Leviticus 21
William Kelly Major Works Commentary
And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto the priests the sons of Aaron, and say unto them, There shall none be defiled for the dead among his people:
Leviticus Chapter 21



Leviticus 21:1-9.

Here are given injunctions for securing holiness in the Aaronic priesthood. They are of course of a fleshly sort like the priests themselves; but as usual they shadow better things, when Christ came the High priest of good things to come; then the priesthood being changed, there was made of necessity a change also of the law.

" 1 And Jehovah said to Moses, Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them, There shall none defile himself for a dead one (soul) among his peoples, 2 except for his kin that is near to him - for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, and for his daughter, and for his brother, 3 and for his sister a virgin, that is near to him, who hath had no husband, for her he may defile himself. 4 He shall not make himself unclean, [being] a chief among his peoples, to profane himself. 5 They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh. 6 They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God; for they offer the fire-offerings of Jehovah, the bread of their God; therefore shall they be holy. 7 They shall not take to wife a harlot or one dishonoured; neither shall they take a woman put away from her husband; for he is holy to his God. 8 And thou shalt sanctify him; for the bread of thy God he offereth; he shall be holy to thee; for I, Jehovah, who sanctify you, am holy. 9 And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing, the harlot, she profaneth her father; she shall be burnt with fire" (vers. 1-9).

As duties flow from relationships, so do the first rise according to the second. It was because the sons of Aaron were priests and entered into the sanctuary as no ordinary Israelite could, that these ordinances were imposed on the sacerdotal family. For the first of all obligations is to God, who gives added weight to all the rest. Hence as God was unknown to the heathen, their ethics (and they are the moral code of philosophers to this day) were fundamentally defective. Israel too, being under law, might pursue but could not attain, just because it was "a law" of righteousness they pursued. It was of works, not of faith. Law works out, not love, but wrath. Therefore says the apostle, unlike those of faith, such as are of law-works are under the curse, instead of being blessed with the faithful Abraham. But the Christian has now (as the same apostle intimates in Rom. 4) the great advantage over even him, that Abraham did not go beyond promise, for no more then could be. He was fully persuaded that what God had promised, He was able also to perform; wherefore also it was accounted to him for righteousness. But we believe on Him that raised from out of the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered for our offences and was raised for our justification. The gospel is not mere promise but accomplishment, which much enhances the grace that is now enjoyed by faith.

We see then that the priest must not defile himself by approach to death, save for the near of kin which were carefully defined. Others might incur the effect; but it was not compatible with such as drew near to God's presence, the living God. For his immediate relation, he might defile himself: this the law suffered (2-4), for it made nothing perfect. But they must not, like the heathen, make baldness upon their head, nor shave off the corner of the beard, nor cut into their flesh, as those did who had no hope. God was in none of their thoughts which were ruled by demons, and these last excesses were forbidden to Israelites in general. They profaned the name of their God, and were intolerable in those who presented the fire-offerings of Jehovah, the bread of their God as He graciously called them.

But some living ones were also forbidden to the priests: a harlot, a dishonoured woman under a cloud, or one put away. Whatever wives might be for others, the priest was holy to his God. And Moses was charged to sanctify him, as the highest authority in Israel: so his estimation was required in Leviticus 27:2; Lev 27:4. His fellows might be too flexible in such exigencies.

There was another possibility provided against: the priest's daughter might profane not herself only but her father by playing the harlot. This drew out the terrible doom of burning her with fire Jehovah is not mocked but sanctified in those that are near Him. It is divine government for those under law.

Now the only priests Christianity recognises are the confessors of Christ. They are a holy and a royal priesthood. The Epistle to the Hebrews exhorts them in the use of more than Aaronic privilege, as do the apostles John and Peter. It is the unbelieving pride of theology to apply priesthood to the gifts of Christ or to local charges as elders. Not once do we find this in the N. T. which in spirit and letter so designates every Christian. There is no such application to ministers in the word. Their function from God is to preach to the world, or to teach the saints. Priests have the wholly distinct place of drawing near to God in prayer and praise, offering up "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." They are therefore bound to keep clear of spiritual death, and leave the dead to bury their dead. They are to reckon themselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus, their consciences purified from dead works for religious service of a living God. Christ is now their life who by His death and resurrection gives them the victory. All things are theirs, not life only but death, things present and things to come. Even Christ's judgment-seat has no terror for them, but awakens earnest pity and zeal to persuade the perishing for whom they know how awful it will be, unless they repent and believe the gospel.

But the Jewish priests of old, the sons of Aaron, were the enemies of the Lord beyond the infatuated people; they and the voices of the chief priests prevailed against the less hardened, the heathen, Pilate. They are now broken off the olive tree and have lost their standing till mercy work their revival at the close. Hence as there is the setting aside of the commandment going before for its weakness and unprofitableness, the way lay open for the introduction of a better hope, through which we draw nigh to God. Christians exclusively are priests now by virtue of Christ's work and God's call. To make ministers such, and even of a higher grade, is ominously like the gainsaying of Korah: the presumption of the Levite to take the place of, not the Great Priest only, but of any priest whatever. As priests are we called of God, not to uncleanness in any way or degree, but in sanctification as the condition that characterises the partakers of a heavenly calling.

It is here, we may notice, that evangelicalism is so short. Rarely does any one nurtured in that school get beyond the denial of priesthood now save Christ's. But it is of importance to press the positive truth, that every Christian is a priest to God now. It will be said that he is a priest spiritually; and the concession is just the truth There are no priests now save of a spiritual kind. Christianity knows of none formal or fleshly. Every Christian has an indefeasible title to draw near into the only sanctuary, and through the only efficacious sacrifice which God recognises. And all are called to exercise this the only real title, existing on earth, habitually. In Hebrews 10:19, etc, it is set out with great plainness of speech.



Leviticus 21:10-15Here it is not the general sanctity of the Aaronic line, but the holy character incumbent on their chief because of the anointing of his God.

" 10 And the priest that is greater than his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and who is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head (or let the hair of his head go loose), nor rend his garments. 11 Neither shall he come near any person dead, nor make himself unclean for his father nor for his mother. 12 Neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the consecration (or crown) of the anointing oil of his God [is] upon him: I [am] Jehovah. 13 And he shall take a wife in her virginity. 14 A widow or a divorced woman or one dishonoured, a harlot, these shall he not take; but he shall take as wife a virgin from among his peoples. 15 And he shall not profane his seed among his peoples; for I Jehovah sanctify him" (vers. 10-15).

It is not merely as the highest of the sacerdotal that these injunctions were bid. The Spirit of God does not fail to keep before us, even in the O.T. when the first man was being put to the test, that He ever looks on to the Second. Thereby the believing reader, who believes in spirit while the letter is seen, was also taught to look for Him. So we saw in the early part of Lev. 4 as compared with the rest. Again, a similar principle is observable in Lev. 8, not in a negative way but more positive, in the anointing itself. Further, though in a still more different manner, we may discern in the singular place of the great priest on the atonement day (Lev. 16). And so is it here also.

Literally the anointed priest must not yield to the exigencies of mourning or the defilement of death, no, not for his father or for his mother, whose honour is so specially maintained in the Ten Words. In Christ as Priest we have superiority to death made most conspicuous. Nor is it only in the striking type of Melchizedek and his "order," as we see it applied in Heb. 7 for which the mode of notifying the royal priest of Salem gave occasion: "without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life." Even when the exercise of priesthood is introduced according to the Aaronic pattern, the priesthood that does not pass to another is pressed, as constituting Him able to save completely those that draw near to God through Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them: an element as foreign to Melchizedek as offering sacrifice or burning incense.

Next he was not to go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God. This was as absolutely true of the Lord in every respect, as it could not be of any other. For He was the Heavenly One; yea even on earth, He could be, and He describes Himself as, the Son of Man who is in heaven; "was" or "will be" falls quite short of this reality in a divine person. He was indeed the Holy One of God: so even unclean spirits could not but own, as this was to them the source of their deepest awe and alarm.

Then he was restricted as to the choice of a wife. A widow or divorced woman, or one dishonoured, a harlot, was expressly forbidden. He was to take as wife a virgin from his peoples. Need one say how God provides the church which He loved for the nuptials of the Lamb above? Her He will present to Himself glorious, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing. It is true that she had nothing but sins. But He gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. It was all His suffering, and doing, and giving, in a love with which nothing can compare. It is as sure by His work for redemption as His blood has infinite value in God's eyes, Who had this purpose of grace before the world's foundation, as He has accomplished the deepest and most wondrous part and made it known for the blessing and joy of faith, and is about to fulfil all that remains for the body and the inheritance in due time, a time that hastens. "For such a high priest became us, holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and become higher than the heavens; who hath not need day by day, as the high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, then for those of the people; for this he did once for all, having offered up himself. For the law constituteth men high priests having infirmity; but the word of the swearing that is after the law, a Son perfected for ever" (Hebrews 7:26-28).



Leviticus 21:16-24.

The law made nothing perfect. Priests and people were alike liable to blemish of all kinds. Hence, even if of Aaron's line, such might be forbidden to serve in the sanctuary.

" 16 And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, 17 Speak to Aaron, saying, Whoever of thy seed throughout their generations that hath a defect, he shall not approach to present the bread of his God. 18 For whatever man hath a defect, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or one limb longer than the other; 19 or a man that is broken-footed, or broken-handed; 20 or humpbacked, or a dwarf, or that hath a spot in his eye, or is scurvy or scabbed, or hath his testicles broken 21 No man of the seed of Aaron the priest that hath defect shall come near to present Jehovah's fire-offerings: he hath a defect; he shall not come near to present the bread of his God. 22 He shall eat the bread of his God, [both] of the most holy and of the holy. 23 Only he shall not come in unto the veil, nor shall he draw near unto the altar, for he hath a defect, that he profane not my holy things (or sanctuaries); for I Jehovah sanctify them. 24 And Moses told [it] to Aaron, and to his sons, and to all the sons of Israel" (vers. 16-24).

The sons of Aaron were thus compelled to take note of that which became the presence and service of their God. They had no immunity from the effects of sin over a ruined world and in a ruined race. Their descent from Aaron or Abram availed not against the rights of Jehovah. They shared the consequences of the fall with the Gentiles, even the most debased and idolatrous. Some defects might be life-long; others only for a season; but while these defects lasted, they were bound not to approach, and their brethren not to suffer it, if themselves were impious enough to presume.

But the N.T. brings before us an incomparably higher standard. Aaron himself (however free from the specified defects, and if he had never been compromised in the molten calf which he had fashioned with a chisel from the gold the people gave him to make them a god, yea, if he had never been guilty of a single fault) was wholly beneath the Anointed Priest whom God had in view, the great High priest passed as He has through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, who sits on the throne of grace, that we approaching with boldness may receive mercy, and find grace for seasonable help. In Heb. 5 the distinction is pointed out with a firm and precise hand. "For every high priest being taken from among men is constituted for men in things relating to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; being able to exercise forbearance toward the ignorant and erring, since he himself also is compassed with infirmity; and on account of this he is bound, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no one taketh this honour to himself, but one called by God even as Aaron also."

Think of the blind temerity in reputed Christians of great learning and ability, who applied this to the Lord Jesus, instead of perceiving that it is the contrast of the Jewish high priest, who was only man and needed to offer a sin-offering for himself quite as much as for the people. Whatever the analogy, here as elsewhere, the express aim is to mark His blessed superiority. Even He did not glorify Himself to be made a high priest, but after His worth was saluted by God as such for ever according to the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110), as He was owned to be His Son when begotten in time (Psalm 2:7; Psa 2:12), being Son in the Godhead eternally as shown in the Gospel and Epistles of John. His priesthood was founded on His Person, born here, as Son of God; as Ps. 110 declares His office as addressed to Him with the oath of God and connected with His sitting at God's right hand. Here it may be observed that His being man is, as before in Lev. 2: 17, 18, introduced most touchingly to show how eminently fitted He is from His experience in the days of His flesh to feel for His tried and needy ones whom He is not ashamed to call His brethren. No one fathomed the anguish as He who never spared Himself but glorified God at all cost; He who as a Divine Person spoke and it was done, commanded and it stood fast, learnt (how new a thing to Him!) obedience, and in the deepest way, from the things which He suffered, and, having been perfected, became author of eternal salvation to all those that obey Him.

Nor is it different now with those that are His, notwithstanding their old nature of enmity against God, aggravated by wicked works, and having still that old man which never improves and needs to be mortified as it was also crucified with Him. Yet this same Epistle testifies that both He that sanctifies (Christ) and those sanctified (Christians) are all of one; as other epistles develop, in varied terms appropriate to the bearing of each, the abundant grace in which we stand by Him, having had it by faith and still having it. For we received not a spirit of bondage again (as once) to fear, but a spirit of sonship whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit Himself, that convinced us of our guilt and of indwelling sin, bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God; and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.

Hence, through His redemption and a new creation in Him, we are entitled to say, The old things are passed; behold, new things are come in; and all things are of the God that reconciled us to Himself through Christ. The same death of Christ has rent the veil, which, instead of keeping us without, is to the Christian a new and living way in. We have therefore boldness for entering into the sanctuary in perfect peace, which even Aaron never possessed typically, having to take the utmost care on rare occasion lest he should die.

Nor is it only the Epistle to the Hebrews which thus affirms for Christ an incomparably better priesthood, and implies our own priestly access in Heb. 10. The apostle Peter also in the second chapter of his First Epistle distinctly says that, coming to the Lord, the true and living Stone, we as living stones are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ. Indeed the N.T. now acknowledges no other priesthood besides. Gentile priesthood never had a divine sanction; and Jewish priesthood now has emphatically His curse, through despising that blood which has blotted out our manifold defects. For whatever we were (and we were, each in His own way, all far from God, hateful and hating, false and foul), we are now washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

Indeed the Epistles of Paul as a whole, from that to the Roman saints to that for the Hebrews, are explicit that every Christian has a far better title of nearness to God than the sons of Aaron, or Aaron himself. But it is spiritual yet most real; whereas the Jewish was type and shadow, and has now lost all value in God's sight. Ignorance and unbelief set up a vain imitation in Christendom.

Our last surviving apostle attests the same priestly privilege for the believer now. "To him that loveth us, and washed us from our sins in his blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father: to him be the glory and the might unto the ages of the ages. Amen" (Revelation 1:5-6). Christ is the High priest; Christians the priests. Any priesthood besides is now grievous sin and mere imposture. By one offering Christ has perfected continuously the sanctified. There is no defective or blemished person in the Christian priesthood. He was ever perfect morally; we are perfected by His one offering. It is not a question of flaws in walk.

But for his kin, that is near unto him, that is, 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, that is nigh unto him, which hath had no husband; for her may he be defiled.
But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.
They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.
They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God: for the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and the bread of their God, they do offer: therefore they shall be holy.
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.
Thou shalt sanctify him therefore; for he offereth the bread of thy God: he shall be holy unto thee: for I the LORD, which sanctify you, am holy.
And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.
And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes;
Neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother;
Neither 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 upon him: I am the LORD.
And he shall take a wife in her virginity.
A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife.
Neither shall he profane his seed among his people: for I the LORD do sanctify him.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God.
For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous,
Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded,
Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken;
No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the LORD made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God.
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 vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the LORD do sanctify them.
And Moses told it unto Aaron, and to his sons, and unto all the children of Israel.
Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible

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