Pastor David B. Curtis

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Melchizedek's Greatness

Hebrews 7:4-10

Delivered 03/25/2001

We began a new section last week in our study of Hebrews. This section is the longest single expository passage in the epistle, which indicates it's importance. This section runs from 7:1 thru 10:18 and deals with the Melchizedekian priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This subject, though little understood, is vital to believers in living a victorious Christian life. Our resources in the midst of trials, persecution, and turmoil is the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV) Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Last week we looked at verses 1-3, which introduce and describe this historical figure Melchizedek. Who is Melchizedek? He is a man, a normal human being, who God uses as a type of Christ. Melchizedek is a type or foreshadowing of Jesus Christ on the basis of what the scripture does not say about him. What is true of Melchizedek, only insofar as the biblical record is concerned, is true of Jesus Christ in fact and reality.

Verses 4-10 exalt the person of Melchizedek and illustrate His superiority to Levi. This sub unit falls into two parts: one dealing primarily with Abraham, the other with Levi.

Verses 4-7 teach that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham.

Verses 8-10 teach that Melchizedek is greater than Levi.

Hebrews 7:4 (NKJV) Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.

Speaking of Melchizedek, the author says, "Now consider how great this man was..." Why does he argue for the greatness of Melchizedek? He wants us to understand though Abraham was a great man, Melchizedek was greater. Since Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, then Melchizedek's priesthood must be greater than the priesthood which traces its descent from Abraham.

Two arguments are set forth in verses 4-7 for the superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham.

1. Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham.

Hebrews 7:4 (NKJV) Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.

The word "consider" is from the Greek word theoreo, which is used of one who looks at a thing with interest and attention. It would be used of a general officially reviewing or inspecting an army. It speaks of a critical, discriminating inspection. They are commanded to "consider" Melchizedek, because it is of the utmost importance that they and we understand his significance.

The readers are to consider how great Melchizedek was. Concerning no other man are we told this; it's not the custom of Scripture to set forth the greatness of man. Abraham recognized his greatness, and the readers are to recognize it also.

The text says, "The patriarch Abraham" - the word "patriarch" is the Greek word patriarches, which comes from patri meaning: "father" and arches meaning: "first. Thus Abraham is their first father. In Acts 7:8-9, the sons of Jacob are called patriarchs, and in Acts 2:29 David is called a patriarch. This term is used of no one else in the Old or New Testament. David and Jacob's sons, all sprang from Abraham, thus he was preeminently "the patriarch." This word comes last in the Greek for emphasis.

The great boast of the Jews was that they were descendants of Abraham. Naturally, he was the founder of the Jewish nation, and spiritually he is the father of all believers:

Romans 4:16 (NKJV) Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all

But here is someone in their own scriptures who is manifestly Abraham's superior. As great as Abraham was, Melchizedek was greater.

Verse 4 says, " ...Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils." The dedication of one tenth of the spoils of war to deity was practiced among the Greeks and other nations. The word "spoils" is from the Greek word akrothinion, which means: "the top of the heap" and was used of the choicest spoils of war. From these spoils an offering would be made to the gods as a thanksgiving for victory. Abraham gave a tenth of the very best to Melchizedek who was a priest of El-Elion, the Most High God.

Abraham, "the patriarch", paid tithes to Melchizedek, therefore Melchizedek is greater.

Hebrews 7:5 (NKJV) And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham;

The literal Greek here reads, "they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood" - the point is that not all the sons of Levi became priests, but only those who belonged to the family of Aaron.

Tithing was required of all Israelites on the basis of the Mosaic law, except for the priests; they didn't have to pay, they received tithes. It was not optional, it was an obligation. They had to pay their tithes to the Levites even though they were brothers, they were all Abraham's descendants.

In commentating on this verse, one writer said, "Melchizedek is the type of Christ. If Abraham gave the tithe to Melchizedek, most assuredly every Christian should give tithes to Christ, our great High Priest."

Hebrews 7:5 (NKJV) And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham;

When they paid tithes in this way there was no acknowledgment of inferiority on the part of those who paid tithes. It was mere compliance with the law. The point is this: Abraham didn't have to pay a tithe to Melchizedek. He was under no obligation or law, he did so voluntarily, and thus, in doing so gave tribute to the greatness of Melchizedek.

What about tithing?

Does the Bible teach that we are to give 10%? I heard a radio preacher say, "I have doubts that a person who does not tithe is a Christian." He also said, "One who does not tithe is under the condemnation of God."

This is an area of great confusion in the Christian church. Is tithing God's mandate for Christians? How many of you have been taught at some time in your Christian lives that you were supposed to tithe?

Isn't it interesting that Paul devoted two whole chapters (2 Corinthians 8 & 9) to the subject of stewardship, and the word "tithe" is not mentioned? The church's teaching on tithing is legal, it is Old Covenant. I once attended a church that used a campaign slogan, "Tithing is Christian." That is wrong! Tithing is not Christian; it was for Old Covenant Israel, not New Covenant Israel, the church.

Those who teach tithing teach that we have a "God bill." You are to pay your phone bill, gas bill, power bill, sewer and water bill, your mortgage, and your "God bill" - 10% of your income. If you don't pay your God bill, God will send out His heavenly collection agency to take it out of your hide, so to speak.

Tithing is taught in the Bible, in the Old Testament, but even in the Old Testament it was not giving. Giving was always voluntary in the Old Testament. The tithe was a debt, it was taxation, not giving. Just like on April 15, you don't send the IRS a gift, you pay your debt. It is required giving - if you don't pay it, you'll go to jail.

Tithing was taxation under the Mosaic economy. Some people teach that we should tithe, because tithing precedes the law. They teach that Abraham and Jacob gave a tithe before the law, and therefore, tithing should also be after the law. That's like saying that since the sacrificial system was actually initiated before the law, then we should still be making animal sacrifices today.

The first mention of the tithe is found in:

Genesis 14:20 (NKJV) And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." And he gave him a tithe of all.

When Abram saw Melchizedek, who represented God, he wanted to express his thanks to God for the victory, so he gave him a tenth of the spoil. He wasn't told to do this, it was voluntary. This is the incident that our text talks about in verse 4. As we said, the word "spoils" in Hebrews 7:4 means: "the top of the heap, the best of the spoils." So, Abram gave a tenth of the best, not of the whole.

The next use of the word "tithe" is in:

Genesis 28:20-22 (NKJV) Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 21 "so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. 22 "And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God's house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You."

Jacob was nowhere commanded to give a tenth, this was completely voluntary on his part.

Who gave the first offering? Cain and Able; it was voluntary as far as we know. Noah got off the ark and gave God an offering - it was voluntary. Before the Mosaic economy, tithing is only mentioned twice, with no command to do it. During the Mosaic economy, tithing became a familiar term. As we study the Old Testament, we see that there were actually three tithes.

1. THE LEVITE'S TITHE.

Leviticus 27:30-33 (NKJV) 'And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's. It is holy to the LORD. 31 'If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. 32 'And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD. 33 'He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.'"

We are told in Numbers that the tithe was collected and given to the Levites.

Numbers 18:21 (NKJV) "Behold, I have given the CHILDREN OF LEVI ALL THE TITHES IN ISRAEL as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.
Numbers 18:24 (NKJV) "For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the LEVITES as an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, 'Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.'"

The Levites didn't have the privilege of a piece of property that they could work to make their living like the other tribesmen. They were to do the Lord's work in the tabernacle and temple, and so God provided for their needs. Old Covenant Israel was a Theocracy - a government by the rule of God, mediated through the priests. So, the tithe was collected to support the government; it was taxation, and it was mandatory!

2. THE FESTIVAL TITHE.

Deuteronomy 12:6-7 (NKJV) "There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 "And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the LORD your God has blessed you.
Deuteronomy 14:22-25 (NKJV) "You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. 23 "And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. 24 "But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, 25 "then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses.

This is a second tithe. It was taken to the central sanctuary for the Feast sacrifices. It was to promote unity.

So, we have the Levites tithe and the Festival tithe - that comes to 20%. There was also one other:

3. POOR TITHE.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29 (NKJV) "At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. 29 "And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

Once every three years there was a special additional income tax in order to take care of the poor in the land. This was the "poor tithe" or "welfare tithe." They were also to leave the corners of their fields unharvested for the poor.

Their tithe or taxation worked out to about 25% per year. This isn't much different than the taxation in our country.

Malachi 3:8-10 (NKJV) "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. 9 You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this," Says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.

If you have been in the church for any length of time, I'm sure you have heard these verses used to promote tithing. What these verses are really teaching is that if you cheat on your taxes, you are robbing God. The tithe was taxation in the Theocracy. The "storehouse" was the temple treasury. Tithing was mandatory under the Old Covenant, but giving was always voluntary.

In reference to the offerings for the Temple, notice what was said:

Exodus 25:1-2 (NKJV) Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 "Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering.

There is no 10% mentioned here.

Exodus 35:4-5 (NKJV) And Moses spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, "This is the thing which the LORD commanded, saying: 5 'Take from among you an offering to the LORD. Whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it as an offering to the LORD: gold, silver, and bronze;
Exodus 35:21-22 (NKJV) Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and they brought the Lord's offering for the work of the tabernacle of meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments. 22 They came, both men and women, as many as had a willing heart, and brought earrings and nose rings, rings and necklaces, all jewelry of gold, that is, every man who made an offering of gold to the LORD.
Exodus 36:5-6 (NKJV) and they spoke to Moses, saying, "The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work which the LORD commanded us to do." 6 So Moses gave a commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, "Let neither man nor woman do any more work for the offering of the sanctuary." And the people were restrained from bringing,

There is no percentage mentioned here, they were to give voluntarily out of a willing heart. When David wanted to build a temple, notice what the people's attitude was on giving.

1 Chronicles 29:9 (NKJV) Then the people rejoiced, for they had offered willingly, because with a loyal heart they had offered willingly to the LORD; and King David also rejoiced greatly.

Notice what the proverbs say on giving:

Proverbs 3:9-10 (NKJV) Honor the LORD with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase; 10 So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine.

Giving is worship and it was voluntary, no amount was specified.

Proverbs 11:24-25 (NKJV) There is one who scatters, yet increases more; And there is one who withholds more than is right, But it leads to poverty. 25 The generous soul will be made rich, And he who waters will also be watered himself.

This gives us the Old Testament principle on giving.

Tithing was taxation, not giving. Giving was always voluntary - that is, the amount given was voluntary. It is the same in the New Testament.

Matthew 22:21 (NKJV) They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

Jesus is saying, "Pay your taxes to the government and give to God your voluntary giving."

Romans 13:6 (NKJV) For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing.

The tithe is never imposed on the New Covenant believer. We don't live in a Theocracy! I encourage you to get a concordance and look up the word "tithe" and its plural in the New Testament. You'll see that it is used only eight times; it is found once in Matthew and twice in Luke, each one is referring to the Old Testament law. It is used five times in Hebrews 7, speaking of a time before the giving of the law when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek. Tithing is not mentioned in any of the letters to the Churches.

According to Deuteronomy 12:5, the tithe was to be paid in Jerusalem. So, if you think that you are under obligation to tithe, you're 2,000 years too late and 5,000 miles too far away. This is so clear in the New Testament that the only way we can miss it is to try to avoid it. Yet, so many still impose it upon New Testament believers.

What about people who say that God is blessing them because they tithe? I don't deny God's blessing on many people, but His blessing is because of the attitude in giving, not because they gave 10%. Their epistemology is wrong. God blesses the willing giver.

If we are not under the tithe, and we are not, and people are to give voluntarily, what will motivate them to give? Bible doctrine - understanding what God has done for us in Christ. Grace giving is voluntary giving because of gratitude. We give out of a heart of love and worship.

2 Corinthians 8:7& 9 (NKJV) But as you abound in everything; in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us; see that you abound in this grace also.
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.

In verse 7, "grace" is used of "giving." In verse 9, "grace" is used of the atonement of Christ. Paul says here that grace should lead to grace, that is grace shown to us should lead to grace giving. Our motivation for giving is not legal, but out of love and gratitude from a worshiping heart.

So, Melchizedek is superior to Abraham, because he received tithes and:

2. Melchizedek blessed Abraham:

Hebrews 7:6-7 (NKJV) but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.

A lot of people had been blessed by Abraham, but Melchizedek is the only one who blessed Abraham.

Some folks say that the Bible is full of contradictions. They're wrong! But others say there are no contradictions in the Bible. They're wrong, also. There is one "contradiction" in the Bible, it is found in Hebrews 7:7. The word "contradiction" in verse 7 is from the Greek word antilogia, which mens: "a word spoken against," and thus it comes to mean: "a dispute." The writer says that such a universally held truth, that the inferior is blessed by the superior, leaves no room for dispute about the matter. To pronounce a blessing on someone is, according to an Old Testament principle, a sign that you are of superior spiritual rank to them.

So, we see in verses 4-7 that Melchizedek is greater that Abraham.

Melchizedek is greater than Levi, verses 8-10

Hebrews 7:8 (NKJV) Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives.

"Here" refers to the case of the descendants of Levi - dying men receive tithes. "There" refers to the case of Melchizedek. The Levitical order of priesthood was temporary, but not so the priest who blessed Abraham. The type is described as having no end. "It is witnessed" - it is testified in the scriptural record, arguing on the basis of silence. The order of priesthood which Melchizedek represents is therefore eternal and superior. Melchizedek is greater, because according to the biblical record, he is alive.

Hebrews 7:9-10 (NKJV) Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

The primary thrust of this argument is if Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, because Abraham paid tithes to him, so also is Melchizedek greater than Levi, because Levi was in Abraham's loins when that activity took place.

Did Levi really pay tithes to Melchizedek? No. But this passage has been used quite frequently to prove that when Adam sinned in Eden, we also really sinned, because we were in his loins. This is called "the doctrine of realism".

The phrase "so to speak" (NKJV); "And as I may so say" (KJV); "One might even say" (NIV) is an unusual expression that is found no where else in the New Testament or the LXX. It has the idea of: "Levi didn't really pay tithes through Abraham, but he did, so to speak."

How did Levi pay tithes to Melchizedek? One view is typologically - which fits the context. A very familiar principle to the Jews was that of "Federal Headship" or "Federal Representation".

Romans 5:12-19 (NKJV) Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned; 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. 16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. 17 For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) 18 Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous.

Adam stood for and transacted on the behalf of the whole human race, so that what he did, they legally did (not actually), hence his sin is imputed to his posterity. In like manner, Abraham stood for and transacted on the behalf of his posterity. Proof of this is found in the title used here, and nowhere else, given to Abraham "the patriarch," which means: "head or father of a people". So, virtually and representatively, not personally and actually, Levi himself had paid tithes to Melchizedek.

In verses 9-10, we have an illustration of one of the most blessed doctrines in scripture. Just as Levi was in Abraham, so is every believer in Christ. When the death-sentence of the law fell on Christ, it fell upon the believer.

Galatians 2:20 (NKJV) "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

We share his death and we share his life.

The point of the passage is that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, and Melchizedek's priesthood is greater than the priesthood which traces its descent from Abraham. And since Jesus Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek His priesthood is far superior to the Aaronic priesthood. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, is far superior to any priest of the Aaronic order.

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