As we sat at our little round table in the kitchen, sipping our morning coffee, my wife said to me, “So, I was reading in Leviticus 21 earlier this morning, and I have a question.” Leviticus 21? A question? I was intrigued. “What’s your question?”, I asked her excitedly. “Well, I was rather disturbed by God’s qualifications for the priesthood. He says that no one with a blemish or defect may officiate the offerings as a priest. I mean, didn’t God make these people with such defects (i.e., blind, lame, etc.), why would He make them this way and then disqualify them from the priesthood?” Wow! A deep question…And I hadn’t even finished my first cup of coffee yet!
So, we examined the text together. The Scripture text in question reads like so…
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. No man of the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s food offerings; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, but he shall not go through the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries, for I am the Lord who sanctifies them.’ So Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel.” – Leviticus 21:16-24
How should we take God’s prohibition against certain Levites with blemishes and mutations? A few thoughts surface in my mind, and I would like to present three of those thoughts in this blog post. In fact, I will unpack this prohibition using three lenses: the harsh lens of sovereignty, the gentle lens of grace, and the ultimate lens of holiness…
The Harsh Lens of Sovereignty – Simply put, God is sovereign. He is in perfect and loving control over all peoples, places, and procedures. If He says that a disfigured man is disqualified from certain priestly duties, then that’s the way it is. Psalm 115:3 is clear, “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.” Furthermore, the Apostle Paul, in unpacking God’s sovereignty in salvation, states in Romans 9:20-21, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” Certainly, if God is sovereign over our salvation, He is sovereign over who will serve Him in certain roles and who will not serve Him in certain roles. So, why did God give a prohibition against certain disabled men serving in priestly roles? Well, simply put (and perhaps harshly stated), God is sovereign, and He does whatever He pleases.
The Gentle Lens of Grace – There’s another way to look at this Leviticus 21 prohibition and it’s through the gentle lens of grace. Yes, God sovereignly chose for some of these men to be born into a handicapped situation. So, He graciously limits them from certain activities. Think about it. How cruel would it be for God to allow a Levitical priest to be born blind and then require him to offer sacrifices for the people of Israel. How’s he going to see what he’s doing?! Or how mean would it be for God to sovereignly make a man lame and then require him to offer the daily sacrifices. How’s he going to get to the altar in his lame condition?! God sovereignly allowed these men to be born with, or develop through an accident, a defective condition, but in His grace He limited what they could do in serving Him in the tabernacle.
The Ultimate Lens of Holiness – Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Why did God set a boundary upon who could serve as priests and who could not? Because God is holy and He required pictures of holiness through animals and people of wholeness. No defective or spotted lamb could be offered as a sacrifice to God. Only the best lambs could be offered in sacrifice. Why? Because God is holy and He demanded pictures of holiness through animals of wholeness. In the same way, no defective or spotted man could serve as a priest. Only the best men of the tribe of Levi could serve in the priestly role. Why? Because God is holy and He demanded pictures of holiness through men of wholeness.
Man alive, my wife’s question was a good one. I trust my threefold answer was equally as good. Now, to finish my coffee!