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Purity of the Priesthood
Leviticus 21:1.—Speak unto the priests … there shall none be defiled. If it was important that the whole community of Israel should maintain ceremonial and moral purity, it was certainly not less urgent for “the priests, the sons of Aaron.” Through the past ten chapters the laws have had reference to the “congregation of Israel”; the divine word now comes to His ministers within the sanctuary.
These priests were types of Christ, and also of the sacred character and sacerdotal ministry of believers: their life and service should therefore be inviolate, consecrated, worthy. For Christ was “holy, harmless, separate from sinners”; and His followers, who maintain His witness in the world, are also to be “holy and unblamable.” This sanctity is now to be typically enacted and foreshadowed in the conduct and ministry of these priests.
Leviticus 21:2-4.—Contact with the dead entailed ceremonial uncleanness, and excluded from the sanctuary for a week. For a priest to be disqualified for his functions was both derogatory to his sacred office and a most serious interruption of his duties. In Christians who are “priests unto God” there may be neither disqualification for, nor interruption of, their ministry. Human claims, and even domestic sorrows, may not intercept the Christian life: that must be maintained unchecked whatever befalls us. Happy we that the succour of our Lord so supports us in our griefs and bereavements that, instead of checking us in our Christian life and work, they qualify us for even a richer ministry for Christ among men.
Leviticus 21:5-6.—Marks of mourning prohibited. For they who live near God’s presence, in the joy of His favour, both have such consolations in Him as to temper grief over bereavement, and also realise the world beyond the dark veil which has fallen between them and their loved ones. Therefore, by moderating their distress, they would teach us how to “sorrow not as others who have no hope.” Even in our darkest sorrow let us never “profane the name” which we are to glorify; remembering our high office and privileged standing in Christ.
Leviticus 21:7-9.—They shall not take a wife, etc. Called himself to a hallowed life, the priest must preserve himself from faulty alliances. Marriage should be regulated by fitness. There should be moral harmony, spiritual sympathy, between man and wife; emphatically so with all who profess Christ. “Be ye not unequally yoked together.”
Leviticus 21:10-15.—He that is the high priest, etc. The ordinary priests were allowed, when death fell on their nearest relationships, to relax their ministries awhile; but not so the high priest; for his absence from the tabernacle would arrest all the services of the sanctuary, while his contact with the dead would disqualify him to intercede for the people before God.
Leviticus 21:16-24.—He that hath any blemish, let him not approach, etc. Physical malformations necessarily unfit men for solemn public offices when they attract observation, disturb reverence, and induce ridicule. Yet, although bodily infirmities still offer a natural obstruction to any one so afflicted entering the ministry of the Christian Church, they create no barrier to usefulness in many other honourable and hallowed paths of service. Within a deformed body may dwell a beautiful soul; and “our feeble frame” need not disqualify us for gracious and loving work in the Church of our Lord.
Our Divine Priest was in all points perfect—“without blemish”; in Him God was “well pleased.” No defect mars His acceptance as He appears in the presence of God for us, and no infirmity in person or character exposes Him to the depreciation of men. He is the faultless Jesus; “fairest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely.”
Topic: SACRED RELATIONSHIP DEMANDS SANCTITY OF LIFE
“Speak unto the priests, There shall none be defiled; the bread of their God do they offer, therefore they shall be holy” (Leviticus 21:1-6).
If there is one fact more notably emphasised than another in this address to priests, it is this: their
I. ABSOLUTE AND INDESTRUCTIBLE RELATIONSHIP.
Every son of Aaron was a “priest.” Of this union with Aaron it is observable that—
1. It results from a living relationship. By birth he was connected with Aaron, a lineal descendant of God’s High Priest. And no truth is more a truism than that every Christian is by birth-relationship connected with Christ—born a priest, entering the spiritual life a “priest”; not rising later into the priestly relationship, but the moment he is quickened and becomes a believing and a living soul, he is a “priest unto God.”
By no process of spiritual development or self-culture or studied effort does the convert to Christ become a “priest”; he is that by virtue of his living relationship to the High Priest: for as all the sons of Aaron were priests, so are all the sons of God through their connection with Christ. The spiritual priesthood is the appendage of our spiritual birth.
2. The relationship is inalienable and indestructible. Conduct is not the basis of relationship with Christ, but life. A son of Aaron might be defiled “for the dead” (Leviticus 21:2), yet he did not thereby cease to be related to Aaron. If we were only priests to God as our conduct was faultless, who could stand? If none remained a “priest” longer than he preserved himself undefiled, who would hold the spiritual office an hour? We are all unclean; defile ourselves continuously with “the dead,” the guilty and contaminating things of earth. But “our life is hid with Christ in God”; and by virtue of that life-union we remain priests.
3. Imperfections of nature and character do not sever relationship. A “blemish,” deformity of body, proved a disqualification for ministry, but did not destroy association with Aaron. Yes; there is exclusion from high and honoured services in consequence of irremediable defect and fault; and Christians with incurable weakness of disposition, worldliness of sympathy, infirmities of character, vacillation of purpose, are thereby set aside from honour in the Church and highest ministries for their Lord; yet still the relationship to Christ continues, for it is a birth-relationship, based upon a life-union with Jesus. Christ is our life, and Christ liveth in us. We are therefore in priestly connection with our High Priest.
But though relationship is absolute and indestructible—
II. PRIVILEGE IS DEPENDENT AND CONDITIONAL.
1. Defilement is a disqualification for near fellowship and highest enjoyment of the priestly relationship. Contact with “the dead was forbidden; it excluded the priest from the service of God until cleansed anew and so reinstated. All contamination works disqualification, therefore “touch not, taste not, handle not.” A priestly life should be pure. “Keep thyself pure.” “The temple of God is holy.” “Unspotted from the world.” Spiritual favours are surrendered by the Christian the moment he defiles himself. Privilege is connected with purity. Near fellowship is for the uncorrupt.
2. Defect is a disqualification for highest service for our Lord. [See Leviticus 21:17, etc.]
Physical deformities even now form a natural barrier to the loftiest offices in the Church of Christ. Not unfitting the sufferer for many lowlier and less public ministries; for sacred grace is not dependent upon physical “form and comeliness.” [See Addenda to chapter, Bodily Infirmities.]
Defects of character, of mental and moral constitution, also exclude from loftiest stations and services in the Christian kingdom. They are a barrier to such positions in the church as require noblest qualities of character: for eminence gives influence; and he who moves in the public gaze must be free from such weaknesses of will, or principle, or conduct as would lay him open to inconstancy. For such infirmities would bring reproach and derision on the Holy Name we bear. There is till for the weak and defective a relationship with Christ “for by grace are they saved”; but not eminent position in the Church. “He shall eat the bread of his God: only he shall not go in unto the veil, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish” (Leviticus 21:22-23). [See Addenda to chapter, Bodily Appearance.]
A. All imperfections in Christians work deprivation.
(a) Loss of near fellowship with God in most privileged secresy.
(b) Forfeiture of rights to most sacred services in connection with the sanctuary.
(c) Refusal to represent God before men, exclusion from the solemnities of priestly station and function.
B. Sacred relationship summons to exalted sanctity.
(a) Avoidance of all forms and causes of contamination (Leviticus 21:1).
(b) Customs, harmless in themselves and not forbidden to others, must be shunned by priestly souls (Leviticus 21:5-6).
(c) Indulgences and relationships are to be regulated by our exalted standing in Christ (Leviticus 21:9).
(d) Life must be lived under the power of the “annointing” (Leviticus 21:10), the “unction of the Holy Ghost.”
Only thus can we maintain ourselves as “a spiritual priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
Topic: DIGNITY OF THE PRIESTHOOD TO BE KEPT INVIOLATE
That the Levitical priests were to be blameless and without blemish, indicated the peculiar sanctity of their office, and the holiness of Jehovah, whom they represented among the people. The priesthood filled the gap between the Holy God and sinful man, the offerings they presented were the means of securing fellowship at the mercy seat, pardon for national and individual offences. The directions to the priests respecting their qualifications for the service of the tabernacle were repeated before all Israel, that the people might recognise the office and dignity of those who were solemnly set apart for sacerdotal duties. The directions of this chapter taught the priests—
I. THAT THEIR PATRIOTISM WAS TO BE SUBORDINATE TO THEIR SUPERIOR SAINTLY OFFICE.
When tidings came to the priests of any great sorrow in the camp, of Israel, of suffering and death, human sympathy would prompt them to repair to the spot and condole with the bereaved; but they were not to “be defiled for the dead among the people, “nor surround the dead body, nor join in the necessary obsequies However patriotic they might feel, and however much they loved their people, the claims of their office were paramount; they had a great work to do, and could not turn aside to mourn for the dead, except under very special circumstances. Even natural, as well as national sympathy, was to be suppressed, nothing was to be done that would in any way produce ceremonial defilement. These restrictions would be for the best interests of the people, as in obeying them the priests would not neglect those duties in the discharge of which priceless blessings came from the presence of Jehovah to Israel.
II. THAT THEIR PERSONAL APPEARANCE WAS TO BE APPROPRIATE TO THEIR SAINTLY OFFICE.
Directions had already been given respecting vestments. [See former Homilies.] The heathen priests mutilated their bodies, disfigured their features, corrupted themselves with vicious habits; the Hebrew hierarchy were not to practise such things, their bodies, as well as their hearts and minds, were to be kept whole and pure. The exquisite beauty of nature—even in the minutest things—betokens the tastefulness of the great Creator. He loves the lovely, is pleased with the beautiful; the unsightly and discordant are incompatible with His glorious purposes. It is a serious deficiency in the equipment for efficient service, when the physical powers are feeble, or bodily appearance repellent. Those who minister before the Lord should be free as possible from all physical defects, mental obliquity, and moral obtuseness, as well as from flagrant wrongdoing.
III. THAT THEIR CONJUGAL ALLIANCES WERE TO BE HELPFUL TO THEIR SAINTLY OFFICE.
Celibacy was not imposed upon the Levitical priesthood, but full and strict directions given respecting their matrimonial engagements. They were not to marry persons beneath them in dignity, or concerning whose chastity and morality anything detrimental was known to exist. For a priest to take an unsuitable wife would be to beset his office with insuperable embarrassments. By her evil communications his good manners would become corrupted. None of his family could act wrongly without some unfavourable reflection being cast on him. This ancient statute has a good lesson for modern days. Too much care cannot be exercised by Christian ministers in the selection of help-meets for life; the Church, as well as the home, will be affected for good or evil as the wife and children of the minister or Christ conduct themselves before the people.
As the ages progress, less importance will become attached to physical blemishes than to mental and moral defects. The moral standard of human measurement is divine, and will outlive all other authority. The cause of Christ has often been injured by its members yoking themselves with unsuitable partners; the purity and harmony of home life will conduce to the light and sweetness of church life. The house of the Lord must not be profaned, nor must anything be allowed in the character of its ministers calculated to bring its hallowed services into ridicule or contempt. Ministers of Christ should aim to live above suspicion, to be renowned for moral worth, and to be highly esteemed for their work’s sake. Such favour will be the foreshadowing of the approval of the Master in the last great day.—F. W. B.
Topic: QUALIFICATIONS FOR SACRED SERVICE (Leviticus 21:4)
Impossible that the ceremonial rites and observances, and the elevated spiritual teachings of Leviticus could have been the inventions of the Hebrew priesthood. Uninspired men, under the sway of human passions, would have exempted themselves from disabilities and censures and accorded to themselves unrestrained license. Though the priests were peculiarly honoured, and permitted to draw very near to God, yet they needed to observe ceremonies for spiritual cleansing, they needed to resist temptation, and seek forgiveness the same as ordinary men. The priests—
I. WERE TO BE FREE FROM PHYSICAL BLEMISHES arising from heredity, accident, acquired malformation, or self infliction.
II. WERE TO AVOID ALL CONTACT WITH EVIL. Everything that would disqualify and detain them from regular consecrated service was to be sedulously avoided, (a) all contact with things ceremonially unclean, (b) all unholy alliances of a social and domestic character. These directions needed because the priests—
III. WERE THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE LORD. Bore His name, reflected His nature, executed His laws. He sanctified them, set them specially apart to be mediators between Himself and the people.
IV. WERE THE EXEMPLARS OF THE PEOPLE. Possessing special advantages, called to exalted duties, exempted largely from other cares, the priests were expected to exhibit conspicuous holiness, to become examples to Israel in all things that Jehovah commanded.
V. WERE TYPES OF THE PREDICTED REDEEMER. Especially was this so in the character and work of the high priest. His sanctification from all defilement, admission into the holiest of all, presentation of the blood of the atonement before the mercy seat, etc.; all were, as the epistle to the Hebrews teaches, typical of Him, who, in the fulness of time, would abrogate the ceremonial law of Moses.
In the Christian dispensation, where all believers are kings and priests unto God, spiritual qualifications are required for sacred services. Freedom from physical blemishes, avoidance of contact with contaminating influences, non-association with uncongenial companions, will tend to make service for Christ more efficient. Every physical, mental, and spiritual excellence is necessary to adequate equipment for the work of the ministry, for the service of the sanctuary. Persons may serve God well who are encumbered with various deficiences, but they can serve Him better who have few, and could serve Him best if they had none. We are called upon to be imitators of God; the world is to see the divine likeness in us. The Christliness of our lives is to be so un-mistakable that men shall recognise us as having been with Jesus. “Let your light so shine before men,” etc.—F. W. B.
Topic: ALLOWANCE FOR HUMAN INFIRMITY (Leviticus 21:22-23)
How fitting that the priests who were commanded to offer spotless sacrifices should themselves be without blemish. How fitting, also, that in a dispensation of types and symbols, respect should be paid to the purity and perfection of the body, which would naturally be regarded as mirroring the faculties of the soul. Impressions are produced upon the spirit through the corporeal senses, the physical appearance of the priests, therefore, as they officiated at the altar, would affect the tone of devotion in the people. It would be for the best interests of Israel, as well as for the glory of Jehovah, that no one with a blemish should take a prominent part in the services of the tabernacle. Consider—
I. THE INFLUENCE PHYSICAL INFIRMITIES OUGHT TO EXERT UPON THE HUMAN MIND.
They are often the cause of perplexity and pain, but they should always awaken (a) Reflection: Why has disease invaded the frame so “fearfully and wonderfully made”? Why such malformations and imperfections in organs originally designed for healthy and harmonious activities? The reply comes—Sin has done all the mischief, caused all the infirmities and pains. (b) Caution: If the body is so liable to disease and injury, to many disqualifications for fulfilling the great purposes of life, surely we cannot exercise too much vigilance in warding off injury, in avoiding everything that would vitiate the springs of life, or disorganize and corrupt our mortal bodies. (c) Humility: A body so liable to disease, weakness and death, so marred by sin, is not a thing to be proud of and idolised; at the best it is a body of death, only the feeble vehicle of the soul, a muddy vestment of decay grossly shutting us in from hearing and seeing the beauties and harmonies of heaven. The soul demands our first, constant, supreme care.
II. THE HINDRANCE PHYSICAL INFIRMITIES MAY PROVE IN THE DISCHARGE OF SACRED DUTIES
Though the heart might be consecrated, the mind willing, priests with physical defects were not allowed to perform sacerdotal duties. Though no such exclusive regulations are in force in the Christian Church, yet physical defects are serious drawbacks to efficient service; lameness, deafness, blindness, loss of voice, general debility, deformity, deficiency, etc., not only make the appearance unattractive, but unfit the person for complete and thorough service. There may be full and acceptable service rendered in the heart, the frail body disqualified for outward service may become a temple of the Holy Ghost. “They also serve who wait.”
III. THE CONSIDERATION PHYSICAL INFIRMITIES RECEIVE FROM HIM WHO MADE US.
Those disqualified to serve at the altar of the tabernacle were not wholly excommunicated, were not expelled from the precincts of the sanctuary or deprived of its sacred provisions. They might eat the priest’s portions of the meat, sin, and trespass offerings, of the shewbread, and other priestly perquisites; probably also they aided the officiating priests by performing various subordinate duties. Thus we get an illustration of the fact mentioned by David, “He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust.” Evidently (a) physical features are not an invariable index to the qualities of the soul. Some of the most lovely looking creatures are the most ferocious and deadly—tigers, serpents, etc. Some of the most uncomely frames have been known to possess exquisite minds, sublime spirits; and vice versa. (b) Physical features are not the signs by which Jehovah judges of real worth. Priests with blemishes were simply excluded from prominent conspicuous duties, the Lord owned them, “He shall eat the bread of his God.” The Lord looketh not upon the outward appearauce (as a rule, and never when judging of real worth) but upon the heart. To Him, character, not circumstances or appearances, is the criterion by which the favour is bestowed. All through the Bible, election and promotion are based upon character. (c) Physical features will neither distort nor disqualify in the future life. The believer’s body of humiliation is to be fashioned like unto the Saviour’s glorious body; no imperfection of any kind in the perfect state of the purified. Those who suffer from physical infirmities may gather comfort from foregoing considerations; those who are largely exempt from them shall bear the infirmities of the weak. Our blessed Master will not break the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax. He can make us strong in weakness, we may glory in infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon us.—F.W.B.
ILLUSTRATIVE ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 21
“Lust may be in the heart though it be not seen by others; as guests may be in the house though they look not out of the window.”—BOWES.
“Our bodily infirmities, blessed be God, cannot exclude us from His heavenly glory. And they who, on many accounts, may be disqualified for the work of the ministry, may serve God with comfort in other stations in His Church.”—SCOTT.
“Though such blemishes do not disable men from the ministry of the gospel, such remarkable deformities as apparently procure contempt should discourage any from undertaking that work, except where such persons feel irresistibly called to it. But that which in the Evangelical ministry is most liable to exception is such blemishes in the mind or manners as render such men incompetent to teach others and unfit to be public examples.”—Assembly’s Annotation.
Auxilium non leve vultus habet.
[A pleasing countenance is no slight advantage].—OVID.
“ ’Tis not a lip, or eye, we beauty call,
But the joint force and full result of all.”
‘I pray Thee, O God, that I may be beautiful within.”—SOCRATES.
“Let none presume
To wear an undeserved dignity.”
—Merchant of Venice, II. 9.
“Though nature with a beauteous wall
Doth oft close in pollution, yet of thee
I will believe, that thou hast a mind to suit
With this thy fair and outward character.”
“Handsome is that handsome does.”
—GOLDSMITH, Vicar of Wakefield, I.
“Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.”—POPE.
Gratior ac pulchro veniens in corpore virtus.
[Even virtue is fairer when it appears in a beautiful person.]—VIRGIL.
“How this grace
Speaks his own standing! What a mental power
This eye shoots forth! How big imagination
Moves in this lip! To the dumbness of the gesture
One might interpret.”—Timon of Athens, I. i
“What tender force, what dignity divine;
What virtue consecrating every feature!”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Leviticus 21". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26