Just as an observation: taking a quick read at “The Gospel for Shrimp” would not hurt you going in to this chapter. Why? We’re coming strongly into the parts of Leviticus that must be considered in the context of the fullness of Scripture and not just line-by-line.
That is one of the major issues facing the modern reader of Scripture: we do not read enough. Actually, it’s more that we do not comprehend in long enough blocks. Either because we learned to read so that we could answer nit-pick quiz questions or to hit page requirements, our reading abilities tend to fail us on comprehension of large blocks of text.
You can see it away from Scripture in the bumper stickers that quote J.R.R. Tolkien as saying “Not all who wander are lost.” It’s an accurate quote. Usually, though, it is applied as a “Do your own thing” anthem. The whole context of Lord of the Rings? The quote applies to Aragorn, son of Arathorn. It’s attached to him when he is protecting the wide lands of the North as a Ranger. He’s not aimlessly wandering: it is part of the heritage of his family and part of his path to the throne of the kingdom. In all of his “wandering” he remains faithful to the truth as it is known in Middle-Earth. In short—it’s a lousy quote in context if you want to validate a life of mushy detachment from objective truth.
Coming back to the point of Scripture: Leviticus 11 (link) starts us into the list of details of life for theocratic Israel in the Iron Age. We start with the famous dietary laws. Does it divide the hoof and chew the cud? Does it have scales or skin? Is it a bat? A locust or a grasshopper? Owls or ducks?
Check it according to the principle and the list before you decide to eat it. Check it before you sacrifice it. Avoid the unclean stuff for either purpose and everything will go alright.
Get through the list to the end of the chapter to Leviticus 11:45. The exact reasons, though they are interesting to contemplate, are unclear beyond this one: this is about obeying God and upholding His holiness. Were there particular reasons for the no-pig rule?
Maybe it was just about making the Israelites look odd to the world around them. Maybe it was just about making dining amidst unbelievers a little bit of a problem. Maybe it was just about making all of life stand apart from the world at-large.
When you place the whole of the Bible together, that is what you really see starting to happen here. The people of Israel were called out to be the Royal Priesthood of God—one of their purposes was to declare God’s glory among the nations (Psalm 96:3). This took more than just a different Temple than everyone else had.
It took a different lifestyle. One that evidence obedience to God about things that otherwise would not matter. A lifestyle that stood separate from the world and was visibly different to the people that were not in agreement theologically and spiritually.
So how does this work for us?
Understanding that Israel was Israel and the Church is the Church, and the two are not exactly identical, there are still things here for the believer in Jesus. What we need to understand is this:
1. We are going to be surrounded by cultures that are different from us in principle and in practice. Israel was. We are.
2. Our religious practices are going to be automatically different: worship that looks identical to a different religion is, well, not Christian. It’s either syncretism of two religions or completely the other one.
3. Differing religious practices are not enough. When’s the last time you dropped in an Odin service just to compare systems? You don’t do it. Why would those we want to come to Christ just drop by?
4. Our lifestyle has to be visibly different in every day life if we are going to truly reflect the God we serve.
5. Down to the meals we eat, our lives should be mission minded.
Not saying we follow the exact dietary laws, but we consider the principle: Why?
And we act based on that.
Today’s Nerd Note: An important add-in consideration of the passage is this: God gives not only a list of clean/unclean but the principle to apply to new animals not known to the Israelites.
What does that mean?Zoology is pretty clear that local flora and fauna are pretty consistent: God could have specified for Israel based on the food choices available there. After all, the Promised Land was where the people were headed.
Instead, the principle is given and then local possibilities were used to illustrate it. What does this tell us?
It was never God’s intention that the people who worshiped Him to be restricted only to the Syro-Palestine area. Even in the Law we find the expectation that people will need to determine what should and should not be eaten in areas not yet explored, animals not yet named.
Think about what that means for you.