THE LETTER TO HEBREWS
Lesson 8: Chapter 7:1 - 28
The Royal Priestly Primogeniture of Melchizedek and Jesus over Abraham and the Levitical Priesthood
We pray as St. Teresa of Avila prayed, that You would thaw the holy in us. When we pay more attention to the cares and concerns of this world, when the material infringes upon the spiritual, our souls get frozen, cold, unyielding and far from You. But it is in times of suffering, weakness, and repentance that we remember and turn back to You, Father, looking for You to mend the wounded spirit and to rekindle in us the fire of Your Holy Spirit. St. Teresa knew this as she prayed: And God is always there, if you feel wounded. He kneels over this earth like a divine medic, and His love thaws the holy in us. Help us Lord to use our Lenten journey to warm our spirits and to stir the holy in us to new heights. Send us Your Holy Spirit as we study today's lesson which reveals in His perfection our High Priest, Jesus Christ who calls every son and daughter of the covenant to a life of holiness and to perseverance in faith. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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1st century AD historian Flavius Josephus on the founding of the holy city of Jerusalem: But he who first built it was a potent man among the Canaanites, and is on our tongue called Melchizedek, the righteous King, for such he really was; on which account he was [there] the first priest of God, and first built a temple [there], and called the city Jerusalem, which was formerly called Salem [Jewish Wars 6.438].
"When David prophesies that the Lord will be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, the sacred Scripture is saying in the same breath that Christ will be a priest. But we find that Paul says at once, "resembling the son of God, Melchizedek continues a priest forever." Now if he resembles the Son of God, he is not equal to the Son of God. How can the servant be the master's equal for Melchizedek was a man.
Epiphanius of Salamis [315-403 AD], Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus and author of the Panarion, a refutation of 8 heresies
Melchizedek, as we read, was a priest of the Most High God long before the time of the priesthood of the law, and he offered bread and wine to the Lord. Our Redeemer is said to be a priest "after the order of Melchizedek" because he put aside the sacrificial victims stipulated by the law and instituted the same type of sacrifice to be offered in the new covenant in the mystery of his own body and blood.
The Venerable Bede [672-735 AD], Homilies on the Gospels 2.19
Thus, Melchizedek's priesthood continues for ever, not in Melchizedek himself but in the Lord of Melchizedek. St. Ephraim, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews
In the last section the inspired writer focused on the promises of God which are unchangeable, So when God wanted to a give the heirs of his promise an ever clearer demonstration of the immutability of his purpose he intervened with an oath, so that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to hold fast to the hope that lies before us [Hebrews 6:17-18]. Those two immutable things are His sworn oath and His immutable truthfulness. In this next section his focus will be on the fulfillment of God's promise to the heir of David as expressed in Psalm 110:4: The Lord has sworn and will not waver, "Like Melechizedek you are a priest forever." He will focus on:
Please read Hebrews 7:1-10: Melchizedek's Superiority over Abraham
1 This "Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High," "met Abraham as he returned from his defeat of the kings" and "blessed him." 2 And Abraham apportioned to him "a tenth of everything." His name first means righteous king and he was also "king of Salem," that is, king of peace. 3 Without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life, thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. 4 See how great he is to whom the patriarch "Abraham [indeed] gave a tenth" of his spoils. 5 The descendants of Levi who received the office of priesthood have a commandment according to the law to exact tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, although they also have come from the loins of Abraham. 6 But he who was not of their ancestry received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had received the promises. 7 Unquestionably, a lesser person is blessed by a greater. 8 In the one case, mortal men receive tithes; in the other, a man of whom it is testified that the lives on. 9 One might even say that Levi himself receives tithes, was tithed through Abraham, 10 for he was still in his father's loins when Melchizedek met him.
Hebrews 6:20 identified Jesus as "a priest after the order/type of Melchizedek" by referring to Psalm 110:4. Now the inspired writer turns to the only other reference to Melchizedek in the Old Testament, the passage found in Genesis 14:17-20. He retells the story of Abram's meeting with the Priest-King of Salem in light of the prophecy of Psalm 110.
Melchizedek held the distinctive position as the first person to be designated a priest in the Old Testament. "Melchizedek" is not found in any of the Biblical genealogies. If this ancient priest-king is indeed Shem it would not be necessary to list his throne name or title when Shem's genealogy is listed in the "table of nations" in Genesis chapter 10, the names of 70 descendants of Noah being listed with Shem's line in verses 22-31, and then again the listing of Shem's descendants in more detail in Genesis 11:10-30. There are Biblical personages whose genealogies are not listed; Moses' father-in-law Jethro, the priest-king of Midian; Elijah the prophet, and Daniel the prophet, for example. But if Melchizedek is Shem it must have seemed to his descendants that he was going to live "without end of days" because he outlived all his children and descendants to the 10th generation [see the chart Shem vs. Melchizedek from lesson 6]. In the late 4th century a heresy grew up around the figure of Melchizedek who some believed was the Incarnate Christ before His 1st century Incarnation or that he was an angel. Among other leaders in the Church, Epiphanius Bishop of Salamis refuted this heresy in a book that condemned 8 different heresies including the heresy of the Melchizedekians: "When David prophesies that the Lord will be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, the sacred Scripture is saying in the same breath that Christ will be a priest. But we find that Paul says at once, "resembling the son of God, Melchizedek continues a priest forever." Now if he resembles the Son of God, he is not equal to the Son of God. How can the servant be the master's equal for Melchizedek was a man. "Without father or mother" is not said because he had no father or mother but because his father and mother are not explicitly named in sacred Scripture... [..]. And of how many others is the ancestry not expressly given? Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Elijah the Tishbite, neither their fathers nor their mothers are found anywhere in any of the convenanted Scriptures...Panarion 4, Against Melchizedekians 1.1-3.8
Question: What was Melchizedek's ethnic origin? What was Abraham's ethnic origin? Where they Gentiles or a Jew? See CCC#58.
Answer: All Jews [Yehudin] descend from Judah [Yehuda], the 4th son of Jacob/Israel, the grandson of Abraham, and are members of the tribe of Judah. During and after the period of the divided kingdom men and women who were citizens of the Kingdom of Judah or later the Roman Province of Judea, were considered to be Jews'St. Paul called himself a "Jew" because the tribe of Benjamin, of which he was a member, remained loyal to the Davidic kings and with the tribe of Judah formed the Kingdom of Judah. Melchizedek cannot be a Jew or even an Israelite, these people are indeed Shem's descendants but they are generations in the future. Melchizedek was a Gentile and Abraham would have to be designated a Semitic Gentile, all Semites are those who descend from the line of Shem the son of Noah. This is important to understand because Melchizedek, being a universal priest before the formation of the Sinai Covenant, foreshadows the ministry of the New Covenant priesthood to the Gentile nations. His priesthood in Salem on Mt. Moriah also can be said to have foreshadowed the Levitical priesthood as it was established centuries later in Jerusalem at the Temple located on Mt. Moriah, the location where Abraham offered up his beloved son Isaac [Genesis 22:2] and God's beloved Son, offered Himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind on the lower slope of Mt. Moriah called Golgotha [John 19:17-20].
Question: Hebrews 7:1 and Genesis 14:18 identify Melchizedek as the priest-king of what community and, according to Genesis 14:17 in what valley was Abram greeted by his priest-king? What is the meaning of these two place names in Hebrew and what is the significance in terms of the promises of Christ?
Answer: Melchizedek is the priest-king of Salem near the Valley of Shaveh, the king's valley which means "Valley of the Oath." The Hebrew word "shaveh" [also written sheba or shaba] is also Hebrew for the cardinal number 7. Covenants are formed by oath swearing and God's immutable promises. To "swear an oath" in Hebrew is to "7 oneself". Seven is the number of covenant formation [Genesis 22:22-31; 22:16; Deuteronomy 7:7-11; 2 Samuel 3:9; Psalm 89:3; etc.]. In Hebrew Salem is associated with the Hebrew word for "peace", shalom. Thus, Jesus the Messiah's promised messianic blessings of righteousness and peace are foreshadowed in the names of Melchizedek and Salem.
Question: With what other city is the Melchizedek's Salem identified?
Answer: It is identified with God's holy city, Jerusalem, which means in Hebrews "will provide peace." According to Jewish tradition the city is renamed after Abraham's assurance to his son Isaac in Genesis 22:8 that "God himself will provide" the sacrifice and in 22:14: Abraham named the site Yahweh will provide [yireh or jireh]; hence people now say, "on the mountain the LORD [Yahweh] will provide." Hence the name is changed from Salem to Jireh-salem or Jerusalem. The first century AD Jewish priest turned historian Flavius Josephus identified Salem as Jerusalem in Jewish Wars. Concerning the history of Jerusalem he wrote:
And in his monumental work on the history of the Jews entitled Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus recounted the Jewish tradition concerning the meeting between Melchizedek and Abram:
When King David conquers Jerusalem circa 1000BC, he determines that this is the place God told the Israelites that worship would be established in Deuteronomy 12:4-12: You must seek Yahweh your God in the place which he will choose from all your tribes, there to set his name and give it a home...
Hebrews 7: 3-4: Without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life, thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. 4 See how great he is to whom the patriarch "Abraham [indeed] gave a tenth" of his spoils.
This passage cannot mean, as some have suggested, that Melchizedek was a heavenly being or the preincarnate Christ. Jesus is the only one who came from heaven and then returned: No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man [John 3:13]. Bishop Epiphanius of Cyprus writing in the late 4th century concerning the belief of some that Melchizedek was a divine figure or an angel sent by God refuted this interpretation: It is plain that this righteous man was holy, a priest of God, and the king of Salem, but he was no part of the order in heaven and has not come down from heaven. "No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man," says the holy divine Word who tells no lies. Refuting those who suggested Melchizedek was God the Holy Spirit, like an Egyptian-Christian priest Hieracas, Epiphanius wrote: The Egyptian heresiarch Hieracas believes that Melchizedech is the Holy Spirit because of "resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever." As though this is to be interpreted by the holy apostle's "the Spirit intercedes for us with signs too deep for words." But one who understands the Spirit's mind knows that he intercedes for the elect with God. But Hieracas too has departed entirely from the prescribed path. The Spirit never assumed flesh, and, not having assumed flesh, he could not be king of Salem and priest of anywhere. Epiphanius, Panarion 4, Against Melchizedekians 4.1-7and 5:1-4
The writer of Hebrews has already established Jesus' superiority over the angels in that it was He and not an angel who came enfleshed to live on earth as a man and to serve humanity. And he cannot mean that neither Jesus or Melchizedek were without mother or father because Scripture clearly defines Mary's role as the mother of Jesus of Nazareth, lists Jesus' detailed human genealogy in both the Gospels Matthew and Luke, and the writer himself mentions Jesus' descent from the tribe of Judah in 7:14. That the writer's intent is to establish the special condition of the priesthood of both Jesus and Melchizedek over the Levitical order of priesthood becomes clear as he continues in his discourse in this chapter. Concerning this passage St. Ephraim wrote: Not only Melchizedek but also the same Melchizedek are "without father, and mother and without genealogy" because neither the name Melchizedek nor the name Israel were written in the genealogy, whereas Shem and Jacob had father and mother, and a beginning and an end, and were inscribed in the genealogy. But the names of Melchizedek and Israel did not have any of these things. God gloried them both with names equally imposed by him. He "was made similar to the Son of God" through his priesthood, so that the priesthood of Melchizedek might last forever, not in Melchizedek himself but in the Lord of Melchizedek. Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews
The question is: How is the priesthood of Melchizedek similar to the priesthood of Jesus and how does Melchizedek's priesthood resemble the priesthood of Jesus Christ as opposed to the priesthood of the Levites? Please refer to the chart from end of last week's lesson which compares and contrasts the Levitical priesthood, the priesthood of Melchizedek and the priesthood of Jesus the Messiah.
Question: What are the major points that separate the priesthood of Melchizedek and Jesus from the Levitical priesthood? See the Levites separate status among the tribe of Israel in Numbers 1:47-54; Deuteronomy 14:22
In the Levitical priesthood it was necessary to prove descend from the tribe of Levi for the ordinary priesthood and for the high priests to prove descent from the Levite clan of Kohath through Aaron. A high priest only served for a prescribed length of time [the Levite clan of Kohath]. The ordinary Levite minister's service in the ministerial priesthood extended from the age of 25(a period of training) and full service from 30 to 50 years old [the Gershonite and Merarite clans of Levi]. It seems that during the period of the monarchy the Levites we accepted for service at an earlier age and began serving in the Temple at the age of 20 [1 Chronicles 23:24-27; 2 Chronicles 31:17]. At 50 both the priests and Levitical ministers retired from the labor of service God in the Tabernacle but they could continue sharing in the responsibilities which would include teaching, training younger priests, etc. Their priestly service was tied to their genealogical descent from Aaron [for the high priests] and from descent from Levi [for the other clans], and so detailed records were kept in the Temple and a man could not serve in the order of the high priests or the Levitical ministers if the record of his descent could not be proved:
A priest must have a pure genealogy on both his father's and mother's side of the family tree. The Talmud-Mishnah determines that his lineage must trace the father's family back 10 generations and the mother's for 4 generations. A physical deformity, disease or impure marriage could disqualify a priest since he had to approach God and share God's sanctity in a special way; any "unholiness" or physical defect in him would diminish his role as "redeemed man" before Yahweh, as God had first created man in His perfect image of righteousness and the physical world without spot or blemish.
But the priesthood of Shem-Melchizedek and Jesus are not based on physical descent of family lineage but on firstborn sonship. In Shem's case he is the re'shyth [the Hebrew title for the firstborn son] and therefore the heir of Noah while Jesus is God's firstborn Son and Heir of the Kingdom of God. For Melchizedek and Jesus a family line and determined a length of service in years is not necessary to their priestly service. But Melchizedek's priesthood is only a prefigurement of Christ's eternal priesthood. The inspired writer points to his prefigurement in the statement: thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. He is "like" Christ in his priesthood based on his firstborn sonship but this does not suggest that Melchizedek ruled eternally, just that no ending date is given in Scripture for the end of his priestly service. Father Alfred Vanhoye writes: This difference reveals that in the eyes of the author, Melchizedek was only a prefiguration of the eternal priest, a sketch which represented him in a suggestive, but imperfect, fashion. Another expression that immediately precedes this clearly demonstrates this point of view: Melchizedek 'has been made like to the Son of God.' He was not the Son of God, but the text of Genesis has described him in such a way that his figure suggests the person of the Son of God. [Vanhoye, Old Testament Priests and the New Priest, page 153, quoted from Hahn, Kinship by Covenant, page 581].
Hebrews 7:4-5: 4 See how great he is to whom the patriarch "Abraham [indeed] gave a tenth" of his spoils. 5 The descendants of Levi who received the office of priesthood have a commandment according to the law to exact tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, although they also have come from the loins of Abraham.
His point is that a man pays tithes, like taxes, to one who is superior to him and who has authority over him. The children of Israel paid tithes to the Levites who were in authority over them but within their kin group, Abram paid tithes to Melchizedek who had authority over him and if he is Shem, was within his kin group and as Catholic Christians we pay tithes and give offerings to the Church who is our family and who as Christ's representative has authority over us. It is the length of Shem's age and the kin group tithe connection that convinced both St. Jerome and St. Ephraim that Shem was indeed Melchizedek.
Hebrews 7:6-8: 6 But he who was not of their ancestry received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had received the promises. 7 Unquestionably, a lesser person is blessed by a greater. 8 In the one case, mortal men receive tithes; in the other, a man of whom it is testified that the lives on.
Verse 6 is used by some to refute the Shem-Melchizedek connection; however, the inspired writer is not referring to Abraham's genealogy but to "their ancestry", referring to the Levitical genealogical family trees which were recorded at the time of the Sinai Covenant and under the Sinai Covenant determined to whom the tithes are received and from whom the blessings of God were pronounced. These genealogies began with the 3 clans of the Tribe of Levi, the clans of Aaron and the Kohath for the high priests, and the clans of Gershon, and Merari for the ordinary Levitical ministers. His point is that a lack of a Levitical genealogy did not prevent Melchizedek from serving as God's priest who received the tithe from Abraham nor does it disqualify Jesus from serving God as the New Covenant High Priest.
Question: How does the inspired writer again establish Melchizedek's superiority and authority over Abraham in verse 7?
Answer: Tithes are paid by a lesser to a superior as by Abraham to Melchizedek and in the line of the "promised seed", tithes are paid within the kinship association which is another argument that supports Shem as Melchizedek especially in light of Abraham's refusal to have anything to do with the King of Sodom, including keeping the treasure of that king that he had recovered after defeating the 4 kings of Mesopotamia.
and blessed him who had received the promises: We briefly looked at who gave and received blessings in a previous lesson; however, let's revisit the issuing of blessings in more detail. We already noted that the only blessing mentioned prior to Abraham receiving Melchizedek's blessing was when Shem was blessed by Noah as righteous firstborn son and heir who had authority over his brothers, and in whom the Covenant God made with Noah and the earth would be continued'"Blessed is Yahweh God of Shem" [Genesis 9:26]. The next blessing in Scripture was the blessing Abraham received from God in Genesis chapter 12. But let's focus on the blessings of men to men:
It is interesting that in each case the blessing of the father is intended for the "firstborn" son to carry the authority of the father. According to Genesis 9:28, Noah blessed Shem when Noah was 600 years old, and then Noah lived for another 350 years. Shem's first son was born two years after the flood when Noah was 602 years old, and Abram was born when Noah was 897 years old. Genesis 9:29 records: The whole lifetime of Noah was 950 years, which means Noah would live another 53 years after Abraham's birth. One wonders if Noah had just died and in giving his blessing to Abraham if Shem-Melechizedek was giving the blessing of the "firstborn" to Abraham as his designated heir? Jewish oral tradition supports this interpretation. Rabbinic tradition records that Abraham succeeded Melchizedek as priest-king [Rabbinic text: Leviticus Rabbah 25:6], fulfilling his role as the designated heir of Melchizedek who was Shem, Noah's righteous firstborn son. The first century Targums and rabbinic writings regularly identify Melchizedek with Noah's son Shem as do some Fathers and doctors of the Church including St. Ephraim and St. Jerome [see lesson 6].
Then in Hebrews 7:8 the writer contrasts the Levitical priesthood's mortality with Jesus' immortality and eternal priesthood when he writes that the Levites were "mortal men." The Son of God alone is uniquely qualified for eternal service as the New Covenant High Priest because He is the only High Priest who has been given everlasting life and the only High Priest who can make the promise of salvation and a future resurrection to believers!
Concerning the length of Melchizedek's priesthood as compared to Jesus and as opposed to the Levitical priesthood Bishop Epiphanius writes: For when the sacred Scripture proclaimed, and the Holy Spirit expressly taught, the order of Melchizedek, they indicated the removal of the priesthood from the ancient synagogue and the physical nation to a nation which is the finest and best and which is not united by a common physical descent. For this holy Melchizedek had no successors, but neither did he have his priesthood abolished. He remained a priest himself throughout his life and is still celebrated as a priest in the Scripture, since no one either succeeded him or abolished the priesthood during the time of his service. So our Lord, though he was not [only] a man but the holy divine Word of God, God's Son begotten without beginning and no in time, and was with the Father but became man for our sakes, of Mary and not of a man's seed, our Lord took the clay from his manhood, received the priesthood and made his offering to the Father. He had taken his substance from man so as to be made a priest for us after the order of Melchizedek, which has no succession. Panarion 4, Against Melchizedekians 4.1-7
Hebrews 7:9-10: 9 One might even say that Levi himself receives tithes, was tithed through Abraham, 10 for he was still in his father's loins when Melchizedek met him.
Question: What is the inspired writer's argument here for those who are still attached to the Levitical priesthood and still do not recognize the superiority of Jesus' priesthood in the prefigurement of Melchizedek's priesthood?
Answer: His argument is that in a sense even the Levites paid the tithe to Melchizedek through Abraham since they descend through the line of Abraham! He doesn't really mean to say the seed of the man named Levi, who is the great-grandson of Abraham, was present in Abraham at the time he paid the tithe, instead he is exaggerating the point that if Father Abraham is superior to his children and if Abraham is inferior to Melchizedek, because he paid the tithe to him acknowledging his superiority, then the children of Abraham are also inferior to the priest-king Melchizedek whose priesthood prefigured the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ!
Please read Hebrews 7:11-19: A New Priesthood Indicates a New Law and a New Order
11 If then, perfection came through the Levitical priesthood, on the basis of which the people received the law, what need would there still have been for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not reckoned according to the order of Aaron? 12 When there is a change of priesthood, there is necessarily a change of law as well. 13 Now he of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, of which no member officiated at the altar. 14 It is clear that our Lord arose from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up after the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become so, not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. 17 For it is testified: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedech." 18 On the one hand, a former commandment is annulled because of its weakness and uselessness, 19 for the law brought nothing to perfection; on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
Question: What question does the inspired writer ask concerning the necessity of the establishing of a new order of priesthood in the New Covenant?
Answer: He is making a preemptive strike by asking the question that those who denied the necessity of a new priesthood were asking: "If the Aaronic priesthood was perfect why did it need to be replaced and why did the Law of Moses need to be replaced?"
Answer: No; nor was the Old Law perfect. Neither the Old Covenant priesthood nor the Old Covenant law could offer salvation and entrance into the life of God.
Hebrews 7:12: When there is a change of priesthood, there is necessarily a change of law as well.
Question: Is there a precedent established in Scripture for the inspired writer's claim that when there is a change in the priesthood there is a change in the Law?
Answer: Yes, the Aaronic priesthood and the priestly service of the Levites in the Sinai Covenant replaced the priesthood of Melchizedek-Shem which was a priesthood of the firstborn son and the Noachide Covenant. The natural law of the Noachide Covenant continued for all Gentiles, but Israelites were given a new law: The Law of the Sinai Covenant which was the Law of Moses and a new order of priesthood.
After the great flood, God established a covenant with Noah and his descendants [Genesis 9:8-11]. In that covenant formation God laid down the first laws for humanity that were based on natural law. The summary of the "Law of the Noachide Covenant is recorded in Genesis 9:1-7 but Jewish oral tradition interprets the establishment of 7 laws [see Talmud: Sanhedrin 56A]. These laws are established for one universal human family:
This one human family of the Noachide Covenant became dysfunctional as descendants of Ham rejected the authority of Noah and his heir in their desire for self-rule. The one unified human family descended from Noah was fractured in the revolt of the Tower of Babel [Genesis 11:1-9] when Ham's sons [see Genesis 9:7-12] in Shinar decided to make a "name"'a shem [shem means "name" in Hebrew] for themselves by revolting against the authority of Shem who was designated the figure of authority for the family of Noah. In the scattering of the people as a result of the revolt in building the Tower of Babel to establish a power in opposition to Shem, the human family would be divided and disbursed until the second great Pentecost in 30AD when God the Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 disciples of Jesus Christ praying in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, filling and indwelling the New Covenant Church and reestablishing one universal family.
At Sinai God had intended that the priesthood of the firstborn son should continue when He stated in Exodus 19:6: You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation'every firstborn son of Israel was to be a priest. After the elevation of all the "firstborn sons" Yahweh gave the 10 Commandments and the extended Law of the Sinai Covenant, establishing Aaron and his sons as high priests over the "firstborn sons". But like the majority of the spoiled "firstborn" sons of Genesis, the firstborn sons of the Exodus experience who had been redeemed by the blood of the lamb the night of the first Passover in the land of Egypt, rebelled against Yahweh and were dispossessed of their firstborn sonship as heirs to the priesthood. Instead the Levites who suppressed the rebellion of the Golden Calf took their place: Look, I myself have chosen the Levites from the Israelites instead of all the firstborn, those who emerge first from the womb in Israel; the Levites therefore belong to me [Numbers 3:11-12]. After the sin of the Golden Calf and the dispossession of the "firstborn sons" of Israel, Moses, who in his anger had broken the first set of stone engraved 10 Commandments, again receives the 10 commandments from God; however, the Law of Moses will be greatly expanded in Leviticus and Numbers, disobedient children need more rules!
So there is precedence for the establishment of new law with a new priesthood, both in the case of the Sinai over the Noachide law and a new Aaronic priesthood and again in the revolt of the Golden Calf when the priesthood is redefined to include the Levites and the law expanded. Therefore, with the new priesthood of Jesus Christ the eternal High Priest of the eternal sacrifice, there must be a New Covenant and a new law. It is the law that David prophesized when God formed the covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7 when David said: Yet, to you, Lord Yahweh, this seemed too little, and now you extend your promises for your servant's family into the distant future [New Jerusalem]. The literal translation is: you extend your promises from your servant's house to make a law (torah) for mankind (adam)[2 Samuel 7:19]. And it is the New Covenant that was promised by the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-34 which the inspired writer of Hebrews will quote in the next chapter.
Hebrews 7:13-14: 13 Now he of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, of which no member officiated at the altar. 14 It is clear that our Lord arose from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
Having established in the minds of his audience the precedence for a new priesthood when the Aaronic priesthood and the Law of Sinai replaced the old order priesthood and expanded the natural law of the Noachide Covenant, he brings up the touchy subject of Jesus' genealogy. The subject of his statement:"Now he", meaning Jesus, is the priest "according to the order of Melchizedek," is focused on the prophetic pronouncement of King David in Psalm 110:1-4. Jesus does not claim His superior priesthood from the line Levi, Israel/Jacob's third son, because He is a descendant of Jacob's fourth son, Judah,the son who offered his life in payment for his younger brother in Genesis 44:30-34.
Question: What was the death-bled blessing Jacob/Israel gave to his son Judah? What were the details of the blessing? What animal sign did Jacob assign to Judah? See Genesis 49:8-12.
Answer: The blessing promises:
In the establishment of the monarchy in Israel in 1 Samuel, the king was be God's representative to the people as their civil authority and was not to fulfill a priestly role.
Moses' sister Miriam was also punished in the same way as Uzziah when she claimed the privileges of Moses as Covenant mediator in Numbers 12:10.
When David brought the Ark of the Covenant to the newly conquered city of Jerusalem he danced before the Ark wearing the priestly garment of an ephod and he offered to the priests kingly sacrifices which they sacrificed on God's Altar, but he did not adopt the role of the priests. He did speak of his son Solomon as a priest-king of Jerusalem in Psalm 110, just as Melchizedek was priest-king of Salem, the old Jerusalem, but he was speaking prophetically of the true King Yahweh whose firstborn Son would be both priest and king of the heavenly Jerusalem. Jesus teaches that this psalm was not about Solomon but was about Himself as does St. Peter in his great homily on Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2:34-35.
Hebrews 7:15-16: It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up after the likeness of Melchizedek, 17 who has become so, not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.
The Old Law of the Sinai Covenant which restricted to the priesthood to Levi to his physical descendants until their 50th year does not apply to Jesus who is a priest like Melchizedek without a restricted genealogy or limited duration of service. Jesus' priesthood cannot be destroyed by the powers of sin and death as other mortals die by the power of His Resurrection He is the eternal Son of the eternal Priesthood! CCC#648
Question: And yet, according to the covenant with Aaron and his descendants, and the separate covenant with Aaron's grandson Phinehas, the priesthood is to be a perpetual covenant [see Exodus 40:15 and Numbers 25:10-13; Sirach 45:7, 15; 23-24]. If God's promises never fail how are these promises fulfilled?
Answer: They are fulfilled spiritually in the New Covenant priesthood: in the Covenant with Phinehas for a perpetual high priesthood in Jesus Christ and in the ministerial priesthood of the Levites the covenant is transformed and fulfilled in the ministerial priesthood of the Catholic Church. In a curious twist of God's plan the covenants with Aaron's descendants are also physically fulfilled. A distinctive haplotype which has been named the Kohen-model Haplotype has been isolated which identifies the descendants of the Kohath tribe of Aaron. No distinctive hayplotype has been discovered for the other tribes of Levi.
Hebrews 7:17-19: 17 For it is testified: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedech." 18 On the one hand, a former commandment is annulled because of its weakness and uselessness, 19 for the law brought nothing to perfection; on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
This is the eighth time the inspired writer of Hebrews has invoked the name "Melchizedek", and the fifth time he has referred to Jesus' priesthood being "according to the order of Melchizedek" from Psalm 110:4. The testimony in Psalm 110:4 is prophetic testimony according to the writer of Hebrews just as St. Peter identified the writings of King David in the Psalm as prophetic writings in Acts 2:29-36 also quoting from Psalm 110: Brothers, no one can deny that the patriarch David himself is dead and buried: his tomb is till with us. But since he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn him an oath to make one of his descendants succeed him on the throne, he spoke with foreknowledge about the resurrection of the Christ: he is the one who was not abandoned to Hades, and whose body did not see corruption. God raised this man Jesus to life, and of that we are all witnesses. Now raised to the heights by God's right hand, he has received from the Father the Holy Spirit, who was promised and what you see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit. For David himself never went up to heaven, but yet he said: "The Lord declared to my Lord, take you seat at my right hand, till I have made your enemies your footstool". For this reason the whole House of Israel can be certain that the Lord and Christ whom God has made is this Jesus whom you crucified.
Question: Peter quotes from Psalm 110:1 in his first great homily at the Feast of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. Where did the inspired writer of Hebrews quote this passage earlier in his address?
Answer: The purpose of the Old Law of Moses was to train the people in holiness and to convict them of their sins by defining what was sinful: You shall not worship false gods; you shall not commit adultery; etc. The old law was good because it was a tutor and a guide but it could not bring about the spiritual perfection of a soul infused with divine grace, nor was it capable to securing the gift of eternal life.
Please read Hebrews 7:20-28: Jesus' Eternal Priesthood of the New Covenant is Superior to the Levitical Priesthood
20 And to the degree that this happened not without the taking of an oath for others became priests without an oath, 21 but he with an oath, through the ones who said to him: "The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent: 'You are a priest forever'"'22 to that same degree has Jesus [also] become the guarantee of an [even] better covenant. 23 Those priests were many because they were prevented by death from remaining in office, 24 but he, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away. 25 Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them. 26 It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. 27 He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests, but the word of the oath, which was taken after the law, appoints a son, who has been made perfect forever.
Covenants in the Bible are formed by oath swearing and by blood [Genesis 15:1] In the ancient world, as in the modern, swearing an oath calls upon God, or another power like the State, to hold the oath-maker accountable for what he has sworn [see Ezekiel 17:13-21]. This passage, however, refers to an oath God swore on Himself to offer surety of His promises. There can be no greater assurance of the oath being kept. Jesus is the guarnatee of an even better covenant than the one formed at Sinai [Hebrews 7:22]. Christ has offered surety to His father for His younger brothers and sisters as Judah offered surety to Jacob/Israel to save the life of his younger brother in Genesis 44. Jesus' ancestor Judah offered himself as a slave but Christ has offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice that God's other sons and daughters might be saved from slavery to sin and death. No matter what "debt" we incur on account of sin, Jesus has paid the debt in full for us through His Passion and death, and through His Resurrection He has taken His place in heaven as our advocate, our High Priest before the throne of God.
"The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent: Pope St. Leo the Great who sat on the throne of St. Peter as Bishop of Rome [440-461AD] preached to the faithful concerning the surety of God's oath: Attached to oaths among human beings are certain conditions that have been made irrevocable by permanent guarantees. Surety for the divine oath can therefore be found in promises that have been fixed by immutable decrees. Since regret implies a change of will, God does not regret what, according to his eternal good pleasure, he cannot want to be otherwise than how he has wanted it. Sermon 5.3
'You are a priest forever'--
Pope Leo wrote: Fittingly does this chant rise up to him from the mouth of the whole which and from that of all priests. "The Lord has sworn, and he will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek," He himself is the true and eternal bishop whose ministry can neither change nor end. He is the one prefigured by the high priest Melechizedek. Sermon 5.3
Hebrews 7:23-25: 23 Those priests were many because they were prevented by death from remaining in office, 24 but he, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away. 25 Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.
The Aaronic priesthood was limited by the determined length of service and by the human frailty of the priest but the resurrected Jesus Christ is an eternal High Priest who "lives forever to make intercession for" us! CCC#1364; 1366.
Hebrews 7:26-27: It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens.27 He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself.
Question: How does the inspired writer list the attributes of Christ as our High Priest?
Question: How is Jesus "separated from sinners"?
Answer: His only separation is in His sinlessness and in His place in the heavenly kingdom. In every other way He identifies with us and shows us the way to holiness and salvation. He is the prefect High Priest because:
Question: What sacrifice did the high priests of the Old Covenant have to offer day after day for their sins and the sins of the community? Hint: It was the first continual communal sacrifice commanded of the covenant people in Exodus 29:38-46.
Answer: It is the sacrifice known as the Daily Sacrifice, or in Hebrew as the Tamid, in which two lambs were sacrificed daily in a communal sacrifice for all the covenant people along with an offering of cakes of unleavened wheat and a wine libation. But the sacrifices had to be repeated over and over again because no animal could be perfect enough to remove sin, the blood of the sacrificial victim could only cover sins:
Hebrews 7:28: For the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests, but the word of the oath, which was taken after the law, appoints a son, who has been made perfect forever.
We have relied on the teachings of Epiphanius the late 4th century Bishop of Salamis in this lesson and, therefore, it seems fitting to close with the good bishop's words concerning the perfect priesthood of Jesus Christ: For he abides forever to offer gifts for us, after first offering himself by the cross, to abolish every sacrifice of the old covenant by presenting the more prefect, living sacrifice for the whole world. He himself is temple, sacrifice, priest, altar, God, man, king, high priest, lamb, sacrificial victim become all in all for us that life may be ours in every way and to lay the changeless foundation of his priesthood forever, no longer allotting it by descent and succession by granting that, in accordance with his ordinance, it may be preserved in the Holy Spirit. Panarion 4, Against Melchizedekians 4.1-7.
In the next chapter we begin another section in the Letter to the Hebrews which continues the theme of the superiority of the priesthood of Christ and the superiority of the new covenantal order. From chapter 8:1 to 10:18 the inspired writer of Hebrews will make his argument for both the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant by presenting a series of contrasts. The inspired writer will contrast the heavenly Sanctuary with the earthly Temple, the Old Covenant with the New, and the old priesthood's repeated sacrifices with Christ's one perfect eternal sacrifice.
Question for group discussion:
Question: Hebrews 7:28 reads: He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself.
If Jesus' sacrifice was "once for all", offered for all men and women of all time then why do we call the celebration of the Mass a sacrifice? Isn't what Jesus offered up on the cross enough? See the document "Is the Mass a True Sacrifice" in the documents and resources section of Agape Bible Study; also see CCC# 1330; 1366-67; and read Hebrews 8:1-3 while considering that a high priest is a high priest only because he offers up a sacrifice.
YAHWEH'S EIGHT COVENANTS
"But Yahweh's faithful love for those who fear him is from eternity and for ever; and his saving justice to their children's children; as long as they keep his covenant, and carefully obey his precepts." Palms 103:17-18
vdominion over the earth
Tree of Life
Gen. 1:28-30: "God blessed them, saying to them, 'Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it..."
2. Noah and the earth
v fertility & dominion over the earth
v the earth will never be destroyed by flood waters again (water will become a sign of salvation)
3. Abraham = 3-fold, (continues with Isaac, Jacob & descendants)
v land, nation (descendants) & world wide blessing
Circumcision On the 8th day
4. Moses & Israel
v Sinai Covenant establishing divine liturgy & covenant sacraments
Ark of the Covenant Tabernacle 10 Commandments
5. Aaron & Sons
v perpetual ministerial priesthood of the Levites
Ex. 40:15; Lev. 2:13; Num. 18:19; Sir. 45:7, 15; Jer. 33:21. "Everything the Israelites set aside for Yahweh from the holy things, I give to you and your sons and daughters, by perpetual decree. This is a covenant of salt for ever before Yahweh, for you and your descendants too." Num. 18:19
v perpetual priesthood in Covenant of Peace (prefigures Christ)
Seamless robe & miter
7. David & descendants
v dynasty and throne forever secure
8. Jesus (Yah-shua = Yahweh saves or I save) also written Yehosua = Joshua. He is the fulfillment of all the covenantal promises
The Cross, the true "Tree of Life"
"..This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.'" 1 Cor. 11:25:
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1998, revised 2007 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
* There are many more Scripture passages referring to Yahweh's 8 Covenants than those listen in the chart. Some additional Scripture references for the various covenants are listed below:
-Adam: Hosea 6:7 [can be translated "They have broken the covenant like Adam..". The word "adam" can mean the first man "Adam", or "man/mankind", or "ground" or "earth"]. In Genesis 6:18: the Hebrew word "quwm" can also be translated "restore" , "continue", or "maintain" which is why most scholars assume the first covenant was established with Adam and then continued with Noah. If there was no covenant there would be no covenant obligations or violations of the covenant.
-Noah: Genesis 6:18; 9:9; 11, 12 (twice), 13, 15, 16, 17; Sirach 44:17-18; Isaiah 24:5
-Abraham (and descendants): Genesis 15:18; 17:2, 4, 7 (twice), 9, 10 (twice); 17:11, 13 (twice), 14, 19 (twice), 21: 31:44; Exodus 2:24; 6:2-5; Leviticus 26: 42-45; 2 Kings 13:23; 17:15, 35, 38; 18:12; 23:2, 3 (three times), 21; 1 Chronicles 16:15-17; Sirach 44:19-20; Psalm 105:9; Acts 3:25; 7:8
-Mosaic Covenant with Israel: Exodus 19:5; 24:7, 8; 31:16; 34:10, 27, 28; Leviticus 24:8-9; 26:9, 15, 25, 42 (3 times), 44, 45; Deuteronomy 4:13, 23, 31; 5:2-3; 7:9, 12; 8:18; 9:9, 11, 15; 17:2; 29:1, 9, 12 (twice), 14, 21, 25 (twice); 31:16, 20; 33:9; Joshua 7:11, 15; 23:16; Judges 2:1, 20; 1 Kings 8:9, 21, 23; 19:10-11; 2 Chronicles 6:11, 14; 34:30, 31 (twice), 32; Psalm 105:10; 106:45; Isaiah 42:6; 54:10
-Aaron and sons: Leviticus 2:13; 18:19; Numbers 18:19; Nehemiah 13:25; Sirach 45:7, 15; Jeremiah 33:21; Malachi 2:4-9
-Phinehas: Numbers 25:11-13; Sirach 45:24; Psalm 106:30-31 (an example of righteousness for the ages)
-David: 2 Samuel 7:11-17; 23:5; Sirach 45:25; 47:11; 2 Chronicles 7:18; 13:5; 21:7; Psalm 89:3, 28, 34, Jeremiah 33:21
-Jesus: Isaiah 59:20-21 [Romans 11:26-27]; Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6-14; Galatians 4:24; Hebrews 7:22; 8:6-13; 9:15-20; 10:14-29 (quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34); 12:24; 13:20
Catechism references for this chapter [*indicates Scripture quoted in citation]
Resources used in this Lesson:
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.