Division 4. (Lev. 18 — 22.)
Holiness in practical walk.
The fourth division shows so plainly its character that there is no need to insist upon it. Its two subdivisions also are absolutely simple in character, being divided by the range of address, — the first, to the whole people, including of course the priests; the second, to the priests only. From the nature of these commandments, while their importance is manifest, they require little exposition, such as comes within the scope of a work like the present, the less as it may be found in all the usual commentaries.
Subdivision 1. (Lev. 18 — 20.)
Precepts for the whole people.
1. The first section takes up what is fundamental to all relationship, from which duty arises to one's neighbor. Relations of sex are the foundation of the family, as the family is the foundation of the state. The order is therefore perfect, as all Scripture is. The links thus formed are the strongest that exist amongst men naturally, and in their violation lead to the worst confusion.
(1) We have here first the exhortation to obedience; a law given in which is life. Of this naturally there can be no just question. Men's vices are physically their destruction, and rob human life of all that makes it worthy of the name: "My son, forget not My law, but let thine heart keep My commandments: for length of days, and years of life, and peace shall they add to thee. . . . Fear the Lord, and depart from evil: it shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones" (Prov. 3:1, 2, 7, 8). It must of necessity be so, if God be over all, and the "Lord's eyes are over the righteous."
(2) In the next place, we find the limit imposed upon marriage in regard to blood-relationship. Here abundant reasons evidence that character of the divine law which has been announced above. The laws of heredity show that in a fallen race, the inheritance of disease to which all are liable is intensified where similar tendencies are found in both parents. In the need also of looking outside the circle of near relationship for partners, the selfishness of man finds a divine restraint, and the bonds which unite man with man at large are strengthened and multiplied. Besides which the intimacies of the home and family are guarded from abuse.
(3) Thirdly, impurities apart from the question of marriage are denounced, — confusions and abominations of which man can easily nevertheless be guilty, and of which in fact the heathen world was full.
(4) For these sins the land to which they were going was casting out its inhabitants; and they are warned that for such things if practiced, it would cast out them also. God's righteousness is equal to all His creatures and Israel, now cast out of their land, are witnesses to it.
2. The nineteenth chapter shows the duties flowing from covenant-relationship: "I am Jehovah," fifteen times repeated, is the declaration by which every commandment is enforced. Fellowship with a holy God must be in holiness: "Ye shall be holy; for I Jehovah your God am holy."
There is a mingling together of various conditions which have for most forbidden attempt to divide the chapter into sections and where this has been made it is very little satisfactory. May there not be for us in this the lesson that the law as a whole is a web so woven as not to admit of separation, even as the righteousness it enjoins, if fulfilled, would be like the priest's robe, woven without seam. There was but One who ever wore on earth this beauteous covering.
3. Then in the twentieth chapter we have the penalties by which the law just given is sealed, or actualized as law, for a law without penalty is none at all. The three divisions of the chapter are plain enough, but I cannot go more deeply into them.
Subdivision 2. (Lev. 21, 22.)
Precepts for the priesthood.
We come now to the laws for the priesthood, in which we find a higher separation naturally required of those who draw near to God. It is well to remember here that all Christians are priests, and that as brought nearer to Him than Judaism could ever accomplish, indeed only now really nigh, the holiness required from us must have a character corresponding. In Israel much was merely typical and outward. We have to do with the realities of what was with them typical.
The five sections here are marked out for us each as a separate word of Jehovah.
1. The first of these insists upon abstinence from defilement for the dead, except in the case of the nearest relatives, on the part of men who present Jehovah's offerings; also upon all impurity being refused in his relations, those especially which, being most important, are nevertheless most loosely, and at the dictates of mere passion, entered into. We have then the high-priest, specially characterized as one anointed with the holy oil, marked out for a still loftier separation.
2. The second section relates to personal blemish in the priest which would unfit for public ministration, though not for partaking of the holy things. Here we are reminded of the sacrificial victims, of which the same unblemished perfectness was required. A blemished priest would not suit an unblemished offering, for both the one and the other speak of Christ. If we approach to God, it can only be as in the perfectness of Christ before Him. On the other hand, lame legs do not hinder a Mephibosheth from being entertained at the king's table. So the poor lame priest "shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and the holy things." Royal grace!
3. The third section legislates against the profanation of consecrated things, which was to profane God's holy name. Defilement of the priest cut him off from partaking of them while the defilement lasted. Nor could any stranger, not being of the priestly house, partake, nor even the daughter of the priest, married and living out of the priestly household.
4. The fourth section takes up the subject of blemishes in the sacrifice, and is addressed through Moses to all Israel. It concerned them all. All kinds of imperfection are forbidden in the sacrifices, except only in a free-will offering, where, because such, something in defect or excess might be permitted. Nor was mutilation of God's creatures to be practised in the land.
5. Lastly, when all this had been complied with, there were still conditions of acceptable offering, which are here detailed. As to age, the law of circumcision is the law of offering, and for a similar reason: in its first seven days it was unclean, the stamp of the old creation was upon it — a thing of which, strikingly, nothing is said with regard to the dove or pigeon, the bird of heaven. Here the old creation is set aside; in the second commandment not to kill the young and its mother on the same day, the natural links are shown as recognized however; while in the third, the repetition of the commandment to leave none of the thank-offering to the second day, we are bidden to beware of the entrance of mere nature into the things of God.