Leviticus 11-12, Luke 7
For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. – Leviticus 11:44 ESV
There has been much debate over the centuries as to why certain creatures were considered by God to be clean while others were deemed unclean. Yet with all the discussion over the years, there is still no consensus as to why God declared these distinctions. There were obviously good reasons for these designations. God never does anything flippantly or without just cause. But the primary lesson to be learned from this detailed discussion concerning the clean and unclean is holiness. God had chosen the people of Israel as His own. He had set them apart from all the other nations. But their set-apartness was to be more than just a divine designation – it was to be lived out in practical ways. When God chose them as His own, He set them apart – made them holy. Now He was giving them concrete actions that would illustrate their holiness to the world around them. Much of what God was commanding concerning food was tied to the eating habits of the pagans who surrounded the Israelites. It was not enough for the Israelites to be known as the people of God, they must act like the people of God. So He gave them precise instructions that would clearly differentiate them from the rest of the world. At this point in time, God had chosen to use the descendants of Abraham as the means through which He would reveal Himself to the world. They were His designated ambassadors and, as such, they were to “consecrate” themselves to His service. The Hebrew word for “consecrate” is qadash and it means “to be separate, to be set apart, to be holy.” God was calling them to BE what they already WERE. He had set them apart, now He wanted to them to act like it.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God had set the people of Israel apart positionally. They were His possession. But He also wanted them to live set apart, practically. Later on, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses would tell the people, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV). This was a call to a love and obedience that was holistic in nature, impacting every area of a person’s life – from their heart to their hands, from their attitudes to their actions. God’s commands concerning the clean and unclean had to do with distinctiveness. He was calling His people to a different way of living. He was giving them clean and distinct rules for living as His people that would be visible for all to see. God was concerned that the other nations would see and know that the Israelites were His people. It was not enough that they be known as His, they must also live like it. These rules concerning the eating of food would be a constant reminder to the people of God that they were to live differently and distinctively. They were not to live like the nations around them. They belonged to God and were to live according to His terms.
It is important that we remember that these rules were given to the people of Israel long before the coming of Christ. They were given for a particular people and were intended for a specific time period. It was important that the people of Israel remain distinctive and set apart in order that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, could be born as a descendant of Abraham through the lineage of King David. All through the centuries, God Himself would maintain the line of Abraham, in spite of them. Even after having sent them into exile for their rebellion and sin, He would restore them to the land of promise, all in keeping with His covenant with Abraham. But with the coming of Jesus, things would change dramatically. Jesus Himself would say, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:11 ESV). Under constant attack from the Pharisees for His seemingly lax adherence to their ceremonial rules and regulations, Jesus was viewed as a heretic. He healed on the Sabbath. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He allowed Himself to be anointed by a prostitute. He healed the servant of a Roman centurion. He touched the funeral bier of a dead man, making Himself ceremonially unclean, but raising the young man from the dead at the same time. He allowed His disciples to “harvest” grain on the Sabbath and, when confronted by the Pharisees for this infraction of the law, He replied, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
Over in the book of Acts, God would reveal to the Apostle Peter a change in the status quo. Since the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, God had been opening up the door to the Gentiles. He was expanding the designation, “people of God” so that it included those outside the nation of Israel. Peter, as a good Jew, was not quite up to speed on God’s new plan. He was actually resistant to it, so God gave him a vision. “The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven” (Acts 10:9-16 ESV). God used the imagery of the ceremonially unclean animals to teach Peter that the Gospel was to be taken to the “unclean” Gentiles.
The apostle Paul, writing to a church made up primarily of Gentile believers, would put it this way: “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:26-29 ESV). God had opened up the door – He was not making it possible for ALL men to become a part of His divine family.
What does this passage reveal about man?
But even while God has made it possible for all men to become His children, the need to live holy lives remains unchanged. While we no longer have to live according to the dietary restrictions found in the book of Leviticus, we are called to live lives that are holy, different and distinct. The same Peter who was given the vision from God, would later go on to write, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV). God has called us to live lives that reflect our position as His children. We have been called to live differently than the nations around us. Our actions are to express our new nature. Our lifestyle should be an outward expression of our new standing as sons and daughters of God. When Jesus came, He found a people who, while ceremonially clean on the outside, were unclean on the inside. Of the Pharisees, He would say, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27 ESV). When Jesus visited the house of a Pharisee and was anointed by woman with a checkered past, his host was appalled that Jesus would allow Himself to be touched and defiled by a sinner. But Jesus simply replied, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47 ESV). The Pharisee, who say himself as sinless and pure because he kept the ceremonial laws, expressed no love to Jesus because he saw no need for Jesus. This woman, while a sinner, showed through her actions of sacrifice, humility and selfless service to Jesus the true condition of her heart. She expressed her love to Jesus through visible acts of serve to Jesus. In that instant she had set herself apart, living out the reality of the command, “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44 ESV).
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
It is one thing to say, “I am a child of God.” It is another thing to live like it. I have been called to live differently and distinctively in this world. I have been set apart by God as His own, and He wants my life to reflect it. That means my Christianity is not merely a title I bear, but a lifestyle I live out in front of others. Jesus Himself said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). Peter would echo the same sentiment. “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT).
Father, I want to live as what I am. I want my life to reflect my status as Your Son. I don’t want to simply claim that I’m a Christian, I want my life to prove it by my actions and attitudes. You have called me to live distinctively and differently in this world. It is difficult at times. The temptation to compromise and blend in is tremendous. Give me the strength to live for You in all that I do. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men