« Prev Chapter XXII Next »



Lev. xx. 1-27.

In no age or community has it been found sufficient, to secure obedience, that one should appeal to the conscience of men, or depend, as a sufficient motive, upon the natural painful consequences of violated law. Wherever there is civil and criminal law, there, in all cases, human government, whether in its lowest or in its most highly developed forms, has found it necessary to declare penalties for various crimes. It is the peculiar interest of this chapter that it gives us certain important sections of the penal code of a people whose government was theocratic, whose only King was the Most Holy and Righteous God. In view of the manifold difficulties which are inseparable from the enactment and enforcement of a just and equitable penal code, it must be to every man who believes that Israel, in that period of its history, was, in the most literal sense, a theocracy, a matter of the highest civil and governmental interest to observe what penalties for crime were ordained by infinite wisdom, goodness, and righteousness as the law of that nation.

This penal code (vv. 1-21) is given in two sections. Of these, the first (vv. 1-6) relates to those who give of their seed to Molech, or who are accessory to such 419 crime by their concealment of the fact; and also to those who consult wizards or familiar spirits. Under this last head also comes ver. 27, which appears to have become misplaced, as it follows the formal conclusion of the chapter, and by its subject—the penalty for the wizard, or him who claims to have a familiar spirit—evidently belongs immediately after ver. 6.

The second section (vv. 9-21) enumerates, first (vv. 9-16), other cases for which capital punishment was ordered; and then (vv. 17-21) certain offences for which a lesser penalty is prescribed. These two sections are separated (vv. 7, 8) by a command, in view of these penalties, to sanctification of life, and obedience to the Lord, as the God who has redeemed and consecrated Israel to be a nation to Himself.

These penal sections are followed (vv. 22-26) by a general conclusion to the whole law of holiness, as contained in these three chapters, as also to the law concerning clean and unclean meats (xi.); which would thus appear to have been originally connected more closely than now with these chapters. This closing part of the section consists of an exhortation and argument against disobedience, in walking after the wicked customs of the Canaanitish nations; enforced by the declaration that their impending expulsion was brought about by God in punishment for their practice of these crimes; and, also, by the reminder that God in His special grace had separated them to be a holy nation to Himself, and that He was about to give them the good land of Canaan as their possession.

It is perhaps hardly necessary to observe that the law of this chapter does not profess to give the penal code of Israel with completeness. Murder, for example, is not mentioned here, though death is expressly 420 denounced against it elsewhere (Numb. xxxv. 31). So, again, in the Book of Exodus (xxi. 15) death is declared as the penalty for smiting father or mother. Indeed, the chapter itself contains evidence that it is essentially a selection of certain parts of a more extended code, which has been nowhere preserved in its entirety.

In this chapter death is ordained as the penalty for the following crimes: viz., giving of one's seed to Molech (vv. 2-5); professing to be a wizard, or to have dealings with the spirits of the dead (ver. 27); adultery, incest with a mother or step-mother, a daughter-in-law or mother-in-law (vv. 10-12, 14); and sodomy and bestiality (ver. 13). In a single case—that of incest with a wife's mother—it is added (ver. 14) that both the guilty parties shall be burnt with fire; i.e., after the usual infliction of death by stoning. Of him who becomes accessory by concealment to the crime of sacrifice to Molech, it is said (ver. 5) that God Himself will set His face against that man, and will cut off both the man himself and his family. The same phraseology is used (ver. 6) of those who consult familiar spirits; and the cutting off is also threatened, ver. 18. The law concerning incest with a full- or half-sister requires (ver. 17) that this excision shall be "in the sight of the children of their people;" i.e., that the sentence shall be executed in the most public way, thus to affix the more certainly to the crime the stigma of an indelible ignominy and disgrace. A lesser grade of penalty is attached to an alliance with the wife of an uncle or of a brother; in the latter case (ver. 21) that they shall be childless, in the former (ver. 20), that they shall die childless; that is, though they have children, they shall all be prematurely cut off; none shall outlive their parents. To incest 421 with an aunt by blood no specific penalty is affixed; it is only said that "they shall bear their iniquity," i.e., God will hold them guilty.

The chapter, directly or indirectly, casts no little light on some most fundamental and practical questions regarding the administration of justice in dealing with criminals.

We may learn here what, in the mind of the King of kings, is the primary object of the punishment of criminals against society. Certainly there is no hint in this code of law that these penalties were specially intended for the reformation of the offender. Were this so, we should not find the death-penalty applied with such unsparing severity. This does not indeed mean that the reformation of the criminal was a matter of no concern to the Lord; we know to the contrary. But one cannot resist the conviction in reading this chapter, as also other similar portions of the law, that in a governmental point of view this was not the chief object of punishment. Even where the penalty was not death, the reformation of the guilty persons is in no way brought before us as an object of the penal sentence. In the governmental aspect of the case, this is, at least, so far in the background that it does not once come into view.

In our day, however, an increasing number maintain that the death-penalty ought never to be inflicted, because, in the nature of the case, it precludes the possibility of the criminal being reclaimed and made a useful member of society; and so, out of regard to this and other like humanitarian considerations, in not a few instances, the death penalty, even for wilful murder, has been abrogated. It is thus, to a Christian citizen, of very practical concern to observe that in this 422 theocratic penal code there is not so much as an allusion to the reformation of the criminal, as one object which by means of punishment it was intended to secure. Penalty was to be inflicted, according to this code, without any apparent reference to its bearing on this matter. The wisdom of the Omniscient King of Israel, therefore, must certainly have contemplated in the punishment of crime some object or objects of more weighty moment than this.

What those objects were, it does not seem hard to discern. First and supreme in the intention of this law is the satisfaction of outraged justice, and of the regal majesty of the supreme and holy God, defied; the vindication of the holiness of the Most High against that wickedness of men which would set at nought the Holy One and overturn that moral order which He has established. Again and again the crime itself is given as the reason for the penalty, inasmuch as by such iniquity in the midst of Israel the holy sanctuary of God among them was profaned. We read, for example, "I will cut him off ... because he hath defiled My sanctuary, and hath profaned My holy name;" "they have wrought confusion," i.e., in the moral and physical order of the family; "their blood shall be upon them;" "they have committed abomination; they shall surely be put to death;" "it is a shameful thing; they shall be cut off." Such are the expressions which again and again ring through this chapter; and they teach with unmistakable clearness that the prime object of the Divine King of Israel in the punishment was, not the reformation of the individual sinner, but the satisfaction of justice and the vindication of the majesty of broken law. And if we have no more explicit statement of the matter here, we yet have 423 it elsewhere; as in Numb. xxxv. 33, where we are expressly told that the death-penalty to be visited with unrelenting severity on the murderer is of the nature of an expiation. Very clear and solemn are the words, "Blood, it polluteth the land: and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it."

But if this is set forth as the fundamental reason for the infliction of the punishment, it is not represented as the only object. If, as regards the criminal himself, the punishment is a satisfaction and expiation to justice for his crime, on the other hand, as regards the people, the punishment is intended for their moral good and purification. This is expressly stated, as in ver. 14: "They shall be burnt with fire, that there be no wickedness among you." Both of these principles are of such a nature that they must be of perpetual validity. The government or legislative power that loses sight of either of them is certain to go wrong, and the people will be sure, sooner or later, to suffer in morals by the error.

In the light we have now, it is easy to see what are the principles according to which, in various cases, the punishments were measured out. Evidently, in the first place, the penalty was determined, even as equity demands, by the intrinsic heinousness of the crime. With the possible exception of a single case, it is easy to see this. No one will question the horrible iniquity of the sacrifice of innocent children to Molech; or of incest with a mother, or of sodomy, or bestiality. A second consideration which evidently had place, was the danger involved in each crime to the moral and spiritual well-being of the community; and, we may add, in the third place, also the degree to which the 424 people were likely to be exposed to the contagion of certain crimes prevalent in the nations immediately about them.

But although these principles are manifestly so equitable and benevolent as to be valid for all ages, Christendom seems to be forgetting the fact. The modern penal codes vary as widely from the Mosaic in respect of their great leniency, as those of a few centuries ago in respect of their undiscriminating severity. In particular, the past few generations have seen a great change with regard to the infliction of capital punishment. Formerly, in England, for example, death was inflicted, with intolerable injustice, for a large number of comparatively trivial offences; the death-penalty is now restricted to high treason and killing with malice aforethought; while in some parts of Christendom it is already wholly abolished. In the Mosaic law, according to this chapter and other parts of the law, it was much more extensively inflicted, though, it may be noted in passing, always without torture. In this chapter it is made the penalty for actual or constructive idolatry, for sorcery, etc., for cursing father or mother, for adultery, for the grosser degrees of incest, and for sodomy and bestiality. To this list of capital offences the law elsewhere adds, not only murder, but blasphemy, sabbath-breaking, unchastity in a betrothed woman when discovered after marriage, rape, rebellion against a priest or judge, and man-stealing.

As regards the crimes specified in this particular chapter, the criminal law of modern Christendom does not inflict the penalty of death in a single possible case here mentioned; and, to the mind of many, the contrasted severity of the Mosaic code presents a grave 425 difficulty. And yet, if one believes, on the authority of the teaching of Christ, that the theocratic government of Israel is not a fable, but a historic fact, although he may still have much difficulty in recognising the righteousness of this code, he will be slow on this account either to renounce his faith in the Divine authority of this chapter, or to impugn the justice of the holy King of Israel in charging Him with undue severity; and will rather patiently await some other solution of the problem, than the denial of the essential equity of these laws. But there are several considerations which, for many, will greatly lessen, if they do not wholly remove, the difficulty which the case presents.

In the first place, as regards the punishment of idolatry with death, we have to remember that, from a theocratic point of view, idolatry was essentially high treason, the most formal repudiation possible of the supreme authority of Israel's King. If, even in our modern states, the gravity of the issues involved in high treason has led men to believe that death is not too severe a penalty for an offence aimed directly at the subversion of governmental order, how much more must this be admitted when the government is not of fallible man, but of the most holy and infallible God? And when, besides this, we recall the atrocious cruelties and revolting impurities which were inseparably associated with that idolatry, we shall have still less difficulty in seeing that it was just that the worshipper of Molech should die. And as decreeing the penalty of death for sorcery and similar practices, it is probable that the reason for this is to be found in the close connection of these with the prevailing idolatry.

But it is in regard to crimes against the integrity and purity of the family that we find the most impressive 426 contrast between this penal code and those of modern times. Although, unhappily, adultery and, less commonly, incest, and even, rarely, the unnatural crimes mentioned in this chapter, are not unknown in modern Christendom, yet, while the law of Moses punished all these with death, modern law treats them with comparative leniency, or even refuses to regard some forms of these offences as crimes. What then? Shall we hasten to the conclusion that we have advanced on Moses? that this law was certainly unjust in its severity? or is it possible that modern law is at fault, in that it has fallen below those standards of righteousness which rule in the kingdom of God?

One would think that by any man who believes in the Divine origin of the theocracy only one answer could be given. Assuredly, one cannot suppose that God judged of a crime with undue severity; and if not, is not then Christendom, as it were, summoned by this penal code of the theocracy—after making all due allowance for different conditions of society—to revise its estimate of the moral gravity of these and other offences? In these days of continually progressive relaxation of the laws regulating the relations of the sexes, this seems indeed to be one of the chief lessons from this chapter of Leviticus; namely, that in God's sight sins against the seventh commandment are not the comparative trifles which much over-charitable and easy-going morality imagines, but crimes of the first order of heinousness. We do well to heed this fact, that not merely unnatural crimes, such as sodomy, bestiality, and the grosser forms of incest, but adultery, is by God ranked in the same category as murder. Is it strange? For what are crimes of this kind but assaults on the very being of the family? Where 427 there is incest or adultery, we may truly say the family is murdered; what murder is to the individual, that, precisely, are crimes of this class to the family. In the theocratic code these were, therefore, made punishable with death; and, we venture to believe, with abundant reason. Is it likely that God was too severe? or must we not rather fear that man, ever lenient to prevailing sins, in our day has become falsely and unmercifully merciful, kind with a most perilous and unholy kindness?

Still harder will it be for most of us to understand why the death-penalty should have been also affixed to cursing or smiting a father or a mother, an extreme form of rebellion against parental authority. We must, no doubt, bear in mind, as in all these cases, that a rough people, like those just emancipated slaves, required a severity of dealing which with finer natures would not be needed; and, also, that the fact of Israel's call to be a priestly nation bearing salvation to mankind, made every disobedience among them the graver crime, as tending to so disastrous issues, not for Israel alone, but for the whole race of man which Israel was appointed to bless. On an analogous principle we justify military authority in shooting the sentry found asleep at his post. Still, while allowing for all this, one can hardly escape the inference that, in the sight of God, rebellion against parents must be a more serious offence than many in our time have been wont to imagine. And the more that we consider how truly basal to the order of government and of society is both sexual purity and the maintenance of a spirit of reverence and subordination to parents, the easier we shall find it to recognise the fact that if in this penal code there is doubtless great severity, it is yet the 428 severity of governmental wisdom and true paternal kindness on the part of the high King of Israel: who governed that nation with intent, above all, that they might become in the highest sense "a holy nation" in the midst of an ungodly world, and so become the vehicle of blessing to others. And God thus judged that it was better that sinning individuals should die without mercy, than that family government and family purity should perish, and Israel, instead of being a blessing to the nations, should sink with them into the mire of universal moral corruption.

And it is well to observe that this law, if severe, was most equitable and impartial in its application. We have here, in no instance, torture; the scourging which in one case is enjoined, is limited elsewhere to the forty stripes save one. Neither have we discrimination against any class, or either sex; nothing like that detestable injustice of modern society which turns the fallen woman into the street with pious scorn, while it often receives the betrayer and even the adulterer—in most cases the more guilty of the two—into "the best society." Nothing have we here, again, which could justify by example the insistence of many, through a perverted humanity, when a murderess is sentenced for her crime to the scaffold, her sex should purchase a partial immunity from the penalty of crime. The Levitical law is as impartial as its Author; even if death be the penalty, the guilty one must die, whether man or woman.

Quite apart, then, from any question of detail, as to how far this penal code ought to be applied under the different conditions of modern society, this chapter of Leviticus assuredly stands as a most impressive testimony from God against the humanitarianism of our 429 age. It is more and more the fashion, in some parts of Christendom, to pet criminals; to lionize murderers and adulterers, especially if in high social station. We have even heard of bouquets and such-like sentimental attentions bestowed by ladies on blood-red criminals in their cells awaiting the halter; and a maudlin pity quite too often usurps among us the place of moral horror at crime and intense sympathy with the holy justice and righteousness of God. But this Divine government of old did not deal in flowers and perfumes; it never indulged criminals, but punished them with an inexorable righteousness. And yet this was not because Israel's King was hard and cruel. For it was this same law which with equal kindness and equity kept a constant eye of fatherly care upon the poor and the stranger, and commanded the Israelite that he love even the stranger as himself. But, none the less, the Lord God who declared Himself as merciful and gracious and of great kindness, also herein revealed Himself, according to His word, as one who would "by no means clear the guilty." This fact is luminously witnessed by this penal code; and, let us note, it is witnessed by that penal law of God which is revealed in nature also. For this too punishes without mercy the drunkard, for example, or the licentious man, and never diminishes one stroke because by the full execution of penalty the sinner must suffer often so terribly. Which is just what we should expect to find, if indeed the God of nature is the One who spake in Leviticus.

Finally, as already suggested, this chapter gives a most weighty testimony against the modern tendency to a relaxation of the laws which regulate the relations of the sexes. That such a tendency is a fact is 430 admitted by all; by some with gratulation, by others with regret and grave concern. French law, for instance, has explicitly legalised various alliances which in this law God explicitly forbids, under heavy penal sanctions, as incestuous; German legislation has moved about as far in the same direction; and the same tendency is to be observed, more or less, in all the English-speaking world. In some of the United States, especially, the utmost laxity has been reached, in laws which, under the name of divorce, legalize gross adultery,—laws which had been a disgrace to pagan Rome. So it goes. Where God denounced the death-penalty, man first apologises for the crime, then lightens the penalty, then abolishes it, and at last formally legalises the crime. This modern drift bodes no good; in the end it can only bring disaster alike to the well-being of the family and of the State. The maintenance of the family in its integrity and purity is nothing less than essential to the conservation of society and the stability of good government.

To meet this growing evil, the Church needs to come back to the full recognition of the principles which underlie this Levitical code; especially of the fact that marriage and the family are not merely civil arrangements, but Divine institutions; so that God has not left it to the caprice of a majority to settle what shall be lawful in these matters. Where God has declared certain alliances and connections to be criminal, we shall permit or condone them at our peril. God rules, whether modern majorities will it or not; and we must adopt the moral standards of the kingdom of God in our legislation, or we shall suffer. God has declared that not merely the material well-being of man, but holiness, is the moral end of government and of life; and 431 He will find ways to enforce His will in this respect. "The nation that will not serve Him shall perish." All this is not theology, merely, or ethics, but history. All history witnesses that moral corruption and relaxed legislation, especially in matters affecting the relations of the sexes, bring in their train sure retribution, not in Hades, but here on earth. Let us not miss of taking the lesson by imagining that this law was for Israel, but not for other peoples. The contrary is affirmed in this very chapter (vv. 23, 24), where we are reminded that God visited His heavy judgments upon the Canaanitish nations precisely for this very thing, their doing of these things which are in this law of holiness forbidden. Hence "the land spued them out." Our modern democracies, English, American, French, German, or whatever they be, would do well to pause in their progressive repudiation of the law of God in many social questions, and heed this solemn warning. For, despite the unbelief of multitudes, the Holy One still governs the world, and it is certain that He will never abdicate His throne of righteousness to submit any of His laws to the sanction of a popular vote.




Lev. xxi. 1-xxii. 33.

The conception of Israel as a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, was concretely represented in a threefold division of the people,—the congregation, the priesthood, and the high priest. This corresponded to the threefold division of the tabernacle into the outer court, the holy place, and the holy of holies, each in succession more sacred than the place preceding. So while all Israel was called to be a priestly nation, holy to Jehovah in life and service, this sanctity was to be represented in degrees successively higher in each of these three divisions of the people, culminating in the person of the high priest, who, in token of this fact, wore upon his forehead the inscription, "Holiness to Jehovah."

Up to this point the law of holiness has dealt only with such obligations as bore upon all the priestly nation alike; in these two chapters we now have the special requirements of this law in its yet higher demands upon, first, the priests, and, secondly, the high priest.

Abolished as to the letter, this part of the law still holds good as to the principle which it expresses, 433 namely, that special spiritual privilege and honour places him to whom it is given under special obligations to holiness of life. As contrasted with the world without, it is not then enough that Christians should be equally correct and moral in life with the best men of the world; though too many seem to be living under that impression. They must be more than this; they must be holy: God will wink at things in others which He will not deal lightly with in them. And so, again, within the Church, those who occupy various positions of dignity as teachers and rulers of God's flock are just in that degree laid under the more stringent obligation to holiness of life and walk. This most momentous lesson confronts us at the very opening of this new section of the law, addressed specifically to "the priests, the sons of Aaron." How much it is needed is sufficiently and most sadly evident from the condition of baptized Christendom to-day. Who is there that will heed it?

Priestly holiness was to be manifested, first (vv. 1-15), in regard to earthly relations of kindred and friendship. This is illustrated under three particulars, namely, in mourning for the dead (vv. 1-6), in marriage (vv. 7, 8), and (ver. 9) in the maintenance of purity in the priest's family. With regard to the first point, it is ordered that there shall be no defilement for the dead, except in the case of the priest's own family,—father, mother, brother, unmarried sister, son, or daughter.3737The wife is not mentioned, but that she would also be included in the exception, in view of her being always regarded in the law as yet nearer to her husband than father or mother, may be safely taken for granted. That is, with the exception of these cases, the priest, though he may mourn in his heart, 434 is to take no part in any of those last offices which others render to the dead. This were "to profane himself." And while the above exceptions are allowed in the case of members of his immediate household, even in these cases he is specially charged (ver. 5) to remember, what was indeed elsewhere forbidden to every Israelite, that such excessive demonstrations of grief as shaving the head, cutting the flesh, etc., were most unseemly in a priest. These restrictions are expressly based upon the fact that he is "a chief man among his people;" that he is holy unto God, appointed to offer "the bread of God, the offerings made by fire." And inasmuch as the high priest, in the highest degree of all, represents the priestly idea, and is thus admitted into a peculiar and exclusive intimacy of relation with God, having on him "the crown of the anointing oil of his God," and having been consecrated to put on the "garments for glory and for beauty," worn by none other in Israel, with him the prohibition of all public acts of mourning is made absolute (vv. 10-12). He may not defile himself, for instance, by even entering the house where lies the dead body of a father or a mother!

These regulations, at first thought, to many will seem hard and unnatural. Yet this law of holiness elsewhere magnifies and guards with most jealous care the family relation, and commands that even the neighbour we shall love as ourselves. Hence it is certain that these regulations cannot have been intended to condemn the natural feelings of grief at the loss of friends, but only to place them under certain restrictions. They were given, not to depreciate the earthly relationships of friendship and kindred, but only to magnify the more the dignity and significance of the 435 priestly relation to God, as far transcending even the most sacred relations of earth. As priest, the son of Aaron was the servant of the Eternal God, of God the Holy and the Living One, appointed to mediate from Him the grace of pardon and life to those condemned to die. Hence he must never forget this himself, nor allow others to forget it. Hence he must maintain a special, visible separation from death, as everywhere the sign of the presence and operation of sin and unholiness; and while he is not forbidden to mourn, he must mourn with a visible moderation; the more so that if his priesthood had any significance, it meant that death for the believing and obedient Israelite was death in hope. And then, besides all this, God had declared that He Himself would be the portion and inheritance of the priests. For the priest therefore to mourn, as if in losing even those nearest and dearest on earth he had lost all, were in outward appearance to fail in witness to the faithfulness of God to His promises, and His all-sufficiency as his portion.

Standing here, will we but listen, we can now hear the echo of this same law of priestly holiness from the New Testament, in such words as these, addressed to the whole priesthood of believers: "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me;" "Let those that have wives be as though they had none, and those that weep as though they wept not;" "Concerning them that fall asleep ... sorrow not, even as the rest, which have no hope." As Christians, we are not forbidden to mourn; but because a royal priesthood to the God of life, who raised up the Lord Jesus, and ourselves looking also for the resurrection, ever with moderation and self-restraint. Extravagant demonstrations of sorrow, whether in dress or in prolonged 436 separation from the sanctuary and active service of God, as the manner of many is, are all as contrary to the New Testament law of holiness as to that of the Old. When bereaved, we are to call to mind the blessed fact of our priestly relation to God, and in this we shall find a restraint and a remedy for excessive and despairing grief. We are to remember that the law for the High Priest is the law for all His priestly house; like Him, they must all be perfected for the priesthood by sufferings; so that, in that they themselves suffer, being tried, they may be able the better to succour others that are tried in like manner (2 Cor. i. 4; Heb. ii. 18). We are also to remember that as priests to God, this God of eternal life and love is Himself our satisfying portion, and with holy care take heed that by no immoderate display of grief we even seem before men to traduce His faithfulness and belie to unbelievers His glorious all-sufficiency.

The holiness of the priesthood was also to be represented visibly in the marriage relation. A priest must marry no woman to whose fair fame attaches the slightest possibility of suspicion,—no harlot, or fallen woman,3838See margin (R.V.). or a woman divorced (ver. 7); such an alliance were manifestly most unseemly in one "holy to his God." As in the former instance, the high priest is still further restricted; he may not marry a widow, but only "a virgin of his own people" (ver. 14); for virginity is always in Holy Scripture the peculiar type of holiness. As a reason it is added that this were to "profane his seed among his people;" that is, it would be inevitable that by neglect of this care the people would come to regard his seed with a diminished reverence as the 437 separated priests of the holy God. From observing the practice of many who profess to be Christians, one would naturally infer that they can never have suspected that there was anything in this part of the law which concerns the New Testament priesthood of believers. How often we see a young man or a young woman professing to be a disciple of Christ, a member of Christ's royal priesthood, entering into marriage alliance with a confessed unbeliever in Him! And yet the law is laid down as explicitly in the New Testament as in the Old (1 Cor. vii. 39), that marriage shall be only "in the Lord;" so that one principle rules in both dispensations. The priestly line must, as far as possible, be kept pure; the holy man must have a holy wife. Many, indeed, feel this deeply and marry accordingly; but the apparent thoughtlessness on the matter of many more is truly astonishing, and almost incomprehensible.

And the household of the priest were to remember the holy standing of their father. The sin of the child of a priest was to be punished more severely than that of the children of others; a single illustration is given (ver. 9): "The daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the harlot, ... shall be burnt with fire."3939That is, not burnt alive, but after execution. And the severity of the penalty is justified by this, that by her sin "she profaneth her father." From which it appears that, as a principle of the Divine judgment, if the children of believers sin, their guilt will be judged more heavy than that of others; and that justly, because to their sin this is added, over like sin of others, that they thereby cast dishonour on their believing parents, and in them soil and defame the honour of God. How little is this remembered by 438 many in these days of increasing insubordination even in Christian families!

The priestly holiness was to be manifested, in the second place, in physical, bodily perfection. It is written (ver. 17): "Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed throughout their generations that hath a blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God."

And then follows (vv. 18-20) a list of various cases in illustration of this law, with the proviso (vv. 21-23) that while such a person might not perform any priestly function, he should not be debarred from the use of the priestly portion, whether of things "holy" or "most holy," as his daily food. The material and bodily is ever the type and symbol of the spiritual; hence, in this case, the spiritual purity and perfection required of him who would draw near to God in the priests' office must be visibly signified by his physical perfection; else the sanctity of the tabernacle were profaned. Moreover, the reverence due from the people toward Jehovah's sanctuary could not well be maintained where a dwarf, for instance, or a humpback, were ministering at the altar. And yet the Lord has for such a heart of kindness; in kindly compassion He will not exclude them from His table. Like Mephibosheth at the table of David, the deformed priest may still eat at the table of God.

There is a thought here which bears on the administration of the affairs of God's house even now. We are reminded that there are those who, while undoubtedly members of the universal Christian priesthood, and thus lawfully entitled to come to the table of the Lord, may yet be properly regarded as disabled and debarred by various circumstances, for which, in many cases, 439 they may not be responsible, from any eminent position in the Church.

In the almost unrestrained insistence of many in this day for "equality," there are indications not a few of a contempt for the holy offices ordained by Christ for His Church, which would admit an equal right on the part of almost any who may desire it, to be allowed to minister in the Church in holy things. But as there were dwarfed and blinded sons of Aaron, so are there not a few Christians who—evidently, at least, to all but themselves—are spiritually dwarfs or deformed; subject to ineradicable and obtrusive constitutional infirmities, such as utterly disqualify, and should preclude, them from holding any office in the holy Church of Christ. The presence of such in her ministry can only now, as of old, profane the sanctuaries of the Lord.

The next section of the law of holiness for the priests (xxii. 1-16) requires that the priests, as holy unto Jehovah, treat with most careful reverence all those holy things which are their lawful portion. If, in any way, any priest have incurred ceremonial defilement,—as, for instance, by an issue, or by the dead,—he is not to eat until he is clean (vv. 2-7). On no account must he defile himself by eating of that which is unclean, such as that which has died of itself, or has been torn by beasts (ver. 8), which indeed was forbidden even to the ordinary Israelite. Furthermore, the priests are charged that they preserve the sanctity of God's house by carefully excluding all from participation in the priests' portion who are not of the priestly order. The stranger or sojourner in the priest's house, or a hired servant, must not be fed from this "bread of God;" not even a daughter, when, having married, she has left the father's home to form a family of her 440 own, can be allowed to partake of it (ver. 12). If, however (ver. 13), she be parted from her husband by death or divorce, and have no child, and return to her father's house, she then becomes again a member of the priestly family, and resumes the privileges of her virginity.

All this may seem, at first, remote from any present use; and yet it takes little thought to see that, in principle, the New Testament law of holiness requires, under a changed form, even the same reverent use of God's gifts, and especially of the Holy Supper of the Lord, from every member of the Christian priesthood. It is true that in some parts of the Church a superstitious dread is felt with regard to approach to the Lord's Table, as if only the conscious attainment of a very high degree of holiness could warrant one in coming. But, however such a feeling is to be deprecated, it is certain that it is a less serious wrong, and argues not so ill as to the spiritual condition of a man as the easy carelessness with which multitudes partake of the Lord's Supper, nothing disturbed, apparently, by the recollection that they are living in the habitual practice of known sin, unconfessed, unforsaken, and therefore unforgiven. As it was forbidden to the priest to eat of those holy things which were his rightful portion, with his defilement or uncleanness on him, till he should first be cleansed, no less is it now a violation of the law of holiness for the Christian to come to the Holy Supper having on his conscience unconfessed and unforgiven sin. No less truly than the violation of this ancient law is this a profanation, and who so desecrates the holy food must bear his sin.

And as the sons of Aaron were charged by this law of holiness that they guard the holy things from the 441 participation of any who were not of the priestly house, so also is the obligation on every member of the New Testament Church, and especially on those who are in official charge of her holy sacraments, that they be careful to debar from such participation the unholy and profane. It is true that it is possible to go to an extreme in this matter which is unwarranted by the Word of God. Although participation in the Holy Supper is of right only for the regenerate, it does not follow, as in some sections of the Church has been imagined, that the Church is therefore required to satisfy herself as to the undoubted regeneration of those who may apply for membership and fellowship in this privilege. So to read the heart as to be able to decide authoritatively on the regeneration of every applicant for Church membership is beyond the power of any but the Omniscient Lord, and is not required in the Word. The Apostles received and baptized men upon their credible profession of faith and repentance, and entered into no inquisitorial cross-examination as to the details of the religious experience of the candidate. None the less, however, the law of holiness requires that the Church, under this limitation, shall to the uttermost of her power be careful that no one unconverted and profane shall sit at the Holy Table of the Lord. She may admit upon profession of faith and repentance, but she certainly is bound to see to it that such profession shall be credible; that is, such as may be reasonably believed to be sincere and genuine. She is bound, therefore, to satisfy herself in such cases, so far as possible to man, that the life of the applicant, at least externally, witnesses to the genuineness of the profession. If we are to beware of imposing false tests of Christian character, as some have done, for instance, 442 in the use or disuse of things indifferent, we are, on the other hand, to see to it that we do apply such tests as the Word warrants, and firmly exclude all such as insist upon practices which are demonstrably, in themselves always wrong, according to the law of God.

No man who has any just apprehension of Scriptural truth can well doubt that we have here a lesson which is of the highest present-day importance. When one goes out into the world and observes the practices in which many whom we meet at the Lord's Table habitually indulge, whether in business or in society,—the crookedness in commercial dealings and sharp dealing in trade, the utter dissipation in amusement, of many Church members,—a spiritual man cannot but ask, Where is the discipline of the Lord's house? Surely, this law of holiness applies to a multitude of such cases; and it must be said that when such eat of the holy things, they "profane them;" and those who, in responsible charge of the Lord's Table, are careless in this matter, "cause them to bear the iniquity that bringeth guilt, when they eat their holy things" (ver. 16). That word of the Lord Jesus certainly applies in this case (Matt. xviii. 7): "It must needs be that occasions of stumbling come; but woe to that man through whom the occasion cometh!"

The last section of the law concerning priestly holiness (xxii. 17-33) requires the maintenance of jealous care in the enforcement of the law of offerings. Inasmuch as, in the nature of the case, while it rested with the sons of Aaron to enforce this law, the obligation concerned every offerer, this section (vv. 17-25) is addressed also (ver. 18) "unto all the children of Israel." The first requirement concerned the perfection of the offering; it must be (vv. 19, 20) "without 443 blemish." Only one qualification is allowed to this law, namely, in the case of the free-will offering (ver. 23), in which a victim was allowed which, otherwise perfect, had something "superfluous or lacking in his parts." Even this relaxation of the law was not allowed in the case of an offering brought in payment of a vow; hence Malachi (i. 14), in allusion to this law, sharply denounces the man who "voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a blemished thing." Verse 25 provides that this law shall be enforced in the case of the foreigner, who may wish to present an offering to Jehovah, no less than with the Israelite.

A third requirement (ver. 27) sets a minimum limit to the age of a sacrificial victim; it must not be less than eight days old. The reason of this law, apart from any mystic or symbolic meaning, is probably grounded in considerations of humanity, requiring the avoidance of giving unnecessary suffering to the dam. A similar intention is probably to be recognised in the additional law (ver. 28) that the cow, or ewe, and its young should not both be killed in one day; though it must be confessed that the matter is somewhat obscure.

Finally, the law closes (vv. 29, 30) with the repetition of the command (vii. 15) requiring that the flesh of the sacrifice of thanksgiving be eaten on the same day in which it is offered. The slightest possibility of beginning corruption is to be precluded in such cases with peculiar strictness.

This closing section of the law of holiness, which so insists that the regulations of God's law in regard to sacrifice shall be scrupulously observed, in its inner principle forbids all departures in matter of worship from any express Divine appointment or command. We fully recognise the fact that, as compared with the 444 old dispensation, the New Testament allows in the conduct and order of worship a far larger liberty than then. But, in our age, the tendency, alike in politics and in religion, is to the confounding of liberty and license. Yet they are not the same, but are most sharply contrasted. Liberty is freedom of action within the bounds of Divine law; license recognises no limitation to human action, apart from enforced necessity,—no law save man's own will and pleasure. It is therefore essential lawlessness,4040See 1 John iii. 4 and 2 Thess. ii. 3, 4, 7, 8,—passages which, in view of this most manifest and characteristic tendency of our times, are pregnant with very solemn warning. and therefore is sin in its most perfect and consummate expression. But there is law in the New Testament as well as in the Old. Because the New Testament lays down but few laws concerning the order of Divine worship, it does not follow that these few are of no consequence, and that men may worship in all respects just as they choose, and equally please God.

To illustrate this matter. It does not follow, because the New Testament allows large liberty as regards the details of worship, that therefore we may look upon the use of images or pictures in connection with worship as a matter of indifference. If told that these are merely used as an aid to devotion,—the very argument which in all ages has been used by all idolaters,—we reply that, be that as it may, it is an aid which is expressly prohibited under the heaviest penal sanctions in both Testaments. We may take another present-day illustration, which, especially in the American Church, is of special pertinence. One would say that it should be self-evident that no ordinance of the Church should be more jealously guarded from human alteration or 445 modification than the most sacred institution of the sacramental Supper. Surely it should be allowed that the Lord alone should have the right to designate the symbols of His own death in this most holy ordinance. That He chose and appointed for this purpose bread and wine, even the fermented juice of the grape, has been affirmed by the practically unanimous consensus of Christendom for almost nineteen hundred years; and it is not too much to say that this understanding of the Scripture record is sustained by the no less unanimous judgment of truly authoritative scholarship even to-day. Neither can it be denied that Christ ordained this use of wine in the Holy Supper with the most perfect knowledge of the terrible evils connected with its abuse in all ages. All this being so, how can it but contravene this principle of the law of holiness, which insists upon the exact observance of the appointments which the Lord has made for His own worship, when men, in the imagined interest of "moral reform," presume to attempt improvements in this holy ordinance of the Lord, and substitute for the wine which He chose to make the symbol of His precious blood, something else, of different properties, for the use of which the whole New Testament affords no warrant? We speak with full knowledge of the various plausible arguments which are pressed as reasons why the Church should authorise this nineteenth-century innovation. No doubt, in many cases, the change is urged through a misapprehension as to the historical facts, which, however astonishing to scholars, is at least real and sincere. But whenever any, admitting the facts as to the original appointment, yet seriously propose, as so often of late years, to improve on the Lord's arrangements for His own Table, we are bold 446 to insist that the principle which underlies this part of the priestly law of holiness applies in full force in this case, and cannot therefore be rightly set aside. Strange, indeed, it is that men should unthinkingly hope to advance morality by ignoring the primal principle of all holiness, that Christ, the Son of God, is absolute and supreme Lord over all His people, and especially in all that pertains to the ordering of His own house!

We have in these days great need to beseech the Lord that He may deliver us, in all things, from that malign epidemic of religious lawlessness which is one of the plagues of our age; and raise up a generation who shall so understand their priestly calling as Christians, that, no less in all that pertains to the offices of public worship, than in their lives as individuals they shall take heed, above all things, to walk according to the principles of this law of priestly holiness. For, repealed although it be as to the outward form of the letter, yet in the nature of the case, as to its spirit and intention, it abides, and must abide, in force unto the end. And the great argument also, with which, after the constant manner of this law, this section closes, is also, as to its spirit, valid still, and even of greater force in its New Testament form than of old. For we may now justly read it in this wise: "Ye shall not profane My holy name, but I will be hallowed among My people: I am the Lord that hallow you, that have redeemed you by the cross, to be your God."


« Prev Chapter XXII Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection