The main principle that we saw in Leviticus 10 was that we are to discern between the holy and the common, the clean and the unclean. Here in Leviticus 11, we’re given regulation after regulation regarding what we’re allowed to eat and what we’re not allowed to eat. Now, for those of you who want to argue that this is not intended for us today, I would challenge you to simply set all of your arguments aside and just do it. Give up your pork, give up your crab and shrimp, give up your skink and skunk, give up eating your owl and raven, and actually try living by the kosher diet for a month. Give it a month and see what you think.
Now, of course, these verses were not put here for us to debate over them for millennia. God didn’t intend that we would have confusion about which animals some of these things are, and whether we’re truly supposed to obey it or not. I think that God’s intention was much bigger than that. So, I simply won’t address the issue any more than I’ve already done.
What is God getting at?
You already know: discern between the holy and the common, the clean and the unclean. Ten times does the phrase “it is unclean for you” appear. Outside of that, the idea of unclean appears twenty times in Leviticus 11. In these two sections, we find the animals that either chew the cud but don’t have the split hoof, or the animals that have the split hoof but don’t chew the cud. We find certain lizards – whether reptile or amphibian – are unclean. If something touches the carcass of one of these unclean animals, whatever touched the carcass is unclean, and there are certain regulations to either cleanse it or completely destroy it depending on the object.
Outside of clean and unclean is a complete different set of distinguishing. There are birds that we can eat, and then there are birds that are “detestable”. Similarly, there are certain sea life that we can eat, and then other sea creatures are “detestable”. This phrasing of “detestable” shows up ten times. It is in relation to certain sea creatures, certain birds, snakes, and certain insects (like the centipede).
Now, notice that nowhere in this chapter does the word “sin” appear. God doesn’t say that those who eat these things are “sinful”, but rather “unclean”. To be unclean limits you quite noticeably from a lot of functions in Israelite culture, but it doesn’t limit you from being an Israelite. One of the more significant things to notice is that they who are unclean cannot approach God. The reason for this is that God is pure, and we’re supposed to discern the holy from the common.
In fact, when we come to the end of Leviticus 11, the very last verse even reads that. Why do we need to keep a kosher diet? “You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between the living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.” This is absolutely critical to note. Not everything is sin. There are some things that are spoken against in the Bible, but they aren’t sin. There are other things that are called sin, but aren’t abominable. Then, we find a completely different class where if an Israelite commits this kind of wickedness, they are to either flat out be killed or be cast out of the camp to wander alone and now as a foreigner and alien to God. There is no atonement for these kinds of sins (much like the blaspheme of the Spirit).
Here in Leviticus 11, we never find the word sin. I would claim that certain acts that we do as Christians could also be labeled as “unclean”, meaning that they will separate you in your relationship with God, but they won’t flat out defile you. These would be things like the Corinthians misusing the spiritual gifts, going into debt, not counting it all joy to face trials, or even not keeping the ceremonial laws regarding cleanliness. These won’t damn you (of course, there is no one sin that will send you to hell), but they will affect your walk with Christ.
We are called to discern even in these matters. Doesn’t it seem rather trivial? In all of the aspects of my life, why would God dedicate such a discourse on what I am and am not allowed to eat? Does God actually care that much about the intimate details of my life?
In Mark 7:14-23, Jesus takes up the task of explaining this chapter to us. He calls the crowd to himself, and he teaches them, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’.” His disciples then ask what he was talking about, and Jesus replies with, “Are you so dull?”
The original language gives quite a sharp rebuke: Are you stupid?
Which, if I were one of the disciples at that moment, I would probably have to confess, “Apparently….”
Jesus continues, “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? For it doesn’t go into his heart, but into his stomach, and then out of his body… What comes out fo a man is what makes him ‘unclean’. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’.”
What is Jesus saying?
The point of discerning between the clean and the unclean goes beyond just food. Look at the words that He calls “unclean”. Theft, murder, adultery, greed, lewdness, slander, arrogance, and folly are “unclean” things? Jesus is showing us that in practicing discernment in what we eat, we are practicing discernment between the holy and the common. It isn’t simply clean and unclean here. This is a discernment between the ways of the world and the kingdom of God.
We find all of these qualities quite active in our world today, and it is quite necessary for us to unlearn them as we continue to follow Christ. But notice what Jesus said. It isn’t what goes into your body that defiles you. What he is getting at is that when certain things, like murderous complaints, come out of your mouth, it shows that you’ve already been defiled. Focus upon the more important things.
I believe fully that God cares even about what we eat. Yet, I must also confess that if I’m focused upon my food being ‘godly’ – or clean – and yet I’m allowing lies and arrogance to come out of my face, then I’m focusing upon the minors instead of the majors. I’m not better than the Pharisees. In Matthew 23, Jesus got on the religious leaders for this very thing. Your mouth is where your heart is, even if you think that by what you take in (whether in food or in listening to sermons, music, etc) is somehow putting you one step closer to God than others. It isn’t about what you listen to, or what you eat, or what you watch, if the truth is that what already comes out of you is perverse and unholy. Turn from your wicked speech, and then deal with the secondary issues.