What’s up with this Melchizedek guy? I don’t remember him from the OT – he seemed an insignificant character back in Genesis 14. Back in that story, Melchizedek blessed Abraham for slaughtering the kings; and now in the NT, he is again honored (v 4), proving that Yahweh hasn’t changed much and still approves of massacres. Nice to know! V 3 claims that there is no record of Mel’s ancestors and therefore no beginning or end to his life. That’s a logical fallacy; just because no ancestors are mentioned in Genesis doesn’t mean there weren’t any. But the author uses this appearance of ‘eternal life’ to compare Mel to the son of god. Bit of a stretch if you ask me.
Back in Genesis, Abraham gave Mel the priest 10% of the haul from that massacre – the origin of tithing. And then it gets complicated, talking about paying a tithe to Levi, who wasn’t even born yet… This passage gave me a headache – what’s the point the author is trying to make? Oh, yes of course, it comes back to Jesus. Jesus, the High Priest, didn’t come from the tribe of Levi as per tradition; he came from the tribe of Judah. Aha, says our author – why did god change the rules, and how did Jesus get to become a priest? Because, like Mel, he has eternal life. Get it? And Jesus will be a new and improved High Priest, because unlike all those Levite priests, who die, Jesus will rule forever! (v 24) Even better, unlike those other priests, he is sinless, so he doesn’t need to offer daily sacrifices. For Jesus, one sacrifice (himself) was enough. (v 25-28)
Verses 1-2 and 4 make it clear that the Christ the author is writing about is a spiritual figure up in heaven, not the human Jesus of the synoptic gospels. And that’s been pretty consistent since Acts. V 7 states “If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it.” Well whose fault is that? Isn’t god supposed to be omnipotent? The author goes on to quote Jeremiah 31, which has nothing to do with Jesus (surprise) but is about making a new covenant with the Jews after the exile to Babylon. In v 13, the author of Hebrews is technically correct, but he has the context incorrect. This ‘new covenant’ is the one Yahweh made with the Jews who returned from the exile, and it replaced the ‘old covenant’ which dated back to the days of Moses.
The first part of this chapter refers back to the Torah and describes the first covenant between Yahweh and the Israelites in the time of Moses. There’s a quick overview of some of the Mosaic laws, and a description of the Tabernacle. And then v 4, which doesn’t correspond to the information given in the OT. As the SAB describes:
“According to this verse, the ark of the covenant had a lot more in it that was reported in 1 Kings 8:9 and 2 Chronicles 5:10, both of which say that the ark had only Moses’ tablets. From the dimensions of the ark in Exodus 25:10, Aaron’s staff could hardly have fit anyway, since the ark was a box only 2.5 x 1.5 x 1.5 cubits. But, hey, maybe Aaron was a little short guy, or they broke his rod into pieces, or they just crammed it all in somehow. Who knows?”
I wonder where the author of Hebrews got his information.
In v 6-10, the author turns to the subject of blood sacrifices according to the Torah, and declares them to be inadequate and outmoded. Because now there’s a new covenant, and Christ is the High Priest, in the new tabernacle in heaven. The only problem with this argument is that the new covenant that Jeremiah was referring to (as cited in the last chapter) referred to Yahweh reconciling with the Israelites after their captivity in Babylon, and that was 500 years before Jesus. But the author of Hebrews doesn’t let facts get in the way of his case. He’s on a roll.
He continues by asserting that Jesus’ blood sacrifice (his own blood, of course) is better than that of calves and goats. (v 11-15). V 13-14 are particularly gory with the blood imagery – or is it just me? Yuck! But wait – we’re not done with the blood – it continues through v 18-23. I’m beginning to feel queasy. And who agrees with v 22, that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” Not me – that’s the belief of a primitive, superstitious society. Disgusting!
The point of the chapter is wrapped up in v 24-28, which of course is that since Jesus is now the High Priest, and he made his perfect blood sacrifice, everything is hunky-dory and everyone’s sins have been removed. For Jesus, once was enough, because he’s so pure etc etc, yeah, I get it. I don’t agree, but I get it. Are we done with the blood now?
V 1-18 explain that under the laws of Moses, the Israelites made sacrifices year after year, and yet they were never entirely ‘cleansed’, and continued to sin. In other words, their prayers didn’t work. But now Christ has arrived and made himself the ‘one perfect sacrifice’ (that’s a well-known expression; now I know where it originates). Christ has taken away all sins and there is no need for any more sacrifices. Which also explains why Christians gave up all those OT animal sacrifices.
But people are still praying to Jesus and they still sin. Perhaps someone should point out to the author of Hebrews that this wonderful ‘new covenant’ didn’t work either. Furthermore, in this passage, the author misquotes Psalm 40:6-8 and takes it completely out of context. In that psalm, David is praying to Yahweh, and his words have nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus. Sigh.
V 19-22 are just more blah blah blah Christianese, and more talk of blood that makes me feel icky. Now I know why fundie churches focus so much on blood. I’ve heard the expression ‘washed in the blood’ but never understood it. There are even songs about it; my skin is starting to crawl.
Back to some familiar themes: V 26-31 God loves you – except if you disobey, and then he’ll throw you into a fiery hell. That’s not love, that’s malicious blackmail. V 32-34 the glorification of suffering. V 35-39 Jesus is coming soon, so hang in there, it won’t be much longer! And then we’ll all be saved, because we are the faithful ones. (And by inference, to hell with everyone else.)