March 16, 2005
“The South Sinai Diet”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
Leviticus, chapter eleven. We’ve been working through Leviticus for a number of
months now, and as we looked at Leviticus 1 to 7 we saw the five great personal
sacrifices described, both from the standpoint of those who were to offer the
sacrifices and those who were to administer the offering of those
sacrifices…the priests. And we learned various things about the meaning of
those sacrifices in Leviticus 1 to 7.
Then we moved into the second section of the Book of
Leviticus, in Leviticus 8 to 10. In that section the events surrounding the
ordination and installation and inauguration of the Aaronic priesthood are
recorded: the various rites surrounding the day of ordination, and the beginning
of priestly labors are described there.
Now we’ve entered into a third section of the Book
of Leviticus. Now, if you’ll look at the top of the outline, you’ll notice that
I have Leviticus, chapters 11 through 16, referring to the issue of how to deal
with uncleanness. That is, this section of the Book of Leviticus will deal with
the distinction between that which is clean and unclean, and give instruction to
the people of God as to how to deal with uncleanness.
And the chapter we are going to look at
tonight speaks of the basic commands regarding the dietary laws in Israel. Let
me just walk you through this outline very briefly. Perhaps it will help you as
we read through a long, and sometimes confusing and complex, chapter, to know
that there are five parts, basically to this chapter.
The first part comes in the first eight
verses, where Moses is given by God commands to give to Israel relating to the
land animals, the land-going animals that Israel can and cannot eat. A
distinction is made between certain animals that are land-dwellers that can be
eaten and some that cannot.
Then if you look at verses 9-12, instructions are
given regarding water animals–animals that live in the water that can be eaten
or not eaten.
Then in verses 13-23, there are commands given
regarding flying animals–not simply birds, but also insects. Flying creatures
are dealt with, and again we are told what kind of flying creatures cannot be
eaten, and also the kinds of flying creatures that can be eaten.
Then the fourth section of the chapter is found in
verses 24-40, which deals with what happens when you come into contact with
unclean animals or with the carcasses of clean or unclean animals, and there is
a long discussion of this. There is a summary section in verses 41 to 43 that
seems to recapitulate something that has been said before, and then the
concluding section of the passage is found in verses 44 to 47.
If you want to understand where the chapter is
going, you really begin with verses 44 to 47. They explain the reason, the
rationale, why God is giving this intricate dietary system, and that
fundamental rationale is simply this: God is holy; therefore we are to be
holy. Now, that probably sounds familiar to you, because it’s what the
Lord Jesus said to His own disciples: that they were to be perfect, even as
their heavenly Father is perfect; that they were to be holy, even as the
heavenly Father is holy.
Now, this dietary business may seem somewhat
strange to Christians. We know that we have been freed from this aspect of the
ceremonial law. Paul speaks about this in the Book of Galatians. He
speaks of it again in Romans 14, and there are various practical passages
dealing with this not only in the Gospels, but also in the letters of the
Apostle Paul and even accounts in the Acts of the Apostles relating to the
abolition or the abrogation of the dietary laws.
We live in a day of diets: the Sugar Busters, the
Atkins, the Hilton Head Diet, the South Beach Diet…well, I call this the
“South Sinai Diet” that’s being given here by the Lord.
Now, you understand that these laws are not
primarily being given for hygienic purposes or for health-related purposes.
Many people like to go back to these laws and come up with rationales from them
about health and hygiene, and there may be much to learn from them, I don’t
deny, about health and hygiene; but, you understand, this is not fundamentally
why these laws are being given to Israel.
Fundamentally, these laws are not
health-related; fundamentally, these laws are moral and spiritual in
nature and are designed to create a distinction between Israel and the people in
Canaan. God’s purpose was for Israel to be distinct; that is, to be
separate or holy from the nations and from their idolatries while they dwelt in
the land of Canaan. Israel was to be fully devoted to God, but they were
going into a land filled with idolaters. And so, isn’t it interesting that what
God does is, He says, ‘Now, the first thing is you’re not going to eat some of
the things that your neighbors eat.’
And think about what that does. Most of our deep
relationships are built where? At the dinner table, when we sit down and eat
and fellowship. That’s where friendships are formed: when you come to know
someone well, you welcome them into your home and you share table fellowship.
Now God, in Leviticus 11 gives dietary requirements that will make Israel
distinct in the eyes of their neighbors, and in fact odious in the eyes of their
neighbors, both as to what Israel eats and what she doesn’t eat.
For instance, in this passage we’ll find out that
cows, for instance, are perfectly fine for the Israelites to eat. They can have
beef. But to eat beef–this was odious to an ancient Egyptian, because ancient
Egyptians, just like modern day practicing Hindu’s, venerate cows! And so, for a
Hebrew to eat beef was offensive to an Egyptian. And so the Lord, by telling a
Hebrew that beef was OK for him to have, has just built a barrier between the
Hebrew and that Gentile Egyptian.
On the other hand, pigs were highly venerated in
Canaan and they were used for meat. But here the meat of the pig is forbidden
to the Hebrew, and so the Hebrew is separated from the Canaanite by his dietary
requirements, and in fact if you look at the dietary requirements here, it would
have effectively separated Israel from the Egyptians, from the Arabs, from the
Babylonians, and from all of the Canaanite tribes. Their dietary practices would
not have meshed with this particular dietary requirement, and so the fundamental
purpose of this set of dietary laws is to distinguish Israel from the nations.
It was a mechanism whereby God could make them
distinct in the eyes of their neighbors, and could help them keep from
intermingling religiously with their neighbors, because when relationships were
developed with idolaters, what danger was presented to Israel? The adoption of
the views and the worship and the lives of the idolaters. And so this
dietary system was designed to keep Israel faithful to the one true God and
distinct in the nations. It was part of a holiness code and agenda.
Now, it’s very clear to us from the New
Testament that this system of being distinct from the world was abrogated by the
Lord Jesus Christ, and so the wonder of this passage is, it forces us to ask
again the question of ourselves as Christians, how are we to be holy and
distinct in this world when we don’t have a dietary code, or we don’t have a
specific dress code? What is the way that we are holy and in this world
at the same time? And we’ll try and tackle some of those things together in the
time that we have.
Well, that is a brief introduction. Let’s look to
God’s holy word and hear it. Let’s seek Him in prayer before we read His word.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for this Your
word, and we ask that You would bless this truth to our spiritual maturity; that
You would disciple us in holiness; and that You would make us to be like the
Lord Jesus Christ. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of God.
“Then 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. Whatever divides a hoof, thus
making split hoofs, and chews the cud, among the animals, that you may eat.’”
[Let me just pause right there, and notice that he has just
described for you the kinds of land animals that could be eaten by the children
of Israel. Now, notice that the kinds of animals on land that they can’t eat
take a significantly longer amount of time for Moses to explain. So we continue
reading in God’s word in verse 4:]
“‘Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these, among those which chew
the cud, or among those which divide the hoof: the camel, for though it chews
cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you. Likewise, the [rock
badger], for though it chews the cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean
to you; the rabbit also, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof,
it is unclean to you; and the pig, for though it divides the hoof, thus making a
split hoof, it does not chew cud, it is unclean to you. You shall not eat of
their flesh nor touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.’”
[And so, verses 4 through 8 describe for you the land
animals that are unclean, and therefore not to be eaten. Now we continue in
“‘These you may eat, whatever is in the water: all that have fins
and scales, those in the water, in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat.’”
So there are the water
animals that Israel is allowed to eat. But, verses 10 to 12:
“‘But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers, that does not have
fins or scales among all the teeming life of the water, and all the living
creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you, and they
shall be abhorrent to you; you may not eat of their flesh, and their carcasses
you shall detest. Whatever in the water does not have fins and scales is
abhorrent to you.’”
[And so there is the restriction
on certain seafaring animals that are not to be eaten by the Israelites. Now he
moves to flying animals, in verses 13 to 23:]
“‘These, moreover, you shall detest among the birds; they are
abhorrent, not to be eaten: the eagle and the vulture and the buzzard, and the
kite and the falcon in its kind, every raven in its kind, and the ostrich and
the owl and the sea gull and the hawk in its kind, and the little owl and the
cormorant and the great owl, and the white owl and the pelican and the
carrion-vulture, and the stork, and the heron in its kinds, and the hoopoe, and
[And those are the things that you can’t eat. Now, here he
continues to tell you in verses 20 to 23 the flying insects that you can’t eat,
with one exception:]
“‘All the winged insects that walk on all fours are detestable o
you. Yet these you may eat among all the winged insects which walk on all
fours: those which have above their feet jointed legs with which to jump on the
[So, you can’t eat flying bugs that walk on all-fours
(unless they jump), and of course that leaves locusts open to you for your diet,
as he goes on to explain:]
“‘These of them you may eat: the locust in its kinds, and the
devastating locust in its kinds, and the cricket in its kinds, and the
grasshopper in its kinds. But all other winged insects which are four-footed
are detestable to you.’”
[Then, if you look at verses 24 to 40, here he deals with
unclean animals and the carcasses of both clean and unclean animals.]
“‘By these, moreover, you will be made unclean: whoever touches
their carcasses becomes unclean until evening, and whoever picks up any of their
carcasses shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening.’”
[Then he goes on to deal with the bodies and carcasses of
unclean animals, and how it defiles and requires purification in verses 26 and
“Concerning all the animals which divide the hoof, but do not make a
split hoof, or which do not chew cud, they are unclean to you: whoever touches
them becomes unclean. And whatever walks on its paws, among all the creatures
that walk on all fours, are unclean to you; whoever touches their carcasses
becomes unclean until evening, and the one who picks up their carcasses shall
wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; they are unclean to you.’”
[Then he deals with the
carcasses of insects and rodents and reptiles in verses 29 to 41.]
“‘Now these are to you the unclean among the swarming things which
swarm on the earth: the mole, and the mouse, and the great lizard in its kinds,
and the gecko, and the crocodile, and the lizard, and the sand reptile, and the
chameleon. These are to you the unclean among all the swarming things; whoever
touches them when they are dead becomes unclean until evening.’”
[Then he deals with carcasses of these various types of
animals that come into contact with other objects, beginning in verse 32.]
“‘Also anything on which one of them may fall when they are dead
becomes unclean, including any wooden article, or clothing, or a skin, or a
sack–any article of which use is made–it shall be put in the water and be
unclean until evening, then it becomes clean. As for any earthenware vessel
into which one of these may fall, whatever is in it becomes unclean and you
shall break the vessel. Any of the food which may be eaten, on which water
comes, shall become unclean; and any liquid which may be drunk in every vessel
shall become unclean. Everything, moreover, on which part of their carcass may
fall becomes unclean; an oven or a stove shall be smashed; they are unclean and
shall continue as unclean to you. Nevertheless a spring or a cistern collecting
water shall be clean, though the one who touches their carcass shall be
unclean. And if a part of their carcass falls on any seed for sowing which is
to be sown, it is clean. Though if water is put on the seed, and a part of
their carcass falls on it, it is unclean to you.’”
[Then he speaks about what
happens when you touch these carcasses.]
“‘Also if one of the animals dies which you have for food, the one
who touches its carcass becomes unclean until evening. He too, who eats some of
its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; and the one who
picks up its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening.’”
[And then he repeats something
that he’s said before.]
“Now every swarming thing that swarms on the earth is detestable,
not to be eaten. Whatever crawls on its belly, and whatever walks on all fours,
whatever has many feet, in respect to every swarming thing that swarms on the
earth, you shall not eat them, for they are detestable. Do not render
yourselves detestable through any of the swarming things that swarm; and you
shall not make yourselves unclean with them so that you become unclean.”
[Now, why? Why is all this to
be done? Well, here you are in verse 44 with the Lord’s explanation.]
“‘For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and
be holy; for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of
the swarming things that swarm on the earth. For I am the Lord, who brought you
up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; thus you shall be holy for I am
“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.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired
word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Well, what are we to make of all this? Well, let me
just point out two or three things as we look at this passage tonight.
First of all, here clean means fit for God’s presence; and,
therefore, unclean means unfit for God’s presence.
And anyone who was unclean or who had come
into contact with uncleanness was unfit for public worship, unfit to come into
the presence of God. The basic idea is that God Himself is holy. He is clean.
He is perfect, perfect life; and the essence of uncleanness is death, and so
cleanness and uncleanness must be kept distinct. And so normal healthy
creatures were considered to be clean, while abnormal or unhealthy creatures
(and especially corpses) were considered to be unclean. Abnormalities in
animals suggested death and could lead to death, and these were marks of
uncleanness. The idea is to keep life and death distinct, unmixed.
But you still ask the question, why this kind of
grouping of the animals? What is the reason behind these various
instructions? And there are many different speculations. Some have suggested
that the basic rationale between these distinctions are hygienic, that there
were hygienic reasons why the Israelites were told, for instance, not to eat
pigs, while the Canaanites were allowed to do so. And there may be, of course,
some hygienic or health-related value to these codes, but that doesn’t seem to
be the fundamental thing.
Others have argued that there are cultic reasons
behind these codes: that is, the idea that some of these animals were worshiped
or utilized in the ritual of other neighboring pagan religions, and therefore
this is why these animals have been singled out and distinguished in this way.
Others believe that this is simply an arbitrary
distinction that is made, to make sure that Israel is distinct from the culture
around her, and others believe that there are symbolic reasons. Some of
the early church fathers saw hidden teachings about how to identify heretics in
some of the passage that we’ve read tonight.
Still others have suggested that the very division
(and by the way, if you’ll look at the first page of your outline) that the very
division between land animals and water animals and flying animals is harkening
back to the creation order, and to the distinctions that God made in the
creation order, so that animals that were within the realms of the distinctions
and kinds in the creation order were distinguished from these other animals
which seem to cross those boundaries and to blur the lines of distinct order.
But whatever the case is, it is clear that
these food laws served to keep Israel distinct in the culture in which she was
planted. She was obvious in her witness to those around her, different
from those around her by what she ate, and these laws kept her from being able
to engage in relationships that would lead to idolatry.
You can imagine how burdensome these laws would
be. I can imagine some of you ladies having the carcass of a chameleon fall
off of a mantle that you were sweeping into a fine Herend bowl, and very much
not appreciating the fact that you had to destroy that Herend bowl because of
the chameleon’s carcass that had fallen on it! Or, even worse, a chameleon
carcass falling upon your Viking range! How many of you are signing up to
destroy your Viking range and take it out of the house because it has been
declared unclean? These would have been very burdensome things to observe.
But these, as you can imagine, fundamentally
identified Israel in the world. And that’s what’s so striking, isn’t it, what we
find when we come to the New Testament? Let me just give you a couple of
First of all, turn with me to the Book of Acts,
chapter 10, because in Acts 10 we have this vision that Peter receives while he
is in Joppa. He’s hungry, people are making preparations to eat, but there’s no
food for him yet. He falls into a trance, and in Acts 10:11, he beholds
“the sky opened up and a certain object like a great sheet comes down, and
lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of
four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.
And a voice came to him and said, ‘Arise, Peter, kill and eat!’”
Now, listen to that description
of what’s on that sheet:
“…all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and
birds of the air.”
These are things right out of
the unclean foods list in Leviticus 11, and yet the voice from heaven says,
‘Peter, arise and eat.’ And how does Peter respond?
“‘By no means,
Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.’”
And the answer comes in verse
“‘What God has
cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’”
Now there you see an example, and it’s repeated
all over the New Testament, how the coming of Christ, His incarnation, and
especially His resurrection, has ended this old dietary distinction between
clean and unclean foods. And you see the idea behind that: in Jesus’
resurrection, He has done what? He has brought about a new creation, in
which these distinctions no longer hold.
Now that’s a vital “why”, because it now allows
those who believe in the promises of Abraham having been fulfilled in Jesus
Christ, though they are of Jewish heritage and descent, to reach out to their
Gentile neighbors and to welcome them into the family of God without these
particular ceremonial distinctions.
And isn’t it interesting that that’s one of the
standing arguments in the New Testament? As Paul goes around preaching the
gospel in Asia Minor, he’s followed around by people who say, ‘Well, what Paul’s
saying about Jesus as the Messiah is right, but you still need to keep the food
laws. You still need to keep the laws regarding circumcision. You still need
to keep these ritual laws.’ And you have Paul responding in Galatians and in
Romans 14: ‘No! This is not the case! Why? Because Jesus has set them aside.’
Mark knew this, and Mark had traveled with Paul.
Turn with me to Mark, chapter seven. Jesus is having a debate with the
Pharisees about certain ritual issues of purification in Mark, chapter seven;
and the Pharisees are criticizing His disciples because they haven’t been
following some of the careful ceremonial traditions of the elders about washing.
We’re told in verse 4 that “when they came from the
marketplace, they do not eat until they cleanse themselves; and there are many
other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing
of cups and pitchers and copper pots”. And the Pharisees and the scribes ask
Jesus, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders,
but eat their bread with impure hands?” And Mark tells us in this passage that
Jesus declares all foods clean. Look at verses 18 and following.
“‘Are you lacking in understanding? Do you not understand that whatever goes
into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his
heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?’”
And then Mark makes this amazing
aside with no further explanation:
“‘Thus He declared
all foods clean.’”
Does it not make sense to you, then, when Jesus begins to
speak to His disciples about weightier matters of the law and lesser matters of
the law? when He speaks to the Pharisees about, well, that’s fine that you tithe
the mint and the dill and the cumin, but you must attend to the weightier
matters of the law?
II. Moral holiness is the
distinction of Jesus’ followers
Well, what is the hallmark of the distinction
of Jesus’ disciples in the world? Not their ritual holiness, but their moral
holiness. And there’s no better example of that than the one that is found in
Luke, chapter 10. Turn with me there. This is the story of “The Good
Samaritan.” You remember how it goes: “A certain man was going down…” [this
is Luke 10:30}…
“‘A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he
fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and they went off
leaving him half dead. And by chance a certain priest was going down on that
road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.’”
Well, you understand why. A carcass is unclean. If that
priest touches that carcass, he can’t perform his work in Jerusalem. And what
happens next? A Levite goes by, and when he comes to the place and sees him, he
passes on the other side. Now, every Jew hearing that story would have
understood completely why that priest and why that Levite had gotten nowhere
near that man who seemed to be dead on the side of the road. They would have
been declared unclean. They would have been unfit for practice. But what does
“‘But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and
when he saw him, he felt compassion, and when he came to him, he bandaged up his
wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and
brought him to an inn, and took care of him.’”
And then He’ll end up saying to His disciples, “Go and do
likewise.” “Which one of these treated this man as their neighbor?”
Now isn’t it interesting that Jesus is dealing
here with people who had followed the rituals of the ceremonial code, but they
had ignored the weightier matters of the Law? And Jesus is pointing to the
moral obedience of His people as being the issue that sets them forth as His
disciples in the world.
So, as we as Christians attempt to appropriate
the lessons of Leviticus 11, the fundamental lessons for us there are not what
hygienic or health-related advantages we might get from following the dietary
practices of the ancient Hebrews; but the principle for us is: how are we to be
holy in this ungodly world? How are we to be in the world but not of it?
And uniformly Jesus, and Paul, and Peter, and Luke, and Mark and the author of
Hebrews tell us over and over the way we are to be in the world and not of it;
the way we are to be distinct from the world is not to wear different things
from the world (other than being modest, if the world isn’t modest); is not from
eating things which are different from the world (Paul will say in Romans 14
that it’s perfectly acceptable for a Christian to eat certain types of things
that might be offensive to others), but the concern is always…what? Are we
eating for the glory of God? Are we eating for the edification of our brethren?
Are we showing forth love to God and love to neighbor?
Is there a moral quality which is distinct about
us, which bears witness to us, to the world, that we are God’s? And is there
something about us which keeps us distinct from the world because of our
fidelity to those moral commitments?
And so this great chapter points us to the
Christian’s call to holiness. We, too, are to be holy because our heavenly
Father is holy. And this emphasis on God’s saving grace to us is evident even in
Leviticus 11. We are to consecrate ourselves; not in order that God will choose
us, but because of God’s grace to us, we are to consecrate ourselves. And so, in
the new covenant we are to show forth these ritual requirements of holiness in
their transformed mode in the morally distinct lives we live: loving God, and
loving neighbor in this world.
Our Lord God, as we take time to be holy, we pray
that our own lives in the quality of our love for You, and the quality of our
love for our fellow believers, and the quality of our love for those who are not
fellow believers–our neighbors, and even our enemies–we pray that the very image
of God would shine forth in this new creation which You have brought into
being. We thank You that in the new covenant You have broken down these old
requirements which separated Jew from Greek, and now are building together a
church made up of Jew and Gentile, all of whom rest and trust on Jesus Christ
alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, and live that they might
show forth the good works which have been prepared beforehand by our heavenly
Father for His glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you stand and receive God’s blessing.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the
Father and our Lord Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
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