Leviticus 21:4
But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.
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(4) But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man . . . —Better, A husband shall not defile himself among his people when he had profaned himself. As the seven exceptions to the general rule began with his wife, whose funeral rites the priestly husband is allowed to attend, the verse before us restricts this permission to his legally prescribed wife. If he contracted a marriage which profaned him, he could not attend to her funeral ceremonies. The last clause, which is here translated, “when he had profaned him,” literally denotes “to profane himself,” “with respect to his profanation”—i.e., with respect to a marriage by which he profaned himself. This is the interpretation which the administrators of the Law attached to the verse, and which is transmitted in the Chaldee version of Jonathan. It is not only in perfect harmony with the context, but does least violence to this manifestly disordered text. The translations exhibited in the Authorised version, both in the text and in the margin, as well as most of those suggested by modern commentators, leave the clause unexplained, since it manifestly means something else than defiling himself by contracting impurity through contact with the dead, as is evident from the fact that it is not added in the other instances where the priest is forbidden to defile himself by attending to the dead. (See Leviticus 21:1-11.)

Leviticus 21:4. Being — Or, seeing he is a chief man — For such, not only the high-priest, but others also of the inferior priests were. He shall not defile himself — For any other person whatsoever. To profane himself —

Because such defilement for the dead did profane him, or make him as a common person, and consequently unfit to manage his sacred employment.

21:1-24 Laws concerning the priests. - As these priests were types of Christ, so all ministers must be followers of him, that their example may teach others to imitate the Saviour. Without blemish, and separate from sinners, He executed his priestly office on earth. What manner of persons then should his ministers be! But all are, if Christians, spiritual priests; the minister especially is called to set a good example, that the people may follow it. Our bodily infirmities, blessed be God, cannot now shut us out from his service, from these privileges, or from his heavenly glory. Many a healthful, beautiful soul is lodged in a feeble, deformed body. And those who may not be suited for the work of the ministry, may serve God with comfort in other duties in his church.The sense seems to be that, owing to his position in the nation, the priest is not to defile himself in any cases except those named in Leviticus 21:2-3. The Septuagint appear to have followed a different reading of the text which would mean, "he shall not defile himself for a moment." The explanation in the margin of our version is hardly in keeping with the prohibition to Ezekiel on a special occasion. See Ezekiel 24:16. 4. But he shall not defile himself—"for any other," as the sense may be fully expressed. "The priest, in discharging his sacred functions, might well be regarded as a chief man among his people, and by these defilements might be said to profane himself" [Bishop Patrick]. The word rendered "chief man" signifies also "a husband"; and the sense according to others is, "But he being a husband, shall not defile himself by the obsequies of a wife" (Eze 44:25). Or, seeing he is

a chief man, & c., or ruler, &c., for such not only the high priest, but others also of the inferior priests, were. And therefore though he might defile himself for the persons now named, yet he, above all others, must take heed so to do it that he do not profane himself by doing as follows. Or, for a chief man, &c., the preposition lamed being easily understood from the former verse, where it is oft used, such supplements being not unusual in the Hebrew tongue. So the sense is, he shall not defile himself for any other person whatsoever who is not thus near of kin to him, no, not for a prince or chief ruler among his people, who might seem to challenge this duty from him, to join with all others in their resentment of the public loss; much less shall he defile himself for any other. And so the last word,

to profane himself, may be added as a reason why he should not defile himself for the prince or any other except the persons named, because such defilement for the dead did profane him, or make him as a common person and unclean, and consequently unfit to manage his sacred employment, which was an impediment to the service of God, and a public inconvenience to the people, whose concerns with God he negotiated. And it was not meet such great and important affairs should give place to the ceremonies of a funeral for a stranger.

But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people,.... Which is not to be understood of any lord or nobleman or any chief ruler or governor of the people; for the context speaks only of priests, and not of other personages; besides, such might defile themselves, or mourn for their dead, as Abraham did for Sarah; nor of any husband for his wife, for even a priest, as has been observed, might do this for his wife, and much more a private person; nor is there any need to restrain it, as some Jewish writers do, to an adulterous wife, which a husband might not mourn for, though he might for his right and lawful wife; but there is nothing in the text, neither of an husband, nor a wife: the words are to be interpreted of a priest, and either of him as considered as a person of eminence, consequence, and importance, and sons giving a reason why he should not defile himself for the dead, because he was a principal person among his people to officiate for them in sacred things; wherefore if he did not take care that he was not defiled for the dead, which might often happen, he would be frequently hindered from doing his office for the people, which would be attended with ill consequence to them; and therefore the above cases are only excepted, as being such that rarely happened: or rather the words are to be considered as a prohibition of defiling himself "for any chief" (s), or principal man, lord, ruler, or governor, among his people; even for such an one he was not to defile himself, being no relation of his:

to profane himself; make himself unfit for sacred service, or make himself a common person; put himself upon a level with a common private man, and be no more capable of serving at the altar, or doing any part of the work off priest, than such an one.

(s) "in principe populi sui", V. L. so Pesicta & Ben Melech in loc. & Kimchi Sepher Shorash. rad.

But he shall not defile himself, being a {c} chief man among his people, to profane himself.

(c) The priest was permitted to mourn for his next kindred only.

4. being a chief man] as a husband (R.V. mg.). This rendering limits the cases in which defilement is permissible to those already mentioned, and forbids mourning for a wife. The A.V. follows the Targum.

The wording of the v. suggests a corruption in the text. The Sept. substitute (see R.V. mg.) for ‘a chief man’ is apparently obtained by a transposition in Heb. consonants, but fails to convey any clear meaning. It has been suggested, by a somewhat greater modification in the Heb., to read in mourning. Baentsch (HG. 111A) considers that the words ‘defile himself’ and ‘among his people’ shew that the v. forms an intimate part of the prohibition contained in the previous vv. Inasmuch, then, as the word rendered ‘chief man’ is regularly used of a husband, and as mention of a wife is strangely absent from the MT., he proposes either of two alternative readings, which assume a copyist’s accidental omission of a word or words, expressing wife; so that the precept originally ran, a husband shall not be defiled for his wife. It is, however, difficult, as Dillm. says, to suppose, in the face of the opening words of Leviticus 21:2, that a priest whose wife died was forbidden to approach the body.

Leviticus 21:4The priest was not to defile himself on account of a soul, i.e., a dead person (nephesh, as in Leviticus 19:28), among his countrymen, unless it were of his kindred, who stood near to him (i.e., in the closest relation to him), formed part of the same family with him (cf. Leviticus 21:3), such as his mother, father, son, daughter, brother, or a sister who was still living with him as a virgin and was not betrothed to a husband (cf. Ezekiel 44:25). As every corpse not only defiled the persons who touched it, but also the tent or dwelling in which the person had died (Numbers 19:11, Numbers 19:14); in the case of death among members of the family or household, defilement was not to be avoided on the part of the priest as the head of the family. It was therefore allowable for him to defile himself on account of such persons as these, and even to take part in their burial. The words of Leviticus 21:4 are obscure: "He shall not defile himself בּעמּיו בּעל, i.e., as lord (pater-familias) among his countrymen, to desecrate himself;" and the early translators have wandered in uncertainty among different renderings. In all probability בּעל denotes the master of the house or husband. But, for all that, the explanation given by Knobel and others, "as a husband he shall not defile himself on the death of his wife, his mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, by taking part in their burial," is decidedly to be rejected. For, apart from the unwarrantable introduction of the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, there is sufficient to prevent our thinking of defilement on the death of a wife, in the fact that the wife is included in the "kin that is near unto him" in Leviticus 21:2, though not in the way that many Rabbins suppose, who maintain that שׁאר signifies wife, but implicite, the wife not being expressly mentioned, because man and wife form one flesh (Genesis 2:24), and the wife stands nearer to the husband than father and mother, son and daughter, or brother and sister. Nothing is proved by appealing to the statement made by Plutarch, that the priests of the Romans were not allowed to defile themselves by touching the corpses of their wives; inasmuch as there is no trace of this custom to be found among the Israelites, and the Rabbins, for this very reason, suppose the death of an illegitimate wife to be intended. The correct interpretation of the words can only be arrived at by considering the relation of the fourth verse to what precedes and follows. As Leviticus 21:1-3 stand in a very close relation to Leviticus 21:5 and Leviticus 21:6, - the defilement on account of a dead person being more particularly explained in the latter, or rather, strictly speaking, greater force being given to the prohibition, - it is natural to regard Leviticus 21:4 as standing in a similar relation to Leviticus 21:7, and to understand it as a general prohibition, which is still more clearly expounded in Leviticus 21:7 and Leviticus 21:9. The priest was not to defile himself as a husband and the head of a household, either by marrying a wife of immoral or ambiguous reputation, or by training his children carelessly, so as to desecrate himself, i.e., profane the holiness of his rank and office by either one or the other (cf. Leviticus 21:9 and Leviticus 21:15). - In Leviticus 21:5 desecration is forbidden in the event of a death occurring. He was not to shave a bald place upon his head. According to the Chethib יקרחה is to be pointed with ה- attached, and the Keri יקרחוּ is a grammatical alteration to suit the plural suffix in בּראשׁם, which is obviously to be rejected on account of the parallel יגלּחוּ לא זקנם וּפאת. In both of the clauses there is a constructio ad sensum, the prohibition which is addressed to individuals being applicable to the whole: upon their head shall no one shave a bald place, namely, in front above the forehead, "between the eyes" (Deuteronomy 14:1). We may infer from the context that reference is made to a customary mode of mourning for the dead; and this is placed beyond all doubt by Deuteronomy 14:1, where it is forbidden to all the Israelites "for the dead." According to Herodotus, 2, 36, the priests in Egypt were shaven, whereas in other places they wore their hair long. In other nations it was customary for those who were more immediately concerned to shave their heads as a sign of mourning; but the Egyptians let their hair grow both upon their head and chin when any of their relations were dead, whereas they shaved at other times. The two other outward signs of mourning mentioned, namely, cutting off the edge of the beard and making incisions in the body, have already been forbidden in Leviticus 19:27-28, and the latter is repeated in Deuteronomy 14:1. The reason for the prohibition is given in Leviticus 21:6 - "they shall be holy unto their God," and therefore not disfigure their head and body by signs of passionate grief, and so profane the name of their God when they offer the firings of Jehovah; that is to say, when they serve and approach the God who has manifested Himself to His people as the Holy One. On the epithet applied to the sacrifices, "the food of God," see at Leviticus 3:11 and Leviticus 3:16.
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