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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Leviticus 21

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XXI.

Concerning the priests' mourning: their holiness: their marriages. The priests who have blemishes, must not minister in the sanctuary.

Before Christ 1490.


Verse 1

Leviticus 21:1. Speak unto the priests, the sons of Aaron Respecting the general notion of defilement from dead bodies, we refer to Numbers 19:11; Numbers 19:22.—The priests, on account of their function, are ordered to have no concern with dead bodies; i.e. not to touch them, prepare them for burial, be present at their funeral, or come into the tents where they are; since thus they would be legally defiled, and unfit for the duties of their office: yet, in the case of near relations, they were allowed the usual custom of mourners, Leviticus 21:2-3. What we render for the dead, is נפשׁ nepesh, a word often used for the animal frame, either with or without life; see Genesis 2:7.


Verse 4

Leviticus 21:4. But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people Very different versions are given of this passage: several ancient versions render it, neither shall he be defiled for the prince of his people: a rendering which Houbigant follows, and strongly approves. It seems, however, most probable, from comparing the eleventh verse in the original, that the sacred writer means to say, that he shall not defile himself for, or upon account of, any of his people. The LXX seem to have understood it in this sense: and let it be observed, that the context appears manifestly to justify this interpretation; first asserting, that he shall not be defiled for the dead among his people: some exceptions are then made; after which it is added, that, saving these exceptions, he shall be defiled for no other: see Houbigant.


Verse 5

Leviticus 21:5. They shall not make baldness upon their head, &c.— See the notes on ch. Leviticus 19:27. What was forbidden to the people in general, is here forbidden to the priests. It is justly required, of the ministers of religion, that they be not only more holy themselves, but patterns of holiness to others. Parkhurst observes, that "the Jewish priests are here particularly forbidden to make baldness upon their head, or to shave off the corner of their beard, because the Egyptian priests did so." Thus Herodotus relates of the Egyptians, Their priests shave their whole body every third day. So the Babylonian priests are described, in Baruch 6:31 as sitting in their temples, their heads and beards shaven. And thus also the priests, among the ancient Indians of Virginia, shaved their heads close, the crown and top of the forehead excepted; Ceremonies and Religious Customs, vol. iii. p. 117.


Verse 9

Leviticus 21:9. If she profane herself That is, make herself unholy, and bring not only disgrace and infamy upon herself, but also upon her father: she shall be burnt; suffering a punishment more severe than other women guilty of the same offence, (Exodus 22:16. Deuteronomy 22:28.) as her education and circumstances in life might justly demand a more exemplary conduct.

Note; 1. Ministers must be examples to their flock, and when God exercises them with the severest trials, they are called to eminent resignation. 2. They should be very cautious in their choice of a wife; a light and vain woman will be a discredit to themselves, a reproach to the service they are engaged in, and a hindrance to their labours.


Verse 10

Leviticus 21:10. He that is the high-priest The former laws related to the priests in general; the high-priest, as being more peculiarly holy, is restrained by laws more peculiarly exact: he is not permitted to defile himself for any dead, nor to leave his attendance upon the sanctuary, (Leviticus 21:12.) even on the demise of his nearest and dearest relations. The reason of which has been by some thought to be, that though the lower priests, being many, might delegate others to serve in their room; yet the high-priest being one, there was no other to officiate in his stead. What we render the crown of the anointing oil, in the 12th verse, some render, the consecration of the anointing oil. Houbigant—for he hath been consecrated by the oil of anointing of his God. The word נזר nezer signifies separation; and therefore Aquila very justly renders the passage, because the separation, [or mark of separation] the anointing oil of his God is upon him. The equity of this law has been justified by the conduct of some of the greatest men of antiquity, particularly in the remarkable example of Xenophon quoted on a former occasion. We are told of Minos, that as he was offering sacrifices to the graces at Paros, the news came to him of his son's death: upon which he pulled off the crown from his head, and caused the music to cease; but nevertheless finished the sacrifice which he had begun.


Verse 13

Leviticus 21:13. He shall take a wife in her virginity The inferior priests might marry a widow; see Ezekiel 44:22. But this command is enjoined upon the high-priest, as being a more eminent type of Christ, whose spouse, the church, is frequently represented as a chaste virgin, 2 Corinthians 11:2. Revelation 14:4.

REFLECTIONS.—1. When God's sanctuary calls for our attendance, the deepest ties which would withdraw us from it, must be broken through. 2. Every believer must be presented to Jesus the great high-priest as a chaste virgin; and he is counted such, when, having washed his soul in the blood of the Lamb, with fervent affection he cleaves to him alone.


Verse 17

Leviticus 21:17. Speak unto Aaron, saying, &c.— Still further to provide for the dignity of the priesthood, and especially to guard it from that contempt which bodily defects and blemishes are too apt to raise in the mind; it is here enjoined, that none of the family of Aaron should be admitted to this sacred office, with any such personal defects or blemishes. Any thing superfluous, in the next verse, is said by the Hebrew doctors to mean any inequality in those members which are pairs; as when one of a man's eyes or legs was bigger than the other, דק dak, rendered dwarf, in the 20th verse, Dr. Beaumont observes, is, in general, that which is small, or thin; and, by the Hebrews, is referred to any imperfection in the eye; by others, to the small or thin stature of the body; as, to be a dwarf. There was a law similar so this among the ancient Romans, Sacerdos integer sit; that a priest should be entire in all his parts; which Seneca mentioning, Controv. Leviticus 4:2 explains by the example of Metellus, who, losing his eye, by venturing to snatch the palladium out of the flames, when the temple of Vesta was on fire, was denied the priesthood; for though he had done great service, whereby he had acquired high honour; yet their opinion was, that a priest who was defective in any member of his body, was to be avoided as a thing of an ill omen. There was a law too among the Athenians to the same purpose, as well as among many other of the heathens: Regulations, which, though probably made, because men are very apt to despise those who labour under bodily deformity; yet, in the divine law, doubtless, had a further and a moral import: we find that perfection was required as indispensable in all the sacrifices; see the next chapter, Leviticus 21:21-23, &c. in which was figured out not only the perfection of the Great Sacrifice, but the purity of mind expected in those who offered: so the high-priest and his brethren were not only required to be perfect, as types of our great High-Priest, and of the Christian priesthood, but as immediate ministers of God; of whom it is required, under every dispensation, that they should be distinguished by great purity of life; that their families should be well regulated; and that they should do and be nothing which might expose themselves and their religion to contempt.

Note; If natural defects disqualified men for the ancient priesthood, how much more should moral turpitude disqualify for the Gospel-ministry? A minister spiritually blind, or halting in his opinions, or perverse in his walk, or vicious in his temper, ought to be banished from God's altar.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Leviticus 21:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/leviticus-21.html. 1801-1803.

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Friday, January 24th, 2020
the Second Week after Epiphany
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