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Hebrews Chapter 7. That’s all I’m saying at the moment, but we’ll come back to that. Also, it should be noted that I will reference non-canonical sources including the Book of Jasher, the writings of Josephus and the Talmud. I do not believe these writings to be Scripture, but I intend to refer to them to help us build up a Hebrew mindset and to grant some historical context as we walk through this study.
Historical High Priest
It is commonly believed that a high priest (Kohein) serves for the length of his life. Aaron served from the time he was anointed until his death. The Talmud, in Yoma 9, states that a high priest is REQUIRED to serve for his entire life. Now I am not saying that is equal to Torah law, but at the very least it does shine some light on how the Jews viewed the office. Our examples of lifelong priesthood include Aaron and his 3rd son, Eleazar. Aaron, the first high priest after the Exodus, was succeeded upon his death by Eleazar, who was followed upon death by his son, Phinehas. The primary duties of the high priest included burning incense (Exodus 30:7), being in charge of the Levites (Numbers 3:32), assisting in the distribution of the spoils of war (Numbers 31), and what is considered by most to be his most important chore: the offering of the atonement sacrifice on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16, Leviticus 23). In Numbers 35:28 and Joshua 20:6, we see that a fleeing man-slayer was to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest, before he could return home. Now, there’s an entire study on this topic alone, but for our purposes, we can simply note that there is clearly a correlation between the city of refuge and the high priest. Further, if the high priest did not serve in office until his death (that is, if he was succeeded prior to death), then how could a man-slayer in a city of refuge ever hope to be able to leave the city?
A few problems are noticed in scripture regarding the Aaronic priesthood. For example, we can see multiple times that the office was profaned over the centuries. Eli, the priest during the time of Samuel, had to rebuke his two sons, in 1 Samuel chapter 2 - who were supposed to be serving as priests - for taking parts of the offerings they weren’t allowed to take, and for laying with women outside the door of the Tent of Meeting. And if you continue on to chapter 4, you see that they ultimately face their death for their crimes. The biggest problem we see, however, is how the office of the high priest changed during Yeshua’s time.
In John 11:49, we learn that Caiaphas was “high priest that year.” John 18:13 states that Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest then. So they both say Caiaphas was high priest, right? Now go to Acts chapter 4.
Acts 4:6 - “6 and Annas the high priest [was there], and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent.”
First of all, this is not too long after the death and resurrection of Yeshua. Now we see that Annas is referred to as high priest. So Annas and Caiaphas were both still living (clearly, as both were present), and yet both referred to as high priest, rather than holding office until death. Now, again, Scripture does not directly command that the high priest serve until death, but it was their custom and it was the pattern that was given. And there is more than enough evidence to believe that they WERE to serve until death. It is the belief of some that both Caiaphas and Annas are referred to as high priest because Annas was previously high priest, and Caiaphas was the current high priest, but respect was still so great for Annas that they still called him that. This is possible. However, even if that is the case, it meant that Annas had not died prior to becoming high priest.
So, now in the time of Yeshua, we can see the office of high priest being perverted. It was recorded by multiple historical authors, including Josephus, that the Roman government had begun choosing the high priest, therefore blatantly disobeying The Almighty, who said it was specifically the descendants of Aaron. This began in the time of the Hasmonean (Maccabee) Dynasty. The books of 1 & 2 Maccabees speak of the high priest Alcimus, who was, himself, a descendant of Aaron, but was corrupt nonetheless. This was part of the Maccabeean reform, as Judas Maccabeus and his brothers began to act in the place of both high priest and king. Although they WERE Levites, they were NOT of the line of Aaron, and thus had no right to act in the office.
BUT, before we even get into the line of Aaron, was it originally supposed to be him? What about before the Exodus? Were the no priests? In Exodus 13:2, YHWH commands the people to set apart [consecrate] the firstborn for Him, of both man and beast. Then, Numbers 3:12-13 tells us that priesthood was altered from the firstborn of every family, to just the Levites. The commonly held belief as to why this alteration occurred was because of the golden calf incident. The Levites were the ones that stood by Moses while the Israelites attempted to worship YHWH in an unacceptable way, so it is believed that is why YHWH chose them instead. But remember, the firstborn was His intended priest. Only due to the weakness of man, and his sinful nature, were the Levites taken.
Going back in time a little bit, we can see other examples of the office of high priest. Perhaps the most well-known example is Melchizedek.
Genesis 14:18-20 - 18 And Malkitsedeq king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was priest of El Elyon. 19 He blessed him and said, "Blessed be Avram of El Elyon, Possessor of heavens and earth; 20 And blessed be El Elyon, who has delivered your enemies into your hand." He gave him a tenth of all.
So Melchizedek was priest of El Elyon, The Most High El. This is long before Aaron was even born. Now, I’m going to give you my opinion on this right here. Yasher, the book of Jasher, says that Melchizedek is actually Shem, the son of Noah. This is possible, as Shem was the last person to live as long as he did post-flood (600 years). Now, IF that’s true, it would make sense, because Shem was the firstborn of Noah. As we have previously established, the firstborn was supposed to have the role of priest.
Jasher 16:11-12 - And Adoni-tsedeq king of Yerushalayim, who was Shem, went out with his men to meet Avram and his people, with bread and wine, and they remained together in the valley of king. 12 And Adoni-tsedeq blessed Avram, and Avram gave him a tenth from all that he had brought from the spoil of his enemies, for Adoni-tsedeq was a priest before Elohim.
Note that Jasher refers to him as "Adonizedek" instead of Melchizedek. The name Melchizedek is actually a combination of two Hebrew words: מלכ (melek), meaning "king" and צדק (tsedeq), meaning "righteous." So the name Melchizadek means "King of Righteousness." The name Adonizedek means "Lord/Master of Righteousness." These are equivalent terms, and, no doubt, the narrative is clearly the same as the Biblical one. But in the above reading from Jasher we learn that Melchizadek is, indeed, Shem.
Now, I mentioned Hebrews 7 at the beginning, right? Let’s go there. But for the sake of context, first turn to Hebrews 6. The last verse, verse 20.
Hebrews 6:20 - "where as a forerunner Yeshua entered for us, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."
Now chapter 7, verses 1 & 2. Here, you get a glimpse of Abraham tithing to the Priest.
Hebrews 7:1-2 - For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High El, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace.
It is interesting that Abraham “tithed” to the priest long before the Levitical priesthood was in place. Long before the rules were given by YHWH through Moses regarding the tithes for the priests. These next few verses are what lead me to putting this whole thing together. They are what almost made me stumble. The reason is, because there are so many preconceived ideas regarding the Torah, that many people automatically believe anytime the word “law” is used, it means the Law (Torah) of YHWH, all 5 books: Genesis through Deuteronomy.
Hebrews 7:11-12 - Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise, according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.
Hebrews 7:18 - For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness.
If all you read were verses 11, 12 and 18, then you could probably draw some pretty strong conclusions, such as: the priestly system being flawed, the law being “changed” because the priesthood was “changed.” And, depending on how you take verse 11, it could probably be twisted to say that since it was under the “old” priesthood that the law was given, and that has changed, then the Torah must have changed. Since it changed, it must therefore be invalid as a legally binding document. Verse 18 would seem to indicate that the “former commandment” was weak, which again could be looked at as the Torah. I have heard those very arguments before. And if all you’re reading are verses 11, 12, and 18, with no more context or further study, I can see how you would come to that conclusion.
Now, two questions: 1) what “law” is being talked about in verses 11 & 12, and what commandment is spoken of in verse 18? 2) what, exactly, changed? Let’s get side-tracked for a second and test that. First, a little word study. We all know Torah is the word in the Hebrew that is translated as “law.” We also know that the word “Torah” carries a lot more weight than simply “law,” because it has a deeper meaning, and picture associated with it. In Greek, however, we have the word νομος (nomos). (Strong’s #G3551, “a law”) As a grammatical side-note, it is not pronounced no-mowce, it is nom-oss. Nomos means “law” but in a very general sense. To illustrate this point, look at Romans 7. Verse 22, Paul says he delights in the Law of Elohim. I personally find it very reasonable to think that here he is talking about the Torah. But verse 23 is where it gets much more complex. Here Paul speaks of three different laws. The “law at work in his members,” the “law of his mind,” and the “law of sin” and more. Now again, there’s a whole different study on the different laws, and the Torah being spiritual, such as in Romans 7:14, and Galatians 5:25 saying to walk in the “Spirit,” but that’s too much for now.
So Paul either helped grant us context, or just muddied the water. I like to think of it as the former. So which law? Well that’s the first question to answer. Which law is being spoken of in Hebrews 7:12? Well given the context of the chapter being completely about the priesthood, I think we can agree it is talking about the laws of the priesthood. So, now the second question. What, exactly, changed? Could any of it have changed? Turn to Malachi chapter 3. In verse 6 YHWH says He DOES NOT CHANGE!
Now, back to Hebrews. Skipping forward a few chapters from where we were, go to chapter 13 verse 8.
Hebrews 13:8 - Yeshua Messiah [is] the same yesterday and today and forever.
So if Yeshua doesn’t change, and YHWH doesn't change, how can the law change? Well, I will give you my belief. Remember back in Exodus and Numbers, as we read, that the firstborn was supposed to be the priest? Well, because of man’s weakness, that had to be altered. Temporarily. The Levites were taken instead of the firstborn. This occurred because of the weakness of sinful man, who was prone to evil. Due to the purity of the sons of Levi, they were chosen instead.
The Reformed Priesthood
Colossians 1:15 - He is the image of the invisible Elohim, the firstborn of all creation.
THAT is what changed. The Father’s plan, from the beginning, was for the firstborn to serve as priest. As I said before, that had to be altered because of man’s weakness, but the alteration was only temporary. Then, at Yeshua's death and ascension, He “became High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” And in doing so, as Hebrews 7:12 says, changed the priesthood and the law of the priesthood. However, He changed it BACK to what it was intended to be all along. This also clearly fits with Hebrews 7:18-19. He DID set aside the former command because of its weakness and uselessness. But not the Torah, which itself is not weak: just the laws regarding MAN as the High Priest, who have weaknesses, according to verse 28. And further, men die. Hebrews 9 tells us all men die, and that is further a complication. The "weakness and uselessness" in men is that A) we sin and B) we die. So there is no possibility for a perfect, eternal high priest of mere men: it must be Yeshua.
One final thing to address. In Hebrews 8:4, it says that if Yeshua were still on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are already priests that offer sacrifices according to the Law (Torah). This was true for their time. When the letter to the Hebrews was written (approximately 65-69 CE) the Temple was still standing, as was the Levitical priesthood. It was not until Yeshua’s death and ascension that He rose to be the High Priests in heaven. And at the time of the letter, the current Levitical priesthood was not, yet, entirely removed. Yeshua was the sacrifice, not the Priest. The Levitical priesthood will be re-established in a certain way, though not like it was at that time. The final priesthood (headed by Yeshua as High Priest) will be the Saints (resurrected believers) at the return of Messiah.
It is also interesting to note who it was that gave Yeshua up to be crucified. Caiaphas and Annas were both called the “high priest” as stated above. They both met with Yeshua prior to handing Him over to Pilate. So, effectively, the “high priest” was the one offering Yeshua as the sacrifice to be slain.
So to sum it all up, the “law” being spoken of in Hebrews 7 that was weak and was changed was not the entire Torah. It was the law regarding the Levitical priesthood, which itself had only been instituted as a temporary amendment. Now we can see some future fulfillment to this that is yet to come. We know from prophecies such as Isaiah 66, Ezekiel 44, and Revelation 20 that there will be a new priesthood still. A priesthood of priest-kings. So the saints that reign for 1,000 years with Yeshua on earth (Revelation 20) are going to reign as priest-kings, while Yeshua is our perfect High Priest (See article The Return of Messiah & The Millennial Kingdom).
That’s it for this study.
Be Berean. Shalom.