The South Sinai Diet

Wednesday Evening
March 16, 2005
Leviticus 11:1-47
“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 verse 9:]

“‘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 the bat.’”

[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 earth.’”

[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 following.]

“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 holy.’
“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.

I. 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 examples.

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 15:

“‘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 Jesus say?

“‘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.

Let's pray.

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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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.