The LORD spoke again to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘These are the creatures which you may eat from all the animals that are on the earth.’” … This is the law regarding the animal and the bird, and every living thing that moves in the waters and everything that swarms on the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the edible creature and the creature which is not to be eaten.
Leviticus 11:1-2, 46-47
Leviticus 11 is the proscription against eating certain kinds of animals. God is thorough, going over what cannot be eaten from the sky, the sea, the herd, and all the rest of the land animals.
I find it fascinating that passages like this one; passages that impose dietary restrictions are among the least contentious passages. People generally agree that the dietary restrictions are for two purposes: (1) keeping the Israelites safe from food-borne illness in the time before refrigeration and certain methods of cooking and (2) making the Israelites distinct among the nations among which they lived.
The Christian will often point to Peter’s vision in the book of Acts and claim that all food is clean for the believer. Others will point to Paul’s assertion that all food is holy if received with thankfulness. And the non-believer, potentially due to their own self-imposed set of dietary restrictions, sees no problem with limiting or prohibiting foods, so long as no one expects them to adhere to that diet. And no one does. Unless one becomes a proselyte to Judaism, not one person expects another to eat kosher. Having been introduced to some phenomenal kosher foods by two dear friends, I can honestly say that there is very little that I would miss if I switched to kosher eating.
The point of this prohibition is stated in the final verses of the chapter: to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean. The distinction is not only between clean and unclean animal, but clean and unclean persons and things. The instruction God gives states that people and even inanimate objects that touch some of the creatures prohibited as food become unclean by touching them. It was a matter of sanitation, in many instances. But, more than this, it was a matter of obedience.
Rewinding to Eden, Eve looks at the forbidden fruit and notes that it is pleasing to the eyes and good for food and desirable to make one wise. There was not one thing wrong with this fruit except that God had put it off limits. That is all. It was not like dragon fruit which makes one wonder who thought, “That might be delicious.” It was not like a turnip which is healthful but of dubious merit as food based solely on taste. It was not like fermented grape juice (wine) which turns otherwise prudent people into fools if too much is consumed. This fruit was, to all appearances, good. It was also off limits.
Pulling the camera out a bit, I find that a principle starts to emerge. There was nothing inherently wrong with the forbidden fruit except that is was forbidden. There was nothing wrong with the foods God told the Israelites were off limits — plenty of cultures eat them and have done for ages — except that they were forbidden. There was nothing wrong with food sacrificed to idols in Paul’s time — an idol is, after all, nothing at all — except that believers were instructed to leave it alone for the sake of their brethren who did not yet understand that there was no problem there. The principle I see here is that God will sometimes prohibit the use or consumption of something not because it is inherently bad or wrong, but because there is a greater good to be derived from obedience and abstaining from that thing.
Let me examine my life this morning and see if there is any thing that God has spoken to me about laying down that He might achieve some greater Good through my obedience.
Thank You, Father, that You have given us all good things to enjoy and to receive with thankfulness. Thank You, also, that the things You bid me leave alone are not always inherently bad, but will achieve some greater good through my obedience to Your prohibition. Please open my eyes to see the things You have put off limits to me and make my heart willing to leave them alone and to focus, instead, on all the good things which are mine to receive with a thankful heart.