Leviticus 21
Matthew Poole's Commentary
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:
Priests must not defile themselves, in mourning over the dead: cases excepted, Leviticus 21:1-6. Nor marry with a whore, profane, or divorced woman, Leviticus 21:7,8. His daughter, if a whore, to be burnt with fire, Leviticus 21:9. The high priest must in no case defile himself with the dead, Leviticus 21:10-12: must marry a virgin of his people, Leviticus 21:13-15. Persons having bodily defects allowed to eat of the holy things, but not to serve in the tabernacle, or offer to God, Leviticus 21:16-24.

To wit, by touching of the dead body, or abiding in the same house with it, or assisting at his funerals, or eating 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, Numbers 6:6 19:11,14,16 Deu 26:14 Hosea 9:4. And God would hereby teach them, and in them all successive ministers of holy things, that they ought so entirely to give themselves to the service of God, that they ought to renounce all expressions of natural affections, and all worldly employments, so far as they are impediments to the discharge of their holy services. See Leviticus 10:3,7 Deu 33:9 Matthew 8:22. Hereby also God would beget in the people a greater reverence to the priestly function, and oblige the priests to a greater degree of strictness and purity than other men.

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,
For his kin that is near unto him: under this general expression his wife seems to be comprehended, though she be not expressed in the following instances, because from the mention of others more remote it was easy to gather that so near a relation was not excluded. And hence it is noted as a peculiar and extraordinary case, that Ezekiel, who was a priest, was forbidden to mourn for his wife, Ezekiel 24:16, &c. These exceptions God here 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, as we shall see.

For his brother.

Object. Eleazar and Ithamar are forbidden to mourn for their brethren, Nadab and Abihu.

Answ. 1. That case was singular, both because such a mourning might seem to be a censure of God’s severity upon them, and because they were then in the actual execution of their office, and in their initiation to it, and they were the only persons, besides Aaron, that could perform that work, and therefore their attendance upon it was more necessary than it would be in after-times and other cases.

2. The latter law can either limit of enlarge the former at the pleasure of the lawgiver. And this law may seem to be added, lest that prohibition, Le 10, should be taken for a general rule.

And for his sister a virgin, that is nigh unto him, which hath had no husband; for her may he be defiled.
For his sister, either by father or mother.

Nigh unto him, i.e. by nearness, not of relation, (for that might seem a needless addition,) but of habitation, i.e. one not yet cut off from the family, as it follows.

Which hath had no husband; for if she was married, she was now of another family, and under her husband’s special care in those matters.

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

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.
To wit, in funerals, as the heathens did: q. d. Though I allow them to defile themselves for some of the dead, yet in no case shall they use these superstitious and heathenish rites, which also the people are forbidden to do, Leviticus 19:27 Deu 14:1, but the priests in a more peculiar manner, because they are by word and example to teach the people their duty not to sorrow for the dead as persons without hope.

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 and fit for it; and therefore shall keep themselves as far as they can from all defilement, which makes them unmeet for their Master’s use.

Not profane the name of their God, which they especially bear; they shall not disparage the service of God by making it give place to such slight occasions.

The bread of their God, i.e. the shew-bread; or rather, all the other offerings besides burntofferings; which are called bread, either because bread is commonly put for all food, as below, Leviticus 21:17,21; or because God is satisfied and refreshed with these offerings, as a man is with his bread; or rather, because they, or part of them, are the bread or food of the priests, and are here called the bread of their God, either objectively, because they were offered to God, or efficiently, because they were given by God to the priests. And these are called bread in opposition to the burnt-offerings, which being wholly consumed gave no food to the priests. Or, the offerings made by fire are here put synecdochically for all the rest, the most eminent kind for all, which are here called bread, because devoured by fire to the honour of God; for the particle and is not in the Hebrew, and may be omitted.

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.
Or profane, or defiled, or defloured, though it were done secretly, or by accident, 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 suspicion of evil, and occasions of reproach or contempt, because this would reflect upon himself, and upon his God and religion also. The word may denote one defloured by any person, though it were by her husband; or a widow, because not only the high priest was obliged to marry a virgin, Leviticus 21:13, but also the inferior priests, as appears from Ezekiel 44:22, and that is either signified by this word, or by none other here. It is true, a widow, and a profane person, are distinguished, Leviticus 21:14; but the same word may be, and oft is, taken in differing senses, both more largely and more strictly, in the same chapter. And there was some reason why it should be more expressly and distinctly set down there, a widow, or one profane or defloured otherwise, because there was the more need of caution in the high priest, and therefore the widow is particularly mentioned, which in the former case might be sufficiently comprehended under a general title.

A woman put away from her husband, though not for adultery, but for light causes, and by the husband’s fault, because though the woman might he wholly innocent and free, yet it would leave some blemish upon her.

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 those and other of my laws observed, shall take care that the priest be holy, and do not defile himself by any of these forbidden marriages, though he would do it.

He shall be holy unto thee; either

1. In thy esteem, and therefore shall not give thee cause to think meanly and irreverently of him by his defiling or debasing of himself with irregular mixtures. Or,

2. To thy use or service, in whose name he is to act with God, and therefore shall preserve himself in a state of holiness and acceptation with God. For I the Lord am holy, and therefore my ministers must be such also.

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 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 Le 18.

She profaneth her father, i.e. exposeth his person and office, and consequently religion, one of whose prime ministers he is, to contempt.

She shall be burnt with fire; which was the severest of all the kinds of punishments among the Jews. Whereby God would show, both the greatness of their sins who stand in nearer relation to God than others, and how far God is from allowing sin in those who are nearest to him.

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;
Upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, Leviticus 8:12; which was only sprinkled upon inferior priests, blood also being mixed with it, Leviticus 8:30.

The garments, to wit, those holy garments which were peculiar to him, as well as those common to others.

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. Or if this custom was now in use, the meaning may be, he shall not put off the priestly covering or mitre, which was necessary for him to do, if he had put on the mourner’s covering upon his head, otherwise the holy covering had been defiled, but he shall continue in the exercise of his office, which is signified by keeping on his priestly garments.

Neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother;
Neither shall he go, to wit, 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.

Nor defile himself for his father; because upon his father’s death he was actually high priest, having been consecrated to this office in his father’s lifetime.

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 wit, to attend the funerals of any person; for upon other occasions he might and did commonly go out.

Nor profane the sanctuary; either by making the service thereof give place to the discharge of his passions, or 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, i.e. the anointing oil, which to him was instead of a crown, by which he was advanced not only above the rest of his brethren, but even above all the people, whose chief governor he was in the things of God, though subject and accountable to the civil magistrate, by which also he was made an eminent type of Christ, who was to be King and Priest. Or, the crown, to wit, 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, as Psalm 144:9 Isaiah 63:11 Habakkuk 3:11, &c. And these two things being most eminent, are put for the rest, and the sign is put for the thing signified, q.d. for he is God’s high priest. Or, the consecration (for so nezer signifies) of the anointing oil, which by an hypallage may be put for the anointing oil of the consecration, i.e. whereby he is consecrated, is upon him; i.e. though that action be past, yet the virtue of it remains still upon him; he is a sacred person in the highest degree, and therefore not to defile himself in any kind.

And he shall take a wife in her virginity.
Or, a virgin, partly for the decency of the type, because as he was a type of Christ, so his wife was a type of the church, which is compared to a virgin, 2 Corinthians 11:2 Revelation 14:4; and partly for greater caution and assurance that his wife was not a defiled or defloured person. This and the following rule belong not to all the priests, for then this were a gross tautology, these same things, or most of them, being expressly forbidden to them, Leviticus 21:7, but only to the high priest, to show that he also, and he especially, is obliged to the same cautions.

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.
A widow; except she were the widow of his predecessor, which some gather from Ezekiel 44:22. But that place speaks only of the common priest, not of the high priest.

Of his own people, i.e. either,

1. Of his own tribe, which is confuted by the examples of holy men; see 2 Chronicles 22:11; or,

2. Of the seed of Israel, as it is explained Ezekiel 44:22.

Neither shall he profane his seed among his people: for I the LORD do sanctify him.
Neither shall he profane his seed by mixing it with forbidden kinds, whereby the children would be disparaged, and rendered unfit for their priestly function.

Do sanctify him, i.e. have separated him from all other sorts of men for my especial and immediate service, and therefore will not have that race corrupted.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
No text from Poole on this verse.

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.
Whosoever he be of thy seed, whether the high priest or the inferior ones.

In their generations; in all successive ages, as long as your priesthood and policy endures.

Any blemish, i.e. 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, some conceive, that still such persons as have notorious defects or deformities, which render them contemptible, are not fit for the ministry; which may be true in the general, except where there are eminent gifts and graces, which are sufficient to vindicate a man from the contemptibleness of his bodily presence. The particular defects 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 very necessary.

The bread; either the shew-bread, one eminent part being named for the whole; or, the food, i.e. all the oblations. See Poole "Leviticus 21:6".

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,
He shall not approach unto God, or to serve him in his sanctuary.

A flat nose: most restrain this word to the nose and to some great deformity relating to it, either the want of it wholly or in part, or the shortness, flatness, or crookedness of 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.

Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded,
No text from Poole on this verse.

Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken;
No text from Poole on this verse.

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.
No man that hath a blemish; any notorious blemish whereby he is disfigured, though not here mentioned.

He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy.
Which a priest having any uncleanness upon him might not do; whereby God would show the great difference between natural infirmities sent upon a man by God, and moral defilements which a man brought upon himself. What was

holy, and what

most holy, was declared before. See Leviticus 2:3 6:17 7:1 14:13 22:10.

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.
In unto the veil i.e. to the second veil, which was between the holy and the most holy place, Exodus 26:13,36, to burn incense, to order the shew-bread, and to dress the lamps, which were nigh unto that veil, though without.

Nor come nigh unto the altar, i.e. 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. My sanctuary, Heb. my sanctuaries, in the plural number, as it is also Leviticus 26:31 Jeremiah 51:51 Ezekiel 28:18; for though the sanctuary was but one, yet there were divers parts, to wit, the court, the holy place, and the most holy, each of which was in a large sense a sanctuary, or a holy place set apart for God’s worship.

I the Lord do sanctify them, i.e. do set them apart for high and holy uses, to manifest my presence and grace, and to receive my worship and service in them. And therefore I will not have them polluted or disparaged by the admission of defiled or deformed priests to minister therein.

And Moses told it unto Aaron, and to his sons, and unto all the children of Israel.
No text from Poole on this verse.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

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