Thus said the Lord GOD; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary…
Is not this rather severe upon the stranger? The injunction does not rest upon the fact of the strangeness of the stranger, because in Ezekiel 47:22, 23 there is a distinct provision for the stranger in Israel. God will therefore have the stranger in Israel have his inheritance, his lot; but when it becomes a question of the altar, God naturally looks round for the Levite. In this case the Levite was not present; the Levite had "gone away." How had the Levites disqualified themselves? The facts are given in the context and in the text itself. First, in verse 10, they "are gone away." The man who has exchanged vows with God should always be found in his place. When he goes away it is like high treason in the army; when such a man goes away it is as if a troop had been cut down with the edge of the sword. Gone away far. Observe that next word. It was not a little lapse, one step aside; but "gone away far from Me." You cannot stop one inch away from God; one inch means two, and two inches mean a foot, and the foot soon grows into furlongs and miles. To what had they gone? They "went astray from Me after their idols." Here is the prostitution of reason. Here is no theological mystery, but a mystery of daily life, — that a man shall know the true God, and turn away from Him; a man shall know that there is a coming eternity, and yet shall tabernacle himself in the huts of minutes and hours and all the other little details of perishing time. To know the right, and yet the wrong pursue, is the miracle of manhood. But were the Levites without excuse? They had their reasons. There was a general decadence in Israel. In verse 10 we have these awful words — "when Israel went astray." It was not the movement of a man or two here and there, or of a Levite or a priest, or an eminent legislator or leader; but all Israel in one great mass, as it were, went away, and the Levites went with them. Were not the Levites justified? May we not follow the times? The Lord will not have it so. It is the part of the Levite to stem the torrent of the crowd. It is the part of great statesmen and great writers and great characters to stop others from doing evil, not to go along with them. The Levites should have stood firm, whatever others did. Yet we must not make a perverted use even of this explanation. There God expects every man to be firm, and we only increase in responsibility as we increase in capacity, in opportunity, in faculty, and in profession. Whilst, therefore, it is quite right to expect that certain men should keep the faith and walk in the right way, our expectancy concerning them is no excuse why we ourselves should go wrong. The Lord will not deal with us in crowds, but in individual relationship to Himself, His throne, and His law. What was the result? Were the Levites wholly discharged? No; the word "yet" with which the eleventh verse opens point to an exercise of the Divine clemency that is really wonderful, and it is worth while to indicate this in words, because it continues unto this day. The Lord will never give up a man until the man literally wrenches himself out of the Divine grasp. What became of the errant Levites? First, they were deposed, put down to lower work; degraded, we may say, to the second place; taken down one step, three steps, a dozen steps, but still not wholly banished and excommunicated from the service of the sanctuary. Now this may happen with all of us. What some men might have been! They might have led us; instead of that they are put down to menial service. Search into the reason, and you will find there has been a moral lapse, or an intellectual infirmity, or some proof of disqualification. They are not cast into the bottomless pit, they are not put beyond the reach of light and hope and mercy; but it is of necessity that they should be deposed or degraded. What is true of men individually is true of men ecclesiastically. Churches are put into the second place; churches are put back into the third place. The Church that ought to lead the world because of its wealth, its learning, its historical opportunities and advantages, may so act that men who have no name, no status, no background of history, shall come forward by the voice and appointment of God, and lead the world into redemption and liberty and prospect of heaven. Was the Lord then left wholly without faithful men? You find the contrast in verse 15. There is always a contrast in history. We thought in the preceding verses that all Israel had gone astray, we find in the 15th verse that the sons of Zadok "kept the charge of My sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me." There has always been a faithful party in the state. There has always been an element of constancy in all the mutation of men and times and institutions. God keeps watch over that permanent quantity; it is as His own ark in the wilderness of time. Sometimes the case of the ark has been brought very low; now and then in history it would seem as if the kingdom of God had been within a very short distance of extinction: but what is a "short distance" in the estimation of God? A hair's breadth is a universe; if there is one moment between a nation and destruction, in that one moment God can work all the miracles of deliverance. "Man's extremity is God's opportunity." This lies within our province and within our hope, may it lie also within our sense of duty, that it is possible for us though few to be faithful; it is possible when all others have proved faithless for us to be faithful found.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thus saith the Lord GOD; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.