The author of Hebrews is starting an argument for the High Priesthood of Christ.
4 Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. 5 And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest’s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. 6 But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. 7 But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. 8 In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. 9 And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.
Levi was the son who became the start of the Levites, the tribe of Israel which was assigned the priesthood. They were not granted any land when they conquered what became Israel; instead they were granted the right to be the intermediaries between the people and God. God ordained them through Aaron (who was the priest for Israel until they settled in the promised land) and since they were given no land to cultivate or earn a living and their work was to serve God in the temple, the people of Israel were commanded to tithe (give 10 percent of their wages) to create an income for the Levites and their families.
One reason I believe the author points out this tithing issue is that it was God’s custom, not a Jewish custom. This started way before the bloodline of Israel existed and it was carried over into Israel’s set of laws to support the priesthood. What the author is preparing to get into here is an argument of Christ’s deity over the Levites, since He is descended from the tribe of Judah (a tribe that isn’t of priests). In the earthly respect, Jesus was superior to the other priests because His bloodline came from Melchizedek instead of Levi.
The lesser is blessed by the greater. It is important for us to grasp this concept in recognizing the authority of Christ. Some have been led to believe that Jesus has been exalted and given deity by men. As if He is some over praised man that while He might have done some neat things here on earth, He is still only a man and it is our frailty that has motivated us to lift Him higher than He really is. Yet, if He is God (which is who He says He is), then how can we bless Him in this way? In fact, it’s the other way around: He is on High and He blesses us. The only way we can “bless” God is by recognizing Him for who He really is.
I know that this portion of Hebrews can be boring, as it digs into Jewish tradition and custom but it is important to recognize these things because it explains how everything was set in motion from the point of creation. God’s eternal plan isn’t something that He comes up with as He goes nor is it something that He has had to adjust over the centuries. I used to think that man sinning was a mistake that God didn’t account for but indeed He did. I used to think the Jesus’ priesthood was as a descendant from the Levites (even though I know He is from the tribe of Judah). I thought somehow His bloodline made it happen. I used to think that Melchizedek was just a random guy with a message for Abraham. These elements are important for us to better understand the steadfastness of God, His eternal plan, and Jesus’ sovereignty. It is these things that will help us live better a life for Christ.