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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 17–31
Verses 17–31

God’s priests must be regulars, not seculars; and therefore here are rules laid down for them to govern themselves by and due encouragement given them to live up to those rules. Directions are here given,

I. Concerning their clothes; they must wear linen garments when they went in to minister or do any service in the inner court, or in the sanctuary, and nothing that was woollen, because it would cause sweat, Ezek. 44:17, 18. They must dress themselves cool, that they might go the more readily about their work; and they had the more need to do so because they were to attend the altars, which had constant fires upon them. And they must dress themselves clean and sweet, and avoid every thing that was sweaty and filthy, to signify the purity of mind with which the service of God is to be attended to. Sweat came in with sin and was part of the curse. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread. Clothes came in with sin, coats of skins did; and therefore the priests must use as little and as light clothing as possible, and not such as caused sweat. When they had finished their service they must change their clothes again, and lay up their linen garments in the chambers appointed for that purpose, Ezek. 44:19; as before, Ezek. 42:14. They must not go among the people with their holy garments on, lest they should imagine themselves sanctified by the touch of them; or, They shall sanctify the people, that is (as it is explained, Ezek. 42:14), they shall approach to those things which are for the people, in their ordinary garments.

II. Concerning their hair; in that they must avoid extremes on both hands (Ezek. 44:20): They must not shave their heads, in imitation of the Gentile priests, and as the priests of the Romish church do; nor, on the other hand, must they suffer their locks to grow long, as the beaux, or that they might be thought Nazarites, when really they were not; but they must be grave and modest, must poll their heads and keep their hair short. If a man, especially a minister, wear long hair, it is not becoming (1 Cor. 11:14); it is effeminate.

III. Concerning their diet; they must be sure to drink no wine when they went in to minister, lest they should rink to excess, should drink and forget the law, Ezek. 44:21. It is not for kings to drink wine, more than will do them good, much less for priests. See Lev. 10:9; Prov. 31:4, 5.

IV. Concerning their marriages, Ezek. 44:22. Here they must consult the credit of their office, and not marry one that had been divorced, that was at least under the suspicion of immodesty, nor a widow, unless she were a priest’s widow, that had been accustomed to the usages of the priests’ families. Others may do that which ministers may not do, but must deny themselves in, in honour of their character. Their wives as well as themselves must be of good report.

V. Concerning their preaching and church-government. 1. It was part of their business to teach the people; and herein they must approve themselves both skilful and faithful (Ezek. 44:23): They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the profane, between good and evil, lawful and unlawful, that they may neither scruple what is lawful nor venture upon what is unlawful, that they may not pollute what is holy nor pollute themselves with what is profane. Ministers must take pains to cause people to discern between the clean and the unclean, that they may not confound the distinctions between right and wrong, nor mistake concerning them, so as to put darkness for light and light for darkness, but may have a good judgment of discretion concerning their own actions. 2. It was part of their business to judge upon appeals made to them (Deut. 17:8, 9); and in controversy they shall stand in judgment, Ezek. 44:24. They shall have the honesty to stand up for what is right, and, when they have passed a right judgment, shall have the courage to stand to it and stand by it. They must judge, not according to their own fancies, or inclinations, or secular interests, but according to my judgments; that must be their rule and standard. Note, Ministers must decide controversies according to the word of God, to the law and to the testimony. Sit liber judex—Let the judge be unbiased. Their business is to keep courts in God’s name, to preside in the congregations of his people. And herein they must go to the statute-book: They shall keep my statutes in all my assemblies. God calls the assemblies of his people his assemblies, because they are held in his name, to his glory. Ministers are the masters of those assemblies, are to preside in them, and in all their acts must keep close to God’s laws. Another part of their work, as church governors, is to hallow God’s sabbaths, to do the public work of that day with a becoming care and reverence, as the work of a holy day should be done, and to see that God’s people also sanctify that day and do nothing to pollute it.

VI. Concerning their mourning for dead relations; the rule here agrees with the law of Moses, Lev. 21:1, 11. A priest shall not come near any dead body (for they must be purified from dead works) except of his next relations, Ezek. 44:25. Decent expressions of a pious sorrow for dear relations, when they are removed by death, are not disagreeable to the character of a minister. Yet by this approach to the dead body of a relation they contracted a cerem 16dc onial pollution, from which they must be cleansed by a sin-offering before they went in again to minister, Ezek. 44:26, 27. Note, Though sorrow for the dead is very allowable and commendable, yet there is danger of sinning in it, either by excess or dissimulation; and those tears have too often need to be wept over again.

VII. Concerning their maintenance; they must live upon the altar at which they served, and live comfortably (Ezek. 44:28): “You shall give them no possession in Israel, no lands or tenements, lest they should be entangled with the affairs of this life;” for God has said, I am their inheritance, and they need no other in reserve; I am their possession, and they need no other in hand. Some land was allowed them (Ezek. 48:10), but their principal subsistence was by their office. What God appropriated to himself they were the receivers of, for their own proper use and behoof; they lived upon the holy things, and so God himself was the portion both of their inheritance and of their cup. Note, Those who have God for their inheritance and their possession may be content with a little, and ought not to covet a great deal of the possessions and inheritances of this earth. If we have God, we have all; and therefore may well reckon that we have enough. Observe,

1. What the priests were to have from the people, for their maintenance and encouragement. (1.) They must have the flesh of many of the offerings, the sin-offering and trespass-offering, which would supply them and their families with flesh-meat, and the meat-offerings, which would supply them with bread. What we offer to God will redound to our own advantage. (2.) They must have every dedicated devoted thing in Israel, which was in many cases to be turned into money and given to the priest. This is explained, Ezek. 44:20. Every oblation or free-will offering (which in times of reformation and devotion would be many and considerable) of all, of every sort of your oblations, shall be the priest’s. We have the law concerning them Lev. 27:1-34. (3.) They were to have the first of the dough when it was going to the oven, as well as the first of their fruits when they were going to the barn. God, who is the first, must have the first; and, if it belong to him, his priests must have it. We may then comfortably enjoy what we have, when a share of it has been first set apart for works of piety and charity. To this the apostle’s rule bears some analogy, to begin the week with laying by for pious uses, 1 Cor. 16:2. The priests being so well provided for, it would be inexcusable in them if they (contrary to the law which every Israelite is bound by) should eat that which is torn or which died of itself, Ezek. 44:31. Those that were in want of necessary food might perhaps expect to be dispensed with in such a case. Poverty has its temptations, but the priests were so well provided for that they could have no pretence for it.

2. What the people might expect from the priest for their recompence. Those that are kind to a prophet, to a priest, shall have a prophet’s, a priest’s reward: That he may cause the blessing to rest in thy house (Ezek. 44:30), that God may cause it by commanding it, that the priest may cause it by praying for it; and it was part of the priest’s work to bless the people in the name of the Lord, not only their congregations, but their families. Note, It is all in all to the comfort of any house to have the blessing of God upon it and to have the blessing to rest in it, to dwell where we dwell and to attend the entail of it upon those that shall come after us. And the way to have the blessing of God abide upon our estates is to honour God with them, and to give him and his ministers, him and his poor, their share out of them. God blesses, he surely blesses, the habitation of those who are thus just, Prov. 3:33. And ministers, by instructing and praying for the families that are kind to them, should do their part towards causing the blessing to rest there. Peace be to this house.