“Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.” (Hebrews 7:4, KJV 1900)
When sports enthusiasts get together, they often talk about which player throughout history was the greatest. Who was the greatest batter? Who was the greatest quarterback? Who was the greatest boxer or the greatest golfer? There is always much debate. Everyone seems to have their favorites. However, in these debates, the conclusions are truly inconsequential. The answer to who was the greatest sports figure of all time has no real importance.
It is quite different in regarding the subject the author of Hebrews has been addressing. He has spent much time dealing with the presentation of Melchizedek as a type of Jesus. At issue is the priesthood.
To understand the significance of this issue, we need to understand the author’s Jewish audience. To them the priesthood was of paramount importance. They depended on the priesthood as prescribed by the Law. It prescribed that the high priest, a descendant of Aaron, would present the blood of the sacrifice in the holiest place for the sins of the people every year on the Day of Atonement. Their understanding was that without this, the guilt of their sins would remain. You can see how vital it was for them to see Jesus as their great high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
The author has already gone to great lengths to identify this from the Scripture. Here, he gives additional arguments. The Jews considered Abraham to be their father, the greatest of Hebrews, their ancestor. Here, these additional arguments are to show that the priesthood of the order of Melchizedek is greater than that of the Levitical priesthood of Aaron.
He first shows that Melchizedek the priest and type of Jesus, was greater than Abraham. The arguments are first that Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek, which was apart from a legal obligation of the Law. He gave to Melchizedek freely. The order here is important to see. The Levites had no inheritance in the land. According to the Law, they were to receive the tithes of the people for their subsistence. Since Abraham was their father, (that is he begat Isaac, who bore Jacob, from whom we have Levi), that in fact, Levi was in the loins of Abraham when he presented the tithe to Melchizedek. In this way the sons of Levi, so to speak, tithed to Melchizedek as well. The author used this to point out that the order of Melchizedek was higher than the Levitical order (Hebrews 7:9-10).
Secondly, the author indicates that Melchizedek blessed Abraham and indicates that the one who blesses is always greater than the one blessed (Hebrews 7:7). From this we also see that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham. And since Levi is a descendant of Abraham, the priestly order of Melchizedek is greater than the Levitical order.
The third point made is one that has been made earlier. Since Jesus is our great high priest after the order of Melchizedek and has been our perfect sacrifice, and been raised from the grave to be seated in the holiest place, He has been made a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. All the priests of the Levitical order died. Their work was temporary, needing to be repeated. The order of Melchizedek is a priestly order that is eternal. It is a greater order than that of Aaron.