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1 Samuel 16:7 NIV

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

It the above text when God sends Samuel to anoint David the son of Jesse he reveals to him that he does not look at the outward appearance of man but at the heart.

But when it comes to the selection of the Priesthood it seems the choice is more based on the outward appearance of man rather than the heart

Leviticus 21:16-20 NIV

16 The Lord said to Moses, 17 “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. 18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; 19 no man with a crippled foot or hand, 20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles.

It seems the prohibition for the Priesthood is based on physical appearance as most of the defects mentioned in the above text are related to the physical.

So how can we understand that God does not look at the outward appearance?

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  • Being good, and being a priest, are distinct notions; after all, women and infants did not serve at the altar either.
    – Lucian
    Apr 30 at 1:23
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The prohibition is clearly spiritual, a matter of who is and who is not suitable (in essence) as a Priest. The outward ministration of Levitical priests under the old covenant was only to foreshadow the Priesthood of Christ and the priestly service of those whom the Lord would call.

Some, in Old Testament times, showed this forth, in essence, such as David who was not a Levite, not a 'priest' in Levitical terms but was a priest in essence, serving God and men.

The outward, foreshadowing priesthood were not to be chosen from among certain with outward characteristics, these, also, being figurative of certain spiritual and moral deficiencies which would exclude a man from serving God.

It is a matter of interpretation as to each characteristic, but being 'crippled' in hand or foot would relate, spiritually, to a moral or spiritual inability of achieving good things (the hand) or of proceeding through life in an orderly and upright manner (the foot). And so on.


Note (As Further Explanation upon Comment) :

In order to set forth spiritual truth, physical things are used in demonstration. A gold statue sets forth the idea of cherubim, a spiritual concept. The disability of someone is taken to represent a spiritual defect. For example physical blindness is taken for the spiritual inability to see spiritual things. So, anyone who was physically blind was not chosen as a priest to set forth the truth that a priest must be able to see spiritual matters. But the person rejected was just a figure. They, themselves may not have been spiritually blind at all.

The disability is figurative. Those who have it are excluded, as a figure. But they themselves, in essence, are not in view. Only that which is figurative is in view, as with all the figurative examples (ark, tabernacle, priests, sacrifices and so forth).

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  • This post appears to suggest that people who are handicapped are spiritually deficient. (Downvoted -1). Could you please clarify if that is not what you meant. Apr 16 at 16:39
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    @HoldToTheRod . In order to set forth spiritual truth, physical things are used in demonstration. A gold statue sets forth the idea of cherubim, a spiritual concept. The disability of someone is taken to represent a spiritual defect. For example physical blindness is taken for the spiritual inability to see spiritual things. So, anyone who was physically blind was not chosen as a priest to set forth the truth that a priest must be able to see spiritual matters. But the person rejected was just a figure. They, themselves may not have spiritually blind at all. I think you have misunderstood.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 16 at 18:51
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    thank you very much for the clarification. If I'm following your line of thought, this is akin to using unblemished lambs because the lambs are a symbol for Christ. So too the priests who represent Christ. (Downvote retracted) Apr 17 at 1:17
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Here is the contrast in 1 Samuel 16:7b:

People look at the outward appearance, 
   but the Lord looks at the heart.

Leviticus 21:21

No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the Lord.

One reason for this was precisely because people looked at their priests' outward appearance. The priests carried out many official functions before the worshippers. If these worshippers saw a disfigured or deformed priest performing their sacrifices, they might disrespect the officiating priest while solemnness was required at the time.

A second reason was that these priests were types of Christ. As such, they were to be as perfect as possible as Christ is perfect.

Fortunately for us, when the true type came. He died for us. Leviticus 21:21 does not apply to us Christians. The Lord does look at the heart. If a Christian loves God in his heart and has some defect on his body, it is possible for him to be a priestly minister of Christ because God looks at his heart and not at his outward appearance.

How to understand 1 Samuel 16:7 in light of Leviticus 21:16-20?

The two passages have very different contexts and applications. 1 Samuel 16:7 is about kings. Leviticus 21:16-20 is about priests who were holy to God and who were types of Christ.

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