Holy Living

39 “And if any animal which you may eat dies, whoever touches its carcass shall be unclean until the evening, 40 and whoever eats of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening. And whoever carries the carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening.

41 “Every swarming thing that swarms on the ground is detestable; it shall not be eaten. 42 Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, any swarming thing that swarms on the ground, you shall not eat, for they are detestable. 43 You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them. 44 For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. 45 For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

46 This is the law about beast and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms on the ground, 47 to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.” – Leviticus 11:39-47 ESV

Chapter 11 is the beginning of an entire section of Leviticus that deals with laws concerning purification. The issue is less about physical cleanliness than it is about holiness. The state of “uncleanness” which God repeatedly addresses in this passage does not refer to the presence of dirt but instead, it is a spiritual category that carries a deep underlying message regarding the Israelite’s relationship with Yahweh.

Chapters 11-15 contain God’s decrees concerning the very real threat of spiritual impurity – a state that would make God’s chosen people unworthy to enter His presence. There were certain actions that God declared to be off-limits because doing them would render the individual defiled, dishonored, or desecrated. Eating the flesh of certain banned animals fell into that category. Touching a dead body would automatically result in defilement. And God’s desire was that His chosen people would fear any form of separation from Him so much that they would be willing to give up those things that He declared to be unclean and unacceptable.

It’s easy to read this lengthy list of banned animals and focus all the attention on them. But God’s primary concern was that His people would learn “to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten” (Leviticus 11:47 ESV). These dietary laws may sound arbitrary to the modern Western mind, but God was trying to persuade His people to think holistically about their lives. Holiness was a state of being that included all of life. God’s people were to avoid the temptation to compartmentalize their lives and reserve some areas for their own discretion. They belonged to God and He wanted them to understand that every area of their lives was to be dedicated to His use and for His glory. The apostle Paul picked up on this idea in his first letter to the believers in Corinth.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV

That is an apt summary of the dietary laws and a great way to view this entire section of Leviticus. God was commanding His people to avoid anything that might interfere with their covenant relationship with Him. He wanted them to desire nothing greater than their intimate and unbroken fellowship with Him. And if avoiding certain foods would help preserve their set-apart status as His chosen people, that act of self-denial should be an easy choice.

Once again, the apostle Paul provides a practical perspective on this attitude of willing sacrifice in order to pursue a right relationship with God.

…everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. – Philippians 3:8-9 NLT

Nothing was so important to Paul that he would allow it to interfere with his relationship with Christ. He was willing to give up anything if he thought it might help to improve his walk with Christ. And he applied this dedication to abstinence to every area of his life, including his relationship with other believers.

And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8:12-13 NLT

Were the Israelites willing to do the same thing? Was God’s ban on the consumption of certain animals worth obeying in order to maintain a right relationship with Him? Would they be okay with relinquishing their “right” to eat what they wanted so that they might enjoy unbroken fellowship with God?

God had declared certain foods to be unclean and off-limits. He provided no explanation and none should have been expected. It was enough that He had spoken and His will on the matter had been made perfectly clear. God felt no need to explain the reason behind his prohibition of certain animals. He simply declared them to be unclean and, if eaten, they would pose a threat to the Israelite’s relationship with Him. The question the Israelites had to ask themselves was whether the consumption of camel or badger meat was more important to them than maintaining their relationship with God.

When they found themselves facing hunger and possible starvation, would the temptation to eat banned meat override their desire to live in unbroken fellowship with Yahweh? These bans would become increasingly more real when they arrived in the land of Canaan and found themselves surrounded by people groups who regularly consumed many of the items that God had deemed off-limits for them. Compromise and accommodation would pose real threats to their relationship with Yahweh and that is why He provided them with a detailed list of rules concerning their ongoing holiness. They needed to know that they were to live distinctively different lives from all the other nations that occupied Canaan.

What underlies all of these prohibitions is God’s desire that His people live holy lives. He clearly commands them to refrain from making themselves detestable. In other words, each day they had to make a decision to avoid that which God declared to be unclean so that they could remain undefiled. It was a choice. They could choose to become unclean or remain pure in the eyes of God. Holiness was a choice.

“I am the Lord your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. – Leviticus 11:44 NLT

Ever since the Israelites had left Egypt, they had been faced with a choice to trust Yahweh as their redeemer, provider, and guide. Each day brought new temptations to doubt His goodness and greatness. The lack of food caused them to bicker and complain. The constant scarcity of water led them to question His wisdom and compassion.  But at Sinai, more than a year after they had left Egypt, God was still calling them to recognize who He was and to live their lives in a way that reflected their reverence for Him.

“I, the Lord, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:45 NLT

This is a statement of God’s sovereignty and holiness. This all-powerful and completely righteous God had chosen to redeem the people of Israel as His own possession. They belonged to Him. He had miraculously released them from their captivity in Egypt and set them apart to be a separate and distinct nation that would live according to His will. God had not chosen them because they had somehow earned His favor. They had done nothing to deserve His selection of them as His treasured possession. But now that they were His, He expected them to reflect their unique status as His one-of-a-kind people. He was holy, so they must be holy. And the dietary laws were just one more way God set them apart from all the other nations.

God had tasked Aaron and his sons with the responsibility of teaching the people “to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 10:10 ESV). These men were to help the Israelites to distinguish themselves from all the other nations on earth by seeing life from God’s point of view. Yahweh was providing them with divine insight into every area of life so that they might live in keeping with His will. And God reiterated the necessity for them to learn to distinguish the difference between the holy and the command, the clean and the unclean. He declared that these dietary laws were “to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten” (Leviticus 11:47 ESV). All so that His people might reflect His holiness by the way they lived their lives.

His will would become their will. His desires would replace their own. They would live to bring Him glory rather than seek their own good. Being God’s people required that they obey His will. And, in doing so, they would demonstrate that they were His chosen people.

Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.