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Leviticus 21-22: More on Priests

Original Publication Date
February 27, 2016
Updated
Jan 10, 2023 1:31 AM
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LeviticusChapter StudyPriesthoodLeviRelationships
Bible References
Leviticus 21-22
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Table of Contents
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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on February 27, 2016 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.

Introduction

The priesthood was crucial to Israel's relationship with God, especially since the priests were only people allowed to approach God. Unlike Jesus, the Levites were not perfect so it was important for them to perform rituals for their own cleanliness. Leviticus 21 and 22 expand upon the behavioral conduct God expects from the priests.

Priests Cannot...

The priests were forbidden to touch the dead, unless it was a close blood relative. With sisters and daughters, they were only permitted to touch the corpse if the woman was virginal or divorced/widowed with no children (otherwise it would be the responsibility of the husband or children to move the body). Also, they were not supposed to shave their head or the corner of their beard. Priests were not to profane the name of God.

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No one is supposed to profane the name of God, but it is especially called out for priests as they were the representatives and β€œstandard” of God for the people. The scrutiny is true for anyone with a platform who proclaims the name of God.

Marriage

Before the civil rights movement, most people considered interracial dating "an abomination," and many Christians tried to claim the Bible supported this idea. While the Bible does talk about whom to marry and whom not to marry, the Bible never condemns interracial marriage (probably because "race" doesn't really exist). Note that Moses, an Israelite, marries a women who is described as Ethiopian. Joseph also marries a non-Israelite, when he takes an Egyptian bride.

Marriage and Our Relationship with God

Who a person marries is very important; the Bible tells us that husband and wife are one flesh.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

One flesh means the share the same desires. Most husbands desire to make their wives happy, while most wives desire to make their husbands happy. A few weeks ago a video of Rev. Devon Franklin standing up for his wife's (Megan Good) immodest clothing went viral. Beneath the video was a comment in which a person claimed a man's wife came before God. Not only did this person believe it was alright to put a person before God, people agreed with this person! God already said no one was to come before Him, that is the first of the 10 Commandments. The New Testament continues discussing how family affects our relationship with God.

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I pointed out the example of Devon Franklin and Megan Good (now divorced) to illustrate how we our desires often shift to place our spouse above God.
36 And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.Β 37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.Β 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.Β 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.Β 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.Β 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:Β 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.Β 34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

As you can see from the above quotes, who someone marries has a direct impact on their relationship with God. In 1 Corinthians 7:1 and 1 Corinthians 7:8, we are told it is better not to marry, the statements listed above are presumably the reasons why. Just as we can sway a spouse toward God, a spouse can lead us away from God.

A Priest's Wife

For this reason, it was crucial that God explain to the priests which women would be acceptable wive to maintain their relationship with God. (Remember if the priests were not righteous and maintaining their relationship with God, all of Israel would suffer.) Priests were not to take promiscuous women as wives (the KJV Bible uses the word "whore"). A question that could be asked is whether the word "whore" here is referring to her sexual life, her spiritual life, or both. The Bible consistently refers to idolatry as whoredom, so I'm not sure if God meant "whore" in this sense or if He meant "whore" in the way we mean the word today.

They shall not take a wife that is a whore, or profane; neither shall they take a woman put away from her husband: for he is holy unto his God.

Essentially, the wife of a priest was to be holy and righteous, like the priest. Priests were to take wives of their own people. While this implies exclusion of interracial marriage, we must remember 2 things:

  1. The Israelites were of mixed race. Moses' children had an Ethiopian mother, yet they were Israelites and of the people. Joseph's wife was Egyptian so the entire Tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim had Egyptian heritage as well.
  2. The purpose of this requirement was to keep the priesthood holy. Women from the surrounding areas were known to tempt the Israelites to idolatry. God's requirement for the priest to marry Israelite women was less about race and more about spirit/dedication to God.

Priests Today

Ministers, reverends, pastors, and priests of today are not quite the same as the priests of Moses' day, since our salvation is not really dependent upon their relationship with God or Christ (and they aren’t from a specific bloodline). Today's ministers are more like the apostles; their job is to teach us how to form our own relationship with God. Instructions for their married life are given in the New Testament (see 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). Protestant churches allow the church leadership (pastors, deacons, etc.) to be married, while Catholic churches forbid priests to marry. Yet, the fact that Levitical priests, including the high priest, were permitted to marry only proves that the notion of priests abstaining from marriage is ridiculous. While celibacy may be preferred to marriage when possible, particularly in leadership roles for the church (re: Jesus, Peter, and Paul), it is clearly not a Biblical requirement.

Priests Without Blemish

Only those descended from Aaron without blemish were to serve as priests. Blemishes are defined in Leviticus 21:16-24 and include men who are blind, lame, dwarfed, crookbackt, scurvy, scabbed, brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, as well as, men who have their stones broken, a flat nose or any thing superfluous. The exact definition of some of the terms is debated.

Some believe crookbackt to mean hunchback, while others believe it to mean brow/forehead.[1] Based on the sentence in which the word is found, I think the correct definition would be hunchbackβ€”what does it mean to be "brow?"

A "flat nose" is thought to mean split nose, which may be a reference to cleft palate.[1][2]

"Stones broken" is thought to refer to an ailment with the testicles.[1]

In total there are 12 blemishes that bar a descendant of Aaron from approaching the veil. The Israelites would later add to this list, creating a total of 142 blemishes.[1][3]

Note that only 12 are Biblical, and while those with blemish were denied the privilege carrying out an offering or approaching the veil, they were still recognized as part of the congregation and were not considered unclean. Those with blemish were still to eat the bread of God with the priests who were without blemish.

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From a modern perspective this seems pretty harsh. None of these physical characteristics were likely to be the fault of the person, nor do they testify of they person’s heart. However, I can see how functionally, it could be difficult to serve in the priesthood with certain disabilities. For instance, how was a blind man to give the offering or read the Torah? If a man could not walk, how was he to move about to perform priestly duties? Someone who was excessively short may not have been able to reach the altar, etc. I also believe this prohibition is about symbolism as well; disability is a reminder that sin exists in our world (not specific to the person or their family, but in general). In a perfect, sinless world, there would be no ailments of disabilities.

Purity

The holy place (the tabernacle, later, the temple) was to be pure and revered. As such priests who were in an unclean state were forbidden to enter; a priest who ignored this command and entered the holy place whilst unclean was to be cut off from the people. While priests were unclean they were also to refrain from eating holy food; this is further proof that those mentioned above were not viewed as unclean. Once the priest became clean again, he could resume his priestly duties.

Eating the Holy Food

The Israelites, especially priests, were not to eat animals that died on their own or were torn apart by other animals; only sacrificed animals were to be eaten. Eating animals that died naturally or by animals was to defile oneself.

The holy food was not to be eaten by strangers (foreigners), not even servants. Only those that became part of the family could eat the holy food this included those a priest bought with money (slaves). Interesting that in this regard, slaves were seen as more worthy than servants.[1]

When a priest's daughter married a stranger, she lost her right to partake of the holy food; it is not specified whether stranger refers to non-Israelite or someone not of the priestly lineage. If it refers to non-Israelite, it is not specified whether she is still permitted to eat the holy food if she marries an Israelite, while marrying a priest obviously gives her the right to eat the holy food. Widows and divorcees who returned to their father's house childless could resume eating the holy food.

Anyone who was not to eat the holy food, but did so by accident, was to offer a 1/5 part of it and give it to the priest.

Offerings Without Blemish

All offerings were to be without blemish. God gives examples of blemishes (broken, maimed, etc.) in Leviticus 22:21-25. This was to ensure God only received the best. Offerings were to be given freely. The Israelites were not to kill a mother and her calf on the same day.

The Thomas Nelson Study Bible suggests that castrated bulls were never accepted as offerings to God,[1] however, the wording of Leviticus 22:23 leads me to believe that it was accepted as a freewill offering but not for a vow. When Jesus died on the cross, He took on the role of perfect sacrifice, without blemish.

References and Footnotes

  1. Thomas Nelson Bible Publishers.Β KJV Study Bible. pg. 237-239. 1988
  2. "Flat Nose".Β Bible Gateway. 2016
  3. Holman Bible Publishers.Β Holman KJV Study Bible, pg. 212. 2014

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