Outine of Leviticus 21:1 - 22:16
Submitted By tomp1nc
Outline of Leviticus 21:1 – 22:16
I. The Laws for all Priests
a. Rules dealing with the dead
b. Rules for mourning
c. Rules concerning marriage and family
II. The Laws for High Priests
a. Responsibility of the High Priest
b. Rules dealing with the dead
c. Rules concerning marriage
III. Laws concerning priests with physical abnormalities
IV. Laws concerning priest cleanliness
a. Types of uncleanness
b. Rules for becoming clean
c. Rules about eating wild animals
V. Laws about lay people
a. Rules concerning eating sacred donations
b. Remedies for unintentional eating
c. Treatment of all offerings
The passages in Leviticus 21:1 – 22:16 are concerned with the purity and holiness of the priests and the preparation and consumption of sacred sacrifices. These laws were dictated by God through Moses and are intended for Aaron and his decedents. The priests come from the tribe of Levi; the family of Aaron. They come at a time when the Israelites have been lead out of Egypt by Moses and had settled at Mount Sinai before crossing over to the land promised to their ancestors. God has taken this time to establish many laws and commandments covering many areas of everyday life, human interaction, and what is considered just and fair. In this section of Leviticus, we learn of the laws governing priestly functions and sacred sacrifices. This is a key area of concern for God because the priests are the only people with direct interaction with God and are the spiritual leaders of Israel. They serve as mediators for the people and are held to a higher standard than the common people. The holiness of God establishes Him to be uniquely separate from all else, with no rivals or competition. To this end, and as an example to all people, the priests must also be defined the same way as humanly possible and the laws laid out in this section fulfill that goal.
The first provision (Lev 21:1-4), God commands Moses to tell all priests. It deals with touching or even getting in the same proximity of a corpse which would make them ceremonially unclean. All priests are prohibited from defiling themselves except in the case of close blood relatives. These include mother, father, son, daughter, brother and virgin sister. There is no mention of wife or other married relations, so I assume these do not qualify. I think this provision serves has two major functions. First, as death is the ultimate example of sin in the world, the priest is to distance himself from death and convey purity and separation from sin. Secondly, by being around death, a priest would be unclean for seven days and be unavailable for his priestly duties. Given the close knit community which existed, if priests attended many funerals, there would not be enough available to perform the priestly duties, which required 24/7 attention. This passage also shows the importance that God places on the family blood bond, issuing specific exemptions for the mourning on these relations. Of course, in today’s society, priests are directly involved in most deaths. The stigma associated with death has changed, at least in our culture, and the priest is expected to play an integral role in funerals.
The next law (Lev 21:5) deals with superstitions of the time concerning the practice of mourning. The Israelites were very familiar with the pagans rituals and of those worshiping other gods. Some would alter their appearance to exaggerate their sorrow. As a statement of the uniqueness of God and His holiness, the priests of Aaron were told to remain dignified and show decorum during these times and to be examples of what was expected of the people. This is true today was well. The congregation will take their lead from the church leaders who are expected to set the proper example.
A good definition of why priests need to stay holy follows in the next verse (Lev 21:6). They are to present the offering to God, the actual food of their God, and in doing so, must be holy themselves.
The laws dealing with the priest’s marriage and family life come next in verses 7 -9. A priest may not marry a prostitute or divorced women and may only marry a virgin. I think the intent is to not allow priests to undervalue themselves and to insure that they marry a woman as pure as the position dictates. In addition to these rules for marriage, the daughter of the priests must remain pure as well, and not profane herself. If she does, it has a negative connotation on the father, and he will now be looked upon as less than holy. Once again, the priest’s life is on display for all the people to see and while they may not be perfect, he is to set the example of perfection for the people. While we don’t look for perfection in our clergy today, we do evaluate their families, and by extension, draw conclusions about the character of the clergy from the actions of their spouse and children. I think these laws, while mostly unspoken today, still remain very true in our culture.
We now move into the laws concerning the high priest (Lev21:10-15). The high priest is the head of all priests and therefore is held to an even higher standard than a regular priest. His head has been anointed with the holy oil and it was inappropriate to uncover his head. Because he wears the holy garments, he was not to tear them as well. He is not allowed to attend to any dead, including his own blood relations. In fact, he was not allowed to leave the sanctuary for any occasion that would take him away from serving God. If the high priest was to be made unclean, the seven day wait to become clean could be a hardship on the other priest and the people. Regarding marriage, he is only allowed to marry a virgin of his own people. He was not to “profane his offspring” (v. 15) by marrying someone unsuitable to his position before God. In summary, the higher the position of spiritual leadership the higher the level of accountability. I think this is very much the same in all cultures today. We tend to have higher expectations of all our leaders, but spiritual leaders are looked upon to be an example to the people and are seen to be closer to God than regular people.
The Lord than told Moses to tell Aaron and his sons about the laws governing priests with physical deformities (Lev 21:16-24). There are many types deformities mentioned here, but one thing they have in common is that they would all be easily spotted by the people. Mental illness is not mentioned here, neither are other illnesses. The focus of attention seems to be on what the people “see”. They are to see humanly perfect priests serving God, those that represent man at time of creation. They are not to see people with imperfections serve a perfect God. The idea is to set the standard of those qualified to come before God. Just as all the animal sacrifices were to be the “best of the best”, the priests offering the sacrifice must be as well. This is not to say that these priests were spiritually inferior, but the priest’s duties required physical completeness since the priests stood between God and the people. It is also not to say that those with deformities could not eat the same food as other priests. This law was not to guard against fellowship with God, just to define who was allowed to come to the alter. In today’s society, I think these laws would be frowned upon, especially in light of all the political correctness in place. We seem to have moved to a more equal distribution of all types of people among our church leaders and tend to look at the overall qualifications in the person and discount any physical limitations they may have. Church leaders are still held to a high standard, but that standard is based on many factors.
Leviticus 22 outlines the miscellaneous rules for priests. Verses 2-3 discuss the special handling required for the holy gifts offered by the Israelites. The priests, when unclean, were prohibited to approach the gifts. If they did, they will be cut off from God. This signifies the holiness of the offering and the purity needed by the priest to act as the intermediary between the people and God. It wasn’t a question of if the priests would at times be unclean, as this was part of their priestly duties and was unavoidable. The concern was that the proper cleaning process must take place before presenting gifts to a holy God and priests need to be mindful and respectful of these processes. I think this law also let all people know that the priests were not above God’s law, and were subject to punishment for not obeying His commands, just as the common people were.
The discussion is continued in more detail in verses 4 – 7. While there are many ways to become unclean, the act of washing his body with water will cleanse the priest. As we’ve seen before with the creation story and with Noah, the water image is used to show the removing of what is unholy and the reconnection with God, like a renewal. We continue those traditions today with baptism.
Another way to become clean is to wait for sunset. Verse seven states “When the sun sets he shall be clean”. The Israelites start their day at sundown, so I think God is saying that everyone starts the new day pure and holy. No matter how much we may have failed the previous day, each new day God gives us a new chance to be close to Him. This is a good example of the forgiveness and mercy of God.
Verse 8 forbids the eating of wild animals, which speaks to the requirement of purity of the offering in conjunction with the purity of the one making the offering.
Verse 9 again stresses the fact that priests are not above the law. God is the one that makes them holy and it is only by maintaining His commands that they will remain holy. The punishment of guilt and death is very real to all priests for the impact of their sin is more reaching than the common man. When a priest sins, he sins against God’s laws, and also sins against the people that he serves. As the one held to a higher standard and the one leading by example, the sins of the priest can be detrimental to the entire society. The same is true in society today.
The last section (Lev 10-16) details who was able to eat the sacred offering. Basically, only the priest and his permanent household could eat of it. Any transient slaves could not, but ones purchases and were considered part of the permanent family could. Special rules governing the priest’s daughter were also given. If she married a layman (someone unholy), she and her family could not eat the offering. If she is widowed or divorced, without children, and returns to live in the priest’s home, she could once again eat. I think this enforces the need to keep the sacred offering within the household of the priest and not include any other distinct household. If the daughter can return to her father’s house as she left it, she was considered part of the household once again. All this ensures that the sacred offerings stay within the control of the priests, which is important to maintain the holiness of the offering.
If a lay person eats the sacred offering by accident, he must replace what was eaten and add an additional twenty percent to the offering. I feel this once again shows the mercy of God to our human condition, recognizing that accidents can happen. The laws are to be taken seriously, however, and there are consequences for all actions, even those that are unintentional. I’m not sure about the twenty percent, other than the think it is twice the amount of a regular tithing and may represent some punitive amount due. Also, a guilt offering is required when the priest’s allow the sacred offerings to be made unholy. Once again, the onus is on the priest to maintain the holy relationship that God has bestowed upon them and for which they’ve been singled out for.
I can see some parallel to the sacred offering verses to today’s society. The whole idea was to protect the most prized resources of the Israeli people, the best of their crops and livestock. While we no longer offer these items to God, we are asked to give the first of our money to the church. When we do this, we do so with the understanding and confidence that it will be put to good work by the clergy. We expect it to be offered to God for helping His people that are in need. We have the same level of trust and expectation of those in Moses day. We often do not know where our offering goes in a human sense, but we know through faith that it is pleasing to God and we give because all the blessing in our lives comes from Him. The safeguarding and proper handling of these offerings is key to our giving. News of mishandled funds or improper use would be catastrophic to the church and destroy the faith people have towards those responsible for their safe keeping. Taken to an extreme, it could destroy the faith of the people in its church and its leaders, making a holy environment unholy and profane, which is the same overriding concern offered in Leviticus.