Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
Holiness on the Part of the Priests and Holiness of the Offerings
“The sacred observance of the priestly position, of the sacrifice, and of the priestly calling.”—LANGE
CHAPTERS 21, 22
A.—“THE DESECRATION OF THE PRIESTLY POSITION AND THE PRIESTLY CALLING.”—LANGE
1AND 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: 2but for his kin, that is near unto him, that is, for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, 3and for his daughter, and for his brother, and for his sister a virgin, that is 4nigh unto him, which hath had no husband; for her may he be defiled. But [omit but] he shall not defile himself, being a chief man1 among his people, to profane 5himself. They2 shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh. 6They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God: for the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and [omit and3] the bread of their God they do offer: therefore they shall be holy.4
7They shall not take a wife that is a whore, or profane: neither shall they take a woman put away from her husband: for he5 is holy unto his God. 8Thou 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,6 am holy. 9And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.
10And 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; 11neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother; 12neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the crown of the anointing oil of his God 13 is upon him: I am the LORD. And he shall take a wife in her virginity. 14A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or7 an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife. 15Neither shall he profane his seed among his people: for I the LORD do sanctify him.
16And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 17Speak 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. 18For 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 19, 20any thing superfluous, or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, or crook-backt, or a dwarf,8 or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken; 21no 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. 22He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy. 23Only 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:9 for I the LORD do sanctify them. 24And Moses told it unto Aaron, and to his sons, and unto all the children of Israel.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
Lev 21:4. לֹא יִטַּמָּא בַּעַל בְּעַמָּיו. The interpretation of this obscure clause is very various. The LXX., mistaking בַּעַל read οὐ μιανθήσεται ἐξαπίνα ἐν τῷ λαῷ αὐτοῦ, meaning that the priest shall not defile himself rashly or lightly. The Syr. and Vulg. have transferred the preposition בְּ from עַמָּיו to בַּעַל and read but he shall not be defiled for a prince, etc., a sense adopted by several expositors. The A. V. has followed the Targ. of Onk. and the Arab., which is interpreted to mean that the priest, as occupying a high official position, head of a family, etc., should not defile himself; if this sense can be sustained, it throws some light upon the occasional use of כּהֵן for prince. It is adopted by many expositors, as Von Gerlach and Keil. The Targ. Jonathan, and several Jewish expositors (Kalisch also, and Knobel) understand בַּעַל to mean husband, a sufficiently well-established meaning of the word, and one which is followed in the margin of the A. V.; but this requires for his wife to be supplied, for which there is no warrant, and it also seems highly improbable that mourning should be permitted for the relations mentioned in Lev 21:2, 3, and forbidden for the wife. Michaels understands the high-priest to be intended by בַּעַל; but his conduct is the special subject of Lev 21:10–12. On the whole, no other interpretation seems sufficiently well-established to take the place of that in the A. V., although even that can hardly be considered as satisfactory. In any case it is better to omit the interpolated but at the beginning of the verse.
Lev 21:5. The K’ri יִקְרְהוּ indicated by the Masoretic punctuation of the text יִקְרְהֻה is sustained by the Sam. and all the versions.
Lev 21:6. The sense is rather obscured than helped by the interpolated and, which is better omitted.
Lev 21:6. The Heb. has קֹדֶשׁ in the sing., doubtless to be understood as an abstract term. The Sam. and all the versions have the plural.
Lev 21:7, 8. The enallage of numbers creates a slight obscurity, but the A. V. faithfully follows the Heb.
Lev 21:8. The Sam., LXX., and Vulg., have the pronoun in the third person.
Lev 21:14. The missing conjunction is supplied in the Sam. and the versions.
Lev 21:20. דַּק signifies something small or thin. The text of the A. V., seems preferable to the margin, as it is scarcely to be supposed that the case of the dwarf would be omitted. Fuerst, however, renders it consumptive; Vulg., blear-eyed, and so Onk., and apparently the LXX. ἔφηλος. Syr. = little.
Lev 21:23. The LXX. has the sing. τὸ ἅγιον. The plural is generally understood to signify the holy place and the holy of holies; some interpreters, however, (Boothroyd, Rosenmueller) would translate my hallowed things.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Lange: “The symbolic side of the Levitical law, which was brought out so powerfully at the close of the last chapter, is likewise not to be mistaken in the commands for keeping holy the priestly calling. Owing to the symbolic meaning of these commands they are connected by manifold analogies with heathen laws and customs enacted to secure the priestly dignity. Compare the references on this subject in Knobel, p. 517 sqq.; Keil, p. 141.” [Trans. p. 430, 432. “The testimonies which Knobel and several of the older commentators have collected to show that the priests of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and other nations avoided funerals and contact with the dead, afford but an imperfect parallel to these Levitical laws concerning the priests……… Wherever this feeling was recognized in a ceremonial usage, the priest, from his office, would naturally be expected to observe the highest standard of purity. But the laws which regulated the priesthood of the chosen people had a deeper basis than this. They had to administer a law of life.… St. Cyril truly observes that the Hebrew priests were the instruments of the divine will for averting death, that all their sacrifices were a type of the death of Christ, which swallowed up death in victory, and that it would have been unsuitable that they should have the same freedom as other people to become mourners. Glaphyra in Lev., p. 430.” Clark.—F. G.].
“In the first place it is to be noticed that there is here brought out a gradation of the symbolism that the laws in regard to dignity are stronger in the case of the high-priest than in the case of the sons of Aaron, the common priests. While these, who were at first Aaron’s sons, were elevated above the common people (as this also out-ranked the heathen in its sanctity), so the high-priest again was raised above his sons; he formed the symbolical centre and summit of the personal sanctity towards God, and of exclusion as respects the unclean or that which was Levitically ‘common.’ ” Lange.
With this chapter begins a new Parashah, or Proper Lesson of the law extending through Lev 24. “The parallel Haphtarah, or Proper Lesson of the Prophets, is Ezek. 44:15–31. which contains ordinances for the priests, and is the best commentary on the present chapter.” Wordsworth.
The purity and holiness required of the priesthood in this chap. is evidently a necessary consequence of the peculiar relation in which they stood to God and the people. It is substantially the same as that required of all the holy people, but is emphasized and extended somewhat beyond that which the people generally were able to bear, because it especially devolved upon them to “draw nigh unto the Lord.” For the same reason still more strict obligations are laid upon the high-priests. In Lev 21:1–6 they are forbidden to defile themselves by touching the dead, or by signs of mourning; in 7–9 they are required to contract a spotless marriage and maintain purity in their families; in 10–15 the same duties, somewhat extended, are still more emphatically required of the high-priest; and in conclusion, Lev 21:16–24, the physical impediments to the exercise of the priestly office are detailed.
Lev 21:1–4. The priest may not defile himself on account of a dead person (נֶפֶשׁ lit. a soul), with an exception however in the case of the very nearest of kin. The virgin sister, as yet unbetrothed, is included in the list; but after her betrothal or marriage, she passed into the family of another, and the exemption ceases. The principle of the exception seems to be simply a regard for human feelings. The fact that the tent or house was defiled, ipso facto, by the presence of a dead body, and therefore the priest could not avoid defilement in such cases (Keil) forms no sufficient explanation of the exception; for this would be true when a slave died in the house, which is not included, and would often not be true in the case of a father, which is included. It is remarkable that there is no mention of the wife—the Rabbins say because she and her husband were “one flesh.” Lange (see below) makes a distinction between a passive defilement which was inevitable in the case of a death in the house, and which is too self-evident to require especial mention; and the active defilement of proclaiming one’s grief, using the customary marks of mourning and burying the dead, which he considers were forbidden to the priest, as belonging to the class of the chief men, on occasion of the death of his wife. It seems more probable that the instances mentioned in Lev 21:2 are of the nature of limitations, and that the marriage relationship is not mentioned because it is nearer than any of them, and therefore included within them all. Notwithstanding the permission in the cases mentioned above, the priest, by contact with the dead, still became defiled for seven days, and was then required to offer a sin offering (see Ezek. 44:25–27). No penalty is provided for a violation of this law. On Lev 21:4 see Textual Notes.
Lev 21:5, 6. The prohibition to the priests of the marks of mourning for the dead, customary among the surrounding nations, is extended in Deut. 14:1 to the whole body of the people. The command to the priests is expressly made to rest upon their official duties. On the expression bread of their God see on 3:11. לֶהֶם is indifferently rendered in the A. V. food, bread, and meat. Only the last is objectionable on account of the change in the use of the English word.
Lev 21:7–9. The marriage of the priests and the life of their families likewise must not be allowed to present a contrast to their holy calling. They might marry any reputable woman, whether Israelite or foreigner, excepting of course women from those idolatrous tribes of the Canaanites which were forbidden to all the people. Exod. 34:16; Deut. 7:3. In after times this law was made more stringent, Ezek. 44:22. They might not take to wife a common prostitute, nor one profane,i.e., a woman who had fallen, or as some Jewish authorities hold, one of illegitimate birth. Briefly, their wives must be of unblemished and spotless character, and hence they were forbidden to take one already repudiated. In Lev 21:8 the change of person is generally held to indicate a change of address to the people of Israel; but this is unnecessary. It is simply the ordinary form of direct command. Because it was the priest’s office to offer the bread of thy God, therefore his life and surroundings must be in harmony with his holy calling. The priest’s family, also, by a propriety felt in all ages, must be ordered in accordance with his sacred duties, and the outrageous violation of this in his daughter’s becoming a prostitute must not only be punished with death, but the dead body be visited with the symbolical punishment of burning.
Lev 21:10–15. The same commands are applied with greater emphasis, and with some extension, to the high-priest. He is described by the peculiar fulness of the anointing he had received (Lev 21:10, 12), and by his being consecrated to put on the garments,viz., those appointed for the official costume of the high-priest, in which Aaron had been arrayed at his consecration, and which descended to his successors. To him the accustomed marks of mourning, and all contact with a dead body, even that of the nearest relative, are forbidden. He must not go out of the sanctuary for this purpose (not that the sanctuary was to be his constant abode, Bähr and Baumgarten), nor profane the sanctuary by this defilement of his person. He was also restricted in marriage to a virgin of Israel, Lev 21:14; by any other marriage he would profane his seed.
Lange: “Whatever may belong to the defilement by the dead, it is certainly to be noticed that nothing is here said in any way of dying persons, or of death itself, but of dead bodies. The recollection of Egypt, especially of the Egyptian cultus of dead bodies comes here into the foreground. The defilement by the dead included not merely the touching in itself, which is so natural to excited grief, but also the participation in the burial, and the customs of mourning. But that which among the heathen was an expression of horror, so that it was said even of Apollo himself, Let him shun the scenes of death, appears here rather as a prelude of the sublimity of the Christian view of death. The horror would indeed appear strongest at the sight of the dead body of a blood relative, yet here humanity places itself on the opposite side as a limit of the symbolism, and allows the defilement in the case of the nearest family relations with the exception of the married sister who now belongs to another family circle. Lev 21:4 certainly appears to say that a man as a husband shall not defile himself for the dead body of his wife, as the foregoing specification and determination concerning the married sister might already intimate. Concerning this, see below,” [above under Lev 21:4]. “The reason is well expressed in Lev 21:6: for the offerings of the LORD made by fire, the bread of their God they do offer.—Since they know, or at least have some idea of what the sacrifice signifies—an entire resignation to the living God,—they cannot mourn and despair as those who have little or no hope, without strengthening the delusion of despair, by which the Israelites would dishonor the name of their God, Jehovah. There is an extravagance of lamentation which takes the appearance of a resentment and contention with God in regard to the dead; among the people of God this should be excluded by the feeling of reverence:—the Lord has done it.
“Three kinds of women are excluded from the priestly marriage: the whore, the profane, the divorced. To the high-priest the taking of a widow is also forbidden. We call to mind Thamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, who became ancestors in Israel (Matt. 1), and it is thus plain that the subject is here a purely Old Testament regulation of symbolical signification. By the marriage of the priest with a virgin is signified that the theocratic marriage could and should be consecrated to the rearing up of the hereditary blessing (see Jno. 1:13, 14). Thus also he was to appear to the people as a consecrated personality. But the dark contrast is the ruined priestly family,10 and the saddest instance is the ruined priest’s daughter; if she has only begun to be a whore, she has fallen under the judgment of fire.
“The third division treats of the sons of the priests having bodily defects, or afflicted with corporeal blemishes (wherein spiritual reasons are evidently included). Here also the prevailing symbolical purpose is not to be mistaken. The sacrificers must appear as the type of perfection, as also the sacrifice in the following section. Hence the blind and lame, the sons of Aaron with misshapen noses and limbs, having some bodily defect in hand or foot, etc. (Lev 21:18–20) correspond to the faulty sacrificial animals, Lev 22:23–25. The strong exclusion demanded by the cultus for the sake of its symbolism was compensated by the compassionate provision that they should have their portion of all sacrificial food of the active priests, whereby they are in some sort to be compared with Emeritus officials who draw their full salary. They do not offer the bread of their God, as the offerings are collectively called, inasmuch as these culminated in the shew-bread; but yet they eat the bread of their God, as well of the most holy as of the holy, i.e., not only of the wave offerings, firstlings, etc. (Num. 18:11, 19, and 26–29) but also of the peculiar priestly portion of the sacrifices, the oblations, etc. See Keil, p. 34 [Trans. p. 433]. But if the priestly access unto the vail and unto the altar is denied them, it appears that this is here spoken of their official functions. Moreover it is emphasized that Moses communicated these commands not only unto Aaron and to his sons; but unto all the children of Israel who ought to know how their priests should conduct themselves.” Lange.
A death in a dwelling defiled every thing in the dwelling, and every one who entered it. Deaths, however, must necessarily occur in priestly families beyond the limits of the allowable cases of defilement, and also in the house of the high-priest to whom no defilement whatever was allowed. Lange therefore well says, “A distinction must be made between passive sorrow and defilement, which might happen even to the high-priest in his own house, and active uncleanness which came about by the rending of the clothes and going to the dead body.” Accordingly the prohibition to the high-priest is couched in terms (Lev 21:10–12) indicating the active defilement.
Lev 21:16–24. These directions concerning the descendants of Aaron who should have any bodily defect are founded upon the general principle, appearing in every part of the law, that whatever is devoted to the service of God should be as perfect as possible in its kind. “As the spiritual nature of a man is reflected in his bodily form, only a faultless condition of body could correspond to the holiness of the priest; just as the Greeks and Romans required, for the very same reason, that the priests should be ὁλόκληροι, integri corporis (Plato de legg. 6, 759; Seneca excerpt. controv. 4, 2; Plutarch quæst. rom. 73). Consequently none of the descendants of Aaron in their generations,i.e., in all future generations (see Ex. 12:14), were to approach the vail, i.e., enter the holy place, or draw near to the altar (in the court) to offer the food of Jehovah, viz., the sacrifices.” Keil. Persons thus incapacitated for the exercise of the active duties of the priesthood are yet especially allowed to partake of the priests’ portion of the sacrifices (Lev 21:22), and doubtless received their share of the tithes for the support of the priests. By custom they were employed in many duties pertaining to the priesthood which did not require the prohibited approach to the altar or entrance into the holy place; such as the examination of leprous persons, houses, and things, the carrying of the ashes without the camp, and many duties of a similar character.
At the beginning of the chapter Moses is directed to make this communication to the priests the sons of Aaron; at the end (Lev 21:24) we read that he told it not only to them, but unto all the children of Israel. This is in accordance with the whole character of the law. Each particular communication is immediately addressed to those whose duties it concerns; but at the same time, no part of the law was to be the exclusive possession, or under the exclusive guardianship of any class. Every part of it was to be diligently taught to every Israelite. The Divine law was the common heritage of all, and all were interested in seeing that it was observed.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
I. All the precepts of this chapter tend to a single point—the peculiar purity and symbolical holiness required of those who ministered before God. From the centre of the absolute Divine holiness spread out ever-widening circles, and to each is attached a minimum of symbolical holiness without which it cannot be entered. The heathen in the outermost circle, as human beings, still had the light of nature and conscience; these laid upon them duties for the violation of which they were cast out of their homes and destroyed; the people of Israel formed an inner circle of higher obligations; but those chosen from them to draw nigh to God on their behalf, must come under a still stricter rule. All this points unmistakably to the holiness of Him who is the centre of all, and shows that the partaking of His holiness is the necessary condition of approach to Him.
II. The families of the priests were so intimately associated with their own proper personality, that something of the requirements for the priests themselves must also be demanded of them. This rests upon a fundamental principle of fitness, and is again repeatedly insisted upon in the New Testament in regard to the Christian minister. See 1 Tim. 3:11, 12; Tit. 1:6.
III. The absolute holiness required of those who presented offerings to God could be only symbolical; but the fact that it was symbolical points to One who fulfilled the symbolism, even to Christ, who was alone perfect in holiness; therefore through Him alone can any acceptable gifts be offered to God.
V. Physical blemishes, because they symbolized spiritual defects, hindered the priests from ministering before God on man’s behalf; yet these did not prevent their eating of the sacrifices, thus at once receiving their own support, and representing God in the receiving of that which the sacrificer offered. Thus is brought out the two-fold relation in those who minister for the people toward God: on the one hand they may only draw nigh to Him on the basis of perfect holiness, and for sinful man this can be accomplished only through the mediation of Christ; on the other, the grace proceeding from Him is not hindered by the unworthiness of those through whom it comes. Always we must “have this treasure in earthen vessels.” The feeble stream from man to God would be turned back by the obstacles in its channel but for the all-availing efficacy of the intercession of Christ; but the full flow of God’s mercies in Christ is powerful enough to sweep by all such barriers.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
“The person, life and house of the priest must especially be kept holy. For this, the law of God knows a more human way than the law of the Pope (21:13). The features of the symbolical consecrated state of the priest are spiritually explained. The fearful picture of a desecrated, profane, or very vicious priestly house. How far also can the sacrifice be designated as the bread of God? In reference to the Being of God Himself, the true sacrifice is an object of His good pleasure. In reference to the power of God, it is the noblest and most fitting means of drawing near to His fire. In reference to the idea of God in the world, it is a perpetual means of freshening, deepening, and strengthening it.” Lange.
The priestly requirement of holiness, symbolical of old for those whose office it was to draw near to God, must rest now in its literal force upon all Christians, “a royal priesthood,” who must ever draw near by the new and living way consecrated for them. As the headship of the priest over his household required that they also should present no striking contrast to his purity; so, on the same principle, it must be incumbent upon all men that those over whom they have influence and control should be so ordered in their lives as not to present to the world a contrast to the principles they themselves profess.
Excessive mourning is forbidden to the priests; all mourning is restricted to the circle of the nearest relations, and to the high-priest is forbidden altogether. Thus is clearly shown that however on earth something may be conceded to the weakness of sorrowing humanity, yet sorrow for the departed is not the proper garb in which to draw near to God. This is more fully declared through Him who is the Resurrection and the Life, and the Christian cannot sorrow for those who sleep in Him as men without hope. Thus the reproof of excessive indulgence in sorrow, so plainly brought out under the new dispensation, is here foreshadowed by the laws of the Mosaic covenant.
In Lev 21:24 we see that, although the priests were separated from the people by their special divine appointment, the laws for their government were yet communicated to all the people that they might be under the observation of the whole community in their conduct. So it must ever be if the ministry is to be preserved in its purity; and the germs of decay are already sown in that body which refuses to recognize its responsibility to the public opinion of the Christian community.
1Lev 21:4. לֹא יִטַּמָּא בַּעַל בְּעַמָּיו. The interpretation of this obscure clause is very various. The LXX., mistaking בַּעַל read οὐ μιανθήσεται ἐξαπίνα ἐν τῷ λαῷ αὐτοῦ, meaning that the priest shall not defile himself rashly or lightly. The Syr. and Vulg. have transferred the preposition בְּ from עַמָּיו to בַּעַל and read but he shall not be defiled for a prince, etc., a sense adopted by several expositors. The A. V. has followed the Targ. of Onk. and the Arab., which is interpreted to mean that the priest, as occupying a high official position, head of a family, etc., should not defile himself; if this sense can be sustained, it throws some light upon the occasional use of כּהֵן for prince. It is adopted by many expositors, as Von Gerlach and Keil. The Targ. Jonathan, and several Jewish expositors (Kalisch also, and Knobel) understand בַּעַל to mean husband, a sufficiently well-established meaning of the word, and one which is followed in the margin of the A. V.; but this requires for his wife to be supplied, for which there is no warrant, and it also seems highly improbable that mourning should be permitted for the relations mentioned in Lev 21:2, 3, and forbidden for the wife. Michaels understands the high-priest to be intended by בַּעַל; but his conduct is the special subject of Lev 21:10–12. On the whole, no other interpretation seems sufficiently well-established to take the place of that in the A. V., although even that can hardly be considered as satisfactory. In any case it is better to omit the interpolated but at the beginning of the verse.
2Lev 21:5. The K’ri יִקְרְהוּ indicated by the Masoretic punctuation of the text יִקְרְהֻה is sustained by the Sam. and all the versions.
3Lev 21:6. The sense is rather obscured than helped by the interpolated and, which is better omitted.
4Lev 21:6. The Heb. has קֹדֶשׁ in the sing., doubtless to be understood as an abstract term. The Sam. and all the versions have the plural.
5Lev 21:7, 8. The enallage of numbers creates a slight obscurity, but the A. V. faithfully follows the Heb.
6Lev 21:8. The Sam., LXX., and Vulg., have the pronoun in the third person.
7Lev 21:14. The missing conjunction is supplied in the Sam. and the versions.
8Lev 21:20. דַּק signifies something small or thin. The text of the A. V., seems preferable to the margin, as it is scarcely to be supposed that the case of the dwarf would be omitted. Fuerst, however, renders it consumptive; Vulg., blear-eyed, and so Onk., and apparently the LXX. ἔφηλος. Syr. = little.
9Lev 21:23. The LXX. has the sing. τὸ ἅγιον. The plural is generally understood to signify the holy place and the holy of holies; some interpreters, however, (Boothroyd, Rosenmueller) would translate my hallowed things.
10“Or also the family of a pastor. In a poem by Heine it is depicted with dark touches.”
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: