Those that had a natural blemish, though they were forbidden to do the priests’ work, were yet allowed to eat of the holy things: and the Jewish writers say that “to keep them from idleness they were employed in the wood-room, to pick out that which was worm-eaten, that it might not be used in the fire upon the altar; they might also be employed in the judgment of leprosy:” but,
I. Those that were under any ceremonial uncleanness, which possibly they contracted by their own fault, might no so much as eat of the holy things while they continued in their pollution. 1. Some pollutions were permanent, as a leprosy or a running issue, Lev. 22:4. These separated the people from the sanctuary, and God would show that they were so far from being more excusable that really they were more abominable in a priest. 2. Others were more transient, as the touching of a dead body, or any thing else that was unclean, from which, after a certain time, a man was cleansed by bathing his flesh in water, Lev. 22:6. But whoever was thus defiled might not eat of the holy things, under pain of God’s highest displeasure, who said, and ratified the saying, That soul shall be cut off from my presence, Lev. 22:3. Our being in the presence of God, and attending upon him, will be so far from securing us that it will but the more expose us to God’s wrath, if we dare to draw nigh to him in our uncleanness. The destruction shall come from the presence of the Lord (2 Thess. 1:9), as the fire by which Nadab and Abihu died came from before the Lord. Thus those who profane the holy word of God will be cut off by that word which they make so light of; it shall condemn them. They are again warned of their danger if they eat the holy thing in their uncleanness (Lev. 22:9), lest they bear sin, and die therefore. Note, (1.) Those contract great guilt who profane sacred things, by touching them with unhallowed hands. Eating the holy things signified an interest in the atonement; but, if they ate of them in their uncleanness, they were so far from lessening their guilt that they increased it: They shall bear sin. (2.) Sin is a burden which, if infinite mercy prevent not, will certainly sink those that bear it: They shall die therefore. Even priests may be ruined by their pollutions and presumptions.
II. As to the design of this law we may observe, 1. This obliged the priests carefully to preserve their purity, and to dread every thing that would defile them. The holy things were their livelihood; if they might not eat of them, how must they subsist? The more we have to lose of comfort and honour by our defilement, the more careful we should be to preserve our purity. 2. This impressed the people with a reverence for the holy things, when they saw the priests themselves separated from them (as the expression is, Lev. 22:2) so long as they were in their uncleanness. He is doubtless a God of infinite purity who kept his immediate attendants under so strict a discipline. 3. This teaches us carefully to watch against all moral pollutions, because by them we are unfitted to receive the comfort of God’s sanctuary. Though we labour not under habitual deformities, yet actual defilements deprive us of the pleasure of communion with God; and therefore he that is washed needeth to wash his feet (John 13:10), to wash his hands, and so to compass the altar, Ps. 26:6. Herein we have need to be jealous over ourselves, lest (as it is observably expressed here) we profane God’s holy name in those things which we hallow unto him, Lev. 22:2. If we affront God in those very performances wherein we pretend to honour him, and provoke him instead of pleasing him, we shall make up but a bad account shortly; yet thus we do if we profane God’s name, by doing that in our uncleanness which pretends to be hallowed to him.