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Moses' fourth speech, Part 4

Nov 01, 2012

The third category of unclean food in Moses’ list is the birds of the air. Winged creatures represent spirit, as does the air, and so we must pay particular attention to this category. Deuteronomy 14:11-18 gives us a list of unclean birds:

11 You may eat any clean bird. 12 But these are the ones which you shall not eat: the eagle and the vulture and the buzzard, 13 and the red kite, the falcon, and the kite in their kinds, 14 and every raven in its kind, 15 and the ostrich [Heb., yahanah, “daughters of the owl”], the owl, the sea gull, and the hawk in their kinds, 16 the little owl, the great owl, the white owl, 17 the pelican, the carrion vulture, the cormorant, 18 the stork, and the heron in their kinds, and the hoopoe and the bat.

The common characteristic of these birds is that they are meat eaters. Most of them were created to eat dead animals in order to prevent the spread of disease and the stench of rotting flesh on the ground. For this reason, it is not likely that the NASB translation is correct when they include the ostrich in the list. Gesenius says that the yahanah may be an extinct bird, but gives its literal meaning as “daughters of the owl.”


In verse 21, Moses briefly gives us the divine reason why those winged creatures were unclean: “You shall not eat anything which dies of itself.” Such things are the blood-filled food of the unclean birds and animals. Moses enlarges upon this reason in Leviticus 17, where we learn that it is part of the prohibition against eating blood. The unclean birds represent eating spiritual food with a bloodthirsty attitude and spirit. The purpose of blood was to make atonement, that is, to cover of the sins of the people, whereas eating blood means that we become accusatory or even violent. When men sin, we sense the smell of blood and we attack them like sharks or buzzards.

Eating Insects

Moses continues,

19 And all the teeming life with wings [sherets, “creepers, swarmers, flying insects”] are unclean to you; they shall not be eaten. 20 You may eat any clean bird.

Because Moses’ focus is upon the winged creatures of the air, he briefly mentions insects, but enlarges upon this further in his listing in Leviticus 11:20-23.

20 All the winged insects that walk on all fours are detestable to you. 21 Yet these you may eat among all the winged insects which walk on all fours: those which have above their feet jointed legs with which to JUMP on the earth. 22 These of them you may eat: the locust in its kinds, and the devastating locust in its kinds, and the cricket in its kinds, and the grasshopper in its kinds. 23 But all other winged insects which are four-footed are detestable to you.

Locusts and grasshoppers contain only a very small quantity of food, but they are clean because they jump. Many sermons are preached today which have very little food value, but if they take a person higher, the food is clean. The problem comes when preaching is designed to keep people crawling forever like ants and spiritual babies.

There are many denominations and preachers who secretly do not want the people to grow spiritually, because they become potential problems and can challenge the leadership. Years ago I read a book counseling church leaders not to teach doctrines to people. The author said that if you teach one doctrine, you will divide the people in half; two doctrines will divide the people further, and by the time you teach the fourth doctrine, the church will be very small. His solution was to keep the people happy with motivational speeches, but to give them no real food to eat.

Such food is unclean, not necessarily because what they say is untrue, but because it does not promote spiritual growth or cause people to rise up or leap to new heights in the Spirit.

Giving Unclean Food to a Foreigner

Moses then says something in Deuteronomy 14:21 that is often misunderstood,

21 You shall not eat anything which dies of itself. You may give it to the alien who is in your town, so that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner [ger, “sojourner”], for you are a holy people to the Lord your God….

When we study the rest of the law, we are struck by the fact that God has no double standards. He is impartial in all of His ways. He does not condone sin among Israelites or foreigners. He does not think that non-Israelites are inferior except in their idolatry. So why would God condone giving unclean food to “the alien who is in your town”?

To interpret this consistently with the character of God—as revealed in the law itself—we must understand that such aliens are not citizens of Israel but are sojourners, “just passing through town.” Canaan was the major trade route between Syria and Egypt, and so the roads often saw merchants passing through the land. For this very reason, the word Canaan means "merchant." If such people wanted to settle down and become citizens of Israel, they were expected to follow the law of the land.

This is no different from the law whereby Israelites were allowed to charge interest to a foreigner (Deuteronomy 23:20). It was allowed only if the foreigner was a sojourner or non-citizen, because if he wished to live in Israel, then he was to be treated as other Israelites (Leviticus 25:35-37). In Leviticus 19:33 and 34 we read,

33 When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the native [Israelite] among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.

Israelites were to love the non-Israelites “as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Israelites were to remember how they were treated as aliens in Egypt. They knew how Egypt had treated them unequally, so they knew how it felt to be a alien in a foreign land. So they were to treat the non-Israelites as themselves, following the Golden Rule.

Again, we read in Deuteronomy 10:19,

19 So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Furthermore, in the land of Israel where God’s law ruled, we find that there was to be equal justice for all—especially for the aliens who were most likely to suffer from unequal justice. Numbers 15:15 and 16 says,

15 As for the assembly [kahal, “church”], there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. 16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.

The entire spirit of the law, therefore, absolutely demands impartial and equal justice for all, regardless of their genealogy. Furthermore, the law was applicable to all men, whether Israelites or not. It is NOT the case that the law of Moses applied only to Israelites, while the so-called “Noahide laws” applied to non-Israelites. It is NOT the case that Israelites were held to a higher standard, or that Israelite genes made them more capable of abiding by the law, mind, and will of God. It is NOT the case that non-Israelites were spiritually inferior to Israelites and therefore incapable of understanding the higher truths of God.

And so, in light of the overall spirit of the law, I am confident of the meaning of Deuteronomy 14:21. Animals that died by themselves, which still had retained its blood, could be given or sold to an sojourner who was not a permanent resident; but if a non-Israelite wanted to settle down and become an citizen of the Kingdom of God, he was expected to abide by the same laws that the Israelites followed.

Cooking and Eating a Nursing Lamb

The rest of verse 21 reads,

21 … You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

This was a Hebrew idiom for not cooking or eating a lamb that was still nursing. However, according to The Jerome Bible Commentary, p. 111,

“This reference is to part of a religious ritual practiced in Canaan, the exact import of which escapes us. It occurs in an obscure Ugaritic text…”

We know too little about this aspect of Canaanite worship to be of help in understanding this verse. Was this prohibition purely a reaction against Canaanite worship? I do not believe that God reacts in such a manner to idolatrous practices of the Canaanites. Because “the law is spiritual,” as Paul says in Romans 7:14, this law must contain some positive revelation of the mind of God.

We do know that the lambs killed each Passover had been born the previous year, for they had to be a year old (Exodus 12:5). Why was this important? Certainly, Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb, was more than a year old when He fulfilled that feast. I believe it speaks of the age of accountability, or at the age of communion.

Since every slaughter of an animal was a sacrifice on some level, even when it was only intended to be used as food for the family, this ties in with the idea of fellowship, i.e., communion. Thus, to kill and eat a lamb that was still nursing did not fit spiritually with the idea of communion, for a nursing baby is too young for such fellowship. Neither should they be offered communion (bread and wine), for they cannot understand its significance.

If the Canaanite practice was to eat nursing lambs, their religious practice denied or contradicted the mind of God insofar as this principle of communion was concerned. Certainly, it was their practice to sacrifice innocent babies as well as nursing lambs. But the sacrifices in Scripture do not include the very young, whether they are lambs or babies.

This is the fourth part of a series titled "Moses' Fourth Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.

Moses' Fourth Speech

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Category: Teachings

Dr. Stephen Jones

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