The words in this chapter were addressed to the Levitical priests; it contains precepts by which those who ministered in holy things were to be regulated in certain particulars. To begin with, the priests were not to defile themselves by the death of every relative or friend that died – only for the close family members listed in verses 2 and 3. As for the high priest, he was not to defile himself by the death of even his parents. He was a public character who sustained important relationships to the people in their religious ceremonies and in their approaches to the Lord. However, this did not mean that he was to be devoid of sympathy and feeling. Naturally, his soul would have sorrow under such circumstances as the death of his wife, children, siblings, and parents; although he could not give vent to all that he felt. In fact, it was absolutely necessary for the high priest to have feelings of deep emotion; for he was to resemble Jesus, Who wept over His own kindred, and was only restrained from weeping over everyone by the express directive of His Father.
But even when the ordinary priests gave vent to mourning in the instances specified in verses 2 and 3, they were not to imitate the heathen in their expressions of unrestrained grief. God’s ministers are doubly bound to abstain from all appearance of evil. As His servants, they have access to special joys; and consequently, they ought to be expected to exhibit holiness. If they do otherwise, they profane the Lord’s name and leave a bad impression of His perfections in the eyes of earthly-minded people.
The high priest was to be a picture of Christ in all His public acts – even in His choice of a bride. His wife was to be “without spot or wrinkle,” just like Christ’s Bride – the Church. And since our Lord “hateth putting away” (Mal. 2:16), a priest was not to marry a divorced woman. The Savior makes His choice for eternity; there must be nothing to even hint to His espoused wife that she may ever be separated from Him.
The character that was required of the priests reminds us how important it is that those who preach and teach the truth, and who explain the way that leads to God, should be examples of what their words teach. If a man speaks like an angel but lives like a fallen fiend, we immediately say that the speaking is not sincere, and that the character contradicts the teaching; and such teaching will have no influence and exert no power upon mankind. The lives of Christ’s ministers must be in harmony with His great Example that is set forth in the Bible.
The precepts in the latter part of chapter, concerning the priests, evidently originate in the necessity that the officiating priest should be one who exhibited no blemish – for he was a picture of Christ. The Song of Solomon (especially chapter 5) may cast some light on this passage. In setting forth purity and loveliness under figurative terms, it uses almost all the references to the bodily qualities that are found here. Here in this chapter, the defects are mentioned; but there in the Song of Songs, the excellencies are spoken of. For example, if the priest was blind, then the people would be led to misunderstand the picture of Christ; for he could not represent Him Whose “eyes are as a flame of fire.” If he was lame, he could not represent Him Whose “legs are as pillars of marble.” If he was “superfluous in any limb” – if one limb was longer than another – he could not be a proper picture of Him Who “cometh leaping on the mountains” like a young deer. If he was “broken-footed,” he was unlike Him Whom His Church celebrates as planting His stately steps so firmly that His feet are “sockets of fine gold,” on which “pillars of marble” rest. Jesus’ hands are “as gold rings set with beryl;” they could not, therefore, be represented by a priest who was “broken-handed.” Christ was to stretch out His complete and entire person upon the cross; the nails were to pierce His hands and feet, yet not one of His bones was to be broken. If the priest were “crookbacked,” then he would have represented Christ as being inferior to the Church herself, whose stately figure is preeminent “like the palm-tree.” If the priest was diseased with the “scurvy” or itch, or if he had any “scab” – even if it was unseen by the common eye – then he was not like Him “who is all fair.” The Levitical priests were to be foreshadows of Jesus; and similarly, all ministers must be followers of Him, so that their example may teach others to imitate their Savior. They must be pictures of Him Who gave forth His own beauty and perfection to the sinner.
O how lovely Jesus is! His Person is all perfect; virtue flows out of it when it is touched by a sinner’s hand, just as fragrance breathes forth from the leaf of the balm-tree when it is pressed by the hand of the passer-by. And this glorious Person was our atoning Sacrifice as well as our Great High Priest! “He offered up himself” (Heb. 7:27). By gazing upon Aaron, the Israelites knew what sort of a Priest they were to expect. They were to look beyond the mortal man who was dressed in the holy robes, and fix their eyes upon One Who is “altogether lovely,” and Who came to supersede all pictures and shadows.
Lord Jesus, Your Priesthood is everlasting and unchangeable. We praise Your name for bearing our sins in Your own body on the cross, so that You might espouse us to Yourself as Your spotless Bride! And You have not only washed us from our sins in Your own blood, but You have also made us kings and priests to the Father. Give us grace to separate ourselves from the pollutions of the world, and to come out from among them, so that we may be holy – just as You are holy! Amen.
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