How to act like a priest
How to express grief1The LORD said to Moses:
I want you to tell deliver this message to the sons of Aaron, who serve as the priests of Israel:
You’re a priest. So, when a relative dies, don’t touch the body. If you do, you’ll become ritually unclean. 2Close relatives are the exception. You can touch the bodies of your mother, father, son, daughter, brother, 3and your unmarried sister if you’re close to her. It’s okay to become unclean for these people.
4But don't make yourself unclean for an in-law—someone you're related to only by marriage. 5And don't express grief by shaving your head or your beard or by cutting your skin.
6You are devoted to God. You are not to act like other people do. You are a priest. You bring sacred offerings to the LORD, food for God. So, you should present yourself to him in a way that expresses your devotion to him.
Don’t marry a divorcee7Never marry a prostitute. Don’t marry a divorced woman, either. You are holy—uniquely devoted to God. 8Make sure you stay that way because I want people to treat you that way. You are a priest, the one who brings food to God. So, always think of yourself as holy because I the LORD am holy. And I am the one who makes you holy. 9If you have a daughter who pollutes herself with prostitution, her disgrace rubs off on you, too. Execute her and burn her body.
High priest can’t touch dead relatives10The high priest is unique—a priest of priests. He's the one anointed with olive oil. And he's the one ordained to wear the special clothing of the high priest. I don't want my high priest expressing grief by letting his hair go unkept or by tearing his clothes, as others do.
11I don't want him going anywhere near a dead person. He is not to ritually defile himself even for the sake of his dead father or mother. 12And I do not want him leaving the tent sanctuary to visit the dead. This would contaminate the worship center and the very sanctuary of God. The high priest is anointed with oil, and uniquely reserved to work for God. I am the LORD.
13The high priest has to marry a virgin. 14The high priest is not allowed to marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a prostitute. He has to marry a virgin. And she has to be an Israelite. 15This is to keep him from defiling and disgracing his descendants. I am the LORD who makes him holy.
No priests with physical defects16The LORD said to Moses:
17I want you to tell this to Aaron:
Neither you nor any of your descendants are allowed to work as priests who bring offerings to the Lord if you have something wrong with you.
18You can’t serve as a priest if you have a physical impairment of any kind. This includes: blindness, inability to walk, a disfigured face, a deformed body, 19a broken foot, a broken hand, 20a hunched back, restricted growth, abnormal eyes, open sores, diseased skin, or damaged testicles.
21No one with a physical impairment like these is allowed to serve as a priest who presents sacrificial offerings to the LORD. A physical impairment disqualifies you from working as a priest who brings food to God. 22But people with impairments are allowed to eat food offered to God. This includes the most sacred food from offerings that only priests are allowed to eat. 23However, people with impairments are not to come to the altar or near the curtain that hangs at the entrance of the Most Sacred Room. That would ritually contaminate my personal sanctuary and the entire worship center. 24Moses delivered these messages to Aaron, Aaron’s sons, and the rest of the Israelites.
A person ritually unclean was not supposed to touch another person or go to the worship center because they ritually defiled whatever they touched. Israelites were able to get ritually clean again by following a set of procedures that included bathing, washing their clothes, getting sprinkled with “water of purification” (Numbers 19), and waiting for a stretch of time, often seven days.
The Hebrew word is ḥālal. It can mean ritual uncleanness, which would render a person temporarily unfit to enter the grounds of the temple worship center. But the word can also mean to desecrate, disgrace, treat with contempt, dishonor, violate, make something sacred into something vulgar.
The Hebrew word is daq. It can mean dwarf. That’s a term referring to people with dwarfism. It is acceptable by many. But others prefer descriptions such as “restricted growth,” and “short statured.” The Hebrew word can also mean fed or gaunt.
Priests were assigned part of the meat presented to the LORD in sacrificial offerings. They got to cook and eat it. The LORD considered this part of the offering as “especially sacred” (Leviticus 2:3). In a peace offering, the officiating priest was given some of the best cuts of meat: the breast and the right thigh (Leviticus 7:34). In some sin offerings, the priest and associate priests and families ate most of the animal (Leviticus 6:26). Just a few parts were burned on the altar as an offering. For more, see the note for Leviticus 17:5.
This holiest place on earth to Israelite ancestors of the Jewish people is where they kept the gold-plated box that held the two stones containing the Ten Commandments. The box is best known as the Ark of the Covenant. A curtain separated this room from the main room in the tent worship center sometimes known as the Tabernacle and sometimes as the Meeting Tent. The Sacred Room was the main sanctuary inside the tent worship center. Aaron’s sons were allowed to go in this room. But the Most Sacred Room was off limits to everyone but Aaron and Moses. That’s where God met with Moses to give him instructions.
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
Priests are not allowed to come into contact with the dead, not even to bury their own relatives. They are also prohibited from displaying the customary rites of mourning. That doesn’t sound like it would make any sense today—to tell our ministers and priests they can’t grieve normally over dead relatives. Why do you think in Bible times that priests were held back from mourning in their time of grief?
A high priest is even further restricted in his mourning. He’s not even allowed to tend to the body of his own mother or father, to outwardly express grief over their loss, or even to leave the camp to visit the dead. What do you think lies behind these harsh measures?
As in the case of mourning, priests, and especially the high priest, are more limited than others when it comes to marriage. Marry a divorcee? Not allowed. Widow? No. Only Israelite virgins should bother to apply. Why should anyone care who a priest marries as long as she’s not a close relative?
Given the special laws for priests regarding marriage and touching the dead, it may not be surprising that there are laws keeping descendants of Aaron who have physical disabilities from becoming priests: being blind or crippled, having a disfigured face, and more. We would call that kind of discrimination illegal today. Why do you think they would make it law in their day? Can 3,000 years make that much of a difference?