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Deeper Commentary


Lev 21:1 Yahweh said to Moses, Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘A priest shall not defile himself for the dead among his people;

Lev 21:2 except for his relatives that are near to him: for his mother, for his father, for his son, for his daughter, for his brother,
Lev 21:3 and for his virgin sister who is near to him, who has had no husband; for her he may defile himself.
Lev 21:4 He shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.
Lev 21:5 They shall not shave their heads, neither shall they shave off the corners of their beards, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.
Lev 21:6 They shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God; for they offer the offerings of Yahweh made by fire, the food of their God; therefore they shall be holy-

God invited Israel to eat with Him at the altar, which became His table. The equivalent for us is eating with God at the Lord’s table, the breaking of bread (1 Cor. 10:21). Eating together was understood in Semitic culture as a sign of religious acceptance and fellowship.


Lev 21:7 They shall not marry a woman who is a prostitute, or profane; neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband; for he is holy to his God-

Reference to the possibility of prostitutes who were not punished with death is another tacit recognition within the Law that it would not be fully kept; for prostitution was outlawed. Thus in the very structure of the Law we see God’s sensitive recognition of the fact it would not be fully kept. His sensitivity to and provision for our failures in advance, both individually and collectively, shouldn’t lead us to think that therefore we needn’t take His principles seriously; His foreknowledge of our weakness shouldn’t be perceived by us as a safety net for our sinfulness.

Lev 21:8 You shall sanctify him therefore; for he offers the bread of your God: he shall be holy to you; for I Yahweh, who sanctify you, am holy.
Lev 21:9 The daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by playing the prostitute, she profanes her father: she shall be burned with fire.
Lev 21:10 He who is the high priest among his brothers, upon whose head the anointing oil is poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not let the hair of his head hang loose, nor tear his clothes;-
There seems to have been something unusual about the Lord’s outer garment. The same Greek word chiton used in Jn. 19:23,24 is that used in the LXX of Gen. 37:3 to describe Joseph’s coat of many pieces. Josephus (Antiquities 3.7.4,161) uses the word for the tunic of the High Priest, which was likewise not to be rent (Lev. 21:10). The Lord in His time of dying is thus set up as High Priest, gaining forgiveness for His people, to ‘come out’ of the grave as on the day of Atonement, pronouncing the forgiveness gained, and bidding His people spread that good news world-wide.

This is not to say that long hair is wrong in itself for a male. The pagan priests of Egypt, from where Israel had just been brought out, were noted for their long hair, which stood out from the rest of the male population in Egypt who generally had shaved heads at that time. The principle is that we shouldn’t perceive our religion as merely just one of many other religions; there is something utterly unique about our way to God through Christ, who is our only mediator, the only way, “the truth”. Whilst on one hand God doesn’t judge the outward appearance but the heart, we should also be careful not to have externalities which make us appear to be ‘pagan’ and not the unique people of God.

Lev 21:11 neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother;
Lev 21:12 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 Yahweh.
Lev 21:13 He shall take a wife in her virginity.
Lev 21:14 A widow, or one divorced-
Divorce was clearly possible under the Mosaic system. If a man's wife committed adultery he could have her killed; or he could put her through the trial of jealousy of Num. 5, with the result that she would become barren; or he could divorce her (Dt. 22:19; 24:1 RV; Lev. 21:14; 22:13). Within a Law that was holy, just and good (Rom. 7:12), unsurpassed in it's righteousness (Dt. 4:8; and let us not overlook these estimations), there were these different levels of response possible. But there was a higher level: he could simply forgive her. This was what God did with His fickle Israel, time and again (Hos. 3:1-3). And so the Israelite faced with an unfaithful wife could respond on at least four levels. This view would explain how divorce seems outlawed in passages like Dt. 22:19,29, and yet there are other parts of the OT which seem to imply that it was permitted. It should be noted that there were some concessions to weakness under the Law which the Lord was not so willing to make to His followers (e.g., outside the marriage context, Dt. 20:5-8 cp. Lk. 9:59-62; 14:18,19). He ever held before us the Biblical ideal of marriage.

Or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry; but a virgin of his own people shall he take as a wife-
Prostitutes were envisaged as not always being put to death. By not doing so, Solomon showed his wisdom.

Lev 21:15 He shall not profane his seed among his people; for I am Yahweh who sanctifies him’.

Lev 21:16 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
Lev 21:17 Say to Aaron, ‘None of your seed throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God.
Lev 21:18 For whatever man he is that has a blemish, he shall not draw near: a blind man, or a lame, or he who has a flat nose, or any deformity-
A person who feels they are somehow a nice guy and worthy of invitation will be the one who tends to consider others as unworthy of invitation to the Kingdom. He or she who perceives their own desperation will eagerly invite even those they consider to be in the very pits of human society. The lame, blind etc. were not allowed to serve God under the law (Lev. 21:18), nor be offered as sacrifices (Dt. 15:21), nor come within the holy city (2 Sam. 5:6-8). The Lord purposefully healed multitudes of lame and blind (Mt. 15:30), and allowed them to come to Him in the temple (Mt. 21:14). His acted out message was clearly that those who were despised as unfit for God’s service were now being welcomed by Him into that service. The lame and blind were despised because they couldn’t work. They had to rely on the grace of others. Here again is a crucial teaching: those called are those who can’t do the works, but depend upon grace.

Lev 21:19 or a man who has an injured foot, or an injured hand,
Lev 21:20 or hunchbacked, or a dwarf, or one who has a defect in his eye, or an itching disease, or scabs, or who has damaged testicles;
Lev 21:21 no man of the seed of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the offerings of Yahweh made by fire. Since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God.
Lev 21:22 He shall eat the food of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy-

Whatever blemish the man had, he could still personally fellowship with God, but he was not to publically offer the offerings of others. The priests at that moment were to be consciously representative of the sacrifices, which are the only other things which have the language of ‘blemish’ and ‘unblemished’ applied to them (e.g. Lev. 22:20).

Lev 21:23 He shall not come near to the veil, nor come near to the altar, because he has a blemish; that he may not profane My sanctuaries, for I am Yahweh who sanctifies them’.
Lev 21:24 So Moses spoke to Aaron, and to his sons, and to all the children of Israel.