For the Love of God, Volume 2/May 2
From Gospel Translations
Numbers 9; Psalm 45; Song of Songs 7; Hebrews 7
IN VOLUME 1 (MEDITATION FOR JANUARY 13), we reflected on the place of Melchizedek in Genesis and, by way of anticipation, in the rest of the canon. Here in Hebrews 7 we may reflect on Melchizedek again, this time looking backwards. I shall focus on some of the turning points in the line of thought in Hebrews 7:11-28.
(1) In the previous verses the author establishes that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, and therefore greater than Abraham’s descendant Levi (since in Hebrew culture the father was always superior to the son). So historically the priest Melchizedek was greater than the priest Levi; in principle, then, the Melchizedekian priesthood, as an institution, is superior to the Levitical priesthood.
(2) When one reads the Old Testament documents sequentially, it is striking that, several centuries after the Mosaic Law that established the Levites as priests, God announces in Psalm 110 (Heb 5:6; 7:17, 21) that he is raising up a messianic figure who is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek, not Levi. (See vol. 1, meditation for June 17.)
(3) In principle, such a promise announces the obsolescence of the Levitical priesthood. It cannot last. In Psalm 110 God through David announces that the Levitical priesthood will be superseded by the Melchizedekian priesthood.
(4) That in turn means there must be a change in the law-covenant given at Sinai. We are sometimes tempted to think that the Law was primarily about “morality,” with a little bit of religious ceremony and some other things tacked on. If that were right, the law-covenant could remain largely intact when the priesthood changes. But that is not the argument of Hebrews. Here we are told that the Levitical priesthood, far from being tacked on, was the very basis of the Law (7:11). In other words, in certain respects the ceremonial functions of the Law lie at the heart of its covenantal structure. So with the coming of a non- Levitical priesthood, “there must also be a change of the law” (7:12; cf. 7:17-19), i.e., of the law-covenant. That in turn suggests that it was not the function of the Mosaic Law to establish a pattern of worship and a religious framework valid for God’s people for all time, but that the Law was part of a pattern that pointed forward to a still greater priest and to the ultimate covenant. Inevitably there are points of continuity between the Sinai covenant and the new covenant, but the fundamental change must be grasped to see how the Bible hangs together.
(5) That leads to the wonderful picture in this chapter of the perfection and finality of Jesus as Melchizedekian priest. Meditate on 7:23-25.