“Speak to Aaron, saying, ‘No man of your offspring throughout their generations who has a defect shall approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a defect shall approach: a blind man, or a lame man, or he who has a disfigured face, or any deformed limb,or a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf, or one who has a defect in his eye or eczema or scabs or crushed testicles. No man among the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a defect is to come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a defect, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat the food of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy, only he shall not go in to the veil or come near the altar because he has a defect, so that he will 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 sons of Israel.” – Leviticus 21:17-24
First of all, let me say how thankful I am for the opportunity to address this passage of Scripture. I can see how it could be very disturbing to a uniquely designed parent, leaving you wondering, “Does God really love people with disabilities?”
Now, I consider myself neither a theologian nor a Bible scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but I embraced responding to her inquiry with eagerness, knowing the sincerity and importance of the question laid at my feet.
So here is my reply:
1) This passage is specifically speaking of who is eligible to offer sacrifices in ancient Israel.
The majority of people, even the majority of Israelites, would not qualify for the priesthood. No foreigner could hold the position. Of the twelve tribes of Israel, only the tribe of Levi could produce priests. To be a priest, you also had to be a direct descendant of Aaron which would have included only approximately one-third of Levites. (Numbers 8:19) Priests also had to be male, thus excluding the approximately half of Aaron’s descendants who were female. As you can see, people with disabilities were not being singled-out, rather it is those who were eligible for the role of priest who were unique.
This would not exclude Levite persons with disabilities from serving in other duties at the tabernacle aside from making sacrifices, and it is implied that they did, since the passage indicates that they “may eat the food of [their] God, both of most holy and of the holy.” (Leviticus 21:22) Elsewhere in Scripture, we are told that the food sacrificed to God was reserved for the Levites. (Deuteronomy 18:1)
It is also noteworthy, that under the Mosaic law, Jesus himself would have been ineligible to offer sacrifices because he descended from the line of Judah (Luke 3:23-38 & Matthew 1:1-17), and was not a direct descendant of Aaron and Levi. I’ll discuss this more later.
2) Serving in the priesthood in ancient Israel did not equal favor with God.
We also know from Scripture that being eligible for the priesthood did not equate being acceptable before God. A perfect example of this would be Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, the high priest. We are told, “Eli’s sons were wicked men. They had no regard for the Lord.” (1 Samuel 2:12) Both sons, we are also told, served as priests in the temple.
On the other hand, there are many examples in Scripture of those who would have been ineligible to serve as priests, and even outcast by society, being greatly loved by God.
- The woman with the issue of blood would have not even been permitted to enter the temple for worship, as her condition would have rendered her unclean under the Mosaic law. Yet, Christ commended her for her faith and sent her on in peace. (Luke 8:43-48)
- The Roman centurion, a foreigner and enemy of Israel, who besought Christ to heal his servant was honored with Christ’s words, “I have not found such great faith in all of Israel.” (Luke 7:9)
3) So what does it take to be acceptable before God?
Perfection. (Matthew 5:48) But unfortunately, there were no perfect people in ancient Israel to offer sacrifices at the Lord’s altar on behalf of the masses, so instead, God appointed to them a symbol of perfection that would point toward a future High Priest who would be perfect – who would be wholly acceptable before God.
The guidelines set forth in Scripture for the priesthood are meant figuratively, to point toward Christ, the only One who would be perfectly pure, holy and able to stand before God on our behalf without blemish. It does not speak of God’s heart toward the disabled. Just like it does not speak of God’s heart toward women, non-Israelites, or anyone else excluded from the ancient Israelite priesthood.
4) Jesus – A High Priest After the Order of Melchizedek
As you will recall, I mentioned that under Mosaic law, Jesus himself would have been ineligible to serve as a priest since he was a descendant of the royal line of Judah rather than the priestly line of Levi and Aaron; however, the first priest mentioned in Scripture is Melchizedek, “priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18) pre-dating the Mosaic law by five generations. Notably, we are told that Melchizedek was the King of Salem (Hebrews 7:1) making him a foreigner, and neither a Levite nor a descendant of Aaron, and yet Scripture identifies him as a legitimate priest of God.
Furthermore, with the coming of Jesus, our High Priest forever, the law has been forever changed:
“If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” (Hebrews 7:11-12)
Following Christ’s death on the cross, the curtain of the temple – the one in which it was forbidden for the disabled to enter – was destroyed (Matthew 27:51 & Mark 15:38), removing the barrier between people and God.
5) The Priesthood of All Believers
“There is now neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
“For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24)
6) Does God Love the Disabled?
I’ll let Him speak for Himself:
“You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:14)
“Blessed is he that considers the needy. The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.” (Psalm 41:1)
“When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” (Luke 14:12-14)