“Adonai said to Moshe, “Speak to the cohanim, the sons of Aharon; tell them: ‘No cohen is to make himself unclean for any of his people who dies, except for his close relatives — his mother, father, son, daughter and brother; he may also make himself unclean for his virgin sister who has never married and is therefore dependent on him. He may not make himself unclean, because he is a leader among his people; doing so would profane him.“-Leviticus 21:1-3
We are currently studying the first few verses of Leviticus 21 dealing with UNCLEANNESS and death.
Let me remind you that this passage is speaking ONLY to the Levites and Priests of Israel.
These verses are NOT being addressed to the population of Israel at large.
These verses have always presented problems for the Hebrews.
The reason is because the clear implication is that a priest is not allowed to attend to his wife if she dies.
A priest can attend to his mother, father, sister, brother, son and daughter because they are “flesh and blood” relatives but not his wife.
The wife, who was usually also a Levite, was NOT considered “flesh-and-blood” of her priest husband.
In order for a priest to be allowed to attend to a dead person, there had to be a close genetic connection.
According to these Scriptures, there is NOT a close enough genetic connection between a priest and his wife that would allow him to care for her dead body if she died.
Remember, the Torah has very specific instructions concerning how close of a blood relative a person has to be in order to be marriageable.
If these rules weren’t obeyed, then it was considered incest.
Now some you may be thinking, what about the principle established in Genesis 2:24?
“Therefore shall a man leave
his father and his mother,
and shall cleave unto his wife:
and they shall be one flesh.“
Doesn’t it say that a man and his wife will become ONE FLESH?
What could be more of a genetic connection than that?
Alright folks, this is one of those perfect examples of are having to mature in our understanding and faith so that we can properly distinguish between the SPIRITUAL AND PHYSICAL sense of things in the Scriptures.
It it quite obvious that literally and physically a man and his wife do not some how magically fuse together into one freakish being sharing one set of legs, arms, noses, and ears or any other body parts after the marriage vows are said and done.
The “one flesh” statement is meant to be taken spiritually, NOT literally.
It is referring to a state of harmony, unity and the mental attitude a married couple should adopt.
I would say this would be similar to the harmonious mindset that is to exist among believers.
The Hebrew sages also recognized that although a man and his wife are ECHAD or one, they are still separate beings in a physical and biological sense.
Hence, the Law was interpreted that a man’s wife was NOT a close genetic relative and thus was considered outside of that group of family members a priest could attend to upon her death.
However, I need to let you know that this prohibition was later amended to allow Levite priests to attend to their wives’ funerals.
They reasoned that since Abraham and Jacob personally attended their wives’ funerals, then it should also be allowed for Levite priests.
The rationale for this new ruling was interesting.
Although they were fully aware that a priest would be infected with an extremely high degree of impurity by attending to his wife’s death body, nevertheless, they ruled it was his duty to do so.
The Rabbis did however add the caveat that this was only to happen if the priest and his wife had no other close family to bury her.
This whole scenario presents us with an interesting conundrum.
The Scriptures tell us there is NOTHING more unclean than death.
Death is the very epitome of UNCLEANNESS.
Yet, we are also commanded for the sake of love and mercy to bring God’s Word of Salvation to the UNCLEAN people of this world.
Here’s the sticky situation we find ourselves in.
When doing the loving thing of presenting the Good News to the UNCLEAN, it’s not like we are exempt from the rules of CLEAN and UNCLEAN.
Rather, we are to take that risk of becoming UNCLEAN for the sake of the Gospel.
The Hebrew sages came to the conclusion that if necessary (meaning there were no other immediate family members to deal with the body), it was okay for the priest to risk personal defilement to lovingly and mercifully care for his dead wife.
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
“Therefore, come out from their midst
and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you.
-2 Corinthians 6:17