Leviticus 21:5
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.
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(5) Make baldness upon their head.—The natural expression of grief, however, which the priests were to manifest for the above-named departed relations, was not to show itself in the practices which disfigure their bodily appearance, and which obtained among other nations of antiquity in connection with funeral ceremonies. Thus, in the graphic description of the idolatrous priests mourning, we are told “the priests sit in their temples, having their clothes rent, and their heads and beards shaven, and nothing upon their heads.” (Bar 6:31.) The three things here prohibited to the priests are also forbidden to the people at large under other circumstances. (See Leviticus 19:27-28; Deuteronomy 14:1.) The ordinary Israelites, however, indulged in the same practices. (See Jeremiah 16:6; Ezekiel 7:18; Amos 8:10.)

Leviticus 21:5. They shall not make baldness — In funerals, as the heathen did. Though I allow them to defile themselves for some of the dead, yet in no case shall they use these superstitious rites, which also the people were forbidden to do; but the priests in a more peculiar manner, because they were by word and example to teach the people their duty.

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.These prohibitions given to the people at large (compare the margin reference.) had a special fitness for the Hebrew priests. They were the instruments of the divine will for averting death, all their sacrifices were a type of the death of Christ, which swallowed up death in victory 1 Corinthians 15:54-57, and it would therefore have been unsuitable that they should have the same freedom as other people to become mourners. 5. They shall not make baldness upon their heads … nor … cuttings in their flesh—The superstitious marks of sorrow, as well as the violent excesses in which the heathen indulged at the death of their friends, were forbidden by a general law to the Hebrew people (Le 19:28). But the priests were to be laid under a special injunction, not only that they might exhibit examples of piety in the moderation of their grief, but also by the restraint of their passions, be the better qualified to administer the consolations of religion to others, and show, by their faith in a blessed resurrection, the reasons for sorrowing not as those who have no hope. To wit, in funerals, as the heathens did: q. d. Though I allow them to defile themselves for some of the dead, yet in no case shall they use these superstitious and heathenish rites, which also the people are forbidden to do, Leviticus 19:27 Deu 14:1, but the priests in a more peculiar manner, because they are by word and example to teach the people their duty not to sorrow for the dead as persons without hope.

They shall not make baldness upon their head,.... For the dead, as Jarchi, Aben Ezra, and Ben Gersom; not shave their heads, or round the corners of them, or make baldness between their eyes on that account; as those things were forbid the Israelites, so the priests also; this and what follow being superstitious customs used among the Heathens in their mournings for the dead, particularly by the Chaldeans, as Aben Ezra observes; and so by the Grecians; when Hephestion, one of Alexander's captains, died, he shaved his soldiers and himself, imitating Achilles in Homer (t); so the Egyptians, mourning for the loss of Osiris, annually shaved their heads (u); and the priests of Isis, mourning for her lost son, are called by Minutius Felix (w) her bald priests; see Leviticus 19:27,

neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard: the five corners of it; See Gill on Leviticus 19:27. This the Israelites in common might not do, and particularly their priests; though the Egyptian priests shaved both their heads and beards, as Herodotus (x) relates: and so they are represented in the Table of Isis (y):

nor make any cuttings in their flesh; either with their nails, tearing their cheeks and breasts, or with an instrument cutting their flesh in any part of their bodies, as was the custom of Heathen nations; such were made by the Egyptians in their mournings (z); See Gill on Leviticus 19:28.

(t) Aelian. Var. Hist. l. 7. c. 8. (u) Julius Firmicus de Error. Proph. p. 2.((w) In Octavio, p. 22. Vid. Lactant. de fals. Relig. l. 1. c. 21. (x) Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 36. (y) Vid. Pignorii Mens. Isiac. liter. S. (z) Julius Firmicus, ut supra. (u))

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.
5. See on Leviticus 19:27-28.

Leviticus 21:5The 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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