Shemini — “Eighth”
Portion for the week leading up to April 22, 2017
Be Holy for I am Holy
The kosher food laws are something which most believers in Yeshua (Jesus) have relegated to the position of a relic of days long past. The common belief is that the work of Yeshua now makes these commandments no longer binding upon anyone, and to live by this standard is enslaving yourself to the Law. Others say that the food laws were simply a way to avoid eating food that would make people sick, and so now that we live in a modern age where our food is held to certain health standards, this is no longer a concern. What does Scripture actually have to say on this matter?
God prefaces the food laws by saying to Moses, "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'These are the creatures which you may eat from all the animals that are on the earth'" (Leviticus 11:2). He goes on to explain that of the different classifications of birds, fish, four-footed animals, and insects, certain characteristics mean some of the animals within these categories are unclean. The foods which God says are not to be consumed are described using very strong language: "You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you... Whatever in the water does not have fins and scales is abhorrent to you... These, moreover, you shall detest among the birds... ." Moreover, by consuming these things the people would be considered to acquire the same traits: "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" (verse 43).
What was the purpose of the food restrictions? Some people today argue for observance of these regulations from a nutritional or health perspective, claiming that certain toxins are more prevalent in the animals which God has forbidden. While this may be the case, God Himself tells us why He instituted the diet restrictions: "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" (Leviticus 11:44-45). By eating only the foods which God has specified, the people of Israel would show that they were holy and set apart unto God. God's desire is for us to give every area of our lives over to Him, and this includes what we put into our bodies.
What position should believers in Yeshua who aren't ethnically Jewish take in regard to the kosher food regulations? One of the biggest obstacles to those who wish to observe the kosher food laws are some unfortunate misunderstandings of certain New Testament Scriptures. To explain each of these oft-disputed Scriptures is beyond the scope of this article, but it is important to keep in mind that Scripture cannot contradict itself. If God said that by observing the food restrictions His people would be devoting that part of their life to Him as holy, then we must keep that in mind when we read the rest of Scripture. It is also important to remember that in addition to the prohibitions regarding certain animals explicitly commanded in Scripture, the Jewish sages and rabbis throughout the ages have regarded the clean foods in Leviticus 11 as being capable of becoming defiled in certain situations. In the New Testament we see this in Yeshua's dispute with the Pharisees over eating with unwashed hands (Mark 7:1-23, Matthew 15:1-20), as well as in the various disputes over food sacrificed to idols (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8).
Much discussion has taken place over whether or not the kosher laws are binding upon believers from the nations. If believers don't follow the kosher food laws, are they buying themselves a ticket to hell? Of course not, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). But we are also told in 1 Peter 1:15-16, "But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'" If we are to be holy in all our behavior, does this not include our diet? The commandment was given to the people of Israel, as all of them were. As grafted-in Gentiles, we have the opportunity to also draw near to God through obeying Him in love. God's word shows us that doing the right thing for the wrong reason is not acceptable to Him, and so we must be careful to check our motives to be sure we are obeying Him out of love, and not to the neglect of the weightier commands of justice, love, and mercy.
Let us not be content to stagnate in our relationship with God, but always seek to draw closer to Him in holiness and in love through faith and obedience to His commands.