TODAY’S READING: DEUTERONOMY 12-15
God gave Israel laws regarding what they could eat and what they could not eat. Within the three realms that God created – heaven (sky), earth, and sea, Israel was told there were clean animals they could eat and unclean animals that they could not eat.
Deuteronomy 14:3-8 contains a portion of these dietary laws. The verses say, “You shall not eat an abomination. These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep. Every animal that parts the hoof and has the hoof cloven in two and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. Yet of those that chew the cud or have the hoof cloven you shall not eat these: the camel, the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud but do not part the hoof, are unclean for you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch.”
This same law is found in Leviticus 11:2-8 too. Since God repeated these laws twice, there must be some important truths we can learn from them.
But, what exactly are we to learn? What Israel should eat to be separated from the nations around them? What Israel was to eat to be healthy? What we should eat today if we want to please God?
I hope not that last one because I really like bacon.
WE NEED A HERMENEUTIC
We need the right hermeneutic to understand these obscure passages of the Bible. A hermeneutic is simply a method for interpreting the Bible. The following is just one example (others will emphasize different points but this one is representative) of a hermeneutic that many Christian universities, professors, pastors, and teachers espouse.
- Definition – abide by the plain meaning of the words
- Usage – stick to how the words and figures of speech were used at the time the text was written
- Context – context, context, context; don’t pull anything out of context, don’t use proof texts (this one has been drilled into the heads of Christians ad nauseum)
- Historical Background – you can’t know what the writer meant if you don’t know the history
- Logic – does the interpretation make sense applying the laws of language and grammatical analysis
- Precedent – do not violate the known usage of a word and invent another
- Unity – an interpretation must be consistent with the rest of scripture
- Inference – draw inferences from facts that would satisfy an unprejudiced mind beyond a reasonable doubt
Now, if you try to apply these eight hermeneutical laws to the passage on dietary laws under consideration to answer the questions I posed above, then you are likely to get some really weird answers. At best, using just these eight hermeneutical laws to understand these food laws of Israel would help us understand in the natural sense what Israel did. And, since Israel was God’s people, maybe we should try to follow these laws too.
If you read the New Testament and carefully trace the scriptures that Jesus and the disciples quoted, then you will find that they violate almost every single one of these hermeneutical laws all the time.
JESUS IS THE HERMENEUTIC
The reason Jesus and the disciples repeatedly violate the laws of hermeneutics so many are taught today is that the laws of hermeneutics leave out one key rule. In fact, they leave out the only rule that actually matters – Jesus.
Jesus is the hermeneutic that we use to study scripture.
He demonstrates this to all the disciples in Luke 24. He first showed the two disciples on the road to Emmaus how to read the scriptures. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
Then, Jesus repeated this a second time to all the disciples. Luke 24:44-48 says, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.'”
What is Jesus saying? Every single scripture is about him. They are not about Jesus in some sort of random way. The scriptures are about Jesus in a very specific way – they preach the gospel, the good news, of Jesus. Jesus suffered, was crucified, resurrected and forgave the sins of people from all nations.
So, let’s make Jesus our hermeneutic and put him into the middle of the dietary law at hand and see how the Holy Spirit leads us to understand it.
WHAT YOU EAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU CLEAN OR UNCLEAN
The emphasis of the dietary laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus is that you had to eat certain animals to be clean. Conversely, if you were to eat other animals that were forbidden then you would be unclean.
But, Jesus tells us directly what we eat does not make us clean or unclean.
In Matthew 15:10, Jesus calls the people to him and says, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Jesus just blew up the dietary laws the Jews had lived under for more than 1,000 years. Every Jew knew that if you ate the wrong food you would be unclean. But, Jesus said that what you eat does not defile you. Food does not make you unclean. The Pharisees were offended by this because they held to these dietary laws scrupulously. It was a key component of their righteousness.
Even the disciples are stumped by what Jesus meant. So, Peter asked Jesus to explain the parable. In Matthew 15:17-18, Jesus says, “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” Food goes in and out of the body. Therefore, it does not defile you. But, what comes out of the heart will defile you. What proceeds from the heart can make you unclean.
So, what goes into the heart? This is a key question we will answer later.
ALL ANIMALS ARE CLEAN TO EAT, THEREFORE ALL PEOPLE ARE NOT UNCLEAN
Acts 10:9-48 records Peter’s dream about clean and unlcean animals and the result of that dream.
Peter was hungry and went up to the roof top while the meal was being prepared. While on the roof top, Peter fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened. Out of the heavens came a sheet that had all kinds of animals, reptiles, and birds – creatures from each of the three parts of creation – in it.
A voice spoke to Peter and said “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter recognized this voice as Jesus. He responded, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” Now, this is likely years after Jesus ascended to the Father, years after Peter heard Jesus translate all the scriptures. But, Peter still had not violated the dietary laws regarding what was clean and unclean to eat.
The voice came a second time, saying, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This sequence of events happened three times. It takes Peter a while to get the message.
The next day, Peter visits Joppa and goes to the house of Cornelius. It’s there that the Holy Spirit finally gives Peter the interpretation of the dream. Acts 10:28 says, “And he [Peter] said to them, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.'”
So, the Lord used the dietary laws under consideration to show Peter that they were not to be applied to people. Jesus told Peter to kill the animals and eat. But, Jesus never told the disciples to kill anyone. Indeed, Jesus took the sword out of Peter’s hand. Therefore, Peter knew that the command to kill and eat was not related to people. People in and of themselves should not be called common unclean.
Because of this revelation, Peter preaches the gospel to Cornelius and his household. Peter fulfills the command to feed his sheep that the Lord gave before he ascended back to the Father.
What did Peter feed Cornelius and household?
Acts 10:36, 42-43 says, “As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)…And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Peter fed Cornelius and his household the word of God, the gospel, Jesus.
WHAT YOU EAT FEEDS THE HEART
Peter fed the sheep as the Lord commanded. He fed them the word of God, the gospel, Jesus. What Peter fed the sheep went to their heart, baptizing them with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said what we physically eat is just food that passes through the stomach and exits the body. But, through Peter, we see that there is a spiritual food that we eat that feeds the heart.
Jesus taught this himself. Matthew 6:22-23 says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” There are some things that our eye feeds on that fill us with light. And, there are some things that are eye will feed on that will fill us with darkness.
The scripture repeatedly says that what we hear and see feeds our heart. We just saw Jesus saying there are things that will make our hearts light, or clean, and there are things that will make our hearts dark, or unclean. So, as we eat clean or unclean things we feed our hearts. What we feed our hearts, it comes out of our mouths. And, what comes out of our mouths either shows we are righteous, clean, or defiled, unclean.
DO NOT EAT ANY ABOMINATION
Deuteronomy 14:3 says, “You shall not eat any abomination.”
There are four Hebrew words translated abomination. Basically, each of them has a meaning related to filth, abhorrence, a detested thing. The words for abomination are linked with the idea of sin and a foul smell.
When something is burnt it emits a smell. If that thing has anything abominable in it, it will emit a foul smell. Foul smells are abhorrent and displeasing. They make you want to leave the area.
Jesus is typified by the burnt offering. Jesus had no sin in him. He never did anything abominable. Regarding the burnt offering, Leviticus 1:9 says, “And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” Because Jesus had no sin in him, when he was burned on the cross he emitted a pleasing aroma. Leviticus 1:3 tells us that the burnt offering and the pleasing aroma emitted by it was for acceptance by the Lord.
In Romans 12:1, Paul says we are to present our bodies a living sacrifice. In effect, we are a living burnt offering. Ephesians 5:2 says, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” And, 2 Corinthians 3:14 says, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”
When we are in Christ, we are a burnt offering that emits the pleasing fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere we go. According to Paul in Romans 12:1, this will present us holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship.
But, to be in Christ, we cannot have anything abominable in our hearts. We cannot eat anything that is an abomination. If we do eat something abominable, then when we are burned as a living sacrifice we will emit a foul odor.
How do we avoid eating something abominable?
Deuteronomy 1:4-6 says, “These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep. Every animal that parts the hoof and has the hoof cloven in two and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat.”
What does that mean? Why am I supposed to eat animals with cloven hoofs and that chew the cud? Why are these not an abomination?
JESUS: THE ANIMAL WITH CLOVEN HOOFS
The Hebrew word for hoof or divided hoof is parsah. It comes from the root word paras, which means to be divided; to break or divide. These two words are used 34 times in the Old Testament. But, 24 of the uses come from the instances of the dietary laws under consideration.
So, in order to not eat anything abominable, we need to eat animals with divided hoofs. Oxen, animals with cloven or divided hoofs, were used to tread out the grain. When oxen treaded out, or threshed, the grain, they separated the wheat from the stalk. So, cloven-hoofed animals were used in the first step of separating, or dividing, the wheat from the chaff.
These cloven-hoofed animals that were used to divide represent Jesus. In Luke 12:51-53, Jesus says, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Division, or separation, is the process by which God creates. The first three days of creation are marked by separation. On day one, God separated light from darkness. Then, on day two, God separated the waters above from the waters below. Finally, on day three, God separated the seas from the land.
I wrote in Creation: A Witness to Jesus that these first three days of creation are a picture of God’s light, love, and life – his three invisible attributes. In the gospels, we see Jesus recreating as he separates light from darkness, love from fear, and life from death.
Therefore, the animal with cloven, or divided, hooves represents Jesus as the one who divides spiritual from natural, or clean from unclean.
JESUS: THE ANIMAL THAT CHEWS THE CUD
How was Jesus able to recreate? How was he able to separate light from darkness, love from fear, and life from death?
Jesus did this as the animal that chews the cud.
The word cud is a relatively obscure Hebrew word and appears almost exclusively in these two sections of the dietary laws.
Cud is food that has been swallowed into the stomach but is brought back into the mouth for further chewing. Therefore, cud is food that has been partially digested but is brought back up into the mouth to be chewed, or digested, some more.
The word chew only appears in the Old Testament in the two sections of the dietary law under consideration. However, the English word chew is translated from a very common Hebrew verb, alah. Alah means to ascend, to lead up, to lead out, to bring up, to cause to rise. It is the root word for sacrifice or offering. In a sense, that which has been partially digested, the cud, is brought back up for further chewing so that it can be raised up as an offering.
Why do animals chew cud?
A cow first chews it food just enough to get it moist so that it can be swallowed. Then, it enters the stomach to be softened. After the food is softened, the food is chewed on some more. Then the food goes back into the stomach for further digestion.
It is thought that cows, sheep, and other ruminant animals eat this way because they are animals that flee dangerous situations. They don’t stay to fight. By chewing the food just enough to swallow it, the animal can eat a lot of food quickly and store it in the stomach in case it has to flee. If the animal had to flee a dangerous situation, then it could bring up the cud for further chewing and continue to feed itself. Another reason cud chewing is necessary is because ruminants eat food that is really tough and hard to digest.
How then is Jesus the animal that chews the cud?
From at least the age of 12 on, Jesus could be found in dialogue with rabbis. He was studying the scriptures, learning from his Father. At the age of 30, Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit rested upon him. Mark 1:12 says, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” Like the ruminant that had to flee its feeding ground quickly, unable to eat anymore, Jesus was driven into the wilderness immediately after the Spirit descended upon him.
Once in the wilderness, Jesus was driven from his place of normal feeding like the animal that chews the cud. Matthew 4:2 says, “And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” Jesus had no new food to eat while he was in the wilderness.
After Jesus’ long journey and conversation with the woman at the well, the disciples urged Jesus to eat. But, in John 4:32, Jesus says, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”
While in the wilderness without food, Jesus had food that we do not know about. He had the cud, the food that he had partially digested, that he could continue to chew on for further nourishment.
What is this chewing the cud that Jesus was doing? Psalm 1:2 speaks of the blessed man whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” To chew the cud is to meditate on the law of God, the scriptures. Jesus did this for 40 days and 40 nights before he was tempted by Satan.
Therefore, when he was tempted, Jesus was immediately able to quote the truth of scripture to refute the devil’s temptations and lies. After chewing the cud, Jesus was able to separate truth from lie and so do the Father’s will.
WE EAT JESUS
So, Deuteronomy 14:4-6 tells us to eat the animal that has cloven hoofs and chews the cud. These are a picture of Jesus. Therefore, we are to eat Jesus.
In John 6:47-51, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
To eat Jesus is to set our minds on him. This is what Jesus meant in Matthew 6 when he said that we should have a single eye. Our eye should only be focused on him. Colossians 3:1-2 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” To eat Jesus and fill our hearts with light is to set our minds on Christ and the things that are above. If we set our minds on the things of the earth, then we will be feeding on abominable things that will fill our hearts with darkness, which will eventually come out of our mouths and defile us.
So, what are the things above we should think about? Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” All of those things are Jesus, and only Jesus.
We must remember that Jesus is the Word of God, not the Bible. We need to eat Jesus. The Bible is important because it points us to him. But, we need to eat Jesus, not the Bible.
EAT JESUS AS THE ANIMAL WITH CLOVEN HOOFS
So, what does it look like to eat Jesus, the word of God, the animal with cloven hoofs?
Remember, this represents Jesus as the one who divides to create.
Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” When we eat Jesus, the word of God, he is in us separating soul from spirit, earth from heaven, discerning our wicked intentions from the pure intentions of the will of the Father that we are to do.
We must remember that the division, the separation, that Jesus performs is on the inside of us. This is why Paul says in Ephesians 6:12 that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Jesus separates ideas, thoughts, motives, and intentions in our minds. This is not something that we do for others. Paul says the sword of the Spirit is the word of God, Jesus. Jesus is the sword that divides, just as he said he was bringing. But, note the sphere of this sword’s activity. Ephesians 6:18 says the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, Jesus, is wielded by “praying at all times, with all prayer and supplication.”
What is the result of the Spirit wielding Jesus through prayer at all times? In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Through this process of internal, not external, war Jesus recreates us through a process of division. In 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
EAT JESUS AS THE ANIMAL THAT CHEWS THE CUD
When we are first saved we are like newborn infants. Peter says in 1 Peter 2:2, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.”
But, eventually we are to outgrow milk and move to solid food if we want to continue to grow in the Lord and righteousness. The author of Hebrews was trying to explain some deeper things about the scripture’s witness to Jesus. But, he was struggling because the people he was writing to had become dull of hearing, which means what they were eating was not feeding their hearts properly.
Hebrews 5:12-14 says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
When we are young in Christ, we feed on milk. We need to eat as much as we can quickly. We should read as much of the scripture as quickly as we can so that we can learn as much about Jesus as possible and grow quickly. But, later we need to eat solid food, which is harder to digest. We still need to eat a lot of the word of God, but we should chew him just enough that we can swallow him. Then, when we enter the wilderness, where we don’t get fed, we can chew the cud. Now, we can meditate on the deeper things to grow in a our powers of discernment and ability to separate good from evil.
Romans 7:22 says, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.”
WE CAN’T EAT ONE OR THE OTHER THOUGH
Notice though that the dietary law says that we must eat an animal that has cloven hoofs and chews the cud. We should not eat an animal that has only one or the other.
Deuteronomy 14:7-8 says, “Yet of those that chew the cud or have the hoof cloven you shall not eat these: the camel, the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud and do not part the hoof, are unclean for you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof and does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch.”
Why can we not eat an animal that just chews the cud?
Eating an animal that just chews the cud is symbolic of us continually meditating on scripture over and over and over without allowing it to actually divide anything in us. We may read and think about scripture a lot, but we won’t allow the living and active word, Jesus, to actually separate us from the things of this world. Therefore, we will be unclean.
Why can we not eat an animal that just has cloven hoofs?
If we eat an animal that only has cloven hoofs but does not chew the cud, then we become focused on division and separation only. We aren’t taking the time to understand the deeper things of God, to meditate what the separation and division of God actually is. In fact, we get so full of the idea that Christ divides that we apply the sword of the Spirit wrongly. We begin to apply the sword to people. We separate people by either casting them out of our presence, war, or any number of other ways. When we get focused on separation and division without meditating on the word of God to understand that the division and separation gets applied internally to our own thoughts and motivations, then we will be unclean.
Now, if I had followed the eight hermeneutic rules at the beginning that virtually everyone teaches, then do you think the Holy Spirit could have explained the dietary laws this way?
It’s only possible when we eat Jesus and he becomes our hermeneutic.