Tuesday, August 21, 2012

An Holy People

Deuteronomy 14:1-21

“Ye are the children of the LORD your God: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.  For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.” (Deuteronomy 14:1-2) 

Grief over the loss of a loved one is a powerful emotion, and often leads people to extreme behavior.  Women in some Indian tribes would cut off a joint of one of their fingers as an expression of grief, while others would make gashes in their skin or shave their heads.  In Egypt, often the wife and some of his slaves would be killed when a powerful person died to serve him in the after life.  Some people today keep the ashes or have the body stored cryogenically in hopes of restoring life at some time in the future.

Because they were a holy people who believed God’s promises and trusted him, Israel was not to involve themselves in such practices.  They were never to allow themselves to idolize any person to such a point, and they were to trust God to care for the other person’s soul.  They were created by God and self mutilation amounts to rejecting God’s authority.  Leviticus 19:28 makes it clear this included any kind of tattoo as a reminder.  “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”  Leviticus caries it even further, forbidding even changing how they cut their hair of shaped their beard.  “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.”  Death is a natural part of life and should be accepted as such.

“Thou shalt not eat any abominable thing.  These are the beasts which ye shall eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat, The hart, and the roebuck, and the fallow deer, and the wild goat, and the pygarg, and the wild ox, and the chamois.  And every beast that parteth the hoof, and cleaveth the cleft into two claws, and cheweth the cud among the beasts, that ye shall eat.” (Deuteronomy 14:3-6)

A distinction had been made between clean animals and unclean animals as far back as Noah’s day, as to which animals were acceptable for sacrifices.  As part of their agreement with God, as a holy people set apart for God, Israel was to avoid eating any animal which was not acceptable for sacrifice.   Animals which were acceptable for sacrifices had feet with two toes, such as the cow, sheep or deer, and chewed the cud were to be acceptable.  Such animals have a multiple stomach system in which food is taken into the first stomach for immediate storage and initial breakdown by chemical and biological processes.  It is then returned to the mouth as the cud to be chewed and mechanically masticated before going to the stomach for final digestion.

Such a digestive system enables these animals to ingest large volumes of grasses and leaves and extract the necessary nutrients from them, but creates a problem digesting foods with more concentrated nutrients.  excessive quantities of grains, Alfalfa or fruit can cause severe problems, and meat products are potentially dangerous.

The limitations on what they can safely eat prevents these animals from being infected by many diseases that are contracted by eating diseased animals.  As a result eating only such animals decreased the likelihood  of contracting these diseases.  Mad cow disease is the result of attempting to save money by feeding meat byproducts to cows whose digestive system is not designed to handle them.

“Nevertheless these ye shall not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the cloven hoof; as the camel, and the hare, and the coney: for they chew the cud, but divide not the hoof; therefore they are unclean unto you.  And the swine, because it divideth the hoof, yet cheweth not the cud, it is unclean unto you: ye shall not eat of their flesh, nor touch their dead carcase.” (Deuteronomy 14:7-8)

Animals which chewed the cud but had did not completely separate the hoof, and those which did not have a hoof were not to be eaten, nor were those with  a divided hoof, which did not chew the cud, such as pigs were to be avoided as unclean, and more likely to carry disease because of their diet.

“These ye shall eat of all that are in the waters: all that have fins and scales shall ye eat: And whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye may not eat; it is unclean unto you.” (Deuteronomy 14:9-10)

The standard for what seafood were to eaten by Israel was again dictated by their diet.  Any sea creature which had both fins and scales was to be considered safe, but any which lacked on e or the other was considered unclean.  In general sea creatures not having both fins and scales are scavengers or eat other warm blooded animals, potentially exposing them to diseases.  Under these guidelines, catfish and whale, dolphin and calamari were not acceptable because they have no scales.  Water snakes, salamanders, and eels have no fins.  Crabs, clams, lobster, jellyfish and octopus all lack both scales and fins.

“Of all clean birds ye shall eat.  But these are they of which ye shall not eat: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the osprey, And the glede, and the kite, and the vulture after his kind, And every raven after his kind, And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckoo, and the hawk after his kind, The little owl, and the great owl, and the swan, And the pelican, and the gier eagle, and the cormorant, And the stork, and the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.  And every creeping thing that flieth is unclean unto you: they shall not be eaten.  But of all clean fowls ye may eat.” (Deuteronomy 14:11-20) 

Birds of prey and scavengers were excluded, apparently because their diet also exposed them to diseases.  Those which ate mostly plant material were not a problem.  They were not to eat flying insects.

“Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself: thou shalt give it unto the stranger that is in thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto an alien: for thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.” (Deuteronomy 14:21) 

Death for an unexplained reason could well be the result of some disease, and Israel was not to be contaminated with such food.  Many pathogens are destroyed by cooking, and such food could be sold to those who had no such covenant with out concern.  These guidelines did not apply to them.

The mother’s milk was specifically designed to keep the baby animal alive.  It was not to be used in his destruction.

Many today believe these same standards of diet are to be applied to Christians.  I Timothy 4:1-5 gives the following instructions. "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.  For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”  

Those who hold such a belief have departed from the faith and as Hebrews 13:9-10 states, they have no part with the Christian.  “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.  We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.”  The Christian is to eat whatever God gives him, thanking God for it.  To refuse to do so is wrong.  As the Lord told Peter in Acts 10:15, “…What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”

The Christian covenant is not the same as the Jewish covenant.  We are not to try to force Christians to live by the Jewish covenant.  While the Jewish law focused on physical contamination, the New Testament is concerned with spiritual contamination.  They frequently overlap on moral issues.


  1. Excellent post! Several years ago I used the verses about cutting in a Bible study class regarding tattoos, which one of the members requested because she was considering getting one! I am happy to say that after the class, she decided against it. Christians should not be bound by legalism, yet we should be equally careful not to be a stumbling block to others, and a tattoo might be viewed by some as sending the wrong message. I personally follow an Old Testament diet, not because I believe it is morally wrong to eat "unclean" foods, but because there are still excellent health reasons to refrain from eating them. God's wisdom is unchanging.
    God bless,

    1. As I study the Old Testament Law, I am constantly reminded it offered nothing in the way of eternal salvation but was entirely devoted to having a good life here on earth. The principles are as true today as ever. If people understood the commands and prohibitions of the law most of our health, emotional, and social problems would be reduced.