Troublesome Topic: The Food Laws Taught Them That They Were God’s Instruments

Lesson 4 of 12

The second viable answer for the reasons behind the dietary regulations of the Former Covenant is that they served as a constant reminder to Israel that they were set apart by God for a special purpose. They were to be God’s instrument to the rest of the world. But in order to be God’s instrument, they needed to be holy, meaning set apart exclusively for His purposes. If they were to be holy, they needed to be clean (useful) rather than unclean (isolated for any reason). Hence, they needed to refrain from any actions, reactions, thoughts or attitudes that would make them impure. The food laws served as a constant reminder that they needed to remain clean and pure in order to be used by God for His great purpose.

God used the idea that certain foods were isolated and rejected as food in order to teach them that they were to keep themselves isolated from evil and set apart for good, in order to be His instruments to reach the world.

Observe Lev 20:25-26.

Leviticus 20:25

Translation

Therefore you must make a distinction between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean ones, and you must not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by any kind of living thing that creeps

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along the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean.

Paraphrase

For this reason you must distinguish between animals I have not isolated from you and animals I have isolated from you, between birds I have not isolated from you and those that I have isolated from you; you must not make yourselves repulsive to the Lord by associating with one of these animals, or birds or creatures that are hard to catch because of how they glide over the ground which I have separated from you and called “isolated.”

Leviticus 20:26

Translation

So you shall be holy to me, for I, YHVH (read Adonai), am holy; therefore I have separated you from the peoples so that you may be mine.

Paraphrase

In the same way you must be totally set apart for me, because I, THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD, keep myself separate; Therefore, I have separated you from the nations so you can serve me exclusively.

Notice the use of the word “separated” close to the end of verse 25. God had separated certain animals, removing them from what the Jews were allowed to eat. Now notice how the same word “separated” (in a different form) is used in verse 26 of how God had separated them from the other peoples on earth to be His and to execute His purposes. The bad food was separated so that it would be far away from the people, and the people were separated so they would be close to God. Same word, different purposes. By tying together the food laws and the separation of the people for God’s purposes, He has clearly indicated that this is one of the reasons for the food laws. Every time they ate anything, they were reminded that they were God’s instruments, called to carry out God’s purposes.

God protected His holiness and the holiness of His “set apart” place (the tabernacle or the temple) by only allowing clean animals into that place, animals that were eligible to become holy and be used for sacrifices. In the same way, He expected the Israelites to protect their status as God’s holy people by not allowing any unclean (rejected) food into their bodies. In the desert, only clean animals were allowed inside the camp of Israel; these were the animals that were allowed to be sacrificed to God as well as the ones the people were allowed to eat. What’s more, God said that clean, domesticated animals had to follow the sabbath laws just like man did. God included the clean, domesticated animals, but He did not include the unclean (rejected) animals in His covenant.

So God restricted what they could eat as a visible, palatable reminder that they too were set apart for a special purpose. The people of Israel were in a covenant relationship with God which set them apart as special people with a Godly purpose. They were considered holy if they fulfilled that purpose.

Unlike the holiness of things, holiness of people involves the heart. God has always looked at the heart. So the lessons from the dietary restrictions were lessons about living the right way.

Being instruments for God required balancing several things. For example the Jews were chosen by God for a special purpose, but they had to be careful to maintain the right attitude in order to be a blessing to the nations. Likewise, they wanted to remain separate from the nations in order to not be contaminated, but at the same time they needed be a blessing to the nations, which requires at least some contact. They found this balance difficult to maintain, and in reality, we struggle with balance in our lives too.

It is clear that the Jewish people took the idea of being God’s instruments and interpreted it as special status. They ran with the special status concept in a direction that God never intended. Rather than seeing themselves as God’s tool to teach the world what God is like, they developed an “us vs. them” attitude which held the Gentiles at arm’s length.

Of the three viable reasons for the food laws, this is the one that Jesus chose to highlight because He wanted to change their thinking. He was not changing the original purpose for which God chose the Jews, rather, He was changing their thinking about themselves. A new day had arrived and now the Gentiles would have access to the blessings of God in a different way, so it required a change in thinking by the Jews. But most of the change was due to them taking the special status thing too far.

We must ask ourselves: “Am I living as God wants his representatives to live? Do I live with God’s purpose constantly in mind?”

I fear that far too many of us are not as consistent about that as we should be. It is hard to point a finger at the Jews if we mess these things up too.

The next lesson in all three series on Covenants is: The Food Laws Taught What Is Normal in God’s Kingdom

Footnotes

1

This word is usually translated “creep” but it seems to have more to do with gliding or swarming, hence I have rendered it in the paraphrase as ”creatures that are hard to catch because of how they glide over the ground.”