“I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean” (Leviticus 11:44, NIV).
Ever read something in the Bible, scratch your head, reread it, and ask God, “Why did You include that in Your story?” That’s precisely what I think every time I read Leviticus 11, the chapter with all the dietary laws for ancient Israel–clean and unclean animals; eat this, but not that; etc. Why would God give these laws to His people? (I think it’s worth noting that the concept of clean and unclean animals goes way back before Leviticus. Remember, God gave Noah instructions about clean and unclean animals on the ark. Additionally, other ancient near eastern peoples also had regulations about clean and unclean animals. So this wasn’t just dropped out of the sky in Leviticus 11).
Many ideas about clean and unclean animals have been offered over the years, but not a single one has much evidence in Scripture to support it–not even the favorite view of conservative evangelicals: that some animals were unhealthy for eating, and since the Israelites didn’t understand modern science and medicine, God made the unsafe, unhealthy animals “unclean.” The fact is, modern science and medicine don’t show that the unclean animals in Leviticus 11 are less healthy or safe for eating. And, if this really were the rationale, we’d have to assume that God no longer cares about our health, since in the New Testament all these dietary laws were lifted and we can now enjoy bacon and shrimp without becoming unclean.1
As I was having coffee with the Lord this morning and discussing this passage with Him, He said to me:
Do I need to give a practical reason in order for My children to obey Me? Is it not enough to say that since I am holy, I desire My children to also be holy?
God told us the why behind the commands in Leviticus 11–so that the Israelites could consecrate themselves and be holy because their Father in Heaven is holy. How the various clean and unclean animals and dietary laws factored into that, and why God changed it in the New Testament, we may never know. But the principle my Father impressed upon my heart this morning was this: God is holy. As His children, we are to be holy. And when He speaks, we listen and obey even if we don’t always fully understand the practical, pragmatic reason behind it. God doesn’t give commands needlessly, but neither did He tell us to obey Him only when it makes sense to us. Obedience is part of our holiness.
My prayer for this week is that we will experience the holiness of God and that it will inspire us to strive to be holy, as our Father is holy.
1. Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, vol. 3A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 172.