Leviticus 21: The Price of Priesthood

If you’ve been following along in Leviticus, you have probably seen that Israel’s priests are some busy guys. It was starting to feel like there was no end to their responsibilities.

Well, that all changed in Leviticus 21. The priests finally learn some things they shouldn’t do.

Running the local morgue tops the list.

Relationships Matter

The list of things priests aren’t supposed to do is actually a pretty short one. There are some restrictions about handling dead bodies and shaving your beard and such. Most of these restrictions are things the rest of the people have to follow as well.

Where they get strict is in the area of marriage.

While most men would want to marry a virgin, priests are required to.

There are probably some practical reasons why this rule is in place. A virgin is way less likely to have a disease that would make the priest unclean and unable to perform his duties.

But is there something beyond the practical going on?

Is God saying that those who would want to be spiritual leaders among his people must submit their relationships to him? Is God saying that he has a say in who they marry?

Is this one of the costs of leadership?

“Defile” Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Word

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “defile?”

Imma guess it’s nothing good.

Reading Leviticus probably isn’t going to help bring up positive connotations any time soon. So why do I think it is not as bad as we might think it is?

Well, as a rule, priests aren’t supposed to handle corpses. There are some exceptions made for immediate family. For example, if a priest’s unmarried sister dies, he may act as her husband and care for the body. God’s exact words in that situation are:

“He may defile himself for her.”

What is an interesting phrase! God actually can foresee a situation where defilement would be justified. And not just justified, but appropriate.

Offensive Standards

The end of chapter 21 includes a list of physical features that would disqualify one of Aaron’s sons from being a priest. Here is the list:

  • Blemish
  • Blind
  • Lame
  • Mutilated face
  • Limb too long
  • Broken foot
  • Broken hand
  • Hunchback
  • Dwarf
  • Blemish in the eye
  • Itching disease
  • Scabs

And my favorite: crushed testicles.

My gut reaction was that God was not a fan of these types of people. That would make him pretty mean. But these are simply qualifications of a priest.

They don’t apply to everyone.

That doesn’t erase all my questions, but it is a bit more understandable that these things would only prevent you from offering a sacrifice. You may have crushed testicles, but you can still eat the food and do other priestly things.

And if you were a regular person, many of these wouldn’t matter at all with regards to your standing with God.

Underneath all this is the reminder that God is holy. He is holy, his offerings are holy, and therefore those who lead should be holy.

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6 responses

  1. Somehow, Leviticus completely takes away any desire I had to try lamb fries, or Rocky Mountain oysters. 😉

    But for real, the take away for me is that God is holy, and as such deserves–and wants–our best. Nothing else will do. Which makes even more sense in the context of Jesus: God Himself provided the ultimate–the best–sacrifice.

    Dang, dude! There’s so much in the OT! Thanks for bringing it to light for us.

  2. Back in Lev.19:14, God says to not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind. Makes me think that God is not completely excluding them.
    Leviticus again reminds me how much God loves holiness. He forgives our flaws, but doesn’t want us to continue in them.

    • absolutely, there is just something different about the priests. it shines a little different light on what Jesus was doing when he was healing people. Maybe he was restoring them to the priesthood they had been called to back in Exodus.

  3. Leviticus is hard, weird, and sooooo awkward! Thank you for plowing through this with us! I love the comic relief after scwimishly reading the last few chapters!

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