Book of Leviticus Chapter
Twenty-One Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Rules For Priests
I don't mean to offend you, but you and I are poor imitations of what we are supposed to be. It's true for all who are priests or are in some other kind of service or authority. We are less than we should be. This chapter contains literal rules for priests of ancient Israel, but more—they are images, parables of how we are meant to be in relation to our Lord. We are to be perfect, except it's obvious that none of us are. Strangest and most wonderful of all is that the Father does see us as perfect through His grace, made possible by the faith He enables us to have in the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.
True mourning or its cousin grieving, is an involuntary emotional response caused by the loss of a person who completes us. When your loved one, your family member dies, it's like an amputation. Your identity is damaged. You become incomplete. Yet here is the Lord, beginning in Verse 1, informing the priesthood through Moses that, with certain exceptions, they were not to grieve the losses of those they love. In Verses 1-3, "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: 'No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his people, 2 except for his relatives who are nearest to him, his mother and his father and his son and his daughter and his brother, 3 also for his virgin sister, who is near to him because she has had no husband; for her he may defile himself.'" You can't turn your emotions off like a faucet, but here is the Lord, telling you not to express them at the most difficult of times.
The grieving priest, like everybody else, is subject to all sorts of unexpected emotions like outbursts of anger, and yet, in Verse 4, we find that he is not to grieve the loss of an in-law: "He shall not defile himself as a relative by marriage among his people, and so profane himself." You have to wonder, what about his wife who is not mentioned here? What if she dies? Does he mourn her, or is he supposed to be stoic, apparently unfeeling about her? And then it begins to dawn that this chapter, and Leviticus in its entirety, is a parable of something much more. God always intended that the priest and everyone else will ask Him questions, and when we do, God will answer them. In places like Ephesians 5:22-32 and Revelation 19:7, it is revealed that the spiritual relationship of Christ and the church is like a perfect marriage, full of joy and love, mixed with eternal understanding and grace. And the amazing reason why the wife is omitted here in this chapter of Leviticus, is that the wife, the church, is sustained by her Husband, the Christ, and she will never die.
Grief can bring a loss of emotional control, and self-destructive acts may result. Verse 5: "They shall not make any baldness on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts in their flesh." A haircut and shave doesn't sound so bad, but cutting, an activity that is making a resurgence in the modern world, is dangerous and disfiguring. Those who lose someone they love easily become angry at God and take it out on God's creation—themselves. They conclude, "He could have saved them." And He could have, revealing our need for faith more than ever. The Lord can do anything, but when He doesn't act in the way you want Him to, He has a plan for you and everyone concerned. The time is now to trust in Him. These words are especially for priests and others who represent the Lord on this earth, and as said in Verse 6: "They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God, for they present the offerings by fire to the Lord, the food of their God; so they shall be holy."
Keep in mind, as you read Verses 7-8, that God is presenting a parable, a picture of more: "They shall not take a woman who is profaned by harlotry, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for he is holy to his God. 8 You shall consecrate him, therefore, for he offers the food of your God; he shall be holy to you; for I the Lord, who sanctifies you, am holy." We have all been "profaned by harlotry" of one kind or another, whether it involves hatred, gossip, theft, or whatever form this "harlotry" might take. Faith in the Lord initiates a miracle of healing in the center of your being, leading to holiness and fitness for service to our Lord. The "woman" here is a parable, representing the faithful of God, pure in His sight, taken out of humanity and made holy for all eternity.
Verse 9 is scary in it's implications for it reads: "Also the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by harlotry, she profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire." We don't want this young woman to die, but there is even more involved here. What comes out of a person reveals a lot about them, and the wayward child is the product of the priest and his marriage. This verse is like a neon sign to the young minister who is about to start a family—be a good husband. Be a good, attentive, loving father. If you don't do well in these roles, it may well destroy you, your family and your ministry.
Verses 10-15 are aimed at the high priest, the one ostensibly in charge: "The priest who is the highest among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil has been poured and who has been consecrated to wear the garments, shall not uncover his head nor tear his clothes; 11 nor shall he approach any dead person, nor defile himself even for his father or his mother; 12 nor shall he go out of the sanctuary nor profane the sanctuary of his God, for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is on him; I am the Lord. 13 He shall take a wife in her virginity. 14 A widow, or a divorced woman, or one who is profaned by harlotry, these he may not take; but rather he is to marry a virgin of his own people, 15 so that he will not profane his offspring among his people; for I am the Lord who sanctifies him." The high priests of Israel were simply human beings like the rest of us, but their office was a parable of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Hebrews 7:26-27 describes Jesus in His role as our High Priest: "For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself." The high priests of Israel did not touch death, picturing that Christ and His church (the called out ones), will never die. His people are collectively viewed as a "virgin" because, in the sight of God, the substitutionary death of the Lord on the cross has given us a state of innocence, His innocence—we are sanctified, made holy by faith in Him who is holy in everything.
"Oh, no," you might think "this is terrible" in relation to Verses 16-21: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 17 Speak to Aaron, saying, 'No man of your offspring throughout their generations who has a defect shall approach to offer the food of his God. 18 For no one who has a defect shall approach: a blind man, or a lame man, or he who has a disfigured face, or any deformed limb, 19 or a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, 20 or a hunchback or a dwarf, or one who has a defect in his eye or eczema or scabs or crushed testicles. 21 No man among the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a defect is to come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a defect, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God." We live in a supposedly "enlightened" time, in which the less fortunate are to be given equal opportunity with everybody else. Yet here is the Lord saying to Moses that the blind, lame, disfigured, deformed, broken—any Levite who had some kind of lack could not serve the the Lord's holy sanctuary. Why was it so?
Previously, in relation to Moses' complaint that he lacked eloquence as his way of saying "No" to the ministry he was called to, the Lord replied in Exodus 4:10-12—"Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord?" Every seeming "mistake" in the world has a purpose, often greater than our human understanding. The "wrong" things you experience are not wrong at all. The Lord is doing a work in the lives of each one of us, intended to lead us out of callousness and unbelief, delivering us to faith and love. In the case of those Levites who could not serve, the Lord had purposes for all concerned, that His work might be accomplished, and we must remember that the priest of that time was a parable of the Messiah who was to come, our High Priest, perfect in all His ways.
Verses 22-23: "He may eat the food of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy, 23 only he shall not go in to the veil or come near the altar because he has a defect, so that he will not profane My sanctuaries. For I am the Lord who sanctifies them." Notice that provision for food was made for the less fortunate among the priests of Israel. You and I are imperfect. Each one of us has a disability that may be undetectable to medical science or our contemporaries, but it is there. We are disturbingly unintelligent in comparison to God and we each lack something important, withheld so we might see our need of God. And if we aren't as perfect as we would like to be, we CAN be faithful to the ministry assigned to us by Almighty God, as was Moses in Verse 24: "So Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the sons of Israel." He didn't embellish anything. He didn't add to the Lord's words, but simply reported what he had seen and heard. Keep it simple—merely say and do as the Lord has led you, and you will be blessed—now and forever.
Father, You have given us Your Son, who is perfect in all His ways. We confess our imperfection and trust in Him, knowing He is the Way to God. Save us, heal us and use us in Your service. In Jesus Name. Amen.