For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

21:1.  “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.”


The priests were not to touch any dead body, for contact with a corpse brought defilement.  The proscription is probably related to the fact that sin and death are inseparable, for it was sin that first brought death into the world, so that to touch a corpse was figuratively to touch death and sin, for it is written, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” Romans 5:12.


What was literal for Israel is spiritual for those who comprise the Church: we are a royal kingdom of priests, 1 Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.”  And again it is written, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?  And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,” 2 Corinthians 6:14-17.  The NT truth being declared here is that there is to be no fellowship between death and life, i.e., between unbelief and faith.


A further reason for God’s proscription of sorrow in bereavement is that it could be construed as a covert form of rebellion against His will.


21:2.  “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,”


21:3.  “And for his sister a virgin, that is nigh unto him, which hath had no husband; for her may he be defiled.”


God takes account of the natural ties that link close family members such as those here listed, and permits the priests to express their sorrow due to bereavement.


21:4.  “But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.”


This is generally taken to mean that when the deceased was not a blood relative, but was related to him only by marriage, he was not to engage in any form of mourning.


“... profane” here means to pollute himself.  As a chief man or leader amongst God’s people he was to avoid anything that might be construed as rebellion, or even disagreement with God’s will, as here, for example, mourning at the death of a non-blood relative.  How often in thought, if not in actual word, we do rebel against God’s will when things don’t go our way!  How different it was with the Lord Jesus Christ, Who in such agony of soul that His sweat became blood, concluded His prayer for deliverance with the words of perfect submission, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done,” Luke 22:42.


21:5.  “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.”


All of these were customary expressions of mourning amongst the Gentiles, but Israel was not to employ any of them.  In connection with mourning it is instructive to note Paul’s words to the Thessalonian saints, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”  In the presence of death, the believer’s sure hope is not to be marred by his engaging in the same expression of sorrow as is employed by those who have no hope.  This doesn’t mean that we are to be stoically indifferent when loved ones are taken home to heaven, but our mourning, particularly in the presence of the unconverted, should be such as will reveal that our hope in Christ, Who has conquered death, reaches beyond the grave and anticipates resurrection to eternal life in heaven.


21:6.  “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.”


They were to be sanctified, i.e., set apart for God, and they were to refrain from anything that would cause His name to be lightly esteemed, for it was their privilege to officiate on behalf of their brethren in connection with the presentation of the sacrificial offerings, and the weekly changing of the shewbread.  This foreshadows the holiness which God requires of us, for we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darknes into his marvellous light,” 1 Peter 2:9.  We should therefore “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,” Ephesians 4:1.


21:7.  “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.”


The priests were forbidden to marry a woman who had lost her reputation by harlotry, or by any conduct that would impugne her moral integrity, including divorce.  The reason lies in the fact that husband and wife are viewed by God as being “one flesh,” Ephesians 5:31, so that the purity of a priest would be destroyed by union with an impure woman.  In this connection it should scarcely be necessary to allude to what is written to believers in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?  And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God....”


21:8.  “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.”


Sanctify means to set apart for a holy purpose, and in the present context it refers to the setting apart of the priests as those whose privilege it was to present the fresh holy bread in the Tabernacle each week, and to eat that which had been upon the table of shewbread for the past week.  This is a typological picture of us as believers whom God has constituted a holy royal priesthood.  It is our privilege to fulfil the type on the first day of each week as we come together to remember the Lord’s death, the OT worshiper’s presentation of the new bread being a type of the worship we present at the Lord’s Supper, i.e., our expressed appreciation of the Lord Jesus Christ.


21:9.  “And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.”


As the daughter, rather than the son of the priest, she represents passivity rather than activity, of the will, the type being fulfilled when our guilt lies not so much in the active commission of sin, as in our passive acceptance of it, and failure to denounce it.  The gravity of this offence is portrayed in the severity of the punishment: she was to be stoned to death, and her body then burnt.


21:10.  “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;”


The father of such a daughter was not to engage in any of the outward signs of mourning such as allowing his hair to hang loose, or in tearing his garments.  There were to be no outward evidences of mourning, for such activity could easily be construed as disagreement with God’s judgment of the guilty daughter.  For an actual instance of what is enjoined here see chapter 10:1-7 relative to the death of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron.


21:11.  “Neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother;”


The priest was forbidden to come near any dead body, even that of his own parents.  The ties of nature were not to be permitted to become the means of a priest’s incurring defilement; and the lesson here may be that God’s honor is not to be impugned by our glossing over the sins of our own families.


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 the Lord.”


His period of service in the sanctuary was not to be interrupted by his going out to engage in customary mourning for even a member of his own family.  The crown of the anointing oil was the holy oil that had been poured upon his head at the time of his anointing, see Leviticus 8:12, the equivalent for us being the anointing of the Holy Spirit at the moment of our conversion.  The lesson for us is that not even the ties of nature are to be permitted to breach our commitment to God.


21:13.  “And he shall take a wife in her virginity.”


The priests were forbidden to marry anyone other than a virgin, the purity of the bride being the perfect complement of the purity of him who was God’s priest; and in this is foreshadowed what is written concerning Christ and His Church, “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ,” 2 Corinthians 11:2.


21:14.  “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 virgin of his own people,” continues to be a very clear type of the Church comprised of those who have been cleansed from every spot and stain of sin; “of his own people” pointing to the fact that believers are possessed of Christ’s very life and nature, see Ephesians 5:26-27 concerning the Church, “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.  That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing: but that it should be holy and without blemish,” and again, “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?” 1 Corinthians 6:15.


21:15.  “Neither shall he profane his seed among his people: for I the Lord do sanctify him.”


This is also translated, “... so that the stock of his family is not debased by the blood of common folk ... otherwise he will have base offspring among his people ... He must not profane his Levitical descendants.  The preservation of the purity of the Levitical line is the typological description of the fact that believers are also of pure stock: the life within us is the very life and nature of Christ Himself.


“... for I the Lord do sanctify him,” is the OT announcement of what is true of every believer: we too have been sanctified, i.e., set apart for God, to live our lives to His glory.


21:16.  “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,”


21:17.  "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."


Since the bread represents Christ, the offering of the bread represents worship, for worship is the presentation to God of our appreciation of Christ.  As the offering was to be unblemished, so also was the offering priest, and as a literal blemish in the priest disqualified him from offering the bread, so does a literal or moral blemish in a spiritual priest, i.e., a Church- age believer, preclude his participating audibly in the presentation of worship at the Lord’s Supper   


The unblemished state of the priest points to the sinless perfection of Christ.


See further comments on verse 21 relative to the blemished priest’s eating the bread.


21:18.  "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,"


Literal blindness represents spiritual blindness, and here points to a believer who lacks spiritual perception, i.e., he understands very little of Scripture.


A lame man can't walk properly, but the literal walk portrays the lifestyle, so that the physically lame priest represents one whose lifestyle is inconsistent with a profession of faith in Christ.


A flat nose is generally understood to be descriptive of facial deformity, but inasmuch as incense (the fragrance of which is perceived by the nose) represents worship, the lesson here seems to relate to the inability to understand the meaning of worship. For example there are some believers who fail to see any difference between a Gospel hymn and one that expresses worship, and who fail also to realize that not every Scripture is appropriate to express worship.  There are those also who fail to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit at the worship meeting, and as a result their self-willed audible participation mars the whole meeting by breaking the continuity of the theme of worship. 


Timing is also of crucial importance.  Something may be appropriate for worship, but not necessarily at this particular Lord's Supper.  Those who participate audibly at the remembrance Feast need to be scrupulously careful that what they say is impelled by the Holy Spirit and not by the flesh.  How frequently that most solemn feast is marred by the activity of the flesh grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit, the distinction between the two being that He is grieved when the flesh impels a man’s utterance, and He is quenched when a brother, whom He does impel, refuses to speak.


The word “flat” in the present context is ominously associated with destruction, different shades of meaning being accursed, consecrated to destruction, slaying, being shut in, contracted, shortened.


"... or anything superfulous."  Physically this could include an extra finger or toe, for example the Philistine giant in 2 Samuel 21:20 had an extra finger on each hand, and an extra toe on each foot.  The Philistines represent apostasy, which is rejection of truth once professedly accepted.  This seems to speak of going beyond what is impelled by the Holy Spirit, e.g., excessive emotion, or reading into Scripture what isn't there; allowing imagination to add details not found in Scripture.


21:19.  "Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded,"


A brokenfooted man would obviously be lame, so that the allusion here is to something different in his lifestyle, something that is incompatible in a general way with a profession of faith in Christ.  It seems to speak of some sudden break in the Christian walk, some special failure rather than a generally lax lifestyle, and inasmuch as a broken foot usually heals, it may represent some matter such as an accusation brought against the man, which further examination may reveal to be unfounded.  Until the matter is cleared up however, that man may not participate in the public presentation of worship at the Lord's Supper.


Since the hand speaks of work or service, the lesson of the broken hand may relate to something questionable about the man's service; but again, a broken hand will heal.  It may be that what had seemed wrong is eventually proved to be right, but until that fact is established, he, like the man with the broken foot, may not take a public part in the presentation of the worship at the Lord's Supper.


21:20.  "Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken:"


Since the back is usually associated in Scripture with burden bearing, it speaks of strength, so that the hunchback represents a man who is spiritually weak, such as the weak brother mentioned by Paul in Romans chapter 14.  Such a man may not participate audibly in the public presentation of the worship of the assembly, it being understood, of course, that the prohibition applies only to his standing up to expound the scriptures, or to lead the believers in prayer, or to request the singing of a hymn.  He is to worship silently, and it is to be remembered that sincere silently offered worship is no less precious to God than is that which is vocalized.


The word “dwarf” here means literally “too slender.”   He represents the believer whose spiritual growth has been stunted, either through carnality, or just lack of mental capacity.  He too, is excluded from leading the believers in the public presentation of their worship.


The man with the blemish in his eye represents the believer whose spiritual sight is impaired, but in contrast with the blind man who can't see at all, this impediment seems to speak of peculiar views on certain matters or points of doctrine.  He too is under the same constraint as is the spiritual dwarf: he may not participate audibly in the presentation of the believers’ worship.


Scurvy results from lack of vitamin C, and is characterized by swollen, bleeding gums, livid spots on the skin, and general weakness, so that the scurvy priest represents the man whose spiritual diet lacks balance, with the result that his life generally is imbalanced.  He too is excluded from audible presentation of worship at the Lord’s Supper. 


A scab is associated with a sore, and here seems to speak of some past sin, which though forgiven, is an impediment to the man's testimony.  He too is excluded from presenting his worship audibly.


Since the testicles are associated with reproduction, the injured testicles speak of some fault in his life that makes it impossible for the man to reproduce himself spiritually, i.e., to have an effective testimony in leading others to Christ.  He too is excluded.


The equivalent of all or some of these conditions may be found in any local church, but it is to be remembered that while these priests were forbidden to offer the bread, they were not excluded from eating.  There may be things in a man's life which bar him from public audible participation in the presentation of the worship of the assembly, but that do not bar him from eating the Lord's Supper.  For example, I once knew a brother who had such a bad speech impediment that it was virtually impossible for others to understand what he was trying to say, but he persisted in participating audibly at the Lord’s Supper, with the result that he marred the worship of the assembly, and annoyed rather than edified the other worshipers.


The practical lesson is that if the principles presented here in symbol were obeyed at the Lord's Supper there would be more evidence of the Spirit's leading, and much less evidence of the activity of the flesh.  It is the responsibility of each brother to apply the principles to his own life, but in the final analysis it is the responsibility of the elders to see that these principles are enforced in the assembly.


21:21.  “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.”


Aaron is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his seed, i.e., his sons, represent believers; and as those of them who were physically blemished were not permitted to present the offerings of the Lord, neither is the brother having a corresponding spiritual blemish permitted to stand up and participate audibly in leading the assembly in the presentation of its worship at the Lord’s Supper.


21:22.  “He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy.”


While the blemished priest was not permitted to offer the bread of his God, i.e., to present the sacrifices brought by the people, he was permitted to eat the part which God had designated as the food of the priests.  The spiritual lesson is easily read. Not every brother is qualified to stand up and lead audibly in the presentation of the assembly’s worship, but every believer is permitted by God to partake of the Lord’s Supper, it being obvious of course, that he do so only when every known sin has been confessed to God, repented of, and forsaken; and, where the sin has been against another believer, it is to be confessed to that believer, and his forgiveness sought.


The distinction between “the most holy” and “the holy” is that the former were those sacrifices of which a part was designated as the food of the priests, while “the holy” applied to all the other offerings.


21:23.  “Only he shall not go 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.”


The vail here was that which hung between the Holy Place and the most Holy Place; and the altar was the golden altar of incense in the Holy Place, rather than the altar of burnt offering located just inside the outer court of the Tabernacle.  The blemished priest was denied access to both places, for a literal blemish in a priest is used here symbolically to portray some spiritual fault in a believer of this present Church age, that would disqualify him from service or from standing up to take audible part at the Lord’s Supper, other than to join in the singing of hymns.


The sanctuary was the place such as the Tabernacle or the Temple, sanctified, i.e., set apart by God for the service He Himself had appointed.  To profane such a place was to do in it that which would indicate irreverence for God, the appearance of a blemished priest in either of those places being the equivalent of a professed believer’s attempting to serve or worship, with some known sin unconfessed and unrepented of.


21:24.  And Moses told it unto Aaron, and to his sons, and unto all the children of Israel.”


As noted already, Moses represents law; and Aaron, grace, so that Moses’ instruction of Aaron translates into the truth that grace does not confer upon the believer the right to live lawlessly; and though believers are not under law, but under grace, the fact is that the law still is, and always will be, the expression of what God’s holiness demands of man, honesty compelling us to confess our inability to meet such a standard, and to worship God for the love that led Him to give His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die in our guilty stead for the expiation of all our sin.

[Leviticus 22]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough