The calling of a priest is a high calling. I’ve said elsewhere that every call of God – whether teacher, pastor, evangelist, prophet, or apostle – begins with the necessity of priestliness. We have explored what it means to be a priest in Leviticus 8, and even touched briefly upon it from chapter 9. When we come to these rules regarding priests, a lot of them seem to cause us to ask, “What’s the big deal?” The big deal – that which would cause for this kind of separation from the rest of Israel – is that the priest is the bearer of the image of God. Just like Israel is to bear the name of her God to the nations, and therefore God tells the people not to disobey Him, the priest is God’s representative.
When you are the very person who reflects the image and character of God, there is a higher standard unto which you are called. James even speaks this, that not everyone should be teachers because they will have the stricter judgment. What you do, and what you don’t do, will either expound the nature of God to the Body of believers, or it will express to them something contrary to God, and you will be judged for that. Any expression that comes from the ministers of God that does not reflect the nature of God is a greater sin than you or I could know. It was this very sin that caused Moses to not enter the land. If you don’t stagger at that, then you don’t understand the greatness of Moses. For God to say to Moses that he won’t enter the Promised Land, simply because he smote a rock instead of speaking to it, it implies that the very man who saw heaven and gave instructions to how to build the Tabernacle in accordance to what he saw was unworthy to cross the Jordan River, but Joshua and the rest of Israel were not unworthy.
So, when we read these rules regarding priests, we need to understand that what God is getting at is that the priest is His representative – almost like the frontman of a band.
These first two regulations go together. The priest shouldn’t make himself ceremonially unclean on behalf of the dead. To be near a dead body, as the priest, would cause you to be unclean and unfit to bring the sacrifice before God. Thus, unless an immediate family member dies, a priest was told not to go to the funeral. Similarly, they must not shave themselves or cut themselves in a manner that would be honoring (worshiping) the dead. We saw this same command in Leviticus 19:27-28. Thus, God is saying, “Don’t defile yourself on behalf of the dead, but let the dead bury their own dead.”
“They must not marry women defiled by prostitution or divorced from their husbands…” Now, it seems to me that both in the New Testament as well as today there were people who saw the command given regarding certificates of divorce, and they concluded that God was fine with divorce. Yet, from this very command, we see that God is not okay with it, and that even the divorced woman will defile the priest. The priest is to display the heart of God – that what He has brought together, let no man separate. And so, too, do we find similar expressions regarding prostitution (in 1 Corinthians 6:15-16 for example).
We find the next rule is given that a daughter who defiles her father by becoming a prostitute should be burned in the fire. Once again, note that the book of Leviticus has a certain people it is speaking to, at a certain time in history, within a certain cultural context. This is not saying that we’re supposed to burn people alive today, like the Salem witch trials. Do notice the severity, though. The question is, “What is so dastardly about the daughter of a priest becoming a prostitute that she should be burned alive?” She isn’t even given the mercy of a quick death, but one of the most painful and tormenting kinds. This doesn’t reflect upon the disgrace of the sin, but upon the premium of the call. To smear the image of the priest is to smear the image of God Himself, for the two are one and cannot be separated. This kind of blaspheme against the God who would deliver you from Egypt – because it isn’t a law given to the pagans, but to Israel – would be like a man or woman in church who makes a living by sleeping with other members in the church. Does that not bring disgrace to both the community and to God?
We read next that the high priest is not to be defiled at all – not even for his father or mother’s funeral – and in that, will not profane the name of the Lord. With a New Testament context, this makes sense. Christ Jesus is our High Priest. The high priest isn’t merely a figurehead, but is the very voice, face, representative, exegete, etc of God. What the high priest is and displays directly expresses to the people who God is. Just as John wrote that Jesus exegetes the Father (makes him known – John 1:18), and that no one else has seen the Father to explain Him to us, so it is that the high priest has that kind of burden laid upon them. Therefore, the high priest is not allowed to keep their hair unkempt, nor tear his clothes, nor enter a place where a dead body is, and the woman he marries must be a virgin. Not only will he bring disgrace upon the God he represents, but will desecrate the holy anointing oil that is poured out upon his head.
Now, before we pass this, let us apply it to Christ. Why is it that Christ was allowed to draw near dead bodies while on earth? It is necessary to note that Jesus was not the high priest according to the flesh, but the heavenly archetype. Therefore, we cannot conclude that these laws apply to him in the same manner. Rather, Christ is of the order of Melchizedek. What it means to not draw near to the dead in that regard, I must assume would mean that He should not defile Himself by embracing the fellowship of the spiritually dead. And, when we look at His earthly ministry, we find that those who were spiritually dead (the Pharisees, Sadducees, Canaanite woman, etc) Jesus opposed to their face. He did not mince His words.
Next, notice this verse rule regarding whom the high priest is allowed to marry (verses 13-15). If Jesus is our high priest, who is the bride? Does Jesus have a bride? We know that Jesus did not marry while upon this earth, but what about all of the various passages and verses saying that we are His bride? Did it just click for you? This is why when we see the Bride with Christ in Revelation 14 upon Mount Zion, it says of them, “These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure.” The church is the Bride, and the Church is the first fruits unto God – just as Christ was the first fruit. But who is the second fruit? I believe that the nations are the second, Israel being the first – all Israel shall be saved, and therefore they shall be the first nation to be brought unto national resurrection.
No priest who has a defect may come near to God to offer the sacrifices. This is not to say that God hates the mentally challenged, the disfigured, the blind, etc. For the same reason that we don’t offer these sorts of sacrifices, the priest must also not have defect. God is pure, and therefore the bearer of the sacrifice, and the sacrifice, must be pure. No blemish can dwell in His presence, and nothing less than the absolute perfection that He requires can be accepted.
In chapter 22, God begins to expound the requirements or when they sacrifice. The priests must be ceremonially clean, no one who is not a priest is allowed to eat of the sacrifices, but if a priest buys a slave he may eat of the sacrifices, and finally the chapter ends regarding the acceptable and unacceptable sacrifices. This whole chapter revolves around the same principle we’ve seen at work through all of Leviticus: separate the clean from the unclean, the holy from the profane. To do the work of God is an honor and sacred. God is not an idol that we should take Him lightly, but is a Living God who cares for us. In the same way that He has shown care for us, by taking us out of our Egypt and drawing us unto Him, we should show care and respect for Him. This is the whole point of these rules. Don’t treat with contempt the very hand that has rescued you. Or, as the modern saying goes, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”
I can’t help but think, why would anyone want to? Why would anyone desire to treat with contempt the very God who has shown such rich grace and mercy? He has loved us with an everlasting love, and shown us love in that while we were still yet sinners, Christ died for us. What can I do but marvel at Him? What disposition do I have, but to love Him? He has not only loved me, even though I have for so long rejected Him, but even changed the very heart within me. Can I then turn around and spout curses, profaning the sacrifice that He has given once and for all? Is it possible for me to simply go my own way into sinful acts and degradation without the sense of repentance and fear?
Herein lies the whole of Leviticus 21-22. As we have been loved, now show love unto God. The way that we show love unto God would be by taking up our cross, denying self, and following him. What does that mean? What does that look like? Every person in the new covenant is a priest. These rules, though we aren’t obligated to follow them exactly, show forth patterns and mysteries of what it means to be priestly. They set up for us an understanding of the priestly call that we’ve all received. Therefore, it is our duty to lay down our own lives and take up each of these regulations, wrestling with it in the context of the new covenant, and seeking to understand fully what each of these lines represents for our lives and us.
What does it mean for me to carry on the work God has given me, and to do so without profaning the name of God? How can I offer spiritual sacrifices unto God – the crucified life, the beauty of holiness, love and compassion for the brethren, etc – in a manner that brings glory to God, and never shame? For where you are in life – whatever your circumstances – what does it mean to offer undefiled sacrifices in cleanness and sobriety before a holy God?