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God’s Priests and God’s Priest
“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…And Moses told it unto Aaron, and to his sons, and unto all the children of Israel.” (Leviticus 21:1-24)
This chapter deals with and gives specific instructions to the priests of Israel, the sons of Aaron. In verses 1-6, the priests were forbidden to mourn the dead as other people do. In verses 7 and 8, the Lord tells them that even in the selection of their wives, God’s honor was to be paramount. In verse 9, God required that any priest’s daughter who profaned her father by playing the harlot was to be put to death. Verses 10-15 give specific instructions to the high priests throughout their generations. The high priest was not to mourn as others might, even for his own parents (vv. 10-11). He who served as God’s high priest was to live always in the service of God’s sanctuary (v. 12). His wife was to be neither a widow nor a divorced woman, but only a virgin of the daughters of Israel (vv. 13-14). In a word, he was to so order his life and household that God was honored in it (v. 15). Verses 16-24 are addressed specifically to Moses, the lawgiver, and required that none of the priests (none of the males in Aaron’s family) who had a blemish of any kind be allowed to serve as God’s priests.
What does this have to do with any of us? There are no Aaronic or Levitical priests today. We have no material altar or rituals of sacrifice today. Such things are forbidden of our God in this Gospel Age. So how do these things apply to you and me?
We must conclude one of two things: (1) Either this portion of God’s Word has nothing to do with us and is to be ignored by us, or (2) the instructions here given have a far wider, spiritual, gospel application than most imagine.
Obviously, Leviticus 21 was written by divine Inspiration for our instruction, learning, edification, and consolation (Romans 15:4). These instructions concerning God’s priests were written “that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”
There are no priests today who minister in the sanctuary of our God, who serve in the tabernacle, and offer sacrifices at God’s altar. Yet, if we would come to God and have our sins forgiven, and be accepted of him, if we would be saved, we must have an altar, a sacrifice, and a priest, an altar appointed by God, a sacrifice accepted by God, and a priest anointed by God
The Lord Jesus Christ is our great High Priest. Christ is our Melchizedek, our ever-living High Priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities, “who also maketh intercession for us” and is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by him (Hebrews 7:25).
The Scriptures also tell us that every believer is a priest unto God, one who does business in the holy place, offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Christ (1 Peter 2:5-9). And God’s servants, those men who preach the gospel of Christ (though we have no mediating priestly function and are in no sense priests between God and men) are also represented by Aaron and his sons, and by the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament.
Let me be crystal clear. Gospel preachers, pastors, are not priests. The only mediator between God and men is the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit uses the laws given in the Old Testament to illustrate the work of the gospel ministry and to enforce the pastor’s required of separation of himself unto the gospel exclusively, as well as the local church’s maintenance of pastors and missionaries in the work of the gospel.
As you know, when the land of Canaan was divided by Joshua, he gave no inheritance to the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe. This was done by divine command, because those who served in the house of God, those who ministered for the souls of men in holy things, for the glory of God, were to be maintained in their livelihoods by the gifts and sacrifices of God’s people. The Apostle Paul, by divine inspiration, tells us that those revealed facts teach that God has ordained that those who preach the gospel are to be financially supported and maintained by the people they serve (Numbers 18:20, 23-24; Deuteronomy 10:9; 18:1-2; Joshua 13:14, 33; 18:7; 1 Corinthians 9:13-14; 1 Timothy 5:17-18).
With those things in mind, let’s look at Leviticus 21 and see what the Lord teaches us in this chapter about our great Savior and about ourselves.
Leviticus 21 begins with the word “And.” The instructions of this chapter are directly connected with the last verse of chapter 20. — “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:27)
In chapters 19 and 20, the Lord frequently and specifically warns us never to consult with wizards, witches, and the like, never to seek counsel at the hands of palm readers, soothsayers, astrological interpreters, (psychologists, psychiatrists, or psychics), or at the altar of any idol.
God’s people are to seek direction at God’s hand, by the mouth of his servants, in his house. Therefore, in chapter 21 he tells us what kind of men his servants must be. Leviticus 21 is in many ways the Old Testament equivalent of Titus 1:6-9, where the Holy Spirit tells us what a pastor must be.
We must never forget that we belong to God. That is the message of Leviticus 21:1-9). We who are saved by God’s amazing, free grace in Christ are the sons and daughters of God. Let us never forget who we are and whose we are. Especially, those servants of God who are gospel preachers, ministers about the holy things, must never forget that the treasure trusted to our hands is and must be first and foremost in our lives. Let us ever live as men separated unto the gospel, devoted to the glory of God.
“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: But for his kin, that is near unto him, that is, for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, and for his daughter, and for his brother, and for his sister a virgin, that is nigh unto him, which hath had no husband; for her may he be defiled. But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.” (vv. 1-4)
In verse 4 God tells the priest why he must not behave as other men, even when someone he loves dearly has died. He must not defile himself; he must not mourn as those who have no hope, because he was “a chief man among his people” — a guardian of the people. All eyes were upon him.
So it is with you and me, both you who are my fellow laborers in the gospel and you who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are guardians of God’s people. That makes us public people. The eyes of God’s people are upon us, looking to us for direction. And we are responsible to care for one another.
Aaron’s sons were not permitted to defile themselves, that is to mourn as those who do not believe God; but they were permitted to mourn. If one of Aaron’s sons lost one of his family, he was not expected to act like a calf had died out in the pasture. God’s people are still people. God’s servants are still men. That which causes others sorrow causes us sorrow, too. But we “sorrow not as others who have no hope.”
Our Lord wept at Lazarus’ tomb. He wept because Mary and Martha wept. He who was the perfect man entered into their sorrow. So may we. Grace does not make people hard. It makes them tender. But even in sorrow, we must never forget that we belong to God. We worship God. We serve God and his people. That is and must be first and foremost.
The Lord God made particular allowance for expressions of tenderness, care, and love of the priest for his own family. We often feel guilty and beat ourselves because we do not love and pray for others like we do for our own. No doubt, this is an evil of our nature. Yet, it is an evil attributed to the weakness of our nature. And our God here specifically allows it. God’s family is our first concern. Yet, concern for God’s family does not make men and women indifferent toward their own. Grace makes us more diligent in all the tender relations and responsibilities connected with our families. Grace does not weaken natural affection. It increases it.
There is something else here. — The priest was not permitted to mourn for any but his own, immediate family, to teach us that we ought not display greater regard and tenderness for some of God’s people than we do for others. Our hearts are to be devoted to the whole family of God, concerned for the welfare of each brother and each sister in the household of God.
Let there be no cliques in God’s house, among God’s people. Let each brother and sister in Christ make it their business to look out for and minister to the most overlooked among us. As for pastors, the pastor must be pastor to all the congregation, the weak and the strong, the most devoted and the most wavering, the most pleasing and the most displeasing. Let us learn to pray as Andrew Bonar, “Lord, keep us from selfish joys. Teach us to live for others and for you!”
“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. They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God: for the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and the bread of their God, they do offer: therefore they shall be holy.” (vv. 5-6)
“They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God!” — God requires that you and I walk before him as a holy people, that is as a people separated, distinct and distinguished, from all other people, as his own, peculiar people.
Even when we mourn the loss of a loved one or experience any of those things in this sin cursed world that cause us grief and pain, we are not to be like the heathen. We are not to display uncontrollable anguish and grief. In all things, let us bow to the will and wisdom and goodness of our God. And let us see to it that all around us know that we do, not by our speech, but by our demeanor.
Gospel preachers, pastors, elders, and teachers, those who are employed in the service of Christ publicly, are doubly bound to abstain from all appearance of evil in these matters. We are the King’s attendants in his palace, cupbearers at his table, representatives of our God to his people. Let us take care that we do not profane his name by behaving as those who worship other gods. If we, by our behavior in times of heavy trial, leave upon those around us the impression that our God is not doing us good, that he is not in control of our affairs, that he has abandoned us, we profane his name before them.
Like those priests of old, we stand before God’s people as men sent of God to point them to Christ’s all-sufficient, effectual sacrifice, declaring that since Christ has redeemed us, put away our sins, and reconciled us to God, God is for us, his blessing is upon us, and his love for us is unceasing. But that which we teach and preach with our lips will fall on deaf ears if it is not demonstrated by our calm acquiescence before him when he sends us through deep waters and fiery trials.
“They shall not take a wife that is a whore, or profane; neither shall they take a woman put away from her husband: for he is holy unto his God. Thou 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, am holy.” (vv. 7-8)
The priests of Israel were not allowed to marry any woman who was unchaste or divorced. Clearly, this is not a law to be literally enforced upon men today, any more than sabbath keeping and laws regarding animal sacrifices. This applies neither to believers in general nor to those who serve as gospel preachers in a literal way. The spirit of the law points to and teaches something far higher.
Typical of Christ
The priest was typical of our Lord Jesus Christ in all his public acts. He points us to our great High Priest. Even in his choice of a bride, the Lord God took care that the priest set forth another Priest.
Our Savor’s bride is “without spot or wrinkle,” “undefiled,” “the choice one of her that bare her; the daughters saw her and blessed her” (Song of Solomon 6:9). That is not what we are by nature; but that is what Christ makes us. By nature, we are all like Hosea’s wife Gomer, people of ill repute (Hosea 1-3). But the Lord Jesus has made all his holy bride chaste virgins (Revelation 14:4).
Because God “hateth putting away” (Malachi 2:16), the priest must not marry a divorced woman. The Savior chose us for eternity. — There must be nothing even to hint to his bride that she may again be separated from him.
The Gospel Preacher
Certainly, there is an application to the gospel preacher, to that man who stands before God’s people to lead them in the knowledge and worship of God. We are God’s servants. For his name’s sake, for the honor of the gospel, our whole lives are to be devoted to our God and Savior. The same is true of all believers. But in as much as our God has put us in trust with the gospel, since he has given us this great work to do, we are all the more responsible. To whom much is given much is required. Let us honor our God. No demand is too great. No sacrifice is too costly. No work is too difficult.
“Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1 Timothy 4:12-16)
“And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.” (Leviticus 21:9)
As in the case of New Testament pastors it is written, “having faithful children not accused of riot, nor unruly’’ (Titus 1:6), so it was with the priest’s family. The conduct of the family reflects upon the father. God would not have us burn our daughters at the stake for such behavior. Rather, he teaches us to forgive and help. But I am sure of this. — If any who now wear the name of Christ, if any who profess faith in the Son of God go awhoring after other gods, they shall be burned forever with the fire of God’s wrath in hell!
We are to sanctify ourselves unto our God. We are to seek his honor in all things, devoting everything, our entire lives, even our families to his glory. What a reasonable thing it is that we should do so (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 19-20; Romans 12:1-2).
Christ Our Priest
It is most reasonable, if you consider this. — The Lord Jesus Christ, as our great High Priest, sanctified himself, consecrated himself entirely to the will and glory of God for the saving of our souls (John 17:17-19). We see this portrayed in verses 10-15.
“And 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; Neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother; Neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the crown of the anointing oil of his God is upon him: I am the LORD.” (vv. 10-12)
The words “high priest” are used here for the first time in the Book of God. Actually, a better translation would be “great priest” or “great high priest.” Our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the one of whom the passage speaks. In all things, he is our example. Even in the typology of this chapter, it is the High Priest, the Lord Jesus, who is the eminent example of devotion to God. The holy anointing oil is upon him. The words “anointing oil” might be translated, as some suggest, “the crown of the anointing oil.” You see, our Great High Priest is the King, the King of Glory, a Priest upon his Throne. He is called the Great High Priest, because he is infinitely better than all others, because there was never a priest like him (Exodus 28:36; 29:6; 39:30).
Our all-glorious Christ was consecrated to put on the garments, the garments of salvation. He made them. He wore them. And he puts them on us. Our great Savior, Jehovah’s Righteous Servant, never rent his clothes or uncovered his head as one in mourning (Isaiah 42:1-4).
Never Defiled Himself
He never touched the dead, except to give life. Even when his mother was before him as a bereaved widow, as she beheld his anguish upon the cursed tree, he was her High Priest and Mediator, and showed tenderness, concern, and care, not for himself, but for her. In the midst of his woes as the smitten Shepherd, he took time to recommend her to John, and then, so to speak, resumed his work of suffering. And what he did for her, he did for all his chosen family (Psalms 69:4-9).
Never Went Out
Our Great High Priest truly was the Priest who never went “out of the sanctuary,” and who never “profaned it” by the introduction of personal concerns. He ever felt the streams of the anointing oil on his head. He “saved” not, but “hated and lost” his own life for us. He stood entirely as our Substitute and Surety. Oh, “thanks be unto God” for such a Great High Priest!
The Bride Chosen
“And he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife. Neither shall he profane his seed among his people: for I the LORD do sanctify him.” (vv. 13-15)
Here he is again. God’s elect, the Church of Christ is espoused to him “as a chaste virgin” (2 Corinthians 11:2), and he calls her, “my undefiled” (Song 6:9). When we stand with him before the throne of God, he declares that we are chaste, undefiled virgins (Revelation 14:1-5). As he calls us his undefiled, we look upon the Son of God and say, Thou art “my first husband” (Hosea 2:7). These things are not so by nature, but blessed be God, they are so!
The Lord Jesus Christ is married to his church in perfect holiness. — “She cometh to the king in robes of needle-work” all glorious. She was not thus fair when he found her; but she is “all fair,” “undefiled,” “the choice one” when he marries her. The marriage of the Lamb is on the day of his coming out of theŠHoly Place to bless his redeemed. We are his holy people in whom he rejoices, over whom he rejoices with singing! No spot or wrinkle, no blemish, nor any such thing appears on his redeemed when he is their Bridegroom (Ephesians 5:27).
The blood of our all-glorious Christ, our Great High Priest’s sacrifice, and his righteousness demand and absolutely secure our everlasting glory and perfection as his chosen bride.
It is written of God’s High Priest, “Neither shall he profane his seed among his people” (v. 15). Aaron was not to mix his seed with the wicked. Neither shall Christ. He shall never profane one of his own, by charging them with sin, as he shall the damned forever (Romans 4:8; 8:33-34).
Our Effectual Priest
We know that all the work of our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, shall effectually secure this blessed end, because our Priest is exactly the Priest God required. In verses 17-21, the Lord God speaks not to Aaron personally, but to Moses, the lawgiver, telling him the kind of man the high priest must be.
“Speak 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. For 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 anything superfluous, or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, or crookbacked, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken; No 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.” (vv. 17-21)
The man God requires, the man we need, the man God accepts as our Great High Priest is the God-man; Christ Jesus is exactly the priest we need — perfect! He is the perfect man, the God-man, our Savior. None other could save us (Hebrews 7:25-28).
The Bread of God
Who can read those words, “the bread of God,” and not think of our Lord Jesus Christ? Those specific words are used only seven times in Holy Scripture (Leviticus 21:6, 8, 17, 21, 22; 22:25, John 6:33). It seems obvious to me that our Lord Jesus referred to this 21st chapter of Leviticus when he said, “The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51). — “The Bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven” (John 6:33).
The showbread the priests offered continually upon the Table of Showbread pointed to him, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is “The Bread of God.” He is the Bread that satisfies God. He is the Bread God gives by which our souls are satisfied. He is the Bread God’s servants constantly spread on the table in his house. Christ is our daily Bread, the Bread we must have, the Bread we must eat, and the Bread we want.
The Perfect Priest
All of these precepts concerning the men who might be allowed to serve as God’s High Priest were necessary because the high priest in Israel was a type of Christ throughout the Old Testament. As such, he must always appear as one who was altogether without blemish or fault of any kind.
The Song of Solomon (Song of Solomon 5) gives us some light on this passage. In setting forth Christ’s purity, beauty, and perfection in figurative terms, it uses almost all the references to the body that are found here in Leviticus 21. Here the defects are spoken of, there the excellences.
Š If the priest had been “blind,” the people would be led to misapprehend the type. He could not represent him whose “eyes are as a flame of fire.”
Š If the priest had been “lame,” he could not represent him whose “legs are as pillars of marble.”
Š If the priest had been “flat nosed,” he could not be the type of him whose bride has this said of her, “Thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon.”
Š If the priest had been “superfluous in any limb,” if one limb was longer than the other, he could not be a type of him who “cometh leaping on the mountains.”
Š If the priest had been “broken-footed,” he could not have typified him whose feet are “sockets of fine gold.”
Š If the priest had been “broken-handed,” he could not have typified our Lord Jesus, whose hands we are told are “as gold rings, set with beryl.”
Š Our Redeemer, our Great High Priest, was to stretch out his whole body on the cross. The nails were to pierce his hands and feet. Yet, not a bone of his body would be broken. If the priest had been “crook-backed,” he would have represented the High Priest of the church as inferior to the church herself, “whose stature is like the palm-tree.”
Š If the priest had been “a dwarf,” he could not have reached up to the altar’s height. He could not have been a type of him whose “countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.”
Š If the priest had had “a blemish in his eye,” he could never have typified our Savior whose “eyes are as doves by rivers of waters, washed in milk, and fitly set.”
Š If the priest had been diseased, having the “scurvy” or “scabbed,” he could not have typified him “who is all fair,” who has “no spot or wrinkle.”
Š If in the most secret, hidden spot of his frame, the priest had had the slightest blemish or defect, he could not have been a type of our great Savior who is “all glorious within.”
Our Great High Priest is just such a High Priest as we need. — Altogether perfect. — Altogether lovely. Virtue flows out of him when he is but touched by a sinner’s hand. And this all-glorious Christ was the Sacrifice as well as the Priest. — “He offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:27).
“He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy. Only he shall not go in unto the veil, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the LORD do sanctify them.” (vv. 22-23)
The common, deformed, defiled men among Aaron’s sons were provided for. They were allowed to feed upon the holy things. But only the unblemished, faultless man could go into the holy place, only God’s appointed High Priest could go into the holy of holies and make atonement for the people.
The high priest had to be a man who had no fault or blemish, because he typified that Man who is our Great High Priest of infinite worth, beauty, and glory, the God-man, who gives all his beauty to us, and yet retains it all in himself. Oh, how fair he is! — “Thou art all fair, my Beloved. Thou art all fair!” He who offered the bread of perfect righteousness in the holy place (the outer sanctuary) must be himself perfect. He who offered the blood of complete satisfaction in the most holy place, behind the veil, must himself be perfect.
“And Moses told it unto Aaron, and to his sons, and unto all the children of Israel.” (v. 24)
By these things all Israel knew what sort of priest to expect. Their eyes were fixed on One who was to be “altogether lovely,” by whose merit, virtue, and sacrifice God would accept his people, by whose merit, virtue, and sacrifice God could not but accept and bless his people.