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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Leviticus 21

 

 

Verses 1-24

PART III. SECTION IV. THE UNCLEANNESS AND DISQUALIFICATION OF PRIESTS.

EXPOSITION

The two remaining chapters of this division of the book (Leviticus 21:1-24, Leviticus 22:1-33) deal with the ease of defilements attaching to the priesthood, over and above those which affect other men, whether ceremonial (Leviticus 21:1-6, Leviticus 21:10-12; Leviticus 22:1-9) or moral (Leviticus 21:7-9, Leviticus 21:13-15); with the physical defects disqualifying men of the priestly family from ministering at the altar (Leviticus 21:16-21); with the privilege of eating of the holy things (Leviticus 22:10-13); ending with the injunction that the sacrificial victims, no less than the priests who sacrificed them, should be unblemished and perfect of their kind.

Leviticus 21:1-6

The first paragraph refers to ceremonial uncleanness derived to the priest from his family relations. The priest may not take part in any funeral rites, the effect of which was legal defilement, except in the case of the death of his father, mother, son, daughter, brother, and unmarried sister. These are all that appear to be mentioned. But what, then, are we to understand regarding his wife? Was the priest allowed to lake part in mourning ceremonies for her or not? It is thought by some that her case is met by Leviticus 21:4, But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself. The literal translation of this verse is. He shall not be defiled, a lord (haul) among his people. The word baal, or lord, is commonly used in the sense of husband. The clause, therefore, may be understood to forbid the priest to mourn for his wife, being rendered, He shall not defile himself as an husband (i.e; for his wife) among his people. This, however, is something of a forced rendering. The words arc better understood to mean, He shall not defile himself as a master of a house among his people; that is, he may not lake part in the funeral rites of slaves or other members of the household, which ordinarily brought defilement on the master of a house. Then is the priest forbidden to mourn for his wife? This we can hardly believe, when he might mourn for father and mother, son and daughter, brother and sister. Nor is it necessary to take this view. For the case of the wife is covered by the words. For his kin, that is near unto him.… he may be defiled. The wife, being so closely attached to the husband, is not specifically named, because that was not necessary, but is included under the expression, his kin, that is near unto him, just as daughter, grandmother, niece, and wife's sister, are covered by the phrase, "near of kin," without being specifically named in Leviticus 18:1-30 (see note on Leviticus 16:18). Even when mourning is permitted, the priest is to use no excessive forms of' it, still less any that have been used by idolaters. They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard (see Le Leviticus 19:27), nor make any cuttings in their flesh (see Le Leviticus 19:28). And the reason why they are to avoid ceremonial uncleanness in some cases, and to act with sobriety and gravity in all, is that they are dedicated to God, to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire, the bread of their God; that is, the sacrifices which are consumed by the fire of the altar symbolizing the action of God (see note on Le Leviticus 3:11).

Leviticus 21:7-9

Moral uncleanness or defilement passes to the husband and father kern an immoral wife or daughter, and therefore the priest is to be specially careful in the selection of his wife; and his daughter, if she leads a licentious life, is to be stoned to death, and then burnt with fire, because she profaneth her father (cf. 1 Samuel 2:17). In a similar spirit, St. Paul gives directions as to the families of those to whom the ministry of the Spirit is assigned (1 Timothy 3:11; Titus 1:6). Keil would unite Leviticus 21:4 in sense with Leviticus 21:7-9, and argues that he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself, refers to the kind of marriage which the priest is to make, but the interposition of Leviticus 21:5 and Leviticus 21:6 forbid this explanation of Leviticus 21:4.

Leviticus 21:10-15

The high priest, upon whose head the anointing off was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, symbolizing in his person the Holy One in a more special manner than the other priests, has to aim so much the more at symbolical holiness. He may not, therefore. incur legal uncleanness by taking part in the funeral rites, even of his father or mother, not being permitted to absent himself from the sanctuary, which he would have to do if he had thus ceremonially defiled himself. Nor is it enough that he should abstain from taking an immoral or a divorced wife; he may only wed a virgin and of his own people, whereas the other priests might marry widows and the daughters of strangers dwelling among the Israelites. In the ordinances for priests given in Ezekiel 44:1-31, the ordinary priests, as well as the high priest, are forbidden to marry widows, unless they be the widows of priests (Ezekiel 44:22).

Leviticus 21:16-24

Perfection of the body being typical of perfection of the mind and of the whole man, and symbolical perfection being required of the priest of God, none may be admitted to the priesthood with bodily defects, or excrescences, or grievous blemishes. The translation dwarf, in Leviticus 21:20, is better than the marginal rendering "too slender," or withered. Being the descendants of Aaron, these priests, blemished as they were, were to be supported as the other priests were supported. He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy; that is, the priests' portions of the meat offerings (Leviticus 2:3, Leviticus 2:10; Leviticus 6:17), of the sin offerings (Leviticus 6:29), of the trespass offerings (Leviticus 7:1), of the shewbread (Leviticus 24:9), which were most holy, and of the heave offerings, wave offerings, firstfruit offerings, firstlings, and things devoted (Numbers 11:11-19), which were holy. They were also apparently employed in the less formal and conspicuous duties of the priests, such as examining lepers, and any other functions which did not bring them nigh unto the altar. But they were not to profane God's sanctuaries, by which is meant the holy of holies, the holy place, and the court in which the altar stood. To none of these is the blemished priest to be admitted for the purpose of officiating, though he might enter the court and probably the holy place for other purposes, and might eat the offerings of the priests in the accustomed place.

HOMILETICS

Leviticus 21:7-9

The marriage of the clergy,

according to the discipline of the reformed Churches, is one of the points on which the latter bear a marked superiority to the Latin Church, which forbids its bishops and priests to marry; and to the Greek Church, which expects its priests to be married before ordination, forbids them to marry a second time, and requires celibacy in its bishops.

I. IT IS MORE SCRIPTURAL. in the Old Testament, the priests had the liberty of marriage; in the New Testament, the bishops or presbyters had the liberty of marriage, and Timothy and Titus are instructed by St. Paul to select married men for the clerical office (1 Timothy 3:2, 1 Timothy 3:4; Titus 1:6).

II. IT Is MORE PRIMITIVE. The misinterpretation of St. Paul's words, "the husband of one wife" (which, rightly interpreted, mean "a man faithful to one woman"), led in early time to the Greek discipline; but the Latin practice, condemned by the Greeks in the Council in Trullo, was not enforced upon the whole of the Western Church until the eleventh century, nor is it universal in it now.

III. IT IS MORE HUMAN. The attempt to crush instead of regulate God-given instincts, whether by philosophical sects or religious bodies, has always led to unspeakable evils. In the present case it has led to

IV. DUTIES CONNECTED WITH IT.

1. For each individual clergyman—to determine whether marriage will or will not "serve better to godliness" (Art. 32).

2. To select a wife who will be "a help meet for him" (Genesis 2:20).

3. To be "a man of one woman" (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6), that is, faithful to his wife.

4. To "rule well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity" (1 Timothy 3:4); "having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly" (Titus 1:6).

5. "To be diligent to form and fashion himself and his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make both himself and it, as much as in him lieth, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ" (Ordering of Priests).

6. For the wife and family—to follow his godly monitions, and to abstain from amusements of doubtful character or tendency.

V. MINOR ADVANTAGES ATTACHED TO IT. It gives occasion for the growth in the clergy of those graces of character which come from the cultivation and exercise of the affections—love, cheerfulness, self-restraint for the sake of others, hopes and fears for others—all of which are a prevention of selfishness. It gives a willing and unpaid body of assistants in ministerial work which, though not purely spiritual, has yet to be done by the clergy. It forms a natural link between the clergyman and his parishioners. It ensures the education of a considerable class throughout the country in the principles of religion. It spreads the practices of a religious household to households beyond the clergyman's home, by the natural effects of intermarriage and friendly intercourse. It gives a safe home to many girls seeking domestic service. It dissipates the false idea that the state of celibacy is a purer and more chaste condition than that of matrimony. It gives an opportunity of learning by experience the working of young people's minds and hearts, and women's feelings, which is not, as a rule, to be otherwise safely attained by the clergy.

HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR

Leviticus 21:1-24

Priestly qualifications.

cf. Hebrews 7:26-28; 1 Timothy 3:1-12. From the moralities of the common people we have now to pass to the morality of the priestly class. As special officers, they require special qualifications. Not that there are to be two moralities in the Church of God. This idea is most baneful. Rather do the Divine regulations contemplate the rise of the whole people eventually into an ideal, which both classes are only distantly striving after. The priests, by conforming to certain regulations, were really showing to the people what all should eventually be as the people of God. Keeping this in view, we may profitably notice three requisites of the priesthood.

I. PHYSICAL PERFECTION. God ordained that he should be served only by men physically perfect. A physical blemish disqualified a man from office, though not from support. This was surely to show that it is the perfect whom God purposes to gather around him. It is not descent nor connection, but personal perfection, which qualifies for Divine service.

Now, in this present life, the ideal was only once realized, viz. in the person of the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. He was physically and he was spiritually perfect. He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." In him, therefore, God secured a perfect servant.

And although God's servants do not as yet realize this idea of personal perfection, they are on the way to realize it. This constitutes the kernel of our Christian hope. The will of God is our sanctification; that is, our perfect adaptation in body, soul, and spirit for his service. Through the grace of God we are "going on to perfection," and a time is coming when we shall be presented "without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" before God. Hence we take this physical perfection required of the priests as a promise of perfection through grace in God's own time, that we may all serve him as priests in the sanctuary on high.

II. DOMESTIC PURITY. The Jewish priesthood were educated in the family for their work in the Church of God. Celibacy and isolation were not deemed conducive to sanctity of service. The priest was to be the head of a household, particular in selecting a pure and suitable wife, and ruling his household well. It may be safely asserted that it is only in such circumstances that a full experience of human nature and society can ordinarily be secured. The family is the Divine unit, the training-school for the larger society, the Church. Unless the priests, therefore, had a proper position at home, and governed properly their own households, they were not likely to rule well in the Church of God. Eli's case is surely one in point. A slack hand at home, he showed similar slackness in his public administration, and the interests of religion suffered.

And just as in the former case physical perfection betokened the personal perfection of the future life which the Lord's servants are to secure, so the domestic purity of the priesthood betokens the perfect society into which the Lord's people are to come. We see a similar adumbration of this in the New Testament direction about bishops and deacons being the husbands of proper wives and ruling their households well. The government in families is the preparation for the government in the Church of God. The reason is that the Church is the larger family. And so is the completed Church above to be a perfect family. We are on the way to a family circle and a family life of which the home circle on earth is the shadow. God wilt give his people the opportunity of serving him amid perfect social conditions.

It is in following up this thought that the Church collectively is likened to a pure and perfect bride—the Lamb's wife. It is the same thought which likens heaven to an everlasting home. And, indeed, society, as thus constituted and secured, is but the outcome of that Divine nature which, as a Trinity in unity, secured for itself perfect society from everlasting, and creates the same in the glorious purposes of grace. £

III. PUBLIC SPIRIT. We mention this as a third characteristic of the priesthood. This was illustrated in perfection by the high priest, who was to allow no private sorrow to interfere with his public service. The other priests were allowed more liberty in this regard, although theirs also had very definite limits; but the one great principle reinforced by these regulations was public spirit. The priest was to feel that, as a public officer, a representative man, it was his duty to sacrifice the personal and private to the common weal.

Now, it is instructive to observe that it was this principle which Jesus carried out all through. His life and death were the sacrifice of the private and the personal to the public need. The same spirit is imparted by the grace of God, and is more or less faithfully carried out by the Lord's people. Moreover, we are on the way to its perfect illustration in the felicities of the heavenly world. There none shall be for self or for a party, but all for the common weal. Lord Macaulay represents ancient Rome as the embodiment of public spirit.

"Then none was for a party:

Then all were for the State;

Then the great man helped the poor.

And the poor man loved the great;

Then lands were fairly portioned;

Then spoils were fairly sold:

The Romans were like brothers

In the brave days of old."

However faithfully this reflects the condition of things in the golden age of Rome, one thing is certain, that the public spirit it indicates shall have its perfect embodiment in the society above. Public life, divested of all suspicion of selfishness, will characterize God's redeemed ones. All personal and private interests shall then merge themselves in the common weal, and as his servants serve God, they shall see his face and live out his public spirit.—R.M.E.

HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD

Leviticus 21:1-24

Law of holiness for the priests.

In all circumstances and relations of life the priests must be an example of purity. The higher the office, the more conspicuous the example, and therefore the more solemn the duty of preserving both body and soul from defilement.

I. THE BLAMELESSNESS OF THE MINISTRY A NECESSITY OF THE CHURCH'S LIFE.

1. Spiritual leaders a natural requirement and a Divine appointment. We want teachers both in word and act. The priesthood of the old dispensation was abolished, but in the new there are those who, both by their superior knowledge and piety and by their consecration of life to the sanctuary, become the responsible leaders of the Church.

2. An impure priesthood the greatest calamity to the cause of religion. Like priest, like people. The corruptions of the Middle Ages mainly traceable to the defilement of those who should have been first and foremost in faithfulness to truth and duty. The hindrance to the spread of Christianity now is largely the indifference and blindness and worldliness of those who serve the sanctuary. The life of the public representative of religion should be above reproach in all things.

II. GOD'S HOUSE AND CAUSE SHOULD HAVE THE CHOICEST AND BEST OF HUMAN CAPACITY AND ENERGY DEVOTED TO IT.

1. That the Church itself may be edified and become a praise unto God. Our religion demands and satisfies our highest efforts. The truth of God's Word is inexhaustible food for the mind and delight to the heart. Endless scope for the development of human powers in the service of God. Worship should be spotlessly pure, a glorifying of humanity in the light of Divine favour.

2. The world is won to God, not by hiding the graces of God's people, but by making the light to shine before men. No limit to the demand upon the talents and energies of the Church. We should urge those naturally gifted and superior to take their proper places. Yet natural defects can be wonderfully supplied by special Divine gilts. Much work has been done by the physically weak, and even by those whose characters were faulty.—R.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Leviticus 21:1-15

Distinctions and degrees in obligation.

In the kingdom of God there is, as a rule, but one law for all subjects. What applies to one applies to another. The same principles of righteousness are obligatory on both sexes, on all classes, conditions, nations, generations of men. This is importantly true; but it is a truth subject to certain not unimportant qualifications. Of this latter we have—

I. ILLUSTRATIONS IS THE MOSAIC LAW.

1. Respecting ceremonial defilement certain distinctions were drawn.

2. So, respecting marriage alliances:

II. THE ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS PRINCIPLE UNDER THE GOSPEL.

1. Respecting the avoidance of evil, we may say that

2. And respecting the contraction of intimate alliances, we may contend that

Leviticus 21:16-24

Unblemished service.

We gain three truths from these verses.

I. THE PRIMARY TRUTH, INTENDED FOR THE HEBREW NATION. The special instruction contained in this passage is that the altar of God was to be honoured in every possible way; therefore to be preserved from everything that would bring it into disregard; and therefore to be unapproached by any priest who had a bodily blemish. It was impossible for the people to dissociate the altar itself from those who ministered thereat; if, therefore, any physical disfigurement had been allowed, and those who were uncomely or misshapen had been permitted to officiate, the sacred ordinances of God would have suffered, in some degree, from the association in thought of the man with the thing. The priest with a blemish might not "come nigh unto the altar,… that he profane not my sanctuaries" (Leviticus 21:23). We may learn, in passing, that it is almost impossible to overestimate the influence for good or ill which is unconsciously exerted by those who minister, in any function, in the Church of Christ on the popular estimate of their office.

II. THE SECONDARY TRUTH, APPLICABLE TO US ALL. In a typical system it is necessary that the body should frequently represent the soul, the organs of the one picturing the faculties of the other. The requirement of a perfect bodily frame on the part of those who "approached to offer the bread of their God" (Leviticus 21:17), intimated to them, and now indicates to us, the essential and eternal truth that the beast is to be brought to the service of God: not that with which we can most easily part, but the very best that we can bring.

1. Not the unattractive service ("flat nose," "scabbed," etc.), but that which is as beautiful and inviting in its form as we can make it.

2. Not unacquaintance with our subject ("a blind man"), but the fullest possible acquisition and understanding.

3. Not an example which is defective, a walking which is irregular (a "lame man," "crookbackt"), but an upright, honourable demeanour, "walking in the commandments of the Lord blameless."

4. Not a feeble and faltering delivery ("brokenhanded"), but a facile, skilful "handling of the Word of God." We may note, before we pass, that the God whom we serve is expectant, but is not inconsiderate. He who refuses to allow a priest with any blemish "to approach to offer the bread of his God," expressly desired that such priest should "eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy" (Leviticus 21:22); be might not serve, but he should not suffer, on account of a bodily misfortune. God requires of us that, in approaching him, we should bring not our exhaustion but our freshness, not our hurried but our patient preparation, not our remnants but our substance, not our worthless belongings but our worthiest self; at the same time, he makes every allowance for our weakness, our infirmity, our human feebleness and frailty: "he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust."

III. A FURTHER TRUTH, RELATING TO THE FUTURE LIFE. We dare not hope to render to God any absolutely unblemished, service here. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves" (1 John 1:8). Here our holiest services are marred by spiritual imperfection. It should be our aim, our prayer, our endeavour, to make our worship, our work, and our life as little blemished as may be; to make all our service as elevated in spirit and motive as may be; and doing this, we may look confidently and joyously onward to the time when "his servants shall serve him" in the very fullness of their strength and joy, and when their service shall be not only undimmed by any gathering tear, but unstained with any rising thought of sin.—C.

HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD

Leviticus 21:1-24

The perfection of the priesthood.

The priests, when officiating, and eminently so the high priest, were types of Christ. It was, therefore, needful that they should be holy and without blemish. They were also types of Christians, in which capacity also they must be holy, for true Christians are so, though not always without blemish. In any case, then—

I. THE PRIESTS MUST BE HOLY.

1. They must be holy, as types of Christ.

2. They must not defile themselves by mourning for the dead.

3. They must be holy in their marriage.

II. THE PRIESTS MUST BE WITHOUT BLEMISH.

1. Those who typified Christ must be so.

2. Blemished priests might represent Christians.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Leviticus 21:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/leviticus-21.html. 1897.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
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