4. Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
4. Considerate autem quantus sit hic, cui et decimas dedit de spoliis Abraham patriarcha.
5. And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
5. Atque ii quidem qui sacerdotium accipiunt, qui scilicet sunt ex filiis Levi, praeceptum habent a populo decimas sumendi juxta legem, hoc est, a fratribus suis licet egressis ex lumbis Abrahae:
6. But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.
6. Cujus autem genus non recensetur ex ipsis, decimas sumpsit ab Abraham, et habentem promissiones benedixit.
7. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.
7. Porro sine controversia quod minus est a potiore benedicitur.
8. And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.
8. Atque hic quidem homines qui moriuntur, decimas accipiunt; illic autem is de quo testatum est quod vivat:
9. And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham.
9. Et ut ita loquar, in Abraham decimatus est ipse Levi qui decimas solet accipere;
10. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.
10. Nam is adhuc in lumbis patris erat quum occurrerit Abrahae Melchisedec.
4. Now consider, etc. This is the fourth comparison between Christ and Melchisedec, that Abraham presented tithes to him. But though tithes were instituted for several reasons, yet the Apostle here refers only to what serves his present purpose. One reason why tithes were paid to the Levites was, because they were the children of Abraham, to whose seed the land was promised. It was, then, by a hereditary right that a portion of the land was allotted to them; for as they were not allowed to possess land, a compensation was made to them in tithes. There was also another reason, -- that as they were occupied in the service of God and the public ministry of the Church, it was right that they should be supported at the public cost of the people. Then the rest of the Israelites owed them tithes as a remuneration for their work. But these reasons bear not at all on the present subject; therefore, the Apostle passes them by. The only reason now alleged is, that as the people offered the tithes as a sacred tribute to God, the Levites only received them. It hence appears that it was no small honor that God in a manner substituted them for himself. Then Abraham, being one of the chief sergeants of God and a prophet, having offered tithes to Melchisedec the priest, thereby confessed that Melchisedec excelled him in dignity. If, then, the patriarch Abraham owned him more honourable than himself, his dignity must have been singular and extraordinary. The word patriarch is mentioned for the sake of setting forth his dignity; for it was in the highest degree honourable to him to have been called a father in the Church of God.
Then the argument is this, -- Abraham, who excelled all others, was yet inferior to Melchisedec; then Melchisedec had the highest place of honor, and is to be regarded as superior to all the sons of Levi. The first part is proved, for what Abraham owed to God he gave to Melchisedec: then by paying him the tenth he confessed himself to be inferior.
5. And verily they, etc. It would be more suitable to render the words thus, |because they are the sons of Levi.| The Apostle indeed does not assign it as a reason that they received tithes because they were the sons of Levi; but he is comparing the whole tribe with Melchisedec in this way. Though God granted to the Levites the right of requiring tithes from the people, and thus set them above all the Israelites, yet they have all descended from the same parent; and Abraham, the father of them all, paid tithes to a priest of another race: then all the descendants of Abraham are inferior to this priest. Thus the right conferred on the Levites was particular as to the rest of their brethren; yet Melchisedec, without exception, occupies the highest place, so that all are inferior to him. Some think that the tenths of tenths are intended, which the Levites paid to the higher priests; but there is no reason thus to confine the general declaration. The view, then, I have given is the most probable.
6. Blessed him, etc. This is the fifth comparison between Christ and Melchisedec. The Apostle assumes it as an admitted principle that the less is blessed by the greater; and then he adds that Melchisedec blessed Abraham: hence the conclusion is that the less was Abraham. But for the sake of strengthening his argument he again raises the dignity of Abraham; for the more glorious Abraham is made, the higher the dignity of Melchisedec appears. For this purpose he says that Abraham had the promises; by which he means that he was the first of the holy race with whom God made the covenant of eternal life. It was not indeed a common honor that God chose him from all the rest that he might deposit with him the privilege of adoption and the testimony of his love. But all this was no hindrance that he should not submit himself in all his preeminence to the priesthood of Melchisedec. We hence see how great he was to whom Abraham gave place in these two things, -- that he suffered himself to be blessed by him, and that he offered him tithes as to God's vicegerent.
7. The less is, etc. Let us first know what the word blessed means here. It means indeed a solemn praying by which he who is invested with some high and public honor, recommends to God men in private stations and under his ministry. Another way of blessing is when we pray for one another; which is commonly done by all the godly. But this blessing mentioned by the Apostle was a symbol of greater authority. Thus Isaac blessed his son Jacob, and Jacob himself blessed his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh. (Genesis 27:27; 48:15.) This was not done mutually, for the son could not do the like to the father; but a higher authority was required for such a blessing as this. And this appears more evident still from Numbers 6:23, where a command is given to the priest to bless the people, and then a promise is immediately added, that they would be blessed whom they blessed. It hence appears that the blessing of the priest depended on this, -- that it was not so much man's blessing as that of God. For as the priest in offering sacrifices represented Christ, so in blessing the people he was nothing more than a minister and legate of the supreme God. In the same sense ought to be understood what Luke records when he says, that Christ lifted up his hands and blessed the Apostles. (Luke 24:50.) The practice of lifting up the hands he no doubt borrowed from the priests, in order to show that he was the person by whom God the Father blesses us. Of this blessing mention is also made in Psalm 116:17; 118:1
Let us now apply this idea to what the apostle treats of: The blessing of the priest, while it is a divine work is also an evidence of a higher honor; then Melchisedec, in blessing Abraham, assumed to himself a higher dignity. This he did, not presumptuously, but according to his right as a priest: then he was more eminent than Abraham. Yet Abraham was he with whom God was pleased to make the covenant of salvation; though, then, he was superior to all others, yet he was surpassed by Melchisedec.
8. Of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. He takes the silence respecting his death, as I have said, as an evidence of his life. This would not indeed hold as to others, but as to Melchisedec it ought rightly to be so regarded, inasmuch as he was a type of Christ. For as the spiritual kingdom and priesthood of Christ are spoken of here, there is no place left for human conjectures; nor is it lawful for us to seek to know anything farther than what we read in Scripture. But we are not hence to conclude that the man who met Abraham is yet alive, as some have childishly thought, for this is to be applied to the other person whom he represented, even the Son of God. And by these words the Apostle intended to show, that the dignity of Melchisedec's priesthood was to be perpetual, while that of the Levites was temporary.
For he thus reasons, -- those to whom the Law assigns tithes are dying men; by which it was indicated that the priesthood would some time be abrogated, as their life came to an end: but the Scripture makes no mention of the death of Melchisedec, when it relates that tithes were paid to him; so the authority of his priesthood is limited by no time, but on the contrary there is given an indication of perpetuity. And this is added for this purpose, lest a posterior law, as it is usual, should seem to take away from the authority of a former law. For it might have been otherwise objected and said, that the right which Melchisedec formerly possessed is now void and null, because God had introduced another law by Moses, by which he transferred the right to the Levites. But the Apostle anticipates this objection by saying, that tithes were paid to the Levites only for a time, because they did not live; but that Melchisedec, because he is immortal, retains even to the end what was once given to him by God.
9. Levi also, etc. He advances farther, and says, that even Levi himself, who was then in the loins of Abraham, was not exempt from the same subordination; for Abraham, by paying tithes, made himself and his posterity inferior to the priesthood of Melchisedec. But here one, on the other hand, may say, that in the same way Judas also of whose seed Christ was born, paid tithes. But this knot can be easily untied, when one considers two things which are settled beyond all dispute among Christians: first, Christ is not to be counted simply as one of the sons of Abraham, but is to be exempted by a peculiar privilege from the common order of men; and this is what he himself said, |If he is the son of David, then does David call him his Lord?| (Matthew 22:45;) secondly, since Melchisedec is a type of Christ, it is by no means reasonable that the one should be set in opposition to the other; for we must remember that common saying, that what is subordinate is not in opposition: hence the type, which comes short of the reality, ought by no means to be opposed to it, nor can it be, for such is the conflict of equals.
These five particulars, mentioned by the Apostle, complete the comparison between Christ and Melchisedec, and thus is dissipated the gloss of those who seek to show that the chief likeness between them is in offering of bread and wine. We see that the Apostle carefully, and even scrupulously, examines here each of these points; he mentions the name of the man, the seat of his kingdom, the perpetuity of his life, his right to tithes, and his benediction.
There is, forsooth! in these things, less importance than in the oblation! Shall we say that the Spirit of God, through forgetfulness, omitted this, so that he dwelt on minor things, and left unnoticed the chief thing, and what was most necessary for his purpose? I marvel the more that so many of the ancient doctors of the Church were so led away by this notion, that they dwelt only on the offering of bread and wine. And thus they spoke, |Christ is a priest according to the order of Melchisedec; and Melchisedec offered bread and wine; then the sacrifice of bread and wine is suitable to the priesthood of Christ.| The Apostle will hereafter speak largely of the ancient sacrifices; but of this new sacrifice of bread and wine he says not a word. Whence then did ecclesiastical writers derive this notion? Doubtless, as one error usually leads to another, having of themselves imagined a sacrifice in Christ's Supper without any command from him, and thus adulterated the Supper by adding a sacrifice, they afterwards endeavored to find out plausible arguments here and there in order to disguise and cover their error. This offering of bread and wine pleased them, and was instantly laid hold on without any discretion. For who can concede that these men were more intelligent than the Spirit of God? Yet if we receive what they teach, we must condemn God's Spirit for inadvertence in having omitted a matter so important, especially as the question is avowedly handled!
I hence conclude, that the ancients invented a sacrifice, of which Moses had never thought; for Melchisedec offered bread and wine, not to God, but on the contrary to Abraham and his companions. These are the words, |Melchisedec, king of Salem, went out to meet him, and brought forth bread and wine; and the same was priest to the most high God, and blessed him.| (Genesis 14:18.) The first thing mentioned was a royal act; he refreshed those wearied after the battle and their journey with sustenance; the blessing was the act of a priest. If then his offering had anything mystical in it, the completion of it is to be found in Christ, when he fed the hungry and those wearied with fatigue. But the Papists are extremely ridiculous, who though they deny that there is bread and wine in the Mass, yet prattle about the sacrifice of bread and wine.