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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Concerning the greatness of Melchisedec, after whose order Christ is a high priest, Hebrews 7:1-4. The Levites had authority to take tithes of the people; yet Abraham, their representative, paid tithes to Melchisedec, Hebrews 7:5-10. Perfection cannot come by the Mosaic law, else there could be no need for another priest after the order of Melchisedec, according to the prediction of David in Psalm 110:1-7, which priest is sprung from a tribe to which the priesthood, according to the law, did not appertain; but Christ is a priest for ever, not according to the law, but after the order of an endless life, Hebrews 7:11-17. The law, therefore, is disannulled, because of its unprofitableness and imperfection; and Christ has an unchangeable priesthood, Hebrews 7:18-24. He is therefore able always to save them that come unto him, being in every respect a suitable Savior; and he has offered up himself for the sins of the people, Hebrews 7:25-27. The law makes those priests who have infirmity; but he who is consecrated by the oath is perfect, and endures for ever, Hebrews 7:28.
1For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;
For this Melchisedec, king of Salem - See the whole of this history largely explained in the notes, See Genesis 14:18 (note), etc., and the concluding observations at the end of that chapter.
The name Melchisedec, מלכי צדק is thus expounded in Bereshith Rabba, sec. 43, fol. 42, מצדיק את יושביו matsdie eth Yoshebaiv, "The Justifier of those who dwell in him;" and this is sufficiently true of Christ, but false of Jerusalem, to which the rabbins apply it, who state that it was originally called Tsedek, and that it justified its inhabitants.
Salem is generally understood to be Jerusalem; but some think that it was that city of Shechem mentioned Joshua 20:7. St. Jerome was of this opinion.
2To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;
Gave a tenth part of all - It was an ancient custom, among all the nations of the earth, to consecrate a part or tenth of the spoils taken in war to the objects of their worship. Many examples of this kind occur. This however was not according to any provision in law, but merely ad libitum, and as a eucharistic offering to those to whom they imagined they owed the victory. But neither Abraham's decimation, nor theirs, had any thing to do, either with tithes as prescribed under the Mosaic dispensation, or as claimed under the Christian.
3Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.
Without father, without mother - The object of the apostle, in thus producing the example of Melchisedec, was to show,
1. That Jesus was the person prophesied of in the 110th Psalm; which psalm the Jews uniformly understood as predicting the Messiah.
2. To answer the objections of the Jews against the legitimacy of the priesthood of Christ, taken from the stock from which he proceeded.
The objection is this: If the Messiah is to be a true priest, he must come from a legitimate stock, as all the priests under the law have regularly done; otherwise we cannot acknowledge him to be a priest: but Jesus of Nazareth has not proceeded from such a stock; therefore we cannot acknowledge him for a priest, the antitype of Aaron.
To this objection the apostle answers, that it was not necessary for the priest to come from a particular stock, for Melchisedec was a priest of the most high God, and yet was not of the stock, either of Abraham or Aaron, but a Canaanite. It is well known that the ancient Hebrews were exceedingly scrupulous in choosing their high priest; partly by Divine command, and partly from the tradition of their ancestors, who always considered this office to be of the highest dignity.
1. God had commanded. Leviticus 21:10, that the high priest should be chosen from among their brethren, i. e. from the family of Aaron;
2. that he should marry a virgin;
3. he must not marry a widow;
4. nor a divorced person;
5. nor a harlot;
6. nor one of another nation.
He who was found to have acted contrary to these requisitions was, jure divino, excluded from the pontificate. On the contrary, it was necessary that he who desired this honor should be able to prove his descent from the family of Aaron; and if he could not, though even in the priesthood, he was cast out, as we find from Ezra 2:62, and Nehemiah 7:63.
To these Divine ordinances the Jews have added,
1. That no proselyte could be a priest;
2. nor a slave;
3. nor a bastard;
4. nor the son of a Nethinim;
5. nor one whose father exercised any base trade.
And that they might be well assured of all this, they took the utmost care to preserve their genealogies, which were regularly kept in the archives of the temple. When any person aspired to the sacerdotal function, his genealogical table was carefully inspected; and, if any of the above blemishes were found in him, he was rejected.
He who could not support his pretensions by just genealogical evidences, was said by the Jews to be without father. Thus in Bereshith Rabba, sect. 18, fol. 18, on these words, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, it is said: If a proselyte to the Jewish religion have married his own sister, whether by the same father or by the same mother, they cast her out according to Rabbi Meir. But the wise men say if she be of the same mother, they cast her out; but if of the same father, they retain her, שאין אב לגוי shein ab legoi, "for a Gentile has no father;" i.e. his father is not reckoned in the Jewish genealogies. In this way both Christ and Melchisedec were without father and without mother; i.e. were not descended from the original Jewish sacerdotal stock. Yet Melchisedec, who was a Canaanite, was a priest of the most high God. This sense Suidas confirms under the word Melchisedec, where, after having stated that, having reigned in Salem 113 years, he died a righteous man and a bachelor, Αγενεαλογητος ειρηται, παρα το μη υπαρχειν εκ του σπερματος Αβρααμ ὁλως, ειναι δε Χαναναιον το γενος, και εκ της επαρατου σπορας ὁρμωμενον, ὁθεν ουδε γενεαλογιας ηξιωτο, he adds, "He is, therefore, said to be without descent or genealogy, because he was not of the seed of Abraham, but of Canaanitish origin, and sprung from an accursed seed; therefore he is without the honor of a genealogy." And he farther adds, "That, because it would have been highly improper for him, who was the most righteous of men, to be joined in affinity to the most unrighteous of nations, he is said to be απατορα και αμητορα, without father and without mother." This sort of phraseology was not uncommon when the genealogy of a person was unknown or obscure; so Seneca, in his 108th epistle, speaking of some of the Roman kings, says: De Servii matre dubitatur; Anci pater nullus dicitur. "Of the mother of Servius Tullus there are doubts; and Ancus Marcus is said to have no father." This only signifies that the parents were either unknown or obscure. Titus Livius, speaking of Servius, says he was born of a slave, named Cornicularia, da patre nullo, of no father, i.e. his father was unknown. Horace is to be understood in the same way: -
Ante potestatem Tulli, atque ignobile regnum,
Multos saepe viros, Nullis Majoribus ortos,
Et vixisse probos, amplis et honoribus auctos.
Serm. l. 1. Sat. vi., ver. 9.
Convinced that, long before the ignoble reign
And power of Tullius, from a servile strain
Full many rose, for virtue high renown'd,
By worth ennobled, and with honors crown'd.
The viri nullis majoribus orti, men sprung from no ancestors, means simply men who were born of obscure or undistinguished parents; i.e. persons, who had never been famous, nor of any public account.
The old Syriac has given the true meaning by translating thus: -
Dela abuhi vela emeh ethcathebu besharbotho.
Whose father and mother are not inscribed among the genealogies.
The Arabic is nearly the same: -
He had neither father nor mother; the genealogy not being reckoned.
He had neither father nor mother upon earth, nor is his genealogy known.
As this passage has been obscure and troublesome to many, and I have thought it necessary to show the meaning of such phraseology by different examples, I shall, in order to give the reader fall information on the subject, add a few observations from Dr. Owen.
1. "It is said of Melchisedec in the first place that he was απατωρ, αμητωρ, without father and without mother, whereon part of the latter clause, namely, without beginning of days, doth depend. But bow could a mortal man come into the world without father or mother? 'Man that is born of a woman' is the description of every man; what, therefore, can be intended! The next word declares he was αγενεαλογητος· 'without descent,' say we. But γενεαλογια is a generation, a descent, a pedigree, not absolutely, but rehearsed, described, recorded. Γενεαλογητος is he whose stock and descent is entered on record. And so, on the contrary, αγενεαλογητος is not he who has no descent, no genealogy; but he whose descent and pedigree is nowhere entered, recorded, reckoned up. Thus the apostle himself plainly expresses this word, Hebrews 7:6 : ὁ μη γενεαλογουμενος εξ αυτων, 'whose descent is not counted;' that is, reckoned up in record. Thus was Melchisedec without father or mother, in that the Spirit of God, who so strictly and exactly recorded the genealogies of other patriarchs and types of Christ, and that for no less an end than to manifest the truth and faithfulness of God in his promises, speaks nothing to this purpose concerning him. He is introduced as it were one falling from heaven, appearing on a sudden, reigning in Salem, and officiating in the office of priesthood to the high God.
"2. On the same account is he said to be μητε αρχην ἡμερων, μητε ζωης τελος εχων, 'without beginning of days or end of life.' For as he was a mortal man he had both. He was assuredly born, and did no less certainly die than other men. But neither of these is recorded concerning him. We have no more to do with him, to learn from him, nor are concerned in him, but only as he is described in the Scripture; and there is no mention therein of the beginning of his days, or the end of his life. Whatever therefore he might have in himself, he had none to us. Consider all the other patriarchs mentioned in the writings of Moses, and you shall find their descent recorded, who was their father, and so up to the first man; and not only so, but the time of their birth, the beginning of their days, and the end of their life, are exactly recorded. For it is constantly said of them, such a one lived so long, and begat such a son, which fixed the time of birth. Then of him so begotten it is said, he lived so many years, which determines the end of his days. These things are expressly recorded. But concerning Melchisedec none of these things are spoken. No mention is made of father or mother; no genealogy is recorded of what stock or progeny he was; nor is there any account of his birth or death. So that all these things are wanting to him in his historical narration, wherein our faith and knowledge are alone concerned."
Made like unto the Son of God - Melchisedec was without father and mother, having neither beginning of days nor end of life. His genealogy is not recorded; when he was born and when he died, is unknown. His priesthood, therefore, may be considered as perpetual. In these respects he was like to Jesus Christ, who, as to his Godhead, had neither father nor mother, beginning of time nor end of days; and has an everlasting priesthood. The priesthood of Melchisedec is to abide continually on the same ground that he is said to be without father and mother; i.e. there is no record of the end of his priesthood or life, no more than there is any account of his ancestry.
4Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
Consider how great this man was - There is something exceedingly mysterious in the person and character of this king of Salem; and to find out the whole is impossible. He seems to have been a sort of universal priest, having none superior to him in all that region; and confessedly superior even to Abraham himself, the father of the faithful, and the source of the Jewish race. See Hebrews 7:7.
The patriarch Abraham - Ὁ πατριαρχης· Either from πατηρ, a father, and αρχη, a chief or head; or from πατριας αρχη, the head of a family.' But the title is here applied, by way of eminence, to him who was the head or chief of all the fathers - or patriarch of the patriarchs, and father of the faithful. The Syriac translates it Rish Abahatha, "head of the fathers." The character and conduct of Abraham place him, as a man, deservedly at the head of the human race.
5And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
They that are of the sons of Levi - The priests who are of the posterity of the Levites, and receive the priesthood in virtue of their descent from Aaron, have authority from the law of God to receive tithes from the people.
According to the law - That is, the Levites received a tenth from the people. The priests received a tenth of this tenth from the Levites, who are here called their brethren, because they were of the same tribe, and employed in the same sacred work. The apostle is proceeding to show that Melchisedec was greater even than Abraham, the head of the fathers, for to him Abraham gave tithes; and as the Levites were the posterity of Abraham, they are represented here as paying tithes to Melchisedec through him. Yet Melchisedec was not of this family, and therefore must be considered as having a more honorable priesthood than even Aaron himself; for he took the tenth from Abraham, not for his maintenance, for he was a king, but in virtue of his office as universal high priest of all that region.
6But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.
Blessed him that had the promises - This is a continuation of the same argument, namely, to show the superiority of Melchisedec; and, in consequence, to prove the superiority of the priesthood of Christ beyond that of Aaron. As in the seed of Abraham all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, Abraham received a sacerdotal blessing from Melchisedec, who was the representative of the Messiah, the promised seed, to show that it was through him, as the high priest of the human race, that this blessing was to be derived on all mankind.
7And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.
The less is blessed of the better - That the superior blesses the inferior is a general proposition; but Abraham was blessed of Melchisedec, therefore Melchisedec was greater than Abraham. "The blessing here spoken of," says Dr. Macknight, "is not the simple wishing of good to others, which may be done by inferiors to superiors; but it is the action of a person authorized to declare God's intention to bestow good things on another. In this manner Isaac and Jacob blessed their children under a prophetic impulse; in this manner the priests under the law blessed the people; in this manner, likewise, Melchisedec, the priest of the most high God, blessed Abraham."
8And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.
Here men that die receive tithes - The apostle is speaking of the ecclesiastical constitution of the Jews, which was standing at the time this epistle was written. Under the Jewish dispensation, though the priests were successively removed by death, yet they were as duly replaced by others appointed from the same family, and the payment of tithes was never interrupted. But as there is no account of Melchisedec ceasing to be a priest, or of his dying, he is represented as still living, the better to point him out as a type of Christ, and to show his priesthood to be more excellent than that which was according to the law, as an unchanging priesthood must be more excellent than that which was continually changing.
But there he receiveth them - The ὡδε, here, in the first clause of this verse refers to Mosaical institutions, as then existing: the εκει, there, in this clause refers to the place in Genesis (Genesis 14:20) where it is related that Abraham gave tithes to Melchisedec, who is still considered as being alive or without a successor, because there is no account of his death, nor of any termination of his priesthood.
9And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham.
And as I may so say - Και ὡς επος ειπειν· And so to speak a word. This form of speech, which is very frequent among the purest Greek writers, is generally used to soften some harsh expression, or to limit the meaning when the proposition might otherwise appear to be too general. It answers fully to our so to speak - as one would say - I had almost said - in a certain sense. Many examples of its use by Aristotle, Philo, Lucian, Josephus, Demosthenes, Aeschines, and Plutarch, may be seen in Raphelius and Kypke.
Payed tithes in Abraham - The Levites, who were descendants of Abraham, paid tithes to Melchisedec δια through, Abraham, their progenitor and representative.
10For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.
For he was yet in the loins of his father - That is, Levi was seminally included in Abraham, his forefather.
11If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood - The word τελειωσις, as we have before seen, signifies the completing or finishing of any thing, so as to leave nothing imperfect, and nothing wanting. Applied here to the Levitical priesthood, it signifies the accomplishment of that for which a priesthood is established, viz.: giving the Deity an acceptable service, enlightening and instructing the people, pardoning all offenses, purging the conscience from guilt, purifying the soul and preparing it for heaven, and regulating the conduct of the people according to the precepts of the moral law. This perfection never came, and never could come, by the Levitical law; it was the shadow of good things to come, but was not the substance. It represented a perfect system, but was imperfect in itself. It showed that there was guilt, and that there was an absolute need for a sacrificial offering to atone for sin, and it typified that sacrifice; but every sacrificial act under that law most forcibly proved that it was impossible for the blood of Bulls and Goats to take away sin.
For under it the people received the law - That is, as most interpret this place, under the priesthood, ἱερωσυνῃ being understood; because, on the priesthood the whole Mosaical law and the Jewish economy depended: but it is much better to understand επ' αυτῃ on account of it, instead of under it; for it is a positive fact that the law was given before any priesthood was established, for Aaron and his sons were not called nor separated to this office till Moses came down the second time from the mount with the tables renewed, after that he had broken them, Exodus 40:12-14. But it was in reference to the great sacrificial system that the law was given, and on that law the priesthood was established; for, why was a priesthood necessary, but because that law was broken and must be fulfilled?
That another priest should rise - The law was given that the offense might abound, and sin appear exceeding sinful; and to show the absolute necessity of the sacrifice and mediation of the great Messiah, but it was neither perfect in itself, nor could it confer perfection, nor did it contain the original priesthood. Melchisedec had a priesthood more than four hundred years (422) before the law was given; and David prophesied, Psalm 110:4, that another priest should arise after the order of Melchisedec, nearly five hundred years (476) after the law was given. The law, therefore, did not contain the original priesthood; this existed typically in Melchisedec, and really in Jesus Christ.
12For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
The priesthood being changed - That is, The order of Aaron being now abrogated, to make way for that which had preceded it, the order of Melchisedec.
There is made of necessity a change also of the law - The very essence of the Levitical law consisting in its sacrificial offerings; and as these could not confer perfection, could not reconcile God to man, purify the unholy heart, nor open the kingdom of heaven to the souls of men, consequently it must be abolished, according to the order of God himself; for he said, Sacrifice and offering, and burnt-offering, and sacrifice for sin, he would not; see Psalm 40:6, Psalm 40:7, compared with Hebrews 10:5-10, and with Psalm 110:4, where it is evident God designed to change both the law and the priesthood, and to introduce Jesus as the only Priest and Sacrifice, and to substitute the Gospel system for that of the Levitical institutions. The priesthood, therefore, being changed, Jesus coming in the place of Aaron, the law of ordinances and ceremonies, which served only to point out the Messiah, must of necessity be changed also.
13For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar.
For he of whom these things are spoken - That is, Jesus the Messiah, spoken of in Psalm 110:4, who came, not from the tribe of Levi, but from the tribe of Judah, of which tribe no priest ever ministered at a Jewish altar, nor could minister according to the law.
14For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.
For it is evident - As the apostle speaks here with so much confidence, it follows that our Lord's descent from the tribe of Judah was incontrovertible. The genealogical tables, both in Matthew and Luke, establish this point; and whatever difficulties we may find in them now, there were none apprehended in those days, else the enemies of the Gospel would have urged these as a chief and unanswerable argument against Christ and his Gospel.
15And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest,
And it is yet far more evident - Και περισσοτερον ετι καταδηλον εστιν· And besides, it is more abundantly strikingly manifest. It is very difficult to translate these words, but the apostle's meaning is plain, viz., that God designed the Levitical priesthood to be changed, because of the oath in Psalm 110:1-7, where, addressing the Messiah, he says: Thou art a Priest for ever after the order, or ὁμοιοτητα, similitude, of Melchisedec, who was not only a priest, but also a king. None of the Levitical priests sustained this double office; but they both, with that of prophet, appear and were exercised in the person of our Lord, who is the Priest to which the apostle alludes.
16Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.
Who is made - Appointed to this high office by God himself, not succeeding one that was disabled or dead, according to that law or ordinance directed to weak and perishing men, who could not continue by reason of death.
This is probably all that the apostle intends by the words carnal commandment, εντολης σαρκικης· for carnal does not always mean sinful or corrupt, but feeble, frail, or what may be said of or concerning man in his present dying condition.
But after the power of an endless life - Not dying, or ceasing through weakness to be a priest; but properly immortal himself, and having the power to confer life and immortality on others. He ever lives, as Priest, to make intercession for men; and they who believe on him shall never perish, but have everlasting life.
17For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
For he testifieth - That is, either the Scripture, in the place so often quoted, or God by that Scripture.
Thou art a priest for ever - This is the proof that he was not appointed according to the carnal commandment, but according to the power of an endless life, because he is a priest for ever; i.e. one that never dies, and is never disabled from performing the important functions of his office; for if he be a priest for ever, he ever lives.
18For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.
For there is verily a disannulling - There is a total abrogation, προαγουσης εντολης, of the former law, relative to the Levitical priesthood. See Hebrews 7:19.
For the weakness - It had no energy; it communicated none; it had no Spirit to minister; it required perfect obedience, but furnished no assistance to those who were under it.
And unprofitableness - No man was benefited by the mere observance of its precepts: it pardoned no sin, changed no heart, reformed no life; it found men dead in trespasses and sins, and it consigned them to eternal death. It was therefore weak in itself, and unprofitable to men.
The Jews, who still cleave to it, are a proof that it is both weak and unprofitable; for there is not a more miserable, distressed, and profligate class of men on the face of the earth.
19For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.
For the law made nothing perfect - It completed nothing; it was only the outline of a great plan, the shadow of a glorious substance; see on Hebrews 7:11 (note). It neither pardoned sin, nor purified the heart, nor gave strength to obey the moral precepts. Ουδεν, nothing, is put here for ουδενα, no person.
But the bringing in of a better hope - The original is very emphatic, επεισαγωγη, the superintroduction, or the after introduction; and this seems to be put in opposition to the προαγουσα εντολη, the preceding commandment, or former Levitical law, of Hebrews 7:18. This went before to prepare the way of the Lord; to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the strict justice of God. The better hope, which referred not to earthly but to spiritual good, not to temporal but eternal felicity, founded on the priesthood and atonement of Christ, was afterwards introduced for the purpose of doing what the law could not do, and giving privileges and advantages which the law would not afford. One of these privileges immediately follows: -
By the which we draw nigh unto God - This is a sacerdotal phrase: the high priest alone could approach to the Divine presence in the holy of holies; but not without the blood of the sacrifice, and that only once in the year. But through Christ, as our high priest, all believers in him have an entrance to the holiest by his blood; and through him perform acceptable service to God. The better hope means, in this place, Jesus Christ, who is the author and object of the hope of eternal life, which all his genuine followers possess. He is called our hope, 1 Timothy 1:1; Colossians 1:27.
20And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest:
Not without an oath - "The apostle's reasoning here is founded on this, that God never interposed his oath, except to show the certainty and immutability of the thing sworn. Thus he sware to Abraham, Genesis 22:16-18, that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed; and to the rebellious Israelites, Deuteronomy 1:34, Deuteronomy 1:35, that they should not enter into his rest; and to Moses, Deuteronomy 4:21, that he should not go into Canaan; and to David, Psalm 89:4, that his seed should endure for ever, and his throne unto all generations. Wherefore, since Christ was made a priest, not without an oath that he should be a priest for ever, after the similitude of Melchisedec, that circumstance showed God's immutable resolution never to change or abolish his priesthood, nor to change or abolish the covenant which was established on his priesthood; whereas the Levitical priesthood and the law of Moses, being established without an oath, were thereby declared to be changeable at God's pleasure." This judicious note is from Dr. Macknight.
21(For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)
Those priests - The Levitical, were made without an oath, to show that the whole system was changeable, and might be abolished.
But this - The everlasting priesthood of Christ, with an oath, to show that the Gospel dispensation should never change, and never be abolished.
By him - God the Father, that said unto him - the promised Messiah, Psalm 110:4, The Lord sware, to show the immutability of his counsel, and will not repent - can never change his mind nor purpose, Thou art a priest for ever - as long as time shall run, and the generations of men be continued on earth. Till the necessity of the mediatorial kingdom be superseded by the fixed state of eternity, till this kingdom be delivered up unto the Father, and God shall be all in all, shall this priesthood of Christ endure.
22By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.
By so much - This solemn, unchangeable oath of God, was Jesus made a surety, εγγυος, a mediator, one who brings the two parties together, witnesses the contract, and offers the covenant sacrifice on the occasion. See at the end of the chapter.
A better testament - Κρειττονος διατηκης· A better covenant; called, in the title to the sacred books which contain the whole Christian code, Ἡ Καινη Διαθηκη, The New Covenant, thus contradistinguished from the Mosaic, which was the old covenant; and this is called the new and better covenant, because God has in it promised other blessings, to other people, on other conditions, than the old covenant did. The new covenant is better than the old in the following particulars:
1. God promised to the Jewish nation certain secular blessings, peculiar to that nation, on condition of their keeping the law of Moses; but under the new covenant he promises pardon of sin, and final salvation to all mankind, on condition of believing on Jesus Christ, and walking in his testimonies.
2. The Jewish priests, fallible, dying men, were mediators of the old covenant, by means of their sacrifices, which could not take away sin, nor render the comers thereunto perfect. But Jesus Christ, who liveth for ever, who is infinite in wisdom and power, by the sacrifice of himself has established this new covenant, and by the shedding of his blood has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
23And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death:
And they truly were many priests - Under the Mosaic law it was necessary there should be a succession of priests, because, being mortal, they were not suffered to continue always by reason of death.
24But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.
But this - Ὁ δε, But he, that is, Christ, because he continueth ever - is eternal, hath an unchangeable priesthood, απαραβατον ἱερωσυνην, a priesthood that passeth not away from him; he lives for ever, and he lives a priest for ever.
25Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
Wherefore - Because he is an everlasting priest, and has offered the only available sacrifice, he is able to save, from the power, guilt, nature, and punishment of sin, to the uttermost, εις το παντελες, to all intents, degrees, and purposes; and always, and in and through all times, places, and circumstances; for all this is implied in the original word: but in and through all times seems to be the particular meaning here, because of what follows, he ever liveth to make intercession for them; this depends on the perpetuity of his priesthood, and the continuance of his mediatorial office. As Jesus was the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, has an everlasting priesthood, and is a continual intercessor; it is in virtue of this that all who were saved from the foundation of the world were saved through him, and all that shall be saved to the end of the world will be saved through him. He ever was and ever will be the High Priest, Sacrifice, Intercessor, and Mediator of the human race. All successive generations of men are equally interested in him, and may claim the same privileges. But none can be saved by his grace that do not come unto God through him; i.e. imploring mercy through him as their sacrifice and atonement; confidently trusting that God can be just, and yet the justifier of them who thus come to him, believing on Christ Jesus.
The phrase εντυγχανειν τινι, to make intercession for a person, has a considerable latitude of meaning. It signifies,
1. To come to or meet a person on any cause whatever.
2. To intercede, pray for, or entreat in the behalf of, another.
3. To defend or vindicate a person.
4. To commend.
5. To furnish any kind of assistance or help.
6. And, with the preposition κατα, against, to accuse, or act against another in a judicial way.
"The nature of the apostle's arguments," says Dr. Macknight, "requires that, by Christ's always living, we understand his always living in the body; for it is thus that he is an affectionate and sympathizing High Priest, who, in his intercession, pleads the merit of his death to procure the salvation of all who come unto God through him. Agreeably to this account of Christ's intercession, the apostle, in Hebrews 7:27, mentions the sacrifice of himself, which Christ offered for the sins of the people as the foundation of his intercession. Now, as he offered that sacrifice in heaven, Hebrews 8:2, Hebrews 8:3, by presenting his crucified body there, (See Hebrews 8:5), and as he continually resides there in the body, some of the ancients were of opinion that his continual intercession consists in the continual presentation of his humanity before his Father, because it is a continual declaration of his earnest desire of the salvation of men, and of his having, in obedience to his Father's will, made himself flesh, and suffered death to accomplish it. See Romans 8:34 (note), note 3. This opinion is confirmed by the manner in which the Jewish high priest made intercession for the people on the day of atonement, and which was a type of Christ's intercession in heaven. He made it, not by offering of prayers for them in the most holy place, but by sprinkling the blood of the sacrifices on the mercy-seat, in token of their death. And as, by that action, he opened the earthly holy places to the prayers and worship of the Israelites during the ensuing year; so Jesus, by presenting his humanity continually before the presence of his Father, opens heaven to the prayers of his people in the present life, and to their persons after the resurrection."
26For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;
Such a high priest became us - Such a high priest was in every respect suitable to us, every way qualified to accomplish the end for which he came into the world. There is probably here an allusion to the qualifications of the Jewish high priest: -
1. He was required to be holy, ὁσιος, answering to the Hebrew חסיד chasid, merciful. Holiness was his calling; and, as he was the representative of his brethren, he was required to be merciful and compassionate.
2. He was to be harmless, ακακος, without evil - holy without, and holy within; injuring none, but rather living for the benefit of others.
3. He was undefiled, αμιαντος answering to the Hebrew באל מום baal mum, without blemish - having no bodily imperfection. Nothing low, mean, base, or unbecoming in his conduct.
4. He was separate from sinners, κεχωρισμενος απο των ἁμαρτωλων. By his office he was separated from all men and worldly occupations, and entirely devoted to the service of God. And as to sinners, or heathens, he was never to be found in their society.
5. Higher than the heavens. There may be some reference here to the exceeding dignity of the high priesthood; it was the highest office that could be sustained by man, the high priest himself being the immediate representative of God.
But these things suit our Lord in a sense in which they cannot be applied to the high priest of the Jews.
1. He was holy, infinitely so; and merciful, witness his shedding his blood for the sins of mankind.
2. Harmless - perfectly without sin in his humanity, as well as his divinity.
3. Undefiled - contracted no sinful infirmity in consequence of his dwelling among men.
4. Separate from sinners - absolutely unblamable in the whole of his conduct, so that he could challenge the most inveterate of his enemies with, Which of you convicteth me of sin? Who of you can show in my conduct the slightest deviation from truth and righteousness!
5. Higher than the heavens - more exalted than all the angels of God, than all created beings, whether thrones, dominions, principalities, or powers, because all these were created by him and for him, and derive their continued subsistence from his infinite energy.
But how was a person of such infinite dignity suitable to us! His greatness is put in opposition to our meanness. He was holy; We, unholy. He was harmless; We, harmful, injuring both ourselves and others. He was undefiled; We, defiled, most sinfully spotted and impure. He was separate from sinners; We were joined to sinners, companions of the vile, the worthless, the profane, and the wicked. He was higher than the heavens; We, baser and lower than the earth, totally unworthy to be called the creatures of God. And had we not had such a Savior, and had we not been redeemed at an infinite price, we should, to use the nervous language of Milton on another occasion, "after a shameful life and end in this world, have been thrown down eternally into the darkest and deepest gulf of hell, where, under the despiteful control, the trample and spurn, of all the other damned, and in the anguish of their torture should have no other ease than to exercise a raving and bestial tyranny over us as their slaves, we must have remained in that plight for ever, the basest, the lower-most, the most dejected, most under-foot and down-trodden vassals of perdition." Milton on Reformation, in fine.
27Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.
Who needeth not daily - Though the high priest offered the great atonement only once in the year, yet in the Jewish services there was a daily acknowledgment of sin, and a daily sacrifice offered by the priests, at whose head was the high priest, for their own sins and the sins of the people. The Jews held that a priest who neglected his own expiatory sacrifice would be smitten with death. (Sanhedr., fol. 83.) When they offered this victim, they prayed the following prayer: "O Lord, I have sinned, and done wickedly, and gone astray before thy face, I, and my house, and the sons of Aaron, the, people of thy holiness. I beseech thee, for thy name's sake, blot out the sins, iniquities, and transgressions by which I have sinned, done wickedly, and gone astray before thy face, I, and my house, and the sons of Aaron, the people of thy holiness; as it is written in the law of Moses thy servant, (Leviticus 16:30): On that day shall he make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord!" To which the Levites answered: "Blessed be the name of the glory of thy kingdom, for ever and ever!"
This prayer states that the priest offered a sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people, as the apostle asserts.
For this he did once - For himself he offered no sacrifice; and the apostle gives the reason - he needed none, because he was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners: and for the people he offered himself once for all, when he expired upon the cross, It has been very properly remarked, that the sacrifice offered by Christ differed in four essential respects from those, offered by the Jewish priests:
1. He offered no sacrifice for himself, but only for the people.
2. He did not offer that sacrifice annually, but once for all.
3. The sacrifice which he offered was not of calves and goats, but of himself.
4. This sacrifice he offered, not for one people, but for the whole human race; for he tasted death for every man.
28For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.
For the law maketh men high priests - The Jewish priests have need of these repeated offerings and sacrifices, because they are fallible, sinful men: but the word of the oath (still referring to Psalm 110:4) which was since the law; for David, who mentions this, lived nearly 500 years after the giving of the law, and consequently that oath, constituting another priesthood, abrogates the law; and by this the Son is consecrated, τετελειωμενον, is perfected, for evermore. Being a high priest without blemish, immaculately holy, every way perfect, immortal, and eternal, He is a priest εις τον αιωνα, to Eternity.
I. There are several respects in which the apostle shows the priesthood of Christ to be more excellent than that of the Jews, which priesthood was typified by that of Melchisedec.
1. Being after the order of Melchisedec, there was no need of a rigorous examination of his genealogy to show his right.
2. He has an eternal priesthood; whereas theirs was but temporal.
3. The other priests, as a token of the dignity of their office, and their state of dependence on God, received tithes from the people. Melchisedec, a priest and king, after whose order Christ comes, tithed Abraham, δεδεκατωκε τον Αβρααμ, the father of the patriarchs; Jesus, infinitely greater than all, having an absolute and independent life, needs none. He is no man's debtor, but all receive out of his fullness.
4. He alone can bless the people, not by praying for their good merely, but by communicating the good which is necessary.
5. As another priesthood, different from that of Aaron, was promised, it necessarily implies that the Levitical priesthood was insufficient; the priesthood of Christ, being that promised, must be greater than that of Aaron.
6. That which God has appointed and consecrated with an oath, as to endure for ever, must be greater than that which he has appointed simply for a time: but the priesthood of Christ is thus appointed; therefore, etc.
7. All the Levitical priests were fallible and sinful men; but Christ was holy and undefiled.
8. The Levitical priests were only by their office distinguished from the rest of their brethren, being equally frail, mortal, and corruptible; but Jesus, our high priest, is higher than the heavens. The statements from which these differences are drawn are all laid down in this chapter.
II. As the word surety, εγγυος, in Hebrews 7:22, has been often abused, or used in an unscriptural and dangerous sense, it may not be amiss to inquire a little farther into its meaning. The Greek word εγγυος, from εγγυη, a pledge, is supposed to be so called from being lodged εν γυιοις, in the hands of the creditor. It is nearly of the same meaning with bail, and signifies an engagement made by C. with A. that B. shall fulfill certain conditions then and there specified, for which C. makes himself answerable; if, therefore, B. fails, C. becomes wholly responsible to A. In such suretiship it is never designed that C. shall pay any debt or fulfill any engagement that belongs to B.; but, if B. fail, then C. becomes responsible, because he had pledged himself for B. In this scheme A. is the person legally empowered to take the bail or pledge, B. the debtor, and C. the surety. The idea therefore of B. paying his own debt, is necessarily implied in taking the surety. Were it once to be supposed that the surety undertakes absolutely to pay the debt, his suretiship is at an end, and he becomes the debtor; and the real debtor is no longer bound. Thus the nature of the transaction becomes entirely changed, and we find nothing but debtor and creditor in the case. In this sense, therefore, the word εγγυος, which we translate surety, cannot be applied in the above case, for Christ never became surety that, if men did not fulfill the conditions of this better covenant, i.e. repent of sin, turn from it, believe on the Son of God, and having received grace walk as children of the light, and be faithful unto death, he would do all these things for them himself! This would be both absurd and impossible: and hence the gloss of some here is both absurd and dangerous, viz., "That Christ was the surety of the first covenant to pay the debt; of the second, to perform the duty." That it cannot have this meaning in the passage in question is sufficiently proved by Dr. Macknight; and instead of extending my own reasoning on the subject, I shall transcribe his note.
"The Greek commentators explain this word εγγυος very properly by μεσιτης, a mediator, which is its etymological meaning; for it comes from εγγυς, near, and signifies one who draws near, or who causes another to draw near. Now, as in this passage a comparison is stated between Jesus as a high priest, and the Levitical high priests; and as these were justly considered by the apostle as the mediators of the Sinaitic covenant, because through their mediation the Israelites worshipped God with sacrifices, and received from him, as their king, a political pardon, in consequence of the sacrifices offered by the high priest on the day of atonement; it is evident that the apostle in this passage calls Jesus the High Priest, or Mediator of the better covenant, because through his mediation, that is, through the sacrifice of himself which he offered to God, believers receive all the blessings of the better covenant. And as the apostle has said, Hebrews 7:19, that by the introduction of a better hope, εγγιζομεν, we draw near to God; he in this verse very properly calls Jesus εγγυος, rather than μεσιτης, to denote the effect of his mediation. See Hebrews 7:25. Our translators indeed, following the Vulgate and Beza, have rendered εγγυος by the word surety, a sense which it has, Ecclus. 29:16, and which naturally enough follows from its etymological meaning; for the person who becomes surety for the good behavior of another, or for his performing something stipulated, brings that other near to the party to whom he gives the security; he reconciles the two. But in this sense the word εγγυος is not applicable to the Jewish high priests; for to be a proper surety, one must either have power to compel the party to perform that for which he has become his surety; or, in case of his not performing it, he must be able to perform it himself. This being the ease, will any one say that the Jewish high priests were sureties to God for the Israelites performing their part of the covenant of the law! Or to the people for God's performing his part of the covenant! As little is the appellation, surety of the new covenant, applicable to Jesus. For since the new covenant does not require perfect obedience, but only the obedience of faith; if the obedience of faith be not given by men themselves, it cannot be given by another in their room; unless we suppose that men can be saved without personal faith. I must therefore infer, that those who speak of Jesus as the surety of the new covenant, must hold that it requires perfect obedience; which, not being in the power of believers to give, Jesus has performed for them. But is not this to make the covenant of grace a covenant of works, contrary to the whole tenor of Scripture! For these reasons I think the Greek commentators have given the true meaning of the word εγγυος , in this passage, when they explain it by μεσιτης, mediator."
The chief difference lies here. The old covenant required perfect obedience from the very commencement of life; this is impossible, because man comes into the world depraved. The new covenant declares God's righteousness for the remission of sins that are past; and furnishes grace to enable all true believers to live up to all the requisitions of the moral law, as found in the gospels. But in this sense Christ cannot be called the surety, for the reasons given above; for he does not perform the obedience or faith in behalf of any man. It is the highest privilege of believers to love God with all their hearts, and to serve him with all their strength; and to remove their obligation to keep this moral law would be to deprive them of the highest happiness they can possibly have on this side heaven.