Leviticus 21 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Leviticus 21)

Verse 1

[1] 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:

Among his people — None of the priests shall touch the dead body, or assist at his funeral, or eat of the funeral feast. The reason of this law is evident, because by such pollution they were excluded from converse with men, to whom by their function they were to be serviceable upon all occasions, and from the handling of holy things. And God would hereby teach them, and in them all successive ministers, that they ought entirely to give themselves to the service of God. Yea, to renounce all expressions of natural affection, and all worldly employments, so far as they are impediments to the discharge of their holy services.

Verse 2

[2] 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,

Near to him — Under which general expression his wife seems to be comprehended, though she be not expressed. And hence it is noted as a peculiar case, that Ezekiel, who was a priest, was forbidden to mourn for his wife, Ezekiel 24:16, etc. These exceptions God makes in condescension to human infirmity, because in such cases it was very hard to restrain the affections. But this allowance concerns only the inferior priest, not the high-priest.

Verse 3

[3] And for his sister a virgin, that is nigh unto him, which hath had no husband; for her may he be defiled.

That is nigh him — That is, by nearness not of relation, (for that might seem a needless addition) but of habitation, one not yet cut off from the family. For if she was married, she was now of another family, and under her husband's care in those matters.

Verse 4

[4] But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.

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.

Verse 5

[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.

They shall not make baldness — In funerals, as the Heathens 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 are by word and example to teach the people their duty.

Verse 6

[6] 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.

Holy unto their God — Devoted to God's service, and always prepared for it, and therefore shall keep themselves from all defilements.

The name of their God — Which they especially bear.

The bread of their God — That is, the shew-bread: or rather, all the other offerings, besides burnt-offerings: which are called bread, because bread is commonly put for all food.

Verse 7

[7] 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.

Profane — Or defiled, or deflowered, though it were done secretly, or by force: because the priest must take care that all the members of his family be free not only from gross wickedness, but from all suspicions of evil.

Verse 8

[8] 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.

Thou — O Moses, and whosoever shall succeed in thy place, to whom it belongs to see my laws observed, shall take care that the priest be holy, and do not defile himself by any of these forbidden marriages.

Verse 9

[9] And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.

And the daughter — And by analogy his son also, and his wife, because the reason of the law here added, concerns all. And nothing is more common than to name one kind for the rest of the same nature, as also is done Leviticus 18:6.

She profaneth her father — Exposeth his person and office, and consequently religion, to contempt.

Verse 10

[10] 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;

The garments — Those holy garments, which were peculiar to him.

Shall not uncover his head — This being then the posture of mourners, Leviticus 10:6, though afterwards the custom was changed and mourners covered their heads, 2 Samuel 15:30; Esther 6:12.

Nor rent his clothes — Another expression of mourning.

Verse 11

[11] Neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother;

Go in — Into the chamber or house where they lie. This and divers other rites here prescribed were from hence translated by the Heathens into their use, whose priests were put under the same obligations.

Verse 12

[12] 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.

Out of the sanctuary — To attend the funerals of any person: for upon other occasions he might and did commonly go out.

Nor profane the sanctuary — Either by the performance of a civility, or by entering into the sanctuary before the seven days allotted for his cleansing, Numbers 19:11, were expired.

The crown of the anointing oil — Or, the crown, the golden plate, which is called the holy crown, Exodus 29:6, and the anointing oil of his God are upon him. So there is only an ellipsis of the conjunction and, which is frequent. And these two things, being most eminent, are put for the rest, as the sign is put for the thing signified, that is, for he is God's high-priest.

Verse 13

[13] And he shall take a wife in her virginity.

In her virginity — Or, a virgin, partly because as he was a type of Christ, so his wife was a type of the church, which is compared to a virgin, and partly for greater caution and assurance that his wife was not a defiled or deflowered person. Most of these things are forbidden to all the priests; and here to the high-priest, to shew that he also, and he especially is obliged to the same cautions.

Verse 15

[15] Neither shall he profane his seed among his people: for I the LORD do sanctify him.

I the Lord sanctify him — I have separated him from all other men for my immediate service, and therefore will not have that race corrupted.

Verse 17

[17] 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.

Of thy seed — Whether the high priest, or the inferior ones.

That hath — In all successive ages, any defect or excess of parts, any notorious deformity or imperfection in his body. The reason hereof is partly typical, that he, might more fully represent Christ, the great high-priest, who was typified both by the priest and sacrifice, and therefore both were to be without blemish; partly moral, to teach all Christians and especially ministers of holy things, what purity and perfection of heart and life they should labour after, and that notorious blemishes in the mind or conversation, render a man unfit for the ministry of the gospel; and partly prudential, because such blemishes were apt to breed contempt of the person; and consequently, of his function, and of the holy things wherein he ministered. For which reason, such persons as have notorious defects or deformities, are still unfit for the ministry except where there are eminent gifts and graces, which vindicate a man from the contemptibleness of his bodily presence. The particular defect's here mentioned, I shall not enlarge upon because some of the Hebrew words are diversely interpreted, and because the use of these things being abolished, the knowledge of them is not necessary.

Verse 18

[18] 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 any thing superfluous,

A flat nose — Most restrain this word to the nose, and to some great deformity relating to it. But according to others, it signifies more generally, a person that wants some member or members, because the next word, to which it is opposed, signifies one that hath more members than he should.

Verse 21

[21] 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.

A blemish — Any notorious blemish whereby he is disfigured, though not here mentioned.

Verse 22

[22] He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy.

He shall eat — Which a priest having any uncleanness might not do whereby God would shew the great difference between natural infirmities sent upon a man by God, and moral defilements which a man brought upon himself.

Verse 23

[23] Only he shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the LORD do sanctify them.

To the veil — To the second veil which was between the holy and the most holy place, to burn incense, to order the shew-bread, and to dress the lamps, which were nigh unto that veil though without.

My altar — The altar of burnt-offering, which was without the sanctuary. The sense is, he shall not execute the priest's office, which was to be done in those two places.