“You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.” Leviticus 11:47
Finally, we arrive at the point in our study where I’m going to tell you exactly what to eat and what not to eat if you want to be a righteous person.
That is, if you’re a Jewish person living under the old covenant. If you’re a Christian, and you’re living under the new covenant, I’m afraid it’s not quite that simple. But the capital-L Law that God handed down to Moses–including the dietary guidelines that are still observed by many in today’s Jewish culture–can still speak to us and teach us today.
In chapter 11 of Leviticus, God lays out an impressive list of what his people are allowed to eat and what they are not allowed to eat.
These foods, among others were considered clean–that is, okay for the people of God to eat:
Beef, Venison, Mutton
Katydids, crickets, and grasshoppers
These foods, among others, were considered unclean–that is, forbidden from Jewish diets:
Camel, Rabbit, Pork (including, of course, bacon, sausage, and pork rinds)
Shellfish, such as clams, shrimp, lobster, and crabs
Forty specific types of birds, (all of which are scavengers or birds of prey)
Lizards, geckos and other reptiles and amphibians
I don’t know about you, but I could probably eat like this.
I would miss bacon, but it’s no stretch for me to cut horned owls, storks, eel, and flying insects out of my diet. I might occasionally be sad about the shellfish, but I could change up what kind of sushi I order, and I would still be free to eat a big juicy steak or a fried chicken thigh.
Also, chocolate chip cookies were not listed as an unclean food, so I think I could get by.
In fact, these guidelines are only about animals. God makes no distinctions about plants, grains, oils, or even animal by-products such as eggs, milk, and honey. God had already command not to cook a young goat in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19), which is the origin of the Kosher practice of separating meat and dairy, but even Orthodox Jews are permitted to eat both as long as the foods remain separate. Aside from these unclean meats, as far as I can tell from my study of the scripture, God’s people could eat whatever they wanted.
Of course, they would have eaten a lot of whole grains (and in the desert, almost exclusively manna), as they didn’t have the ability to refine flour to the degree that we do today. Olive oil was (and still is) a huge part of diets in that part of the world, and they would have eaten fresh fish and vegetables when they were available. They wouldn’t have struggled to eliminate high-fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils from their diets, because those things didn’t exist.
So if you want to eat the way God’s people did (when they obeyed him ) you’ll need to stop eating bacon, lobster, and all processed foods, which is basically what any of the books that tout this “biblical diet” will suggest to you.
They do so out of the belief that this is how God designed us to eat, so if we adopt this diet, we’ll lose weight, feel better, and be healthier in general. But none of the commentators whose works I’ve studied seem to think that God instituted these guidelines for his people out of concern for their waistlines.
Please don’t misunderstand me–I know God cares about his people’s health, and that may have been a part of the reason that He, in his infinite wisdom, chose some foods as “clean” over others. However, while I do think that we honor God when are good stewards of our health, and that He intended for his people to be healthy, and that part of that consisted of eliminating foods that were not as good for them (hello, bacon!), reducing saturated fats was not the point here.
We have a habit in America of making the concept of food all about exactly what we eat – its calories, its fiber content, its vitamins – when eating is clearly about so much more than the food itself. God’s commands to the Israelites are no exception.
Sin had taken root in the world. And a holy God could not dwell among a holy people unless they made themselves clean. God’s primary concern in making the covenant of the Law was the Israelite’s HOLINESS.
In Matthew Henry’s concise commentary, Henry suggests a four-fold purpose behind the dietary regulations for God’s people:
1. As a test of their obedience to God
2. As a way to set the children of Israel apart from other nations
3. As a means of learning to distinguish between the holy and the unholy
4. As an example of the need to flee temptation (even touching the forbidden foods would make an Israelite unclean)
We don’t need to adopt an ancient diet to allow God to work on us in these areas. Instead, as we eat, we can let Him search our hearts and ask us:
Have you been obedient to me? Does my spirit living inside you set you apart? Have you remembered that I am holy, and that there is none besides me? Have you fled from every temptation?
And then if, like me, you occasionally answer some of those questions with a yes, you can thank God for his rich mercy, because you don’t have to offer an animal sacrifice to be made clean.
“But now, a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22
This post is part of a 31-day series. A list of all the other posts in this series can be found here.