Leviticus 22 – More Specific Instructions for Priests
A. Things that might defile a priest.
1. (1-3) The need for ceremonial purity.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, that they separate themselves from the holy things of the children of Israel, and that they do not profane My holy name by what they dedicate to Me: I am the LORD. Say to them: ‘Whoever of all your descendants throughout your generations, who goes near the holy things which the children of Israel dedicate to the LORD, while he has uncleanness upon him, that person shall be cut off from My presence: I am the LORD.
a. That they separate themselves from the holy things of the children of Israel: The priests of Israel often dealt with things that had been declared holy. The altar, the table of showbread, the golden lampstand, and the altar of incense were all holy things. They did not belong to the priests. They belonged to the LORD, so there was a sense of separation from the holy things that the priest had to observe. To fail to do so was to profane God’s holy name.
i. The phrase that they separate themselves is difficult to translate. “A wide range of different translations…agree with TEV [Today’s English Version] that the meaning of the verb here is ‘treat with respect,’ ‘be careful with,’ or ‘be scrupulous about.’” (Peter-Contesse)
ii. “The word translated [separate themselves from] (nzr) is cognate to the noun from which we get the word ‘Nazirite,’ thus the connotation ‘to put away for separate use’ or ‘treat as distinct.’” (Rooker)
iii. In the context of this chapter, holy things also refers to the sacrificial meat and produce that were made sacred because they were offered to the LORD.
b. Who goes near the holy things which the children of Israel dedicate to the LORD, while he has uncleanness upon him, that person shall be cut off: Therefore, the service of the temple had to be performed when the priest was ritually pure. The priest’s portion of what was dedicated to the LORD in sacrifice had to be eaten when ritually clean. If a priest (or their family, or anyone else) even went near the holy things in ritual uncleanness, they were to be cut off from God’s presence.
i. Cut off from My presence: “The meaning of this expression is clarified by another that is frequently used in the Old Testament, ‘to stand before someone’ (see Deuteronomy 10:8, for example), which means ‘to serve someone.’ So the words ‘to be cut off from before someone’ mean to be no longer allowed to serve that person.” (Peter-Contesse)
ii. All the ceremonies and rituals of the Old Covenant pointed towards a perfect fulfillment by Jesus the Messiah under the New Covenant (Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 8:4-5; 10:1). Therefore, the idea that a priest could not serve in a ceremonially defiled (unclean) condition was important. Fellowship with God had to be done on the basis of being declared clean and righteous by God.
2. (4-8) Examples of things that might defile a priest.
‘Whatever man of the descendants of Aaron, who is a leper or has a discharge, shall not eat the holy offerings until he is clean. And whoever touches anything made unclean by a corpse, or a man who has had an emission of semen, or whoever touches any creeping thing by which he would be made unclean, or any person by whom he would become unclean, whatever his uncleanness may be—the person who has touched any such thing shall be unclean until evening, and shall not eat the holy offerings unless he washes his body with water. And when the sun goes down he shall be clean; and afterward he may eat the holy offerings, because it is his food. Whatever dies naturally or is torn by beasts he shall not eat, to defile himself with it: I am the LORD.
a. Whatever man of the descendants of Aaron: This was another way to refer to the priests and their families. All the priests came from the family of Aaron.
b. Who is a leper or has a discharge, shall not eat the holy offerings until he is clean: In verse 3 it is commanded that no one can come near the holy things while ritually impure. Here are some specific things that could make a person ritually impure until evening.
· It could be by disease or evidence of illness (a leper or has a discharge).
· It could be something connected with death (unclean by a corpse).
· It could be a normal function that made one temporarily unclean (an emission of semen).
· It could be by contact with something unclean (whoever touches any creeping thing).
i. Violations of these examples would not ruin a man’s career as a priest. A violation would make the priest ceremonially unclean until evening. Once ceremonial cleanliness was restored, they could be restored to their priestly service as before.
c. Shall not eat the holy offerings unless he washes his body with water: Becoming ritually unclean did not end a man’s service as a priest or forever prevent him from eating the portion of the sacrifices that went to the priests. If the priest became unclean, he would perform a ceremonial washing and remain ritually impure until evening.
d. And when the sun goes down he shall be clean: The Jewish people start their days at sundown, not sunrise or midnight. With this description, God indicates that one can start the new day clean and pure to the LORD. No matter how we might have failed the day before, we can begin each new day pure and close to the LORD. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23).
e. Whatever dies naturally or is torn by beasts he shall not eat: This was already written as a law for Israel in general (Leviticus 17:15-16). Here the law is restated with emphasis for the priests.
3. (9) Summary of the command for ritual purity among the priests.
‘They shall therefore keep My ordinance, lest they bear sin for it and die thereby, if they profane it: I the LORD sanctify them.
a. Lest they bear sin for it and die thereby: This more severe punishment for the willful ritual uncleanness of the priests was appropriate considering their greater knowledge of the things of God and their greater responsibility.
i. Keep My ordinance: “This is a somewhat technical word referring to the ceremonial duties required of the priests and Levites.” (Peter-Contesse)
b. I the LORD sanctify them: God set the priests apart for His own pleasure and purpose. This great blessing carried with it a great responsibility. He who is given more will be accountable for more (Luke 12:47-48).
4. (10-13) Only the priest and his household could eat of the offerings.
‘No outsider shall eat the holy offering; one who dwells with the priest, or a hired servant, shall not eat the holy thing. But if the priest buys a person with his money, he may eat it; and one who is born in his house may eat his food. If the priest’s daughter is married to an outsider, she may not eat of the holy offerings. But if the priest’s daughter is a widow or divorced, and has no child, and has returned to her father’s house as in her youth, she may eat her father’s food; but no outsider shall eat it.
a. No outsider shall eat the holy offering: The meat and produce that came from the priest’s portion of sacrifices made to the LORD was reserved for the priest’s extended household alone. A mere visitor (one who dwells) or hired person could not eat the holy thing. A slave in the priest’s household could eat of it (if the priest buys a person), as could an adult daughter who came back into the father’s home.
i. The command against giving the priest’s portion to a visitor in the priest’s home went somewhat against the strong custom of hospitality in that culture, which normally insisted on giving guests the very best the home had to offer.
ii. Outsider: “The word was also used, however, of those who do not belong to the priesthood (Exodus 29:33; Numbers 3:10, 38; 18:4, 7). It may therefore be rendered ‘layman.’” (Rooker)
iii. If the priest’s daughter…has returned to her father’s house in her youth: “The daughter would have the legal status she had before marriage, living under her father’s roof and dependent on her father for her livelihood.” (Rooker)
iv. “The daughter’s change of status indicated that the holiness of a priest extended throughout his household. A New Testament parallel pertains to those who reside in the home of believer priests (1 Corinthians 7:14).” (Rooker)
b. If the priest buys a person with his money, he may eat it: A hired servant (a temporary worker) was not considered part of the priest’s household. But a slave or the child of a slave born in the priest’s home was considered part of his family and therefore could eat of the sacred offering.
i. This shows that a slave was considered part of the priest’s household or family and entitled to eat the holy offering. In ancient Israel, slaves were normally regarded as a part of the family.
ii. The issue of slavery will be dealt with in greater detail in chapter 25. Yet, Adam Clarke’s comments are helpful: “We see that it was lawful, under the Mosaic economy, to have slaves under certain restrictions; but these were taken from among the heathen, and instructed in the true religion; hence we find, as in the above case, that they were reckoned as a part of the priest’s own family, and treated as such. They certainly have privileges which did not extend either to sojourners or to hired servants.”
iii. “Therefore their situation was incomparably better than the situation of the slaves under different European governments, of whose souls their pitiless possessors in general take no care, while they themselves venture to profess the Christian religion, and quote the Mosaic law in vindication of their system of slavery. How preposterous is such conduct! And how intolerable!” (Clarke)
5. (14-16) Restitution for the accidental eating of the holy offering.
‘And if a man eats the holy offering unintentionally, then he shall restore a holy offering to the priest, and add one-fifth to it. They shall not profane the holy offerings of the children of Israel, which they offer to the LORD, or allow them to bear the guilt of trespass when they eat their holy offerings; for I the LORD sanctify them.’”
a. If a man eats the holy offering unintentionally: It was possible for someone considered an outsider to eat the portion reserved for the priest and his family. When that happened, they were commanded to make the common restitution required in regard to holy things: to restore, and then add one fifth to it (Leviticus 5:16, 6:5, 27:13-15).
i. A man: “It is implied that the man in question is also an ‘outsider,’ or one who is not permitted to eat food that was designated for the priestly family.” (Peter-Contesse)
ii. The need to make restitution reminds us: “All the water in Jordan, and the ceremonies in Leviticus, cannot cleanse a man so long as the polluted thing remains in his hand.” (Trapp)
b. For I the LORD sanctify them: This shows why the offerings had to be regarded with special care. These offerings were sanctified by the LORD Himself.
B. Examples of unacceptable sacrifices.
1. (17-21) The principle – offerings must be made without blemish or defect.
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, and to all the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers in Israel, who offers his sacrifice for any of his vows or for any of his freewill offerings, which they offer to the LORD as a burnt offering—you shall offer of your own free will a male without blemish from the cattle, from the sheep, or from the goats. Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it shall not be acceptable on your behalf. And whoever offers a sacrifice of a peace offering to the LORD, to fulfill his vow, or a freewill offering from the cattle or the sheep, it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it.
a. A male without blemish from the cattle: In several places before this, God declared that blemished, defective, or deformed animals were unacceptable for sacrifice to the LORD (Exodus 12:5, 29:1; Leviticus 1:3, 3:1). The priests were responsible to make certain that an animal brought for sacrifice did not have an observable blemish or defect.
i. God didn’t want the cast-offs as sacrifices from the people. He had the right to receive the best they could offer. Deuteronomy 17:1 says, You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God a bull or sheep which has any blemish or defect, for that is an abomination to the LORD your God.
ii. “To bring a defective gift to a superior would not only be ludicrous but insulting.” (Rooker)
iii. “In the service of God, according to the law, neither an imperfect offering nor an imperfect offerer could be admitted.” (Clarke)
iv. Unfortunately, this law was abused in the days of Jesus, where priests sometimes disqualified an animal for an insignificant reason. Then, the corrupt priest might require the purchase of an approved sacrificial animal at a dishonest high price (Matthew 21:12-13).
v. A male without blemish: “A male for a burnt-offering, which was always of that kind; but the females were accepted in peace-offerings, Leviticus 3:1, and sin-offerings, Leviticus 4:32 5:6.” (Poole)
b. Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it shall not be acceptable on your behalf: The prophet Malachi spoke out against those who brought God blemished, defective animals: You offer defiled food on My altar. But say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘The table of the LORD is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 1:7-8)
c. It must be perfect: This is a strong statement concerning what God regarded as an acceptable sacrifice. It does not say, “you must be mostly good.” It does not say, “you must be sincere in trying to be good.” It does not say, “you need to be getting better and better.” It says, “perfect.” Practically speaking, this was on a relative measure, but God put the standard this high for a reason.
i. It must be perfect: “The Hebrew word used here really means ‘complete, whole, sound, unimpaired.’ In this context it is the opposite of ‘defective.’” (Peter-Contesse)
ii. This also was a picture of the Messiah to come, and the sacrifice He would offer and be – a perfect sacrifice.
· Jesus was perfect in His nature as both God and man.
· Jesus was perfect in His motives.
· Jesus was perfect in His attitude.
· Jesus was perfect in His obedience.
· Jesus was perfect in His sacrifice for sin on our behalf.
2. (22-23) Specific blemishes from a birth defect or disease to be rejected.
Those that are blind or broken or maimed, or have an ulcer or eczema or scabs, you shall not offer to the LORD, nor make an offering by fire of them on the altar to the LORD. Either a bull or a lamb that has any limb too long or too short you may offer as a freewill offering, but for a vow it shall not be accepted.
a. Those that are blind or broken or maimed: These are blemishes that might be caused by a birth defect, such as an animal that came out maimed in some manner. Animals diseased with an ulcer or eczema or scabs were also not acceptable for sacrifice.
i. “This verse lists six defects that make an animal unacceptable as a sacrifice. However, it is not easy to identify the meaning of each of these with certainty…. but this has little effect on the actual translation.” (Peter-Contesse)
ii. The Bible says we should offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). This passage reminds us of what kind of sacrifice we should be.
· Our living sacrifice should not be blind; it should be with eyes wide open to the goodness and glory of God.
· Our living sacrifice should not be broken; it should be whole and complete to God.
· Our living sacrifice should not be deformed or maimed; it should not be with an inactive arm or leg, but instead be ready to serve.
· Our living sacrifice should not be with ulcers or scabs, with diseased and troubled flesh evident for all to see.
iii. “Would God that the best of our lives, the best hours of the morning, the best skill of our hands, the best thoughts of our minds, the very cream of our being, were given to our God!” (Spurgeon)
b. A bull or a lamb that has any limb too long or too short you may offer as a freewill offering: Certain defects were acceptable for an offering that was not to atone for sin, or that was not to fulfill a vow.
i. A bull: The “word used here is not restricted in meaning to the male of the species, but may also include females.” (Peter-Contesse)
3. (24-25) Blemishes from castration to be rejected.
‘You shall not offer to the LORD what is bruised or crushed, or torn or cut; nor shall you make any offering of them in your land. Nor from a foreigner’s hand shall you offer any of these as the bread of your God, because their corruption is in them, and defects are in them. They shall not be accepted on your behalf.’”
a. You shall not offer to the LORD that which is bruised or crushed: If an animal was castrated in some way (bruised or crushed, or torn or cut) it was not acceptable for sacrifice. It didn’t matter if the castration happened accidentally or on purpose.
i. The idea of castration is not clear in the New King James translation but is in many others. The New American Standard Bible (1995) reads: Also anything with its testicles bruised or crushed or torn or cut, you shall not offer to the LORD, or sacrifice in your land. Most modern translations agree with this rendering.
b. Nor from a foreigner’s hand shall you offer any of these: God would not accept such defective sacrifices from an Israelite or from a foreigner. If an Israelite bought a castrated animal from a foreigner’s hand they could not offer it.
4. (26-30) When animals may be offered as sacrifices.
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “When a bull or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall be seven days with its mother; and from the eighth day and thereafter it shall be accepted as an offering made by fire to the LORD. Whether it is a cow or ewe, do not kill both her and her young on the same day. And when you offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the LORD, offer it of your own free will. On the same day it shall be eaten; you shall leave none of it until morning: I am the LORD.
a. From the eighth day and thereafter it shall be accepted as an offering: It was also prohibited to offer an animal less than eight days old. This was unnecessary cruelty to a newborn animal, and the practice was probably performed in pagan sacrifices to idols.
b. Do not kill both her and her young on the same day: To sacrifice a newborn or young animal and the mother of the animal on the same day was to imitate a Canaanite fertility ritual. This was forbidden to Israel.
i. “These laws may have had a polemical function against pagan practices or they may merely promote sensitivities and high regard for life.” (Rooker)
ii. “The precept was certainly intended to inculcate mercy and tenderness of heart; and so the Jews understood it. When it is necessary to take away the lives of innocent animals for the support of our own, we should do it in such a way as not to blunt our moral feelings; and deplore the necessity, while we feel an express gratitude to God for permission, to do it.” (Clarke)
iii. Ewe: “The word used here may actually refer to a sheep or a goat.” (Peter-Contesse)
c. When you offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the LORD, offer it of your own free will: When it came to an offering meant to show thanksgiving, God only wanted sincere gratitude. It had to come from the free will of the offerer.
d. On the same day it shall be eaten: When a sacrifice of thanksgiving was made, part of the animal was for the LORD and burned upon the altar. Part of it was for the priest, and given to him. The remaining meat from the animal was for the one who brought the offering, and they celebrated a meal with their household. This remaining meat had to be eaten on the same day the sacrifice was offered.
5. (31-33) Summary.
“Therefore you shall keep My commandments, and perform them: I am the LORD. You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel. I am the LORD who sanctifies you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD.”
a. Therefore you shall keep My commandments, and perform them: Here God gave Israel – especially the priests – four reasons to keep His commandments and to honor His name.
· Because of who God is (I am the LORD).
· Because of what He is (My holy name).
· Because of what He is doing (I am the LORD who sanctifies you).
· Because of what He has done (who brought you out of the land of Egypt).
i. “Neither shall ye profane my holy name; either by despising me and my command yourselves, or by giving others occasion to profane them.” (Poole)
b. To be your God; I am the LORD: Because Yahweh (the LORD) was the God of Israel, and because of all He had done for them, their obedience to Him was proper. These same reasons remain true for every believer today.
i. “Jehovah is the God of holiness because He is essentially the God of love.” (Morgan)