Leviticus 21:4
But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.
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(4) But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man . . . —Better, A husband shall not defile himself among his people when he had profaned himself. As the seven exceptions to the general rule began with his wife, whose funeral rites the priestly husband is allowed to attend, the verse before us restricts this permission to his legally prescribed wife. If he contracted a marriage which profaned him, he could not attend to her funeral ceremonies. The last clause, which is here translated, “when he had profaned him,” literally denotes “to profane himself,” “with respect to his profanation”—i.e., with respect to a marriage by which he profaned himself. This is the interpretation which the administrators of the Law attached to the verse, and which is transmitted in the Chaldee version of Jonathan. It is not only in perfect harmony with the context, but does least violence to this manifestly disordered text. The translations exhibited in the Authorised version, both in the text and in the margin, as well as most of those suggested by modern commentators, leave the clause unexplained, since it manifestly means something else than defiling himself by contracting impurity through contact with the dead, as is evident from the fact that it is not added in the other instances where the priest is forbidden to defile himself by attending to the dead. (See Leviticus 21:1-11.)

Leviticus 21:4. 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.21:1-24 Laws concerning the priests. - As these priests were types of Christ, so all ministers must be followers of him, that their example may teach others to imitate the Saviour. Without blemish, and separate from sinners, He executed his priestly office on earth. What manner of persons then should his ministers be! But all are, if Christians, spiritual priests; the minister especially is called to set a good example, that the people may follow it. Our bodily infirmities, blessed be God, cannot now shut us out from his service, from these privileges, or from his heavenly glory. Many a healthful, beautiful soul is lodged in a feeble, deformed body. And those who may not be suited for the work of the ministry, may serve God with comfort in other duties in his church.The sense seems to be that, owing to his position in the nation, the priest is not to defile himself in any cases except those named in Leviticus 21:2-3. The Septuagint appear to have followed a different reading of the text which would mean, "he shall not defile himself for a moment." The explanation in the margin of our version is hardly in keeping with the prohibition to Ezekiel on a special occasion. See Ezekiel 24:16. 4. But he shall not defile himself—"for any other," as the sense may be fully expressed. "The priest, in discharging his sacred functions, might well be regarded as a chief man among his people, and by these defilements might be said to profane himself" [Bishop Patrick]. The word rendered "chief man" signifies also "a husband"; and the sense according to others is, "But he being a husband, shall not defile himself by the obsequies of a wife" (Eze 44:25). Or, seeing he is

a chief man, & c., or ruler, &c., for such not only the high priest, but others also of the inferior priests, were. And therefore though he might defile himself for the persons now named, yet he, above all others, must take heed so to do it that he do not profane himself by doing as follows. Or, for a chief man, &c., the preposition lamed being easily understood from the former verse, where it is oft used, such supplements being not unusual in the Hebrew tongue. So the sense is, he shall not defile himself for any other person whatsoever who is not thus near of kin to him, no, not for a prince or chief ruler among his people, who might seem to challenge this duty from him, to join with all others in their resentment of the public loss; much less shall he defile himself for any other. And so the last word,

to profane himself, may be added as a reason why he should not defile himself for the prince or any other except the persons named, because such defilement for the dead did profane him, or make him as a common person and unclean, and consequently unfit to manage his sacred employment, which was an impediment to the service of God, and a public inconvenience to the people, whose concerns with God he negotiated. And it was not meet such great and important affairs should give place to the ceremonies of a funeral for a stranger. But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people,.... Which is not to be understood of any lord or nobleman or any chief ruler or governor of the people; for the context speaks only of priests, and not of other personages; besides, such might defile themselves, or mourn for their dead, as Abraham did for Sarah; nor of any husband for his wife, for even a priest, as has been observed, might do this for his wife, and much more a private person; nor is there any need to restrain it, as some Jewish writers do, to an adulterous wife, which a husband might not mourn for, though he might for his right and lawful wife; but there is nothing in the text, neither of an husband, nor a wife: the words are to be interpreted of a priest, and either of him as considered as a person of eminence, consequence, and importance, and sons giving a reason why he should not defile himself for the dead, because he was a principal person among his people to officiate for them in sacred things; wherefore if he did not take care that he was not defiled for the dead, which might often happen, he would be frequently hindered from doing his office for the people, which would be attended with ill consequence to them; and therefore the above cases are only excepted, as being such that rarely happened: or rather the words are to be considered as a prohibition of defiling himself "for any chief" (s), or principal man, lord, ruler, or governor, among his people; even for such an one he was not to defile himself, being no relation of his:

to profane himself; make himself unfit for sacred service, or make himself a common person; put himself upon a level with a common private man, and be no more capable of serving at the altar, or doing any part of the work off priest, than such an one.

(s) "in principe populi sui", V. L. so Pesicta & Ben Melech in loc. & Kimchi Sepher Shorash. rad.

But he shall not defile himself, being a {c} chief man among his people, to profane himself.

(c) The priest was permitted to mourn for his next kindred only.

4. being a chief man] as a husband (R.V. mg.). This rendering limits the cases in which defilement is permissible to those already mentioned, and forbids mourning for a wife. The A.V. follows the Targum.

The wording of the v. suggests a corruption in the text. The Sept. substitute (see R.V. mg.) for ‘a chief man’ is apparently obtained by a transposition in Heb. consonants, but fails to convey any clear meaning. It has been suggested, by a somewhat greater modification in the Heb., to read in mourning. Baentsch (HG. 111A) considers that the words ‘defile himself’ and ‘among his people’ shew that the v. forms an intimate part of the prohibition contained in the previous vv. Inasmuch, then, as the word rendered ‘chief man’ is regularly used of a husband, and as mention of a wife is strangely absent from the MT., he proposes either of two alternative readings, which assume a copyist’s accidental omission of a word or words, expressing wife; so that the precept originally ran, a husband shall not be defiled for his wife. It is, however, difficult, as Dillm. says, to suppose, in the face of the opening words of Leviticus 21:2, that a priest whose wife died was forbidden to approach the body.The list of punishments concludes, like the prohibitions in Leviticus 18:24., with exhortations to observe the commandments and judgments of the Lord, and to avoid such abominations (on Leviticus 18:22 cf. Leviticus 18:3-5, Leviticus 18:26, Leviticus 18:28, Leviticus 18:30; and on Leviticus 18:23 cf. Leviticus 18:3 and Leviticus 18:24). The reason assigned for the exhortations is, that Jehovah was about to give them for a possession the fruitful land, whose inhabitants He had driven out because of their abominations, and that Jehovah was their God, who had separated Israel from the nations. For this reason (Leviticus 18:25) they were also to sever (make distinctions) between clean and unclean cattle and birds, and not make their souls (i.e., their persons) abominable through unclean animals, with which the earth swarmed, and which God had "separated to make unclean," i.e., had prohibited them from eating or touching when dead, because they defiled (see ch. 11). For (Leviticus 18:26) they were to be holy, because Jehovah their God was holy, who had severed them from the nations, to belong to Him, i.e., to be the nation of His possession (see Exodus 19:4-6).
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