Chapter 21

The Holiness of the Priests

    • The Lord told Moses to give the following instructions to the priests (the descendants of Aaron):

      • A priest must not make himself ceremonially unclean by touching the dead body of a relative. The only exceptions are immediate family members: his mother, father, son daughter, brother, or young unmarried sister. Relatives by marriage are not considered immediate family.”

        • Guzik explains, “The priests came from a particular family of the tribe of Levi – the family of Aaron. The priests, because of their special responsibility to represent God before the people and the people before God, had a special call to holiness and ritualistic purity…The purpose behind these laws was to illustrate the purity and separation from sin that was to characterize the priest; a dead body is a picture of sin’s result in this world, especially in the way it rapidly decays…The prohibition regarding dead bodies wasn’t just about touching a dead body, but even being in the same room as a dead body or walking over a grave or touching a tomb… A priest could participate in the burial rites for an immediate family member, but for none other.”

      • Priests must not make bald spots on their heads, trim their beards, or cut their bodies. Priests cannot marry a woman who has been a prostitute or a woman who has been divorced. They are to be holy to God and not profane His name because they are the ones who present offerings to the Lord- gifts of food to God. The priests are holy because I am holy. If a priests daughter becomes a prostitute, she has defiled her father’s holiness and must be burned to death.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The priest, to lead Israel in worship, had to model the highest standard of conduct for the people both in his personal life and in leadership of his family. He could have no pagan ties to culture (prostitution, 21:9), nor could the legitimacy of his family be questioned (divorce). Similar stringent standards applied to leaders of the early church (1 Timothy 3:1-13).”

      • The priest who ranks highest- the high priest must never leave his hair uncombed, tear his clothes, or go near any dead person- even his own mother or father. He cannot leave the Sanctuary because he has God’s holy anointing oil on him and to do so would desecrate the Sanctuary. He can only marry a virgin (not a widow, divorced woman, or one who has been a prostitute) from within his own clan so as not to corrupt his bloodline because I am the Lord who sets him apart.”

        • On disheveled hair and tearing clothes, Guzik writes, “These were extreme signs of mourning for the dead. The high priest was not allowed to mourn in this extreme way for any dead person – even his father or mother…The high priest who tried Jesus sinned against this command at the trial of Jesus (Matthew 26:65), in a dramatic display of horror that Jesus claimed to be God.”

        • HCSB commentary notes, “In marrying a virgin, a priest would ensure that her children are his own. If a priest married a woman who was not a virgin, it would be possible that the first child (and therefore potential high priest) would not be of the Levitical line.”

Physical Defects and Priests

    • The Lord told Moses to give the following instructions to Aaron:

      • In all your generations, none of your descendants who has a physical defect qualifies to come near the altar or offer food to God: no one who is blind, lame, disfigured or deformed, who has a broken foot or arm, who is hunchbacked or a dwarf, who has a defective eye, a rash or scabs, or damaged testicles. He can eat from priest’s portion of the food offered to God, but due to his defects he cannot go into the room behind the inner curtain or go near the altar because it would defile My holy places.”

        • Although mutilation or defect disqualified a descendant of Aaron from representing the people, it did not compromise his priestly lineage. He was eligible to eat the priest’s share of the offerings.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

        • Guzik writes, “This indicates that those in priestly families could be supported by the priesthood. The barring of physically defective persons as priests was no bar to fellowship with God, only a bar against the public service of God in the tabernacle itself.”