To eat or not to eat: Leviticus 11


Today’s reading: Leviticus 11-13.

God never says why he gave all of the food laws in Leviticus. So many writers say he banned certain foods, like pork, because he knew what we didn’t know about its health dangers. I hate to presume what God was thinking. I do know there are plenty of dangers from too much beef as well (can you spell “cholesterol” ?).

Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures. Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them. I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. Leviticus 11:43-45

God drew up the list, for his own reasons, and then said, follow this list and you will be holy as I am holy. I believe the key to the list is obedience. Being a follower of the list, which was one part of being a person of the Book of the Law, set the person apart and made him or her a follower of the Lord. Look what God promised to his followers:

And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all His commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the Earth: and all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God.” Deuteronomy 28:1-2

Remember in Genesis we saw that God is a promise-keeping covenant maker. Here he makes a conditional covenant. If … then. If the people keep his commands, including the food laws, then he will greatly bless them. If they disobey, God will curse them. Through practical experience, including failure, the people learn that God keeps his word. The laws, including the food laws, became a teacher showing the people what sinners they were (Romans 3:20, 7:7).

Jesus puts the capstone on our understanding of the food laws. Religious leaders criticized his disciples for not following all the rules, and he replied:

Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ” ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ ” Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ ” Matthew 15:7-11

The people knew they were unclean. The law taught them that fact. Jesus then took them the final step on the journey and showed them they were unclean, not because of what they ate, but because of their wicked attitudes which led to vile words and other forms of disobedience. God began by calling the people to be set apart and holy; Jesus finishes by showing them that holiness will require a change of heart.

David Guzik gives an excellent summary of New Testament teachings about the food laws of Leviticus:

“Some Christians believe we are under obligation to observe a kosher diet today. Yet this issue was settled once and for all at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15; where it was determined that obedience to Mosaic rituals was not required of the followers of Jesus. Paul pointed out that we have the full liberty to eat whatever we want to:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrine of demons … commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1, 3-5).

Some are under subjugation to food, or to certain foods, and that is sin under the principle of 1 Corinthians 6:12:

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

Certainly, many would benefit from the attitude of self-denial and bodily discipline Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Yet, apart from these considerations, Christians are free to eat or not eat whatever they please – and no one should think themselves more right with God because they eat or don’t eat certain things.” David Guzik

Image by mst7022 on Flickr, CC by 2.0.


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