“So the previous command is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable (for the law perfected nothing), but a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.” Hebrews 4:18-19
After re-introducing us to Melchizedek in 7:1-3, the author of Hebrews spends the next several verses explaining Melchizedek’s superiority to Abraham. The author’s argument is this: if the author could demonstrate that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, it would follow that Melchizedek was also superior to Levi and Aaron. With that being the case, the author could also explain how Melchizedek’s priesthood was superior to those of Levi and Aaron.
How did the author explain that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham? There are two pieces of evidence in the Genesis account that the author used. The first bit of evidence presented was that Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe of the spoil from killing the kings of Canaan. Abraham did this out of homage and respect for Melchizedek. The author also reminded the readers that this act of tithing is just what the Israelites would later do for their own priests. They were legally required to give ten percent of their goods to the priests to support them, and this tithe was given out of respect for the work that the priests did. Secondly, the author points out that Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The author tells us that only a blessing can only be given by a person of superior standing. A person of lesser status cannot bless someone greater than themselves. For Melchizedek to bless Abraham, both he and Abraham would have to know that Melchizedek was the more important person.
So, how does Melchizedek’s superiority to Abraham relate to the Israelite priesthood? According to the author, if Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, he was also superior to Levi and Aaron. This would mean that Melchizedek’s priesthood was more significant than Levi and Aaron’s as well. This is a vital point because it reveals that the Law and the priests could not make salvation complete. These institutions were merely designed to point us toward the Gospel and toward the greatest high priest, Jesus Christ.
The author spends so much time explaining this to understand that only Christ can give us salvation. Christ alone is sufficient for our salvation. There is nothing that we can do on our own for salvation, and there is nothing that another human can do for us. Only Christ can do the work of atonement that we need. There is nothing we can do, and there is nothing that we can add to the work that He has already done. So we must put all of our trust and hope in Christ, and in Christ alone.
Artwork: “Aaron the High Priest,” William Etty (1878-1849).