Monday, June 17, 2019

Forbidden Food in Deuteronomy

Today we begin a survey of some of the particular laws Moses gave the people of Israel in the book of Deuteronomy, starting with the dietary laws. The laws of clean and unclean animals were given by God in Leviticus 11 and repeated by Moses in Deuteronomy 14.

It has often been noted that there was a hygienic benefit in keeping these dietary laws. Some of the animals, if eaten, could be harmful. Most people are aware, for instance, that unless pork is cooked thoroughly it can carry a variety of diseases. But while it is true that some of these foods present medical problems, not all do. Hygiene, or at least hygiene by itself, cannot account for this list of acceptable and prohibited flesh. As a result, there has been discussion and debate over the rationale for calling one animal clean and another unclean.

One of the most important aspects of the dietary laws was that they set the people apart as a peculiar and priestly nation to God. They became “unclean” if they ate the forbidden flesh. Becoming “unclean” did not mean becoming sick (hygienically), but that you were not permitted to draw near to offer sacrifice until after you had been ceremonially “cleansed” by water. Thus, avoiding unclean meat symbolized clinging to the holiness and cleanliness of your calling as a member of the special people of God.

We can see this aspect of the dietary laws dramatically highlighted in Daniel 1. Nebuchadnezzar had brought back to Babylon the best of Jerusalem’s young nobility. His goal was to educate them into Babylonian culture. He wanted to convert them to Babylonian ways and use them in his court. Daniel and his friends, however, refused to eat the unclean food put before them and courteously asked to be given safe vegetables instead. God blessed Daniel and as a result, he and his friends were allowed to remain undefiled. The rest of the book of Daniel shows how the tables were turned on Nebuchadnezzar and how eventually it was he who was converted.

In the new covenant, these laws have been “repealed” because their symbolism has been fulfilled in Christ (Acts 10).

Food was but one way of showing separateness in the Old Testament. What are other ways? How can we, in the context of the new covenant, demonstrate our separateness from the world? Consider where you have been negligent.