Read Leviticus 21
Rules for Priests
21 The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘A priest must not make himself ceremonially unclean for any of his people who die, 2 except for a close relative, such as his mother or father, his son or daughter, his brother, 3 or an unmarried sister who is dependent on him since she has no husband—for her he may make himself unclean. 4 He must not make himself unclean for people related to him by marriage, and so defile himself.
5 “‘Priests must not shave their heads or shave off the edges of their beards or cut their bodies. 6 They must be holy to their God and must not profane the name of their God. Because they present the food offerings to the Lord, the food of their God, they are to be holy.
7 “‘They must not marry women defiled by prostitution or divorced from their husbands, because priests are holy to their God. 8 Regard them as holy, because they offer up the food of your God. Consider them holy, because I the Lord am holy—I who make you holy.
9 “‘If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire.
10 “‘The high priest, the one among his brothers who has had the anointing oil poured on his head and who has been ordained to wear the priestly garments, must not let his hair become unkempt or tear his clothes. 11 He must not enter a place where there is a dead body. He must not make himself unclean, even for his father or mother, 12 nor leave the sanctuary of his God or desecrate it, because he has been dedicated by the anointing oil of his God. I am the Lord.
13 “‘The woman he marries must be a virgin. 14 He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people, 15 so that he will not defile his offspring among his people. I am the Lord, who makes him holy.’”
16 The Lord said to Moses, 17 “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. 18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; 19 no man with a crippled foot or hand, 20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the Lord. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; 23 yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the Lord, who makes them holy.’”
24 So Moses told this to Aaron and his sons and to all the Israelites.
For the past twenty chapters, we have read God’s directions for His people, most of which focus on sacrifices and offerings. Many of these sacrifices and offerings require a priest to perform them, and Leviticus 21 outlines the instructions specifically for the priests.
So why does this chapter matter to us today? Because we, as Christians, have been appointed as priests. If you have the Holy Spirit inside of you, you’re part of a royal priesthood. First Peter 2:9 declares:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a priest as “someone who is authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and God.” In the Old Testament, the priests were the connection between the Israelites and God, and they were specifically selected for the role. Only those who were Levites, members of Aaron and Moses’ tribe, were eligible (Exodus 29 & Leviticus 8), and even then, only a few members were appointed priests.
So when Jesus’ death and resurrection gave all of us access to God, it was (and still is) a big deal! As Christians, we have the same access to God that these specifically selected Levites had. So what does Leviticus 21 say to the priests and how does it apply to us? The purpose of the chapter can be found in verse 8: Consider [the priests] holy, because I the Lord am holy—I who make you holy.
The Hebrew word used in verse for holy is kodesh, meaning “set apart” or “of God.” The instructions are designed to set apart those who serve as the connection between God and His people. While the chapter lists several specific rules, they fall into two main ways that we, as priests, should be set apart: We should practice what we preach and keep a Kingdom perspective. We should do and share what we saw Jesus do because He is the great high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). To keep a Kingdom perspective, we need to remember that this world is not the “be all and end all” of everything; eternity is coming, and our actions should reflect that truth.
- Based on your reading of Leviticus up to this point, why was the priests’ access to God a big deal?
- If you are a Christian, you are called to be “set apart” and “of God.” How should this affect your actions?
- Identify two specific ways you can “practice what you preach” or “keep the kingdom perspective” this week.
Understanding the special role of priests in the Old Testament gives us insight into Jesus’ life and teachings in the New Testament. Remember, it was a group of Levitical priests, the Sadducees, who eventually plot and plan Jesus’ crucifixion. To learn more about the Levitical priests, check out this article from GotQuestions.org.
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