Hebrews 7:4-10 - See How Great This Man Is!
At some point we have all wanted to take a picture of something and realized that we needed something in the frame of the picture to give us perspective. We realized that if we are going to show some aspect of the scene that there needs to be something placed in the picture so we can see the contrast better.
For example, one time I saw a picture that someone had taken. It was a picture of a single purple flower growing near a tree. The flower was pretty but what captured my attention was that at the base of the flower there was only dirt and dead leaves on the ground. The brown leaves next to that colorful flower captured something special. That picture captured life and death, beauty and dullness, all in one picture.
I told the person that I would like to buy it and they gave me a price which included a frame so I bought it. However, I was disappointed when they gave me the picture and the dead leaves had been cropped out and only the flower remained. By doing this the picture had lost its beauty.
When we come to the end of this sermon I hope that we will see what the author of Hebrews would want us to capture in this text. The author of Hebrews wants us to see something so he puts Abraham right next to Melchizedek to show how great Melchizedek is.
Ultimately the author of Hebrews wants us to realize that the greatness of Melchizedek is still just a type, a shadow, a small representation of the surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ our King and Great High Priest.
Let’s read Hebrews 7:1-10,
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.
See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.
Melchizedek is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament, Genesis 14 and Psalm 110, but the author of Hebrews has made two things very clear for us from these few verses. First, he has argued that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham. Secondly, he has made it clear that Abraham recognized the greatness of Melchizedek and he acted appropriately.
I’m sure that the Jews had read Genesis 14 and Psalm 110 many times but they missed the significance of this historical account. The author of Hebrews does not fail to see the significance of this story concerning Melchizedek. Some commentators have even suggested that this is one of the passages that Jesus may have explained to the two men who were walking on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 after His resurrection. Who knows if this is true? We do know, however, that this text is inspired by the Holy Spirit and He wants us to know and appreciate these things.
The Jews knew that Abraham was a great man. In fact, the Jewish people could not imagine that anyone could be greater than their forefather Abraham (John 8:53-56). Abraham was ‘the patriarch’ of the Jewish people. Although there are many people in scripture who were called patriarchs like: Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s twelve sons, and David; Abraham, however, is called ‘the patriarch’. Abraham is the prince, the founder, the progenitor, and the leader of the whole Jewish family.
The Jews new that Abraham was great because he received the covenant. He was called a friend of God. He had been given all of the covenant promises. He was a man of great faith and his life had the blessing of God upon it. This was the man through whom all nations would be blessed; and yet, despite all of these things the author of Hebrews is going to show that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham!
There are two ways that the author of Hebrews has shown us that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham. First, we see this when Abraham returns victoriously from battle and he gives a tenth of all of the spoils to Melchizedek who was the priest of the Most High God. Secondly, we see this when Abraham receives a blessing from Melchizedek. The greater person always receives the tithes and the greater always blesses the lesser.
Having made these points in Hebrews 7:1-3 the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 7:4, “See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!”
The word ‘see’ means to observe, to view attentively, to consider thoroughly.1
Ray Haas has often told me that this letter was meant to be read all at once. Because of this he has often warned me that when we go through this letter so slowly on Sunday mornings we may not see how this letter fits all together.
To be honest, I agree with Ray. The author of Hebrews would probably want all of us to sit down often and simply read this letter from beginning to end. However, as we come to Hebrews 7:4 I think that he would want us to pause, to pay close attention, to consider this text thoroughly, and spend time contemplating what he is writing.
It is not as though his point is hard to discern. He makes his point clear when he writes, “See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!”
The word ‘See’ reminds us that the author wants us to discern and experience this for themselves. And once we see it he wants us to acknowledge these truths and understand the ramifications concerning these truths. The ramifications of these things are really quite significant. For example, he will write in Hebrews 7:12, “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.”
As we come to Hebrews 7:4-10 we are to hear the Word, accept its teaching, be guided by the LORD, keep hold of its instruction, and guard it faithfully for these truths are life (Proverbs 4:10-11).
There are four observations that I would like to make concerning Hebrews 7:1-10. Each of these observations will show us the greatness of Melchizedek when compared to Abraham. First, we can observe that when Abraham came back from battle with all the plunder he did not owe anyone anything.
Abraham was not obligated to give the king of Sodom any plunder. Nor did he have to give Aner any plunder. Nor did he have to give Eschol any plunder. He did not have to give Mamre their share of the plunder. Abraham did not owe anything to the other kings.
We see this in Genesis 14 when Abraham is told by the King of Sodom that he can keep all of the plunder. In Genesis 14:21-24 we read, “And the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.’” The plunder belonged to Abraham but notice how he responds to the king of Sodom. Abraham says, “But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, “I have made Abram rich.” I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me.” Not only does Abraham do this for the king of Sodom but he goes on to say, “Let Aner, Eschol, and Mamre take their share.’”
Now I have said that Abraham did not owe anything to anyone. And yet, I am not sure that this statement is 100% correct. Abraham did not owe these kings any of the plunder but when Melchizedek comes Abraham gives him a tenth of all of the plunder. In some way Abraham felt compelled to give this Melchizedek this tithe. In fact, notice Hebrews 7:8-9, “In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham.”
We are not told that Melchizedek asked for this tithe. Abraham is not ordered to do this. There was no law that mandated that this should be done. Nor did Abraham give this gift from any type of compulsion. Abraham freely, willingly, and joyfully ‘apportioned a tenth part of everything’ and ‘gave’ it to Melchizedek (7:2).
Abraham gave this gift to Melchizedek from a heart of faith and therefore it was an act of worship unto the LORD. It should not surprise us that Abraham responded in this way. One reason for this is because of what we read concerning Abraham in Hebrews 11:10. We read there that Abraham ‘was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.’ Abraham lived by faith as he looked for the heavenly kingdom. Because of this he could joyfully and freely gave this tithe to God and he did not try to cling onto these things in this world.
Jesus encourages us to have this kind of gracious heart towards the things of God. Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I was once part of a board of trustees that received about $750,000. As soon as we received it there was another Christian organization that asked for about $30,000 to help with a need that they had. It was interesting how even when we had been given all that money there was the temptation to not be generous with it. Our natural impulse was to cling to it and not be generous. To fight this temptation we went to the Word of God and prayer and then we gave more than they had asked for.
Because Abraham gave Melchizedek this gift we know that Melchizedek was a great man. Abraham recognized this and he acted appropriately.
A second reason that we know that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham is because of something we have mentioned already but we should address it specifically unless the obvious should evade our attention. This was a tithe that Melchizedek accepted from Abraham. This is something that priests have always accepted. For example, Hebrews 7:5 says that the Levitical priests ‘take tithes from the people’.
This was not some random amount that Abraham set aside to give to Melchizedek. This was no spontaneous gift that was given out of joy because the battle had been won. It was not given because it was a cultural expectation that it should be done.
No, Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything and he gave it to Melchizedek. And after he did this Abraham never regretted it. This was a spiritual act of faith and worship that was done with joy by Abraham who saw that Melchizedek was greater than him.
In the ESV the word ‘tithe’ is not found in the Genesis 14 account (it is translated that way in the KJV), however, that word is used throughout our text in Hebrews 7. By doing this the Holy Spirit makes it very clear that this was a tithe given by Abraham long before the Law was enacted on Sinai. This was an act of faith and worship by Abraham.
Hebrews 7:5-10 says, “And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.
Consider how great Melchizedek was that Abraham gave this man a tenth of the spoils. Abraham recognized that Melchizedek was a high priest of God and gave him a tithe.
This brings us to the third way that we can see that Melchizedek was great. He is greater than Abraham because he held the office of the High Priest of God Most High. And because he filled this role he received this tithe from Abraham.
Under the Old Covenant only the Levitical Priest could receive tithes from their brothers. We see this in Hebrews 7:5 when we read, “And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham.”
But we read in Hebrews 7:6, “But this man who does not have his descent from them (the Levites) received tithes from Abraham…”.Abraham gives a tithe to Melchizedek because he held this position with the approval of God Most High.
I would imagine that a Jewish person would struggle when they read that Abraham did this. They would struggle initially when they would read Hebrews 7:6 which states, “But this man who does not have his descent from them (the Levites) received tithes from Abraham…”. A Jew might hear the words and say, “This man cannot be a priest if he is not from the tribe of Levi. This man cannot accept tithes and bless people.”
But at some point that Jew would have to contemplate the end of the sentence, “...(Melchizedek) received tithes from Abraham.” It is remarkable to think that Abraham paid tithes to a man like Melchizedek! This must have been a great man if Abraham paid tithes to him.
If this is true we should ask ourselves, ‘If Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek then how could I have a low view of Melchizedek? And if Melchizedek is a type of Jesus Christ and the ministry that he now has then how could I have a low view of Christ even if he came from the tribe of Judah (14)?’
This offering was a tithe and Melchizedek can only receive this tithe because he was God’s chosen high priest. Melchizedek held his office by grace and not through a law. Abraham gives this gift by faith to the high priest of God Most High. And through Abraham it can be said that even Levi paid tithes to him through their forefather Abraham (9-10).
Not only are we to see that Abraham offered this tithe to Melchizedek but we should also see that Melchizedek did not refuse this tithe. He did not reject it, dismiss it, rebuff it, or renounce it. We are given no impression that Melchizedek thought that this was an inappropriate act by Abraham. Melchizedek did not object when this was done; rather, he received it because he was the high priest of God Most High.
We read in Genesis 14:20, “And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Although it is not stated directly, the implication is clear that Melchizedek received (accepted, approved) this tithe from Abraham. Hebrews 7:6 clearly states that Melchizedek accepted this tithe from Abraham, “But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham...”
Therefore we must conclude with the author of Hebrews that Melchizedek was great and say with him, “See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!”
Melchizedek’s priesthood was greater than the Levitical priesthood that was established by the Law. Melchizedek had been given authority by God Most High to receive the tithe from Abraham and He had authorized him to bless Abraham. Melchizedek could only do this because he was the high priest of God.
We even see this when the Holy Spirit speaks through David in Psalm 110:4and says, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” If Melchizedek’s priesthood was great then the Priesthood of Jesus now has is immeasurably better.
Melchizedek is not filling these offices because they had been created, instituted and authorized by men. No, his office was established by God and it pointed to the New Covenant and to the offices that Jesus would have.
The fourth reason that we can see in our text to prove that Melchizedek was great was in the fact that he blessed Abraham. We read in Hebrews 7:6, “But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.” Notice that the author of Hebrews does not simply say, “...received tithes from Abraham and blessed him…”.He says, “(Melchizedek)...received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.” as if to stress how great this man Melchizedek is.
We read the blessing that Melchizedek gave in Genesis 14:19-20. He says, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” (14:19-20)
Melchizedek blessing reminds Abraham that it is the LORD that has given him all of these great possessions. Therefore, it is fitting that Abraham would give back to God a tithe from all of the plunder that he has received. And when Abraham gave his gift it was acceptable to God because it was given from a heart which was full of faith and worship. How do we know these things?
Consider again Genesis 12:22-23 which says, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’”
These verses let us know that Abraham had faith that God could and would provide for him. God is the Most High God and the Possessor of heaven and earth. Is there any need that God cannot provide for us?
These verses also let us know that Abraham wanted God to receive all of the glory for meeting his needs. Because of this Abraham would not take anything from the king of Sodom. Abraham would not take even the littlest thing like a string or a sandal strap or anything because He did not want the king to brag saying, “I have made Abram rich”.
Because Melchizedek blesses Abraham we can see how great Melchizedek was.
Let me draw some conclusions from what we have seen.
First, we ought to observe that there was a priesthood that was acceptable to God before the Levitical priesthood was established. Before the Law Abraham, the father of faith offered Melchizedek a tithe.
Secondly, we ought to observe that God had prophesied in Psalm 110:4 that this priesthood would be established again when the Messiah would come and make the first obsolete.
Third, we should observe that if Abraham saw that Melchizedek was a type of Christ and showed appropriate faith, honor and worship to God when he met him, then his descendants should honor, worship and respond in faith to Jesus who has now come.
Fourth, we should conclude that Jesus, the greater King and Priest has come and therefore we are to come to Christ alone for salvation. We are to come through Christ to the throne of grace.
You have probably noticed that I have focused on the words of Hebrews 7:4 which state, “See how great this man was…”. The author of Hebrews has tried to reveal the greatness of Melchizedek by comparing him to Abraham. As we come to communion this morning we should approach this time by considering Jesus and saying, “See how great this man is…”.
But to what would we compare Christ so that we might be able to see just how great He is? It is fitting at this time we have come to consider Christ at Communion. It is fitting that we consider Christ and the cross on which He Has died. When we come to communion and reflect up the body of Christ which was hung upon a cross and considered the blood that was poured out for you and I. As we consider these things we begin to see just how great Jesus Christ really is.
Paul expresses it this way in Philippians 2:5-11, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Abraham and Melchizedek have often spoken of ‘the God of heaven and earth’ and here we see Jesus coming down from heaven to save sinners. He humbled Himself even to the point of dying on a cross! Jesus Christ is great! And yet, the next verses invite you and I to see even more of His greatness when we read,
Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
As we come to communion this morning we will have a time of reflection where we will bow our hearts and confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of the Father. If you have a need He can meet it. If you have sinned He can forgive it.
1(To ‘see’ is defined by Strong’s as, “to be a spectator of, to discern, to experience and to acknowledge”.)