The holy things were to be eaten by the priests and their families. Now,
I. Here is a law that no stranger should eat of them, that is, no person whatsoever but the priests only, and those that pertained to them, Lev. 22:10. The priests are charged with this care, not to profane the holy things by permitting the strangers to eat of them (Lev. 22:15) or suffer them to bear the iniquity of trespass (Lev. 22:16); that is, suffer them to bring guilt upon themselves, by meddling with that which they have no right to. Thus it is commonly understood. Note, We must not only be careful that we do not bear iniquity ourselves, but we must do what we can to prevent others bearing it. We must not only not suffer sin to lie upon our brother, but, if we can help it, we must not suffer it to come upon him. But perhaps there is another meaning of those words: the priests’ eating the sin-offerings is said to signify their bearing the iniquity of the congregation, to make an atonement for them, Lev. 10:17. Let not a stranger therefore eat of that holy thing particularly, and so pretend to bear the iniquity of trespass; for it is daring presumption for any to do that, but such as are appointed to do it. Those that set up other mediators besides Christ our priest, to bear the iniquity of trespass, sacrilegiously rob Christ of his honour, and invade his rights. When we warn people not to trust to their own righteousness, nor dare to appear before God in it, but to rely on Christ’s righteousness only for peace and pardon, it is because we dare not suffer them to bear the iniquity of trespass, for we know it is too heavy for them.
II. Here is an explanation of the law, showing who were to be looked upon as belonging to the priest’s family, and who not. 1. Sojourners and hired servants abode not in the house for ever; they were in the family, but not of it; and therefore they might not eat of the holy things (Lev. 22:10): but the servant that was born in the house or bought with money, being a heirloom to the family, though a servant, yet might eat of the holy things, Lev. 22:11. Note, Those only are entitled to the comforts of God’s house who make it their rest for ever, and resolve to dwell in it all the days of their life. As for those who for a time only believe, to serve a present turn. They are looked upon but as sojourners and mercenaries, and have no part nor lot in the matter. 2. As to the children of the family, concerning the sons there could be no dispute, they were themselves priests, but concerning the daughters there was a distinction. While they continued in their father’s house they might eat of the holy things; but, if they married such as were not priests, they lost their right (Lev. 22:12), for now they were cut off from the family of the priests. Yet if a priest’s daughter became a widow, and had no children in whom she might preserve a distinct family, and returned to her father’s house again, being neither wife nor mother, she should again be looked upon as a daughter, and might eat of the holy things. If those whom Providence has made sorrowful widows, and who are dislodged from the rest they had in the house of a husband, yet find it again in a father’s house, they have reason to be thankful to the widows’ God, who does not leave them comfortless. 3. Here is a demand of restitution to be made by him that had no right to the holy things, and yet should eat of them unwittingly, Lev. 22:14. If he did it presumptuously, and in contempt of the divine institution, he was liable to be cut off by the hand of God, and to be beaten by the magistrate; but, if he did it through weakness in inconsideration, he was to restore the value, adding a fifth part to it, besides which he was to bring an offering to atone for the trespass; see Lev. 5:15, 16.
III. This law might be dispensed with in a case of necessity, as it was when David and his men ate of the show-bread, 1 Sam. 21:6. And our Saviour justifies them, and gives a reason for it, which furnishes us with a lasting rule in all such cases, that God will have mercy and not sacrifice, Matt. 12:3, 4, 7. Rituals must give way to morals.
IV. It is an instruction to gospel ministers, who are stewards of the mysteries of God, not to admit all, without distinction, to eat of the holy things, but to take out the precious from the vile. Those that are scandalously ignorant or profane are strangers and aliens to the family of the Lord’s priests; and it is not meet to take the children’s bread and to cast it to such. Holy things are for holy persons, for those who are holy, at least, in profession, Matt. 7:6.