According to Leviticus 22:1-9, the Lord commanded the priests to separate themselves from the holy things when they are unclean. The “holy things” include the priestly portions of the sacrificial offerings and the prescribed portions of crops that are given to the priests (second tithe) by the people of Israel.
Conditions that cause priests to be ritually unclean include:
- Being a leper (a metzora; not a person with Hanson’s disease).
- Having a seminal emission or other discharge such as what results from gonorrhea.
- Touching someone who has had a seminal emission or other discharge.
- Touching something that has come in contact with a person who has had a seminal emission or other discharge.
- Touching a human corpse or a crawling creature that died as outlined in Leviticus 11:29-31.
- Touching something made unclean by contact with a human corpse or a crawling creature that died as outlined in Leviticus 11:29-31—whether it died naturally or was torn by wild beasts.
In most of these instances, the priest must immerse himself in water and he will be unclean only until the evening. After that he may enter the temple and/or eat the holy things.
For those who’ve come in contact with the dead, they must follow the commands of purification found in Numbers 19:11-22.
These laws are important because they prevent the priests from ritually contaminating the sacrificial meat or disqualifying the offerings brought by the people. In addition, they must avoid transmitting uncleanness to the Temple.
If you read the list of the forms of ritual uncleanness previously mentioned, it becomes evident that each one is somehow related to:
- Physical or spiritual death or a picture thereof.
- The lack of life or the lack of the potential to create life.
In general, spiritual death is usually associated with a separation from God.
Having a discharge is probably the worst form of uncleanness on the list and is a result of sexual transmission. It requires treatment and doesn’t go away within a day. Since it results from sexual sin, it is shameful and a picture of being uncovered. It is offensive to God and is evidence of a spiritually bankrupt condition. It hinders personal ministry and separates us from God and from what is holy. It is a picture of death.
The Greek Septuagint specifically uses the word gonorrhea for discharge. It can cause infertility and if it’s not treated, it can cause problems in the joints and can even be life threatening. Drug resistant strains of the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae are not unusual today and are very concerning. This disease is often accompanied by other sexually transmitted diseases so it is important to control the desires of the flesh. A person in this condition who is unrepentant will be found guilty and judged.
Just as bad as sexual immorality is idolatry. When someone commits idolatry, they are seeking an intimate relationship with demons. This also leads to death and eternal separation from God.
The command to refrain from eating the holy things on penalty of death for doing so shows us a picture of Adam and Eve being hindered by the cherubim with flaming swords from eating from the Tree of Life which was in the Garden of Eden. Those who can’t eat from the Tree of Life will suffer eternal separation from God. They are already spiritually dead and physical death awaits them.
According to Leviticus 22:10-16, those who may eat the holy things include:
- Members of the priest’s household including his wife and children except for daughters who married someone out of the priesthood. The only exceptions are those daughters who have returned to live with their father because they are widowed or divorced, and have no children.
- Person bought by a priest and any children born to a gentile female slave in the priest’s household.
Those who may not eat the holy things include:
- Outsiders who dwell with priests
- Hired servants
Anyone who unintentionally eats the holy things must restore the offering and add one fifth to it. The one who must restore the offering must not make another one, he must simply replace the amount of food plus one fifth of the amount.
In our day and age, being free to eat the holy things may be comparable to eating the Lord’s Supper which represents the flesh and blood of Jesus as well as the Tree of Life which will be in the new Jerusalem. God has always intended for His people to be a nation of priests and a holy nation unto God so that they can eat from the Tree of Life one day.
As a nation of priests, it is important that we live a life of holiness and remain faithful to the Lord. We should not be unequally yoked or fellowship with non-believers so that we are not led away from our faith. Instead we should bring others into a saving relationship with the Lord through the adoption process — by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We should be careful that people who seem to worship with us are true believers and sons of God otherwise they will not be able to eat of the holy Tree of Life and live forever.