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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 21

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


The Law of Holiness (Leviticus 17-27).

The main section of the Book of Leviticus is constructed on a definite pattern. It commences with a description of the offerings and sacrifices of Israel (chapters 1-7), and ends with a description of the times and seasons as they are required of Israel (chapters 23-25). It continues with the establishment of the priesthood (chapters 8-10), which is balanced by the section on the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (chapters 21-22). This is then followed by the laws of uncleanness (chapters 11-15) which are balanced by the laws of holiness (chapters 17-20). And central to the whole is the Day of Atonement (chapter 16).

This second part of the book has been spoken of as ‘The Holiness Code’. We may balance this by calling chapters 1-15 ‘The Priestly Code’. The first part certainly has a priestly emphasis, for the priests control the offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7) and administer the laws of cleanness and uncleanness (chapters 11-15), and the second part a holiness emphasis. But this must not be over-emphasised. The whole book is mainly addressed to the people, it is for their benefit as God’s covenant people, and the maintenance of the holiness of the priests is just as important in the second half. It is to be seen as a whole.

We may thus analyse it as follows (note the chiasm):

1). THE PRIESTLY CODE (chapters 1-15).

a) Offerings and Sacrifices (chapters 1-7) b) Establishment of the Priesthood (chapters 8-10) c) The Laws of Cleanness and Uncleanness (chapters 11-15)

2) THE DAY OF ATONEMENT (Leviticus 16:0)

3) THE HOLINESS CODE (chapters 17-25)

c) The Laws of Holiness (chapters 17-19) b) Maintenance of the Holiness of the Priesthood (chapters 20-22) a) Times and Seasons (chapters 23-25).

As will be seen the Day of Atonement is central and pivotal, with the laws of cleanness and uncleanness and the laws of holiness on each side. This central section is then sandwiched between the establishment of the priesthood (chapters 10-12) and the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (chapters 20-22). And outside these are the requirements concerning offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7) and the requirements concerning times and seasons (chapters 23-25).

So the Holiness Code may be seen as a suitable description of this second half of the book as long as we do not assume by that that it was once a separate book. The description in fact most suitably applies to chapters 19-22. It describes what Israel is to be, as made holy to Yahweh.

It was as much a necessary part of the record as what has gone before. The Book would have been incomplete without it. The Book of Leviticus is, as it claims, the record of a whole collection of revelations made to Moses at various times, brought together in one book, and carefully constructed around the central pivot of the Day of Atonement. There is no good reason for doubting this, and there are possible indications of colophons to various original records which help to substantiate it. It was the necessary basis for the establishment of the religion of Yahweh for a conglomerate people.

So having in what we know of as the first sixteen chapters of the Book laid down the basis of offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7), the establishment of the Priesthood (chapters 8-10), the laws of cleanness and uncleanness (chapters 11-15), and the requirements of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:0), the whole would have been greatly lacking had Moses not added some further detail of the holiness that God required of His people and of His priests.

The former is contained in Leviticus 17:1 to Leviticus 20:27. In this section Moses deals with the sacredness of all life (Leviticus 17:0), the sexual relationships which can defile (Leviticus 18:0), and the positive requirements for holiness in the covenant (Leviticus 19-20).

It is then followed by the further section dealing with the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (Leviticus 21:1 to Leviticus 22:16), with Leviticus 22:17-33 forming a transition from speaking to the priests to speaking to the people.

Chapters 23-25 then deal with sacred times and seasons, including the seven day Sabbath (Leviticus 23:1-3), the set feasts of Israel (Leviticus 23:4-44), the daily trimming of the lamps and the weekly offering of showbread (Leviticus 24:1-9), the Sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:1-7), and the year of Yubile (Leviticus 25:8-55). Included in this is a practical example of blasphemy against the Name (Leviticus 24:10-23), which parallels the practical example of priestly blasphemy in Leviticus 10:1-7. Thus practical examples of the blasphemy of both priests and people are included as warnings.

Leviticus 26:0 seals the book with the promises of blessings and cursings regular in covenants of this period, and closes with the words ‘these are the statutes and judgments and laws which Yahweh made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses’ (Leviticus 26:46). Leviticus 27:0 is then a postscript on vows and how they can lawfully be withdrawn from, and closes with a reference to tithing, the sanctifying of a tenth of all their increase to Yahweh.

Chapters 11-15 dealt with the uncleannesses of Israel, leading up to the Day when all uncleannesses were atoned for (Leviticus 16:0). But the Day of Atonement covered far more than those. It covered every way in which the covenant had been broken. It also covers the direct transgressions of Israel. Leviticus 17:0 onwards therefore deals further with the basis of the covenant against which they ‘transgressed’ and for which they also needed atonement. Chapters 11-15 dealt with practical matters considering what was ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ as they faced daily life, these chapters from 17 onwards now deal with the basis on which they should live their lives as Yahweh’s holy people, and the attitudes that they should have. They deal with prospective sin and disobedience. The former were more within the cultic section up to Leviticus 16:0, but the latter are firmly directed at the people’s moral response, so that their responsibilities under the covenant might be made clear directly to them. The distinction must not be overpressed. They are all still, of course, cultic, but the latter from a less direct viewpoint. They do not have so much to do with priestly oversight. They come more under the jurisdiction of the elders.

There is, however, no change of direction in overall thought. The whole of Leviticus emphasises holiness from start to finish. There is not a change of emphasis only a change of presentation because God is now directly involving the people.

It must, however, be firmly asserted that, as we shall see in the commentary, there is nothing in what follows that requires a date after the time of Moses. Having been given by God control of a conglomerate people (Exodus 12:38), with a nucleus made up of descendants from the family and family servants of the patriarchs (Exodus 1:0 - ‘households’), he had to fashion them into a covenant keeping nation under Yahweh and provide the basis on which they could be one nation and kept in full relationship with their Overlord. It was precisely because the disparate peoples believed that his words came from God that they were willing mainly to turn their backs on their past usages and customs and become one nation under Yahweh, culminating in them all being circumcised into the covenant when they entered the land (Joshua 5:0).

And with such a conglomeration of people with their differing religious ideas, customs and traditions, it is clear that this could only have been successfully achieved by putting together a complete religious system which was a revelation from Yahweh, which would both keep them together as one people and would ensure that when they reached Canaan they would have no excuse for taking part in the Canaanite religious practises such as he knew of from his time of administration in Egypt and from his time with the Priest of Midian. Had they arrived in Canaan without a single binding system, they would soon have fallen prey (as they almost did anyway) to the attractions of Canaanite religion. It was only the firm foundation that Moses had laid (combined with God’s own powerful activities) that finally resulted in their rising above their backslidings, and in their constantly turning back to Yahwism, because Moses had rooted it so deeply within them. And this finally enabled the establishing of the nation under Samuel and David after times of great turmoil.

This system did not come all at once. He had to begin instructing them soon after the crossing of the Reed Sea (Exodus 15:26), and a system gradually grew up (Exodus 17:13-16) as they went along, based as we learn later on a tent of meeting set outside the camp (Exodus 33:7-11), until at Sinai the book of the covenant (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:33) was written down as a result of God’s words to the people and to Moses. Then in his time in the Mount this was expanded on. But it would continue to be expanded on in the days to come, until the time came when Moses knew that he had to accumulate in one record all the regulations concerning sacrifices, priesthood and the multitude of requirements that went along with them. By this time he had much material to draw on.

For leaders from different groups had no doubt been constantly coming to him for direction and leadership (Exodus 16:22), and especially for those who were not firmly established in the customs of Israel he no doubt had to deal with a wide number of diversified queries, and seek God’s will about them. This explains why sometimes the collections may not always seem as having been put together in as logical order as they might have been. They partly depended on what questions he had been asked, and what particular problems had arisen, and what particular issues were important at the time. But it was on the basis of all this activity that we have the Book of Leviticus as a part of the wider Pentateuch.

Chapter 21. Instructions Concerning The Maintenance of the Holiness of the Priests.

Having laid down the basic principles behind the covenant as regards the people and their holiness, Moses now turns again to the priests. In so doing we remind ourselves of the pattern around which Leviticus is built. It began with the laws relating to sacrifice (chapters 1-7), continued with the consecration of the priests (8-10), which was then followed by the laws of cleanness and uncleanness for the people (chapters 11-15), leading up to the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:0). This was then followed by the laws of ritual and moral holiness for the people chapters 17-20), which is now followed by instructions re the maintenance of the holiness of the priests (chapters 21-22), a reversal of the order in the first part, which will then be followed by laws relating to the ritual requirements on the nation with regard to times and seasons (chapters 23-25). It is of a basic chiastic construction. Leviticus 26:0 then closes off with the blessings and curses which were a normal ending to covenants around the time of Moses in 2nd millennium BC, and Leviticus 27:0 is a postscript in respect of vows.

The sections concerning the people are thus sandwiched within the ministry of the priests. The priesthood is given responsibility for them, and their holiness is therefore of prime importance.

This is brought out here in that this section is divided into subsections by the phrase “For I am Yahweh, Who sanctifies them,” or similar (Leviticus 21:8; Leviticus 21:15; Leviticus 21:23; Leviticus 22:9; Leviticus 22:16; Leviticus 22:32), stressing the exceptional importance of the fact that the priests must be holy (although they are not the only ones - Leviticus 20:8). They are God’s specially set apart ones, set apart to holiness.

As Christians we too are His priests ( 1Pe 1:5 ; 1 Peter 1:9; Revelation 1:6) and sanctified by Him so that our lives too might be pure and clean, and might reveal His praise and glory. We too therefore must ensure that we avoid all that might defile us.

Verses 1-7

The Priests Must Not Defile Themselves Unless Absolutely Necessary.

The priesthood was the essential link between Yahweh and His people. They were therefore to be especially careful in the maintenance of holiness so that they might fulfil their functions before a holy God. Great was their privilege, but great the demands made on them. Humanly speaking the holiness of God’s people depended on them.

The Requirements for Exceptional Holiness For the Priesthood (Leviticus 21:1-7 ).

A). Avoidance of Contact With The Dead (Leviticus 21:1-4 ).

Especially must they avoid coming in contact with death. To come in contact with a dead body was to become unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11-13), for as has been apparent in the laws of uncleanness death was the opposite of all that Yahweh stood for. He was Lord of life. This would render a priest inoperative over that period.

He was thus totally to avoid all contact with the dead, in order to prevent himself from being ‘defiled’. He was not free to do as he would. He was ‘holy’. Contact with the dead was a major source of uncleanness for a man. It lasted seven days. So the stress on the need to avoid this uncleanness, includes within it the idea that they should avoid all lesser uncleanness (as will be demonstrated later). They were ever to remain clean. The only exception was where close family relationships made it necessary

Leviticus 21:1-3

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them, None shall defile himself for the dead among his people, except for his kin, who is near to him, for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, and for his daughter, and for his brother, and for his sister a virgin, who is near to him, who has had no husband, for her may he defile himself.”

So the priest was to avoid all contact with the dead apart from near kin. These comprised father, mother, son, daughter, brother or a virgin sister who has no one else responsible for her. Where she was married the latter was her husband’s responsibility. For these he could be responsible for their mourning and burial. This both emphasises proper respect for close kin, and the need for continuing purity in all other cases. There is no mention of his wife. This is quite usual (compare Exodus 20:10). That she was included would be assumed. She was of one flesh with him.

Leviticus 21:4

“He shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.”

And the reason for these extreme precautions is given, his prominence as a ‘chief man’ among the people, someone set apart from the ordinary with a principal function. This made it important that he did not profane himself by making himself unable to operate in fulfilment of his responsibilities. Those who have the greatest responsibility must exercise the greatest care in maintaining a worthiness necessary for the fulfilment of their responsibilities.

While not forbidden to touch dead bodies, those who would serve God most truly today must avoid all contact with anything that is unseemly to God. Their eyes too should be turned away from the mundane to seek those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1-3). They should be taken up with the things of eternal life, not with the things of death through trespasses and sins. They are to look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18). For they know that they are passed from death to life because they love their Christian brothers and sisters (1 John 3:14), and that love should permeate their whole lives. They must throw all their weight into things to do with life and purity. Their thoughts must be on whatever things are true, honourable, righteous, pure, lovely and gracious (Philippians 4:8). Like the priests they are to be separated to God.

B). Avoidance of Pagan Cultic Acts (Leviticus 21:5 ).

Leviticus 21:5

“They shall not make baldness on their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.”

Nor were they were ever to profane themselves by engaging in activities and dress that were foreign to Yahweh’s ways. These included shaving their heads, trimming their beards in any fashion that might be connected with idolatry, and making cuttings in their flesh (compare 1 Kings 18:28). All these were pagan methods of representing a state of mourning or seeking to influence deity (see also 19:27-28), and may also have been utilised on other religious occasions. All were forbidden. They would be seen as blemishes which would render them ineligible to enter the sanctuary, for they would declare that they were not Yahweh’s men, but defiled by paganism.

The ‘baldness’ mentioned here is probably the same as the ‘rounding of the corners of the head’ in Leviticus 19:27, and may have reference to offering the hairs of the head to the dead to help them maintain some form of life among the dead shades of the underworld. Later the shaving of the full head was seen as a legitimate sign of mourning (Isaiah 22:12; Amos 8:10; Micah 1:16). But that had no such idolatrous connections, and was simply a way of expressing a sense of bereftness and distress.

Thus those who would serve God truly must abstain from anything that is doubtful in the ‘spiritual’ realm, seeking only to God Himself. Anything to do with the occult is to be seen by the Christian as taboo, as something not to be touched and to be avoided. For we are Christ’s, and our lives are hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3)

The Requirement Not To Render Common God’s Name But To Be Holy As Befits Their Sacred Responsibilities (Leviticus 21:6 ).

Leviticus 21:6

“They shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God; for the offerings of Yahweh made by fire, the bread of their God, do they offer. Therefore they shall be holy.”

For the priests were to be seen as holy to God, and must not degrade Him by making Him seem like other supposed gods, or bringing death into His presence. They were to avoid anything that might profane His name, that is, might wrongly represent how He was seen and what He was, anything that would hide how different He was. For they were the ones who offered to God ‘the offerings of Yahweh made by fire, the bread of their God’. They were His chosen servants. So in order to be fitted for this holy task they must be holy, and set apart from all that is related to death and to paganism, and all that misrepresents Him. (Mourning was given as the extreme example).

“The bread of their God do they offer.” The word ‘bread’ (lechem) refers to the staple food of a people. It can refer to such diverse things as honey (1 Samuel 14:24) and goat’s milk (Proverbs 27:27). Compare Leviticus 21:22 where the priests eat ‘the bread of their God’. It is therefore a general expression for sacrificial offerings through which God makes food available for His priests.

In Leviticus 24:9 the bread of the presence which is mainly eaten by the priests is described as an offering made by fire to Yahweh. That may be in mind here. In Exodus 29:25 the whole burnt offering and the bread combined are an offering made by fire to Yahweh, compare with Exodus 21:32 where the priests eat it. In Numbers 28:2 where God speaks of ‘my offering and my bread’ it refers to the morning and evening sacrifices, offered with the grain offering part of which is partaken of by the priests. See also Leviticus 3:11; Leviticus 3:16, where the offering is called ‘the bread/food of the offering made by fire’. But it does not indicate food for God Himself. God Himself is always from the very beginning depicted as receiving the pleasing odour, not as eating the sacrifices. It is specifically and constantly stated that it is the priests who eat the offerings and sacrifices, and the bread and grain, that can be eaten. And that is why they must be holy.

We too are to be concerned for the name and reputation of God. By our lives we are to bring glory to Him (1 Corinthians 10:31), and to avoid anything that would besmirch His name (1 Peter 4:14-16). Rather we are to show forth the excellencies of His Who has called us out of darkness into His most marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9), and by our good works glorify our Father Who is in Heaven (Matthew 5:16)..

The Requirement To Marry A Suitable Woman (Leviticus 21:7 ).

Leviticus 21:7

“They shall not take a woman that is a harlot, or profane, nor shall they take a woman put away from her husband, for he is holy to his God.”

The priests must also have no sexual contact with ‘second-hand’ women. Because the priests are holy they must not marry a prostitute, whether cult or otherwise, or a woman with a reputation for not being godly (or possibly an alien woman who had not entered within the covenant), or a divorced woman, who was still seen as in some way ‘one’ with her divorced husband. Their wives must be of good repute and virginal, as they came from the hand of God, fitted in purity to be the wives of God’s servants. Seemingly, however, they could marry widows of good repute (contrast verse 13). Such were no longer one with their husbands because the death of their husbands had removed the oneness.

In the same way those who would serve God truly must beware of whom they marry. Not only should they avoid marrying a non-Christian (2 Corinthians 6:14), they should look for chastity and purity and a right attitude of heart towards God. A man or woman’s future can be made or broken by the partner that they marry.

Verse 8

Thus He Is To Be Kept Apart From The Run Of Men (Leviticus 21:8 ).

Leviticus 21:8

“You (s) shall sanctify him therefore; for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy to you, for I, Yahweh, who sanctify you, am holy.”

These words are spoken to either Moses or Israel as a whole. Yahweh is thus telling Moses to ‘sanctify’ (make holy) each priest by strictly requiring of him a life of purity and separateness from all that was unclean, precisely because he offers and eats the bread of his God. Moses had a continual responsibility, while he was alive, to watch over the holiness of the priests. If the reference is to Israel then ‘sanctify’ probably means ‘see as holy’. This was so that each one would be holy in Moses’ eyes, and therefore in Israel’s eyes, just as Yahweh, Who Himself sanctifies both Moses and Israel, is holy, and is to be seen as holy in their eyes. All was to be holiness.

“For I, Yahweh, who sanctify you, am holy.” This is the first of a number of similar phrases which end each of the divisions in this section, stressing the unique position of the priests (compare Leviticus 21:15; Leviticus 21:23; Leviticus 22:9; Leviticus 22:16; Leviticus 22:32). As His priests they had to be like Him and truly represent Him as the Holy One.

Verse 9

The Behaviour Of Priests’ Daughters (Leviticus 21:9 ).

Leviticus 21:9

“And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the harlot, she profanes her father. She shall be burned with fire.”

The thought of the priest not marrying a prostitute leads on to the possible danger of a priest’s daughter becoming a prostitute by virtue of her situation. As probably in the case of the worship of the golden calf (‘rose up to play’ - Exodus 32:6) it is clear that many people, even those with priestly connections, were ever in danger of desiring to participate in sexual rites connected with idolatry, possibly revering them as a kind of religious expression. And they would see sexual union with a priest’s daughter as the most desirable kind of such an expression. They had clearly had much contact with such sentiments and tended to revert to them. Such ideas had an understandable magnetic attraction. But they were forbidden to Israel, and especially to a priest’s daughter.

If a priest’s daughter was therefore encouraged by some to act in this way, and did so, she would be profaning her father, bringing shame on him and connecting him with worship that was both crude and unacceptable, and she must therefore be burned with fire. This punishment is on a par with that for a man marrying both mother and daughter at the same time (Leviticus 20:14), and for sinning in sacred things (Joshua 7:25). She would be being ‘devoted’ to Yahweh because she had sinned in a sacred thing. A priest’s family members were seen as holy, and must behave so.

In the New Testament also the failure of a child to live rightly always brings disrepute on its parents and makes them unfitted for ministry. See 1 Timothy 3:11; Titus 1:6. They are a reflection of their parents. Our children reveal what we are.

Verses 10-15

The Special Case Of The High Priest (Leviticus 21:10-15 ).

There was one for whom there were no exceptions. His position was so high and so privileged that he must seek to avoid all contact with death under any circumstance.

Leviticus 21:10-12

“And he who is the high priest among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil is poured, and who is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not let the hair of his head go loose, nor rend his clothes, nor shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother; nor shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God. For the crown of the anointing oil of his God is on him. I am Yahweh.”

The High Priest especially is unique. He represents the whole of Israel continually before God, and is the anointed one of Yahweh. He alone has been consecrated to wear the holy garments. He stands alone. His holiness therefore is of primary concern and must be preserved at all costs and at all times. He must avoid anything that might lessen his ability to fulfil his function at any time.

He therefore must not show signs of mourning, or touch a dead body, not even that of his father and mother (compare the Nazarite while under his vow - Numbers 7:7-8). He must not leave the sanctuary for this purpose, nor carry signs of death within the sanctuary. For he bears the crown of the anointing oil of his God. Yahweh is ‘the One Who is’, the living God, to Whom death and all connected with it is a stranger. The High Priest must therefore avoid all such contact. He must be seen to be on Yahweh’s side of things at all times.

Leviticus 21:13-14

“And he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or one divorced, or a profane woman, a harlot, these shall he not take, but a virgin of his own people shall he take to wife.”

He may only marry a virgin, the purest of the pure. He must not marry a widow, or a divorcee, or a godless, careless living, woman (or possibly a ‘foreigner’ not within the covenant), or a prostitute for they are all blemished by their state. They are not pristine. Thus sex itself was not seen as sinful, although he would have to restrict sexual relations to ensure that he was ‘clean’ whenever he was likely to be needed for sanctuary worship, for such relations did convey temporary uncleanness (Leviticus 15:16), which was clearly allowed even in his case as long as he was not required for duty.

Leviticus 21:15

“And he shall not profane his seed among his people, for I am Yahweh who sanctifies him.”

For to produce children through such would be to make them reduced in holiness in the eyes of the people. They would not have their due respect nor be fitted for High Priesthood. Thus all connected with the High Priest must be whiter than white.

And the High Priest must be like this because it is the Holy One, Yahweh, Who sanctifies him, and has anointed him to this position, and because he represents Yahweh to the people.

Those who would serve God most truly will like the High Priest put away all things that could hinder their work and service for God. The High Priest had the choice of being the best for God, and that is what he was called to. He had to put aside all that could be a hindrance. We are also called on to choose the best. It is those who seek the best who will be the best for Him.

Verses 16-24

No Blemished Person May Be A Fully Officiating Priest (Leviticus 21:16-24 ).

The reason for this requirement is to bring out that only what is ‘perfect’ may directly enter the sanctuary of Yahweh, or serve in it, demonstrating the perfection of the sanctuary. The relationship to God of the blemished priests is not affected, only the particular service for God in the sanctuary. The centre of the circle of holiness must be seen to be supremely ‘holy’, a place of total perfection, in order to bring out visually that Yahweh is ‘perfect’.

We must recognise here that what was physically so, what could be seen, was considered in those days to be extremely important. They had no solely spiritual conception of things. Thus what God was, was seen as depicted by what surrounded Him, and that had therefore to be ‘perfect’ (as perfect as possible) in order to demonstrate His perfection.

Leviticus 21:16

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

God continually speaks to Moses. In spite of Aaron’s supreme position he was not God’s spokesman. That privilege rested with Moses. And when there was a word for Aaron and his sons it came through Moses, except for the special admonition in Leviticus 10:8. This careful usage is against seeing the headings as merely a formality, or even ‘a pious hoax’.

Leviticus 21:17

“Speak to Aaron, saying, Whoever of your seed throughout their generations has a blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God.”

No one obviously blemished must approach God to offer the offerings as priests, to offer the ‘food of God’ which would come as a pleasing odour to Yahweh and of which the priests might eat. ‘Bread’ (lechem) refers to the staple food of a people. It can refer to such diverse things as honey (1 Samuel 14:24) and goat’s milk (Proverbs 27:27). Compare Leviticus 21:22 where the priests eat the bread of their God. It is therefore a general expression for sacrificial offerings through which God receives worship and tribute from His people and makes food available for His priests.

Leviticus 21:18-21

“For whatever man he is who has a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he who has a flat nose, or an overlong limb, or a man who is broken-footed, or broken-handed, or crook-backed (or possibly ‘misshapen-browed’), or a dwarf (or ‘consumptive’ - the word is used of the lean cows in Genesis 41:3), or who has a blemish in his eye, or is scurvied, or scabbed, or has his stones broken; no man of the seed of Aaron the priest, who has a blemish, shall come near to offer the offerings of Yahweh made by fire. He has a blemish. He shall not come near to offer the bread of his God.”

A list of possible blemishes is now given. We are not sure in a number of cases of the correct translation or the state described, but the general principle is clear. Whoever was looked on as blemished was to be excluded. It was no reflection on the individuals, it was how people saw it that mattered. It was they on whom the impression of holiness was to be made.

Leviticus 21:22-23

“He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy, only he shall not go in unto the veil, nor come near to the altar, because he has a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries. For I am Yahweh who sanctifies them.”

They were not excluded from the privileges of priesthood, only from the carrying out of its ministry in the sanctuary. Thus they could partake of the priestly offerings, even those which were most holy of which only the priests could partake. But they were excluded from the Holy Place, from approaching the veil, and from approaching the altar to minister on it. They could, however, presumably carry out the teaching and judicial functions which were incumbent on the priests.

“My sanctuaries.” The sanctuary and the outer sanctuary containing the altar, that is, the tabernacle court.

“For I am Yahweh who sanctifies them.” Again we are reminded that they are the sanctified of Yahweh, those totally set apart by Him in His service, and for His purposes. And He could only sanctify for the sanctuary what was outwardly ‘perfect’. This stress continues throughout the section.

Leviticus 21:24

‘So Moses spoke to Aaron, and to his sons, and to all the children of Israel.’

The importance of these restrictions with regard to the priesthood is such that they end with this confirmatory statement. This then especially is what Moses spoke to Aaron and his sons and to all Israel. The purity of the priesthood was vital.

Thankfully for us it is not blemishes like this which will in our case prevent our full approach to God. Rather are we restricted by the blemishes in our hearts. Spiritual crookedness, blindness, deafness, dumbness, smallness, distortedness, are all things which prevent us from being heard by God and from serving Him.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 21". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/leviticus-21.html. 2013.
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