Melchizedek Greater than Levi
Here is a place in the Preacher’s sermon which might seem to us of little importance. Continuing with the account from Genesis which we rehearsed yesterday, the Preacher makes much ado over two things which happened when Melchizedek met Abraham: 1) Melchizedek blessed Abraham in the name of God Most High; and, 2) Melchizedek received a tithe (a tenth) from Abraham of the spoils. Now, the significance of this goes beyond Abraham to his great-grandson, Levi, who was one of the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel) which later, along with his brothers, comprised one of the twelve tribes. The sons of Levi earned the honor of being the priestly tribe (Exodus 32:25-29) and so tended to the tabernacle (later temple) and received tithes from the people for their maintenance as required by the law (Numbers 18:25-32). With these facts in hand, the Preacher will show that the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater than that of Levi since Melchizedek blessed Levi’s great-grandfather (and the greater blesses the lesser) and because Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham and thus by extension Levi since he was the great-grandson of Abraham. To sum, the Preacher uses the Genesis account to show how great Melchizedek, priest of God Most High, was to Abraham and his descendants.
So what? I know. The whole argument sounds trite to us, but the Preacher is building a case to show how Christ, who was not of the tribe of Levi but of Judah, is of a superior priesthood to that of the Levitical—which means that the new order has come, the new covenant has been established which was prophesied by Jeremiah (a Levite and priest) in which the Lord would write the law on the hearts of his people (31:31-34). And whereas the Israelites gave tithes to mortal men (the Levites), the tithe from Abraham was received by one who “lives,” the Preacher referring to Melchizedek’s resemblance to “the Son of God who continues a priest forever.” But it is not literally Melchizedek, that ancient priest and godly man, who lives forever, but Christ whom this ancient priest prefigures. And this is why the psalmist prophesied of Christ so many centuries before, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (110:4). And this matters to us.
The matter to keep in mind is how our Lord fulfills the Old Testament, not only its explicit prophecies such as Psalm 110:4, but even its “types” such as Melchizedek who foreshadowed Christ: The Old ever anticipated the New. This is why our Lord could begin with Moses and show the men along the road to Emmaus how all the Scriptures referred to himself (Luke 24:27).