was Himself tested.

 

In this section the inspired writer contrasts Christ's eternal priesthood with the priesthood established at Mt. Sinai through Aaron, the brother of Moses, and his descendants.  On the mountain of Sinai during the 40 day period that Moses was on the mountain conversing with God, Yahweh instructed Moses on the establishment of the Old Covenant priesthood: From among the Israelites have your brother Aaron, together with his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, brought to you, that they may be my priests.  [Exodus 28:1].

 

Hebrews 5:2-3: [the Old Covenant priest] He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness 3 and so, for this reason must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.  The role of the High Priest wasn't to be a harsh judge, his role was to be a sympatric mediator.   God expected His High Priest of the Covenant to be merciful to sinners because he himself was tempted by the same sins; for this reason it was necessary for the High Priest to make sins offerings for himself as well as for his people. 

Question: Referring to the first High Priest, Aaron the brother of Moses in Hebrews 5:4 the inspired writer says that "no one takes this honor upon himself" but is "called" to priestly service by God.  Was this true for all high priests?  See 1 Samuel 2:12-17.

Answer: It should be but no, some men responded who weren't called.  Aaron and his sons were called by God in Exodus 28:1, but later the priesthood was determined strictly by the hereditary line from Aaron'some men were called to faithfully fulfill a hereditary office and others simply inherited their priestly service without love for the people or fear of God, like the sons of the High Priests Eli and Samuel [1 Samuel 2:12-14; 8:1-3]. 

 

Question: What prophecy does God make concerning faithful priests and in whom has that promise been fulfilled?  See 1 Samuel 2:35

Answer: I will choose a faithful priest who shall do what I have in heart and mind.  I will establish a lasting house for him which shall function in the presence of my anointed forever.  This prophecy was partially fulfilled in Aaron's descendant Zadok who became King David's High Priest and from his time forward all the High Priests were to only come from his line.  Unfortunately, the last legitimate priest from Zadok's line to serve as the High Priest was murdered in the 2nd century BC. 

Question: Is there any one priest who fulfills this promise today?

Answer:  Yes. The faithful priest who rules a "lasting or eternal house" in the presence of God's Anointed One is Christ's Vicar, the Pope. [see 1 Kings 2:35; 1 Ch 29:22; Ezekiel 40:46; 43:19; 44:15-31;  48:11].

 

In the Old Covenant the High Priest was always selected from among the different priestly families; first from the families themselves according to rank and later by the Davidic King, as David selected Aaron's descendant Zadok to become the principle line from which all the high priests could be selected.  It is from this legitimate priestly line that we get our designation "Sadducee" which means "line of Zadok".  During the Roman occupation the High Priest was selected by the Herodian king who also needed Roman governor to approve the choice.  Joseph Caiaphas, the High Priest who condemned Jesus, was a partly willing ally both of the Herodian dynasty and the Romans.  He could not have served as High Priest without their cooperation.  It is interesting that the community at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered did not identify themselves as Essenes but instead called themselves "the sons of Zadok."

 

Since 70AD and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans, Old Covenant Jews have ceased to have priests, or sacred vestments, or incense, or altars to offer sacrifice or a Sacred Sanctuary. These liturgical elements of the covenant can only be found in the Universal Church of Jesus Christ where priests called to priestly service as Jesus' ministers offer incense and sacrifice before a holy altar of God wearing liturgical vestments.

Question: Has the role of the ministerial priesthood in the Catholic Church changed very much today from what it was in the Old Covenant Church?

Answer: The role then as now is to be the people's representative to God and to offer sacrifice on behalf of the people.  Jesus is our High Priest and the ministerial priesthood serves on Christ's behalf, bodily on earth fulfilling Jesus role as our priest; therefore, in our priests we must "look to the Priest behind the priest" [Bishop Fulton Sheen].  Concerning the priesthood, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: The office proper to a priest is to be a mediator between God and the people, inasmuch as he bestows divine things on the people (he is called "sacerdos" (priest), which means 'a giver of sacred things', ...[...].  ...and again inasmuch as he offers the people's prayer to God and in some way makes satisfaction to God for their sins.  Summa Theologiae, III q.22,a.1, as quoted in the Navarre Commentary page 91.

 

The priesthood before the Sinai covenant was confined to God's covenant representative through the line of Noah, passing from Noah to his righteous firstborn son Shem and down through Shem's line.  Sacrifice, however, seemed to have been offered by the head of every family, every father functioning as a priest offering sacrifice for the sins of the family members and for praise to God as Noah did in Genesis 8:20 prior to the initiation of the Noachide covenant.  It was in the Sinai covenant that the priestly service of offering sacrifice to God was limited to Aaron's line and limited only to the liturgy of worship as prescribed by God at His holy sanctuary.  Like the initial Aaronic priesthood, the priests of the new order are also called by God to their priestly order.  The priesthood of the Sinai Covenant prefigured and is fulfilled in the priesthood of Jesus Christ who St. Paul declares to St. Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:5 is the one mediator between God and man: For there is one God.  There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all. 

 

The Council of Vatican II reminds us of the role of the priests of the New Testament:  Priests, who are taken from among men and ordained for men in the things that belong to God in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins (cf. Hebrews 5:1), nevertheless live on earth with other men as brothers.  The Lord Jesus, the Son of God, a man sent by the Father to men, dwelt among us and willed to become like his brethren in all things except sin (cf. Hebrews 2:17; 4:15).  The holy Apostles imitated him.  Blessed Paul, the doctor of the Gentiles, "set apart for the Gospel of God" (Romans 1:1), declares that he became all things to all men that he might save all (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23'Vg.)  Priests of the New Testament by their vocation and ordination, are in a certain sense set apart in the bosom of the People of God, or from any person, but they are to be totally dedicated to the work for which the Lord has chosen them (cf. Acts 13:2).   They cannot be ministers of Christ unless they be witnesses and dispensers of a life other than earthly life.  But they cannot be of service to men if they remain strangers to the life and conditions of men.  Their ministry itself by a special title forbids that they be conformed to this world (cf. Romans 12:2), yet at the same time it requires that they live in this world among men.  They are to live as good shepherds who know their sheep, and they are to seek to lead those who are not of this sheepfold that they, too, may hear the voice of Christ, so that there might be one fold and one shepherd (cf. John 10:14-16). [Presbyterorum Ordinis, 3, The Documents of Vatican II, page 582].

 

Our priests, like the old priesthood, are called "from among men" by God for the purpose of acting "on behalf of men in relation to God." And like the Old Covenant priest, our priest stands before us as the image of redeemed man but unlike the imperfect priesthood of the Old Covenant, our priests stand before us in "persona Christi", in the "person of Christ" the perfect priest, on our behalf and for our good since, as St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers [Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews, 8.4].  The one priesthood of Christ is made present through the ministerial priesthood without diminishing the unique character of Christ's priesthood [see CCC# 1545].  In the ecclesial ministry of the ordained minister of the New Covenant it is Jesus Himself who is present to lead His Church as Head of His Body, as Shepherd of His flock, as the High Priest of the one redemptive sacrifice of the Eucharist, and as the Teacher of Light and Truth.  This is what is meant when it is said that, by the priest through the virtue of His ordination to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a priest is in persona Christi Capitis. Jesus Christ is the source of all priests who served the One True God, in the Old Covenant and in the New.  The priests of the old law prefigured Christ while the priests of the new law act in the person of Christ.

 

St John Vianney wrote concerning the role of the priest: "The priest continues the work of redemption on earth...If we really understood the priest on earth, we would die not of fright but of love...The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus." quoted in B. Nodet, Jean-Marie Vianney, Cure d'Ars,  page 100.  In this role our priests deserve our love and our respect'serving as they do in the most noble and blessed of roles among us and fulfilling the covenantal promise that the ministerial priesthood should endure forever on earth [see Sirach 45:7, 19; Leviticus 2:13; 18:19]; and in the covenant promise fulfilled in Jesus' priestly role [in Numbers 25:11-13 and Sirach 45:24]. 

 

Question: However, there are two participations in the one priesthood of Christ.  In addition to the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood, what is the other sharing in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ? See Exodus 19:5; 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9; Revelation 1:6; 5:9-10; and CCC # 1546-47; 1591.

Answer: Every Baptized believer shares in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ.  St. Peter wrote in his first letter to the universal Church: Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  [..]  But you are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises" of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:5-6, 9 [Peter quoting Exodus 19:5].  Catechism # 1591 teaches: The whole Church is a priestly people.  Through Baptism all the faithful share in the priesthood of Christ.  This participation is called the "common priesthood of the faithful."  Based on this common priesthood and ordered to its service, there exists another participation in the mission of Christ: the ministry conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders, where the task is to serve in the name and in he person of Christ the Head in the midst of the community.

 

Hebrews 5:5- 6: 5 In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: "You are my son; this day I have begotten you"; 6 just as he says in another place: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." 7 In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.  8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; 9 and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. 

 

Hebrews 5:7-10 contains a concise summary of Jesus' life on earth.  St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote that Jesus offered his life as a model of saintly existence to be used by earthly beings, he took on the weaknesses of humanity, and what was his purpose in doing this?  That we might truly believe that he became man, although he remained what he was, namely God [Letter to Euopitus, Anathema 10].

 

 

 

Jesus came in the flesh to redeem mankind and in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane "he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death". 

Question: Verse 7 says God heard His prayer, but why didn't God answer His prayer by sparing His Son an agonizing death; how was Jesus "made perfect" and how did he "learn obedience" from what He suffered? 

Answer: God did answer Jesus' prayer.  The answer was "submit in obedience" and the Son's response was "not my will Father but Yours!"  Jesus was "heard" because He did not disobey!  In this response the Son was "perfect"'in His obedient response Jesus, the new Adam, overcame the sin of the first Adam whose disobedience had brought sin and death into the world [1 Corinthians 15:45-49; CCC# 411; 504]. 

Question: How did Jesus, in being made "perfect" become "the source of our salvation for all who obey Him"?

Answer: In His "perfect" obedience the Son submitted Himself to death on the Cross for the salvation of man.  St. Ephraim writes concerning this passage, "He became the source of our eternal salvation" by replacing Adam, who had been the source of our death through his disobedience. But as Adam's death did not reign in those who did not sin, so life reigns in those who do not need to be absolved.  Even though he is a liberal giver of life, life is given to those who obey, not to those of fall away from him [Ephraim, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews.]. 

 

It is not that though this submission Jesus "learned" obedience but "experienced" obedience.  It is easy to be "obedient" to one's superior or to one's parent when what is required is pleasant but it is something else entirely when obedience is submission to something that one does not want to experience.  St. John Chrysostom advised the faithful, If he, though the Son, gains obedience from his sufferings, how much more shall we?  Do you see how many things Paul says about obedience in order to persuade them to obedience?  [..].  "Though what he suffered" he continually "learned" to obey God, and he was "made perfect" through sufferings.  This, then, is perfection, and this means we must arrive at perfection.  For not only was he himself saved; be also became an abundant supply of salvation to others. The Epistle to the Hebrews 8.3

Question: What does this kind of submission in obedience which Jesus practiced say about Catholics who want to pick and choose which teachings of the Church they will or not observe?

 

Once again in Hebrews 5:5 the inspired writer quotes from Scripture, first from Psalm 2:7, You are my son, this day I have begotten you, which he already quoted in Hebrews 1:5, united with the promise of the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7:14 [I shall be a father to him and he a son to me referring to the "son of David" who would rule on his throne forever], and then quoting again from Psalm 110:4, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek, the psalms which he quoted in Hebrews 1:13 but in that passage he quoted from Psalm 110:1, Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.  Although Psalm 110 is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament, the inspired writer of Hebrews is the only writer to quote from verse 4 here in this passage and again in chapter 7 verses 17 and 21.  The inspired writer of Hebrews will invoke the name "Melchizedek" 8 times in the Book of Hebrews, 5 times in chapter 7 alone:  5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10, 11, 15 and 17.  In all of Sacred Scripture references are made to this ancient priest of God the Most High 10 times [Old Testament references see Genesis 14:18; Psalm 110:4].

 

Twice in this passage the inspired writer of Hebrews compares Jesus high priestly minister to the priestly order of Melchizedek. First by quoting from Psalm 110:4 in Hebrews 5:6 and then a second time in verse 10.  The name "Melchizedek" or "Melek-zedek" in Hebrew means "king of righteousness" and was probably a title and not a proper name [Hebrew "king" = melek; "righteous" =zedek or sedek]. 

Question: Who was this mysterious figure mentioned in Genesis 14:17-20?  What was this priest-king of Salem's relationship to Abram and what took place during the meeting between Abram/Abraham and Melchizedek? Abram is not renamed Abraham until Genesis 17:5.

Answer:

  1. In Genesis 14 Melchizedek is identified as God's priest-king of Salem, a settlement on Mt. Moriah which later came to be called Jerusalem.  The first mention of "Jerusalem" is found in Joshua 10:1-3 in which the king's throne name is given as "Lord of Righteousness" or Adonai-zedek.  Jerusalem will become the place that God prepared for His people to worship Him [Exodus 23:20; Deuteronomy 12:5-9, 11-12].
  2. Melek-zedek/Mechizedek's relationship to Abram is not clear simply from his throne name Melchizedek, except that Abram is acknowledging Melchizedek's authority over him by paying a tithe, and by receiving Melchizedek's priestly blessing together with bread and wine!  Clement of Alexandria wrote of this significant encounter between Abram and the priest-king of Salem: For Salem is, by interpretation, peace; of which our Savior is enrolled King, as Moses says, Melchizedek king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who gave bread and wine, furnishing consecrated food for a type of the Eucharist.  And Melchizedek is interpreted "righteous king"; and the name is a synonym for righteousness and peace [Stromateis 4.25].  And St. Jerome understands the offering of bread and wine as a prefigurement of the Eucharist: And as to the Scripture which says, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek," our mystery is foreshown in the word "order"; not at all, indeed, in the sacrifice of nonrational victims through Aaron's agency, but when bread and wine, that is the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, were offered in sacrifice.  St. Jerome, Hebrew Questions on Genesis 14.18-19

 

As always in Scripture, context is everything and in this Genesis passage it is important to understand what happen prior to this significant meeting.  Chapter 14 begins with the invasion of a coalition of 4 kings from Mesopotamia who conquered the 5 kings of the plain near the Dead Sea.  As part of their war booty the kings of Mesopotamia capture Abram's nephew Lot and his family.  Abram came to their rescue, defeating the kings of Mesopotamia and becoming the victorious tribal leader/"king" of the entire region from the two rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates to the Dead Sea.  Abram is greeted upon his return by "the righteous king" of Salem, who meets him in "the valley of the oath" with bread and wine and pronounces God's blessing upon Abram who pays this priest-king a tenth of everything he has captured and yet in Genesis 14:20-24 refuses to "do business" with the pagan king of Sodom!   But, who is Melchizedek????

 

SHEM VS MELCHIZEDEK

 

"Blessed be Yahweh, God of Shem, let Canaan be his slave!  May God make space for Japheth, may he live in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his slave!"" Genesis 9:26-27

 

The Jews say that Melchizedek was Shem, Noah's son, and, counting up the total years of his lifetime, they demonstrate that he would have lived up to the time of Isaac.... St. Jerome, doctor of the Church, Hebrew Questions on Genesis 14:18-19 

 

This Melchizedech is Shem, who became a king due to his greatness; he was the head of fourteen nations.  In addition, he was a priest.  He received this from Noah, his father, through the rights of succession.  Shem lived not only to the time of Abraham, as Scripture says, but even to the time of Jacob and Esau, the grandsons of Abraham.  St. Ephraim, doctor of the Church: Teaching on Genesis 14:18-20

 

According to the Jewish Oral Tradition and to Catholic theologians like St. Ephraim, St. Jerome, Nicholas of Lira, and other Catholic theologians, Shem the righteous firstborn son of Noah, is the King of Righteousness [Melek-zedek in Hebrew] to whom Abraham pays a tithe in Genesis 14:18-20.  It was through Shem that the covenant made with Noah and the line of the "promised seed" of Genesis 3:15 continues.  Shem is the first man in Sacred Scripture who is identified as Yahweh's man [see quotation above from Genesis 9:26].  Abraham is Shem's descendant according to the Biblical genealogy of Genesis 11:10-26.

Shem's age

Descendants

100 years

Birth of Arpachshad

135 years

Birth of Shelah

165 years

Birth of Eber

199 years

Birth of Peleg

229 years

Birth of Reu

261 years

Birth of Serug

291 years

Birth of Nahor

320 years

Birth of Terah

390 years

Birth of Abraham

490 years

Birth of Isaac

565 years old

Death of Abraham

600 years old

Death of Shem

Shem outlived Abraham by 35 years

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1991 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

 

Question: The Fathers of the Church saw Melchizedek as a type of Christ.  What parallels can you see between this righteous King of Salem and Jesus of Nazareth?

Answer: Both Melchizedek and Jesus serve Yahweh as:

1.      A righteous firstborn son. 

2.      Serve Yahweh as priest and king. 

3.      Melchizedek rules in Salem /Jerusalem, and Jesus rules in the heavenly Jerusalem 

4.      Priestly offering of bread and wine; Jesus = Eucharist 

5.      Receives tithes & offerings 

6.      Higher order of priesthood than the Sinai Covenant Levitical priesthood: Melchizedek's priesthood, like Jesus' priesthood, is based on his firstborn son-ship.

 

Biblical references to Melchizedek: Psalms 110:4; Hebrews 5:5-10; 6:20; 7:1-17 [7 times in Hebrews]. Also see references to Shem as Melchizedek in the 1st century BC and AD Aramaic Targums found at Qumran among the Dead Sea Scrolls: Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave I, all of which identify Shem as Melchizedek which was clearly a common belief during the time Hebrews was written as found in the writings that have been discovered from the 1st century AD among the Dead Sea Scrolls [see Horton, The Melchizedek Tradition, page 114]. Taragums quoted from Fr. Fitzmyer: The Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave 1:

 

Further testimony linking Shem to Melchizedek is found:

 

Question: What is the significance of Abraham paying a tithe to and receiving a blessing from the priest-king Melchizedek?  What last 2 times was receiving a "blessing" mentioned in Genesis prior to Genesis 14:18-20?   Hint: see Genesis 12:1-3 and 9:26

Answer: By paying a tithe and receiving a blessing Abraham is acknowledging Melchizedek's authority.  The blessings prior to Abram's blessing by Melchizedek are mentioned in Genesis chapter 12 in God's three-fold promise to Abraham and God's blessing on Shem in 9:26-27.  The passage which reads Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem!  Let Canaan be his slave.  May God expand Japheth, so that he dwells among the tents of Shem...can also be translated "so that Shem dwells (serves) his (God's) tent", which could be understood to mean that Shem would serve as a priest in the "tent" or "tabernacle" of God. 

 

Questions: The "blessings" of Genesis are found in 1:22, 28; 2:3; 5:2; 9:1, 26; 12:2-3; 14:19-20; 17:16-20; 18:18; 22: 17-18; 24:1, 31-35, 60; 25:11; 26:4, 12 , 29; 27:4-41; 28:1-14; 30:27-30; 31:55; 32:26-29; 35:9; 39:5; 47:7-10; 48:3, 15-20; 49:25-28. What do they all have in common?  How might this information determine our understanding of Abram's blessing?

Answer: All blessings are either given directly by God or through the father or leader of a family [in Rebekah's case it was her brother who blessed her since her father was dead], especially blessings from a father to his heir.  It is unlikely that Abram received his blessing from a stranger; instead it is more likely that the "King of Righteousness" was the leader of his family who carried the responsibility as God's covenant mediator.

 

St. Ephraim, 4th century doctor of the Church, believed Melchizedek was the throne name of Noah's righteous firstborn son Shem:  This Melchizedech is Shem, who became a king due to his greatness; he was the head of fourteen nations.  In addition, he was a priest.  He received this from Noah, his father, through the rights of succession.  Shem lived not only to the time of Abraham, as Scripture says, but even to the time of Jacob and Esau, the grandsons of Abraham [ St. Ephraim, Teaching on Genesis 14:18-20]. Saint Ephraim also saw a connection between Melchizedek-Shem's family/blood connection to Abraham and Abraham's action of both paying a tenth tithe and receiving a blessing as a prefigurement of the Levitical priesthood of the Sinai Covenant in service to God to brother Israelites.  St. Ephraim wrote: Through Abraham, who gave him the tenth part, the house of Levi, which had to be generated by him, took the tenth part in him.  The Levites, even though they took the tenth part, did not take it from strangers but received the tenth part from themselves; in fact, they took the tenth part from their brothers, the sons of Abraham.  Therefore, Abraham, to whom the promise of priesthood was made, gave the tenth part to Melchizedek, who was not inscribed in the Levitic generation. And to Abraham it had been promised that all nations would have been blessed in him.  So why did he need the blessing of an uncircumcised man? Does not this show and prove that, if Abraham had not been inferior to Melchizedek, he would not have demanded to be blessed by him? And so the mortal sons receive the tenth part, and in the same manner Melchizedek, who was mortal, lived at that time to be a witness for Abraham, for the indisputably true Melchizedek's blessing destined to the seed of Abraham.  Ephraim, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews.

           

Abraham died when he was 175 years old [Genesis 25:7-8], the covenant with Yahweh passing from Noah to Shem and then through Abraham to his descendants.  The inspired writer of Hebrews offers the faithful Melchizedek as a prefigurement of Jesus, the priest-king of the New Covenantal order: The Christian tradition considers Melchizedek, "priest of God Most High," as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique "high priest after the order of Melchizedek,"  "holy, blameless, unstained," "by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified," that is by the unique sacrifice of the cross." CCC# 1544. 

And it has been the teaching of the Church that the King of Righteousness' offering of bread and wine to Abraham prefigures our righteous priest-king's offering of Himself to the Church in the Most Holy Eucharist: [..].  The Church sees in the gesture of the king-priest Melchizedek, who "brought out bread and wine," a prefiguring of her own offering [ CCC# 1333].

 

Questions for group discussion:

Question: What is the difference between the royal priesthood of believers and the ministerial priesthood?  See 1 Peter 2:9-10 and CCC # 783-86.

Question: How do we participate in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ?  What makes it a "royal priesthood?  What does it mean to share in Christ's "prophetic office"?  See 1 Peter 2:9 and CCC #s 783-86 for your answers. Jesus Christ is the one whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit and established as priest, prophet, and king.  The whole People of God participates in these three offices of Christ and bears the responsibilities for mission and service that flow from them. Catechism of the Catholic Church # 783

 

Question: Can you make some comparisons between the priestly vestments of the Old Covenant priesthood and our ministerial priesthood?  Is all our liturgy and ritual man-made or God inspired?  See Exodus 24-40; Revelation 4:1-11; 5:1-14; 8:1-5; 11:19-12:1; 14:1-5; 19:1 and the chart "The Mass in the Vision of John" in the charts section.

 

Question: What does it mean to be reborn into the family of God?

  1. How do we become a Messianic people? 
  2. What is our status as a people?
  3. What is the law by which we are bound?
  4. What is our mission and
  5. What is our destiny? 

See John 13:34; 2 Peter 3:9 and CCC # 782 for your answers.

 

Catechism references for Hebrews 5:1- 6:12 [*indicates Scripture quoted in citation]

5:1

1539*

5:8

2825

5:1-10

1564*

5:9

617

5:3

1540*

5:10

1544

5:4

1578*

 

 

5:6

1537*

 

 

5:7-9

609*; 2606

 

 

5:7-8

612*; 1009*

 

 

5:7

2741*

 

 

 

Resources used in this Lesson:

  1. The Documents of Vatican II
  2. The Navarre Bible: Hebrews, Four Courts Press, 1991.
  3. Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine's Press, South Bend, Indiana 2006
  4. Hebrews, St. John Chrysostom, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, first series, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.
  5. Kinship by Covenant: A Biblical Theological Study of Covenant Types and Texts in the Old and New Testaments, Dr. Scott Hahn, UMI Dissertation Services, 1995
  6. The Anchor Bible Commentary: To the Hebrews, George Wesley Buchanan, Doubleday, New York, 1972.
  7. The Anchor Bible Commentary: Hebrews, Craig R. Koester, Doubleday, New York, 2001.
  8. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Hebrews, InterVarsity Press, 2005
  9. The Jewish Tanach
  10. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
  11. Catholic Dictionary
  12. Church History, Father Laux
  13. The Faith of the Early Fathers, William Judgens, volume I
  14. The Jewish Book of Why, volume I, Alfred J. Kolatch

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