Leviticus 21:7 gives a curious restriction on the priests when providing regulations for priestly conduct, and it reads as follows: “They [priests] shall not take a wife who is a harlot or a defiled woman, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for the priest is holy to his God.” We might consider a verse like this to be somewhat unimportant, not worthy of considering, a relic of ancient prejudices and limitations, except for the fact that this verse is repeated several times in both word and in intent. Leviticus 21:13-14 reads, for example concerning the high priest: “And he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow or a divorced woman or a defiled woman or a harlot—these he shall not marry; but he shall take a virgin of his own people as wife.” Nor is this only a matter of interest in Leviticus only, for it is written in Ezekiel 44:22, in a verse commonly associated with the millennial rule of Jesus Christ: “They shall not take as wife a widow or divorced woman, but take virgins of the descendants of the house of Israel, or widows of priests.” In like fashion in Revelation 14:4, it is said of those redeemed from the earth: “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.”
What is it that connects widows, divorced women, harlots, and defiled women together? Each of them has, biblically speaking, known a man. A harlot is one who sells her body for income or prostitutes herself in the heathen religious customs common in the ancient world long after the time of Moses. A defiled woman has committed fornication, and is therefore impure. A divorced woman and a widow had been previously married. One can imagine in ancient Israel that the task for priests to marry within the bounds of their laws was an easier task than it would be in our contemporary days where defilement and divorce are utterly rampant, but it remains an open question to what extent the laws and restrictions given to the priesthood of Aaron discussed in Leviticus apply to priests of the Melchizedek order , namely believers today. We know that these rules were in place before, and if we look at the last few chapters of Ezekiel as being a promise of how things will work in the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ, we know that the same rules will be applied again, but there is a widespread tendency not to examine or apply these laws to our lives here and now.
Matthew 1:18-19 gives us a picture of what would lead a woman to be divorced by a godly man: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” Joseph was a just man, and knew that he was not the father of Mary’s child, and was kind in that he was willing to put away Mary secretly rather than embarrass her in public—we must remember not everyone would have been so kind either then or now—until an angel gave him direct divine information that the child had not been born of fornication. This did not stop people from slandering Jesus Christ either then or now about his parentage, recorded in John 8:41 for example, but it did change the reality of the situation, in that the miracle of a virgin conceiving was the only way that Joseph was going to accept marriage with his pregnant fiancé whom he knew he had not been with because he himself was a just man. The fact that Mary’s example is used by those who support moral dissipation in contemporary society as representing teen unwed mothers does not in any way change the fact that this was a one-of-a-kind situation.
In fact, whenever women were put away without having committed some moral fault, the Bible is extremely harsh to the men who break up their families. Malachi 2:13-16 spells out this condemnation clearly: “And this is the second thing you do: you cover the altar of the Eternal with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the Eternal has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the Eternal God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,” says the Eternal of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” We see from this passage, especially when combined with others dealing with the subject, that divorce was itself a sign of treachery. For there to be an acceptable divorce, someone had to behave treacherously, either the wife or husband, or both. In ancient Israel, it was assumed that a wife was not going to be the one divorcing her husband and therefore leaving herself vulnerable, and so a priest would not marry a divorced woman because such a woman would have been found to have been unfaithful, and therefore defiled.
What change do we find within the New Testament from the clear biblical prohibition discussed here?  The answer is that Jesus’ teaching, and that of the apostles, mirrors precisely this understanding. Matthew 19:8-9 reads as follows: “He [Jesus] said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” This echoes what Jesus had said earlier in Matthew 5:31-32, showing a consistent standard. Paul was no less direct in his statements on the subject in 1 Corinthians 7:10-13: “Now to the married I command, not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife. But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him.” It is only if the unbeliever departs (verse 15) where the believing spouse is free, otherwise they are bound.
This is clearly not contemporary practice. Yet if we are the priests of the Most High, whether in actuality or in training, and if we see the same laws given regarding marriage and its sanctity to Moses, and in even more direct form for believers, why is it that our own hearts remain hard, as hard as those of the stubborn and stiff-necked Israelites to whom Moses permitted divorce, albeit within limitations and restrictions? A large part of the contemporary mania towards divorce springs from various wicked practices by which a husband may have his wages garnished to pay for the upkeep of a family where a wife has departed with contempt towards him and a total lack of respect for his headship over the family, and where unmarried mothers with children routinely receive assistance from the government for the upkeep of their families, all practices which discourage legitimate marriage and encourage a loose and easy policy towards no fault divorce. Nor, in many dysfunctional families, is there a great deal of focus placed on fulfilling one’s responsibilities to love and to cherish each other, or for husbands to be as self-sacrificially devoted to their wives as Jesus Christ is to the Church. We may long to marry because of our own needs or desires, but how focused are we on the purpose of our marriage in fulfilling vows of service to God and to those with whom we are bound in covenant, how focused are we on the need to raise up godly offspring as best as we are able through our obedient and loving and godly examples, and how conscious are we of the Christian requirement of seeking reconciliation with others?
Rather than simply being a restriction on priestly conduct that is of no contemporary relevance, Leviticus 21:7 is a reminder of the continuing importance of godly conduct among people, even with regards to their personal and supposedly private lives. The state of our private lives, of our unions with others, is a matter of public concern with regards to our own abilities to serve and minister to God’s people. The fact that we may ignore this in our own lives does not speak of God’s own views in the matter, but of the hardness and perversity and wayward nature of our own hearts. God still seeks godly offspring through our own families, and we best encourage the growth of godly offspring by seeking godly partners, behaving in a godly fashion in our own lives, and in treating our spouses and children with love and respect rather than abuse and contempt. Clearly many people now, both men and women, fail in this responsibility. Many persist, despite the public shame of their failure, which is open and obvious to all around them, to refuse to humble themselves before God or to seek reconciliation with their spouses to whom they are bound by covenant. How long will we refuse to live by the standard of conduct that we have been given, regardless of whether we turn to what the law says about priests, or whether we look to the instruction of our Lord and Savior and of the apostles? How long will our hearts remain stony hearts, in need of transplants with new hearts upon which is written the laws of God, and in rebellion to the ways of God? The priest is holy to his God; are we holy to Him ourselves?
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