Fat and your heart: Leviticus 7

Fat Casual Smoked Prime Rib

Today’s reading: Leviticus 5-7

If you’re like me, you read that God forbids the people to eat fat and wonder if he just wants to protect them from heart disease. Perhaps God does want to preserve our arteries, but his prohibition of fat has more to do with our spiritual than physical health.

“Say to the Israelites: ‘Do not eat any of the fat of cattle, sheep or goats. The fat of an animal found dead or torn by wild animals may be used for any other purpose, but you must not eat it. Anyone who eats the fat of an animal from which an offering by fire may be made to the LORD must be cut off from his people.’ ”  Leviticus 7:23-25

To understand this command, you need to follow this word for fat through the Old Testament. The Hebrew is cheleb, and it first shows up in Genesis when Abel brings his offering to God, “the firstlings of his flock and the fat (cheleb) thereof.” And God was pleased with Abel’s offering. Remember the Law of First Mention? The word shows up next when Pharaoh invites Joseph’s family to find refuge and make a home in Egypt. He tells them they will enjoy “the fat of the land.” He’s speaking figuratively. He means he will give them the best he has to offer. And so it goes throughout the Old Testament. Sometimes cheleb means the choicest part, and sometimes it means fatty tissue. A passage in Numbers makes this dual meaning very clear:

All the best (cheleb) of the oil, and all the best (cheleb) of the wine, and of the wheat, the firstfruits of them which they shall offer unto the LORD, them have I given thee. Numbers 18:12

When God tells the people not to eat the fat, he’s telling them to save the best for him. That’s why Abel’s offering pleased God: he gave the best. God has given us an example, a picture of how he wants us to serve him. Serve him by giving him the best you have to offer, whether it’s your time, talents, or possessions. In the end, God doesn’t care about the fat nearly as much as he cares about your heart attitude.

And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. I Samuel 15:22

As for me, may my heart be to give God the best I have to offer.

Image by Edsel Little on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0.