Wednesday, February 21, 2018


“This man has said that the law against living on the Fixed Island is different from the other Laws, because it is not the same for all worlds and because we cannot see the goodness in it. And so far he says well. But then he says that it is thus different in order that you may disobey it. But there might be another reason… I think He made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not only because they are His will. Where can you taste the joy of obeying unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?” CS Lewis in Perelandra

Leviticus 11:1-47

We are no longer under Israel's dietary laws, but the system remains a puzzlement to me. For starters, why did God allow his people to eat animals that had cloven hooves and chewed the cud, but not animals that chewed the cud and did not have cloven hooves? Why must Israel avoid animals that had cloven hooves and did not chew the cud. On what basis were these animals pure or impure? Scholars have long pondered that question. 

Some suggest that a few creatures are just inherently disgusting. I get that. I’ve never considered owls or eels haute cuisine. 

Others claim that certain animals were off the table for cultic reasons: They were used in Israel's day for pagan worship, or to represent pagan gods. This may be true in some cases–cooking a lamb in it’s mother’s milk is thought to be a pagan ritual—but cattle and sheep were "clean" in Israel, even though they were used in Baal worship.  

Others suggest a hygienic reason for the laws and argue that certain animals were classified as impure because they could cause disease if not properly cooked—pork, for example. But many of the pure animals are equally dangerous if undercooked and why would the New Testament later allow these animals to be eaten (Acts 10:9-16)? If health were a consideration, why would God rescind these laws?

Finally, some sources suggest a symbolic interpretation for the laws: Animals that chewed the cud made the cut because they reminded Israel to meditate on the law. The filthy habits of pigs spoke of the “filth of iniquity.” While most things can be made into metaphors, this approach has always struck me as whimsical and I‘ve never been able to take it seriously.

Why then the dietary laws? 

I've pondered this question for sixty years or more and I've come up with an answer: I don't have a clue! There are just some things God wanted His people to do, for which He did not provide a rationale.

Even so today, curiosity asks, why? Why must I do this thing that God is asking me to do? Love answers, "Just do it, child and trust me. Even if I explained it, you wouldn't understand."

David Roper

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