Moses' fourth speech, Part 2
Oct 30, 2012
In Deuteronomy 14:3-21 Moses deals with various food laws, listing those that were unclean and forbidden. This passage is a shortened version of Leviticus 11. In neither chapter does Moses state either moral or scientific reasons for this prohibition. He says only in Leviticus 11:44,
44 … 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.
Much has been written from a scientific perspective on the wisdom of following these food laws insofar as health is concerned. My comments will be limited to the biblical issue at hand, which centers on the concept of being clean and unclean. This has to do with being acceptable in God’s presence, for Scripture teaches us that if we are “unclean,” we are restricted in our approach to God. For this reason, lepers, who were unclean, were unable to go to the temple except to be inspected by the priest to see if he had been healed. He was also condemned to withdraw from society, and if others came near, he was to call out, “Unclean,” to prevent him from contaminating those who were clean.
Leprosy, of course, represented mortality (a slow death). Death is the ultimate form of uncleanness, and for this reason the Scriptures show us the path toward immortal life. Only when death is fully eradicated in us can it be said that we are fully “clean.” When Jesus healed lepers, He demonstrated more than just a restoration of health to the sick, but also showed His power over death and His ability to bring us all into immortality.
Jesus interpreted all of the laws of cleansing in His simple statement in John 15:3,
3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
All of the cleansing ceremonies of the law under Moses, then, were designed to portray the real truth about cleansing. Water cleansed people; fire cleansed metal vessels. But Jesus said that it was the word itself that brought inner cleansing. As a result of such cleansing, Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you” (John 15:4). In other words, we who were formerly lepers have now been healed and may return home, abiding in Christ, and He in us.
The food laws are really about the type of spiritual food we eat and the manner in which we eat it.
Jesus presented us with clean spiritual food by the word that He spoke. More than that, He was the Word made flesh (John 1:1), and hence, He presented Himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:48), born in Bethlehem, the “House of Bread,” and placed in a manger as food for the “animals.” Thus, He said in John 6:51,
51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.
Eating of Christ and the Word is the central meaning of the Old Testament food laws. Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 enrich our understanding of eating clean spiritual food, and helps us to know how to avoid defilement when hearing the word preached. As we will see, the quality of the spiritual food (truth) is not to be our only concern, but also the manner in which it is “cooked” and served to us. There are preachers and teachers who present good truth but who render that truth unclean by the manner of their presentation.
Moses begins in Deuteronomy 14:3 with the general theme of the food laws:
3 You shall not eat any detestable thing.
Ferrar Fenton renders it,
3 You shall eat no filth.
As a general health principle, this is a good idea, for even if our faith is strong enough to consume poison (Mark 16:18), we ought not to eat poison as part of a daily diet. Likewise, we ought to avoid eating filth of any kind. However, Moses and Jesus are more concerned with cleansing us to remove the hindrances to full fellowship with God. There are three main categories of unclean meats that Moses lists in Deuteronomy 14--those on land, water, and air. In Leviticus 11 he divides the unclean land animals between the four-footed and the many-footed creepers. But Deuteronomy 14 omits those creeping things, perhaps because this is a speech, whereas the book of Leviticus was presented as a book. So Moses begins in Deuteronomy 14:4-6,
4 These are the animals which you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, 5 the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep. 6 And any animal that divides the hoof and has the hoof split in two and chews the cud, among the animals, that you may eat.
After listing examples, Moses gives us the principle by which we may distinguish between the clean and unclean animals. It must have a divided hoof and chew the cud in order to be clean food. The divided hoof means that all spiritual truth that we eat must stand upon a double witness to be considered as a clean word of truth. The basic law of all truth is found in Deuteronomy 19:15,
15 A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.
The Apostle Paul confirms this law in 2 Corinthians 13:1, writing,
1 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
Again, he gives instructions to the church, saying in 1 Timothy 5:19,
19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.
Two witnesses establish or confirm truth; the third witness is often necessary to clarify the truth. Hence, we are given the law and the prophets as two witnesses testifying under the Old Covenant, but the psalms provide clarification, put it to music, and give it a beat to establish “timing.”
In preparing the clean food, the preacher must always allow the people to ask for a double witness to establish the validity of the food that is being presented. If the preacher insists that people must believe him without question, then the food is unclean, regardless of how true it is. Food preparation is as important as the food itself.
The problem is not always with the preacher. If the people themselves refuse to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice during the preaching, then they are eating in an unlawful manner, because they accept what the preacher says without the Holy Spirit’s double witness. This was essentially Israel's problem at Mount Horeb when they refused to hear the word for themselves but instead sent Moses up the Mount to hear on their behalf. They were violating the food laws by thinking that Moses' witness was sufficient.
This is why Moses says that the clean animals are those that also chew the cud. When a cow eats grass or hay, they later lie down to chew the cud. That is, they bring up the food again and chew it further. The cow appears to be meditating on the food in order to extract its full nutritional value. We too are to do this with the word in order to ensure that we are eating it in a clean manner.
This is also the spiritual meaning behind the word “selah” that is often used in the psalms. It is a pause in the music, but it gives the people a moment to chew the cud.
We can see, then, that asking for a double witness is closely related to meditating on the word to see if the Holy Spirit will provide a double witness to that which has been preached. These two requirements must be paired together in order for the food to be “clean.” So Moses explains further in verses 7 and 8,
7 Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these among those which chew the cud, or among those that divide the hoof in two: the camel and the rabbit and the rock-badger, for though they chew the cud, they do not divide the hoof; they are unclean for you. 8 And the pig, because it divides the hoof but does not chew the cud, it is unclean for you. You shall not eat any of their flesh nor touch their carcasses.
The law tells us that for spiritual food to be clean, there must be BOTH a double witness and meditation upon the word. Camels are unclean because they chew the cud but do not have a divided hoof. Pigs have a divided hoof, but do not chew the cud. Both are unclean.
Jesus said in Matthew 23:24,
24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
Both gnats and camels were unclean animals, but religious hypocrites are more concerned about gnats getting into their mouths than they are about the camels that they eat daily. How did the scribes and Pharisees eat camels? By studying (chewing) the word without obtaining a genuine double witness that comes by the Holy Spirit. When they asked for a double witness, they ate pig flesh by asking the authoritative rabbis to do their thinking for them. In other words, they wanted their revered rabbis (or even Moses) to be their only witness.
In Jesus' day, the Pharisees' witnesses were limited to the acceptable rabbis, and so they were unable to hear a fresh word from the Holy Spirit. They did not recognize the Word made flesh when He came among them, nor could they hear the clean Word that was spoken from His lips. Their system of Bible study was systemically flawed.
Hence, if a man hears the word preached, and the preacher allows a double witness, but does not allow true meditation on the word, that word is unclean. I have often seen examples of this, where the preacher pretends to challenge men to obtain a double witness from God, but they coerce people and interfere in their meditation. In effect, any meditation (thought process) must fall within the parameters of the pre-established religious creed or denominational literature, or it is said to be invalid.
There are many today who strain out gnats but swallow camels. Jesus said in the previous verse (Matthew 23:23), “you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” There are some who have built entire denominations upon certain laws, but they have not balanced their law practice with the “weightier” matters. It is only when we truly understand the law through Jesus’ eyes that we will obtain the mind of Christ and understand the law as God originally intended.
The laws of cleansing were only types and shadows of the truth. A shadow can show God’s profile, but at some point we ought to see Him face to face. No amount of water or fire could cleanse the heart. Only the word will provide the true cleansing that God requires. Ironically, because most Christians have not studied the law of Moses to understand the profile of truth, they tend to miss the full extent of truth that Jesus Christ presents in the New Testament. Studying the food laws will teach us how to study the word of God in such a way that it cleanses us and enhances our relationship with God.
This is the second part of a series titled "Moses' Fourth Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones