Daily Devotion for Thursday 11th July 2024

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Thursday, 11 July 2024

 

Hebrews 7:1-14 ( with OT quotes in italics)
 
This ‘King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him’and to him Abraham apportioned ‘one-tenth of everything’. His name, in the first place, means ‘king of righteousness’; next he is also king of Salem, that is, ‘king of peace’. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest for ever.

See how great he is! Even Abraham the patriarch gave him a tenth of the spoils. And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to collect tithes from the people, that is, from their kindred, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man, who does not belong to their ancestry, collected tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had received the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case, tithes are received by those who are mortal; in the other, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the levitical priesthood—for the people received the law under this priesthood—what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 Now the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

 

Reflection

You may have spotted that Hebrews thinks of Melchizedek as a template for the priesthood of Jesus (5:6, 10; 6:20). So how does this work, why might it matter, and who is this character anyway? First, the ‘how’.
 
Melchizedek appears briefly in the Old Testament. He greets Abraham after a battle, and receives a tithe [a tenth] of the spoils (Genesis 14:17-20). Then he vanishes – apart from one verse in Psalms, on which more tomorrow. Yet Hebrews can use this brevity, and the mystery that goes with it. For Melchizedek appears to be timeless. He enters Genesis abruptly, as if from the ether, and we never see him die. So Hebrews uses this to link Melchizedek to Jesus, who is himself timeless, eternal in origin and in nature (v.3).
 
Further, Melchizedek was honoured by Abraham. The forefather of Israel paid him a tithe. So Melchizedek had a priestly role to Israel, before the nation had any priestly lineage (vv.4-10). To liken Jesus to him is to speak of a priesthood that is both ancient and enduring. If there were limits to what the priests and sacrifices of Jewish worship could achieve (v.11), Melchizedek offers a way of saying that Jesus is different.
 
That’s the ‘why’. It matters to the writer of Hebrews that Jesus gives a fuller and firmer grasp on the mercies of God than was possible in Israel’s traditional worship. Distinguishing Jesus from the existing priesthood is a step towards making that point (vv.11-14).
 
Melchizedek was quite a focus in Jewish writing of this era. So the readers of this letter may have been alert to this sort of argument. Yet Hebrews uses it to push their thoughts beyond convention and tradition, to see the uniqueness of Jesus, as a figure worthy of their praise and trust.
 
Prayer

God of our days and years,
teach us to look to eternity
and to find Jesus there.
God our traditions and our habits,
help us to look behind our heritage
to Jesus, the origin of all goodness.
God of our struggles and our searching,
sustain us in our fears
and lead us in faith
nearer to Jesus, our pathfinder and priest.

Today’s writer

The Revd John Proctor is a retired minister, and a member of Downing Place URC, Cambridge.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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