Leviticus 21


The priests shall not mourn for the dead, except for near

relatives, such as mother, father, son, daughter, and sister

if a virgin, 1-4.

They shall not shave their heads nor beards, nor make any

cuttings in the flesh, because they are holy unto God, 5, 6.

A priest shall not marry a woman who is a whore, profane, or

divorced from her husband, 7, 8.

Of the priest's daughter who profanes herself, 9.

The high priest shall not uncover his head, or rend his clothes,


nor go in unto a dead body, 11;

nor go out of the sanctuary, 12.

Of his marriage and off-spring, 13-15.

No person shall be made a priest that has any blemish nor

shall any person with any of the blemishes mentioned here be

permitted to officiate in the worship of God, 16-24.


Verse 1. There shall none be defiled for the dead] No

priest shall assist in laying out a dead body, or preparing it

for interment. Any contact with the dead was supposed to be of

a defiling nature, probably because putrefaction had then taken

place; and animal putrefaction was ever held in detestation by

all men.

Verse 4. A chief man among his people] The word baal

signifies a master, chief, husband, &c., and is as variously

translated here. 1. He being a chief among the people, it would

be improper to see him in such a state of humiliation as

mourning for the dead necessarily implies. 2. Though a husband

he shall not defile himself even for the death of a wife,

because the anointing of his God is upon him. But the first

sense appears to be the best.

Verse 5. They shall not make baldness]

See the note on "Le 19:27".

It is supposed that these things were particularly prohibited,

because used superstitiously by the Egyptian priests, who,

according to Herodotus, shaved the whole body every third day,

that there might be no uncleanness about them when they ministered

in their temples. This appears to have been a general custom

among the heathen. In the book of Baruch, 6:31, the priests

of Babylon are represented sitting in their temples, with their

clothes rent, and their heads and beards shaven, and having

nothing upon their heads. Every person knows the tonsure of the

Catholic priests. Should not this be avoided as an approach to a

heathenish custom?

Verse 7. That is a whore] A prostitute, though even reclaimed.

Profane] A heathen, or one who is not a cordial believer in the

true God.

Put away from her husband] Because this very circumstance

might lead to suspicion that the priest and the divorced woman

might have been improperly connected before.

Verse 9. She shall be burnt with fire.] Probably not burnt

alive, but strangled first, and then burnt afterward. Though it

is barely possible that some kind of branding may be intended.

Verse 10. He that is the high priest] This is the first

place where this title is introduced; the title is very

emphatic, haccohen haggadol, that priest, the great

one. For the meaning of cohen,

see the note on "Ge 14:18".

As the chief or high priest was a representative of our blessed

Lord, therefore he was required to be especially holy; and he is

represented as God's king among the people.

Verse 12. The crown of the anointing oil-is upon him] By his

office the priest represented Christ in his sacrificial

character; by his anointing, the prophetic influence; and by the

crown, the regal dignity of our Lord.

Verse 13. He shall take a wife in her virginity.]

bethuleyha. This is a full proof that bethulah is the

proper Hebrew term for a virgin; from the emphatic root

bathal, to separate; because such a person was in her separate

state, and had never been in any way united to man.

Verse 17. Whosoever-hath any blemish, let him not approach to

offer the bread of his God.] Never was a wiser, a more

rational, and a more expedient law enacted relative to sacred

matters. The man who ministers in holy things, who professes to

be the interpreter of the will of God, should have nothing in his

person nor in his manner which cannot contribute to render him

respectable in the eyes of those to whom he ministers. If, on

the contrary, he has any personal defect, any thing that may

render him contemptible or despicable, his usefulness will be

greatly injured, if not entirely prevented. If however a man have

received any damage in the work of God, by persecution or

otherwise, his scars are honourable, and will add to his

respectability. But if he be received into the ministry with

any of the blemishes specified here, he never will and never can

have that respect which is essentially necessary to secure his

usefulness. Let no man say this is a part of the Mosaic law, and

we are not bound by it. It is an eternal law, founded on reason,

propriety, common sense, and absolute necessity. The priest, the

prophet, the Christian minister, is the representative of Jesus

Christ; let nothing in his person, carriage, or doctrine, be

unworthy of the personage he represents. A deformed person,

though consummate in diplomatic wisdom, would never be employed

as an ambassador by any enlightened court, if any fit person,

unblemished, could possibly be procured.

Verse 18. A blind man] That is, in one eye; for he that was

utterly blind could not possibly be employed in such a service.

A flat nose, like that of an ape; so the best versions. Any

thing superfluous, such as six fingers, six toes, &c.

Verse 19. Broken-footed, or broken-handed] Club-footed,

bandy-legged, &c.; or having the ankle, wrist, or fingers


Verse 20. Crooked-backed] Hunch-backed or gibbous. A dwarf,

dak, a person too short or too thin, so as to be either

particularly observable, or ridiculous in his appearance.

A blemish in his eye] A protuberance on the eye, observable

spots or suffusions.

Scurvy, or scabbed] A bad habit of body, evidenced by

scorbutic or scrofulous affections.

Stones broken] Is ruptured; an infirmity which would render

him incapable of fulfilling the duties of his office, which

might be often very fatiguing.

In the above list of blemishes we meet with some that might

render the priest contemptible in the eyes of men, and be the

means of leading them, not only to despise the man, but to

despise the ministry itself; and we meet with others that would

be a very great impediment in the discharge of his ministerial

duties, and therefore any person thus blemished is by this law

precluded from the ministry.

The blemishes here enumerated have been considered by some in

an allegorical point of view, as if only referring to the

necessity of moral purity; but although holiness of heart and

righteousness of life be essentially necessary in a minister of

God, yet an absence of the defects mentioned above is, I fully

believe, what God intends here, and for the reasons too which

have been already advanced. It must however be granted, that

there have been some eminent divines who have been deformed; and

some with certain blemishes have been employed in the Christian

ministry, and have been useful. The Mosaic rule, however, will

admit of but few exceptions, when even examined according to the

more extended interpretation of the Christian system.

"The Hebrews say there are in all 120 blemishes which disable

the priest-eight in the head, two in the neck, nine in the ears,

five in the brows, seven in the eyelids, nineteen in the eyes,

nine in the nose, nine in the mouth, three in the belly, three

in the back, seven in the hands, sixteen in the secrets, eight

in any part of the body, eight in the skin, and seven in the

strength and in the breath."-Ainsworth. In ancient times, even

among heathens, persons of the most respectable appearance were

appointed to the priesthood; and the emperor, both among the

ancient Greeks and Romans, was both king and priest. It is

reported of Metellus, that, having lost an eye in endeavouring

to save the Palladium from the flames, when the temple of Vesta

was on fire, he was denied the priesthood, though he had

rendered such an excellent piece of service to the public; yet

the public opinion was that a priest who was defective in any

member was to be avoided as ominous.-See Dodd. "At Elis, in

Greece, the judges chose the finest looking man to carry the

sacred vessels of the deity; he that was next to him in beauty

and elegance led the ox; and the third in personal beauty, &c.,

carried the garlands, ribbons, wine, and the other matters used

for the sacrifice."-Athen. Deipnisoph., l. xiii., c. 2.

Formerly the Church of England was very cautious in admitting

to her ministry those who had gross personal defects; but now we

find the hump-backed, the jolt-headed, bandy-legged, club-footed,

one-eyed, &c., priests even of her high places. Why do our

prelates ordain such?

Verse 23. He shall not go in unto the veil] The priest with

a blemish was not permitted to enter into the holy of holies,

nor to burn incense, nor to offer the shew-bread, nor to light

the golden candlestick, &c. In short, he was not permitted to

perform any essential function of the priesthood.

1. THE great perfection required in the Jewish high priest was

intended principally to point out the perfection of that

priesthood of which the Jewish was only the type. And yet, as

the apostle assures us, that law made nothing perfect, but

pointed out that most perfect priesthood and sacrifice by which

we draw near to God.

2. As none who had a blemish could enter into the holy of

holies, and this holy of holies was a type of the kingdom of

God, so nothing that is defiled can enter into heaven; for he

gave himself for his Church that he might purify it to himself,

and present it at last before the presence of the Divine glory

having neither spot nor wrinkle, nor any such thing,

Eph 5:27; a passage which evidently refers to the directions in

the preceding verse. Reader, art thou become a king and priest

unto God and the Lamb? and hast thou obtained, or art thou

earnestly seeking, that holiness without which thou canst not see

the kingdom of heaven?

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