Sunday, February 21, 2010


Hebrews 7-10

In Hebrews 7, the author continues the comparison of Jesus with Melchizedek, the high priest of GOD and king of Salem who was mentioned in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110. He uses Melchizedek as a prototype for a high priest who is eternally just that, "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life...he remains a priest forever." And even Abraham "gave him a tenth of the plunder." He suggests that if perfection was possible through the Levitical law and priesthood, there would have been no need for a greater priest, but it was not, so Jesus came from the tribe of Judah. And he says that the law made nothing perfect but "Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant...he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them...the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever."

In chapter eight, he makes clear that the entire point of the high priest discussion is to emphasis that there is a high priest, and he is a high priest not of the line of Aaron, but of Melchizedek, a priest who sat "at the right hand of the the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man." Because of the sin of man, he goes on, GOD had to make a new covenant, because man did not keep the old covenant. Jesus serves as a new high priest in the "true tabernacle."

Chapter nine starts with discussion of the worship regulations of the first covenant, how they had specific places in the tabernacle. The high priest went into the Most Holy place "only once a year, and never without blood." But "the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper." "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" All of the things in the tabernacle, all of the regulations and rituals, are imitations of heavenly things. But "Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence...Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." In chapter 10, the writer emphasizes that Christ's sacrifice was made once for all. If the temple sacrifices had been able to truly cleanse the people and make them perfect, he suggest, they would not have needed to be made year after year. "But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • The whole Melchizedek discussion is interesting, albeit a bit odd. At the time that his name appears in Genesis 14, he is said to be the King of Salem (that is, Jerusalem) and "a priest of God most high." I commented on reading that chapter that "it is difficult to know exactly what that would mean in the time before the birth of Israel." The only other Old Testament reference to him came a thousand years later, in Psalm 110. I still feel that it's hard to understand, but the author of this epistle uses him as a high priest who is an eternal high priest. High priest before Aaron, high priest still, and, therefore, a proxy for Jesus.
  • Jesus said that not a jot or a tittle of the law would pass away, but the author of the epistle to the Hebrews says that the law has been superseded.
  • One of the things that I think is hard for us to understand is the impact that the phrase "blood of Christ" would have in a society where sacrifice was a way of life. As I noted when discussing Leviticus, the overwhelming impression that book leaves on the modern reader is blood - its pages are drenched in it. But that was the backdrop to the incarnation. When we talk about about Jesus Christ dying as atonement for our sins, it's a use of language, a turn of phrase, that we are used to hearing. To the early Christians and particularly those of a Jewish background, the atonement for sins was a bloody business to which they were well accustomed. It had a particular meaning to them that is hard for us to fully understand. But all of Leviticus looks, in retrospect, as if it were preparation for a world in which the incarnation would be necessary. The rites and rituals, the sin offering and atonement rituals, all prepared a people to understand the atonement for sin which was achieved for all men by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the sin washed away in the blood of Christ.

Psalms 18:25-50

The martial imagery continues in the second half of the 18th psalm, but in more of a praise psalm. The LORD is said to "save the humble...his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him." The praise takes many forms, praise for victory and support and vanquishment of enemies, praise for faithfulness and keeping the lamp burning, turning darkness into light. "Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD; I will sing praises to your name."

Psalm 18
For the director of music. Of David the servant of the LORD. He sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said:

25 To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
to the blameless you show yourself blameless,

26 to the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.

27 You save the humble
but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.

28 You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.

29 With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.

30 As for God, his way is perfect;
the word of the LORD is flawless.
He is a shield
for all who take refuge in him.

31 For who is God besides the LORD ?
And who is the Rock except our God?

32 It is God who arms me with strength
and makes my way perfect.

33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he enables me to stand on the heights.

34 He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

35 You give me your shield of victory,
and your right hand sustains me;
you stoop down to make me great.

36 You broaden the path beneath me,
so that my ankles do not turn.

37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them;
I did not turn back till they were destroyed.

38 I crushed them so that they could not rise;
they fell beneath my feet.

39 You armed me with strength for battle;
you made my adversaries bow at my feet.

40 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
and I destroyed my foes.

41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them—
to the LORD, but he did not answer.

42 I beat them as fine as dust borne on the wind;
I poured them out like mud in the streets.

43 You have delivered me from the attacks of the people;
you have made me the head of nations;
people I did not know are subject to me.

44 As soon as they hear me, they obey me;
foreigners cringe before me.

45 They all lose heart;
they come trembling from their strongholds.

46 The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God my Savior!

47 He is the God who avenges me,
who subdues nations under me,

48 who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from violent men you rescued me.

49 Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD;
I will sing praises to your name.

50 He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed,
to David and his descendants forever.

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