Read Part 1.
Part Two: The Argument from Midrash
There are different approaches to the subject of midrash (or its plural, midrashim). Put simply, a midrash is a Jewish style of elaboration, exposition, or “mining” of a text. The idea is to find both obvious teachings and teachings not immediately obvious—but still latent within the text. In my view, when a New Testament author “unlocks” teachings not immediately obvious, he has uncovered a “mystery.” Jesus did this to prove the resurrection from the Torah, much to consternation of Sadducees (Matthew 22:29-32).
The Book of Hebrews is one midrash after another. For example, chapter 6 is a midrash of Numbers 13-14. Chapter 7 is a midrash on Genesis 14:17-20 and Psalm 110:4, and it highlights the “loud silence” in these Old Testament texts.
To our thinking, midrash can sometimes be a bit of a textual stretch. That is why we trust the New Testament writers: they were supernaturally inspired of God. On the other side of the coin, we should demonstrate hesitation toward non-canonical midrash.
II. How Does Melchizedek Provide a Type of Christ?
Let’s compare and contrast Jesus and Melchizedek. The Genesis text offers no mention of Melchizedek’s genealogy. In His deity, the Son of God is actually without genealogy. Like Jesus in His humanity, Melchizedek was not a descendent of the priestly tribe of Levi or the specific priestly family of Aaron (Heb. 7:13-14). Thus no priests in the order of Melchizedek descended from Aaron.
Melchizedek’s name foreshadows Who Jesus is: He is both the King of Righteousness and the priest who provides peace (“Salem” equals “shalom” which translates to “peace”). Unlike the Old Testament kings who could not qualify as priests, Jesus can be both King and priest, but a priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Thus the believer can draw near to God through Jesus. He makes intercession before God’s throne as our guarantor; He assures our continued salvation and status before God (Heb. 7:25).
Just as there is no record of Melchizedek’s priesthood ending (but he did die, and his service as priest did end), Jesus’ priesthood is actually eternal (Heb. 7:16). Again, the argument from silence paints a picture of one who appears to go on simply because we lack the information as to when he died. This lack of information is intentional on God’s part. If we had a record of Melchizedek’s death, then he would not accurately foreshadow our eternal and immortal priest. If we knew more about the man, he would have little value in foreshadowing Jesus.
III. How Does the Genesis Text Prove Melchizedek (and thus Jesus) Is Greater than Abraham?
Since the Jewish people revere Abraham as the Father of Judaism, if the writer to the Hebrews can successfully argue that—according to the Old Testament—Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, he can embolden the wavering members of this congregation to stay the course and continue following Jesus Who is of Melchizedek’s superior order. He can also demonstrate that those who have forsaken Jesus and returned to non-Messianic Judaism have returned to something inferior.
It might seem obvious that a Messiah Who is deity has to be greater than any mortal. No Jew, for example, would assert that Abraham was greater than Yahweh. The writer to the Hebrews has proven that the Messiah had to be deity based upon a variety of Old Testament passages. This is something mainstream Judaism did not see.
Yet we must remember this: the reason we accept Jesus’ deity is because He proved it through His humanity. It was in His flesh that He asserted that He and the Father were One (John 10:30). It is in His bodily resurrection that He is declared to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4). If we prove He is a dependable teacher of God’s truth, then we have to accept His claims to deity. So the writer to the Hebrews is getting to the same point another time through a different route.
By proving that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, the writer to the Hebrews will burst the bubble. If anyone can be greater than Abraham, than perhaps Jesus’ claims to greater are not as audacious as they seem (John 8:53, 58). If the Old Testament suggests that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, and if it prophesies that the Messiah will be after the order of Melchizedek, it follows that the Messiah is greater than Abraham, and thus pre-Messianic Judaism (represented by Abraham) is inferior to Messianic Judaism/Christianity (represented by Jesus).
Here is the argument: Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and Melchizedek blessed Abraham (6). One pays tithes to a priest who is somehow spiritually privileged in a way the contributor is not. Melchizedek is, in at least some sense, the “greater man of God.” Second, blessing another suggests the one blessing is superior in some way. When Jacob blessed his sons, he was conveying the blessing downward. In Jacob’s case, he was reverenced because he was older and was their father. In that sense he was superior. But Melchizedek’s blessing is from a priest to a layman. In at least that sense (his position), he was superior to Abraham.
The writer to the Hebrews follows the tradition of midrash by extending the Genesis text even further. Since some of Levi’s genes were present in Abraham (Abraham was his great-grandfather), in a sense Levi was paying tithes to Melchizedek. Since Levi’s descendent, Aaron, would become the first priest in the Aaronic order (the priesthood under the Law), the Aaronic priesthood (through Abraham) acknowledged the superiority of the Order of Melchizedek.
It might seem quite a stretch, but there is a clear logical path to what the writer is asserting.
The Law appointed priests based upon inheritance (descent from Aaron), but the Father prophesied He would appoint the Messiah as a priest by an oath (Psalm 110:4). Thus Jesus was appointed priest by God’s intentional oath (20-21).
Although some have tried to look for incidents in Jesus’ life where the Father implied such an oath, my view is that the oath was given back in Psalm 110:4. It did not need to be repeated. Still, other possibilities exist, as when the Father expressed His pleasure with the Son (Matthew 3:17), or at His resurrection or Ascension.
IV. Since Jesus’ Priesthood Is Superior to that of the Torah, the Law Has to Be Upgraded.
Hebrews 7:12 (ESV) reads, “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.”
Some later Jews expected the Messiah to adjust the Torah, reflecting this same idea. In Vayikra Rabba, sect. 9, fol. 153, and Rabbi Tanchum, fol. 55: “Rabbi Phineas, Rabbi Levi, and Rabbi Jochanan, from the authority of Rabbi Menachem of Galilee, said, In the time of the Messiah all sacrifice shall cease, except the sacrifice of praise.”
In many instances, Jewish traditions were embraced for centuries before they were codified in writing. Either way, the Hebrews text makes it clear that, with the Messiah-King-Priest comes a change in Torah!
Some of God’s Law is based upon the character of God and thus changeless; some commands are based upon the unique purposes He has for Israel or the church.
When our kids were young, we drew up a self-made will, saying our minor children would be raised by my sister, but there came a time when that clause was no longer relevant, and we drew up another will.
The King of the Universe knows what He is doing. God never ad-libs, nor does He have to cover up. When Moses compiled Genesis 14, Moses included precious little about Melchizedek, a man of whom we would expect to read chapter after chapter. This was intentional. It was a loud silence that the writer to the Hebrews expounds.
God stacked the deck so that the Old Testament priest, Melchizedek, would be a rubric to describe the priestly ministry of the incarnate Son.
Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute. He has served as pastor of Highland Park Church since 1983. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has written many weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers at his church website. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul’s Teachings.