An Unblemished Priesthood. During the era of the second Temple, hereditary succession gave place to the appointment of priests, as already noted, and “the first enquiry instituted by the Sanhedrin… was into the genealogy of the candidate”. Then, Edersheim continues, “If he passed that ordeal, inquiry was next made as to any physical defects, of which Maimonides enumerates a hundred and forty that permanently, and twenty-two which temporarily, disqualified for the exercise of the priestly office”. Such a formidable list of physical defects is not entirely without Scriptural support, but it is apparent that the Sanhedrin added to the Scriptures and exceeded divine requirements, against which we too need to guard.
“An holy priesthood”, said Peter concerning believers of this church age. Undoubtedly, Peter had some knowledge of the genealogical and physical requirements for the priests of the second Temple in his day, and he certainly was acquainted with the Biblical requirements for priesthood in Leviticus 21, which applied during the eras of the tabernacle and of the first Temple.
The 21st chapter of Leviticus provides that (a) "the sons of Aaron”, who were the priests then functioning, were not to defile themselves, vv. 1-9, because “they shall be holy unto their God”, v. 6; and (b) “the seed of Aaron”, the future generations of priests, were to be free from any personal blemish, for he “that hath a blemish … shall not approach" the Lord, v. 18.
The prohibitions imposed by the Lord upon the Aaronic priesthood were for the sole purpose to promote holiness, this being the only condition in which a priest drew near to the Lord, and the prohibitions are not without significance to us as believer-priests.
According to Leviticus 21, the priests were not to touch a dead person, subject to certain exceptions relating to his family, w. 1-4. If a priest was not permitted to come into contact with a dead person which is a symbol of sin, then we should have no association with sin or that which is sinful. The priests were not to emulate heathen hair-styles, v. 5, and we should not imitate the world or participate in worldly things, for our attitude towards the world should not be one of participation or even discrimination, which some Christians tend to practice, but separation from it, which is scriptural. A priest was not to marry an immoral woman, v. 7, and we should not consider an unholy alliance in any relationship such as marriage, business partnership, or assembly life; see 1 Cor. 7. 39; 2 Cor. 6. i4f.
Although a man was born into a priestly family, physical deformities disqualified him from officiating as a priest, and twelve deformities are listed, vv. 18-20, which may be applied spiritually to us, as priests.
“A blind man” could not officiate as a priest, and so unbelievers, who are blind spiritually, cannot be admitted into fellowship of an assembly and exercise priestly rights. Surely, a letter of commendation, a scriptural practice often allowed to lapse nowadays is a safeguard against such a person creeping in unawares. A priest’s blindness, which is a lack of vision, should not be confused with a “blemish in his eye”, which is impaired vision, and it is possible for our vision of Christ to be impaired by what we read, by what we look at, and by what we listen to.
To be “lame”, another blemish, may mean an impaired walk, whilst “brokenfooted” may denote an inability to walk we are exhorted to “walk worthy of the vocation” wherewith we are called, and to “walk not as other Gentiles walk”, Eph. 4.1,17; our walk, otherwise our conduct, is soon marred by compromise with the world, so that in our behaviour we are no different from worldlings.
A “flat (or, slit, R.v.) nose" may signify an impaired sense of smell, which may suggest a lack of spiritual discernment in respect of false teaching and error; see I John 4. if; I Cor. 2. 14-15. If we are well versed in the Scriptures, we should be able to discern that which is not in accordance with Holy Scripture.
"Brokenhanded” was a deformity affecting a priest’s hands, and in consequence his service for the Lord. Sin’s defilement is detrimental to our service for the Lord, either making it minimal or ineffective.
"Crookbackt" means a deformed back, which suggests a lack of moral courage and uprightness through the neglect of imbibing the Word of God.
Another disqualified person for the priesthood was “a dwarf”, and this deformity affected the stature of a person. It is suggestive of stunted spiritual growth–otherwise a lack of spiritual stature and maturity, for the Lord requires us not to remain “as newborn babes” but to become matured men of God and of full spiritual stature. When a servant of the Lord, having ministered the Word, is said to have been “deep”, the critic may not be complimentary to the speaker but giving expression to his own superficial understanding!
Under the Levitical law, no priest that “hath a blemish … shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire”, and “he shall not go in unto the veil, nor come nigh unto the altar”, Lev. 21. 21, 23. Hence, a physical defect disqualified a priest from officiating at the brazen altar in the inner court, from entering the Temple (also the tabernacle earlier), and from officiating at the golden altar before the veil in the holy place. To us, as believer-priests, it teaches that sin’s defilement, moral defection, carnal compromise and spiritual immaturity impede the exercise and enjoyment of our priestly privileges before the Lord. Does this explain the paucity of worship that we may experience when we gather, for example, for the Lord’s supper? For the defilement of sin, which may hinder our worship of the Lord and our service for Him, there is provision for cleansing in the water of the Word, prefigured by the brazen sea beside the Temple porch which was for the priests’ use, 2 Chron. 4. 2, 6.
Although a priest “shall not come nigh to … God”, owing to a physical disqualification, “he shall eat the bread of his God”, Lev. 21. 21-22. This meant that owing to a physical deformity his priestly right of entering the Temple to minister before the Lord was withdrawn, but his priestly relationship through hereditary succession remained unaffected. Whilst a deformed priest was not permitted to officiate in making an offering unto the Lord, he could participate in the priests’ portion of the offering. Likewise, we may be restricted in exercising our priestly right owing to defilement from sin, but we retain our priestly relationship established through the new birth. We praise God for our priestly relationship, but let us do nothing detrimental to our priestly privileges, and let us exercise our priestly rights to the glory of our Great High Priest!
At the dedication of the first Temple, “all the priests that were present were sanctified”, 2 Chron. 5. 11. They were free from any physical deformity and, having cleansed them-selves in the water of the brazen sea, they were free from any defilement. What a picture of “an holy priesthood" in “a spiritual house"!
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