A peculiar people

Leviticus 11:1-3 “And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them,‘ Speak to the people of Israel, saying, “These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat.”’”

What strange laws God placed on the nation of Israel in the Old Testament.  They are so difficult to comprehend in our day and age.  For example, there are the regulations about clean and unclean animals.  A friend asked me the other day about this, specifically wondering why there were such laws in the Old Testament, and why they were done away with when Jesus came.  Why this difference? 

It’s a very good question, and one that I’ve been thinking about over the last few days. And then I read a sermon that Charles Spurgeon once preached on this very topic.  He points out that the Lord was teaching the principle of separation to His people.  There was no way that they could easily intermingle with the idolatrous people among whom they lived if their customs were so very different.  They would not be able to just sit down and enjoy a meal with a Canaanite, because much of what the Canaanites ate, they could not. 

God chose to bring His Word to this world through the Jewish nation. It was through them that He had chosen to bring the world the blessing of a Savior.  He wanted them to be a separated people, a holy nation, uniquely committed to Him.  But then Jesus came, and in the book of Acts we learn how God removed these dietary laws.  But why? Why be less stringent after Jesus came? 

Well, to understand this, we must remember that Jesus didn’t come “to abolish the Law or the Prophets. . . but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus showed how the Jewish understanding of the law had become less than God had intended.  For example, He pointed out that while a person may think that they were not guilty of adultery because they had never been involved in an affair outside of marriage, yet, if they had ever lusted after a woman, they were just as guilty because they had committed adultery in their heart.  And while a person may never have actually murdered someone with a weapon of some kind, if they were angry against them, they were in effect committing murder against them in their heart. 

With these teachings, Jesus showed us that God’s standard of righteousness went far beyond the strict “letter of the law” of the Old Testament.  Like the rest of the Old Testament, God’s prescriptions in the Old Testament Law were a shadow of what He ultimately would reveal in the New Testament. So, what about this law of separation when it came to food.  By doing away with this law in the New Testament, was God essentially “backing off” on what He expected of those who believed in Him?

Well, the truth is, He expects nothing of the sort.  In fact, what God wants for His children is so much more than a separation from those who don’t know Him based just on what we eat, or what we wear, or what customs we may adhere to.  You see, God has called us as His children to be a “a holy (i.e., a separated) nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).”  As children of God, we are to be separate from the world in everything we do, beginning with the most mundane aspects of our life but then extending to everything else.  We are told that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31).” And we are told that in “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23).” 

You see, a Christian is to be different than a non-Christian in every aspect of life.  We should eat to the glory of God. We should drink to the glory of God. The words we speak should glorify God. Our inner thoughts, and our outer actions and reactions should all be of a different character than if we didn’t know God, for He is the love of our life and that love should be the supreme motivation of all that we do.  This should greatly influence how we raise our children, how we work in our work place, how we treat our spouse, what we allow to influence our thinking, etc., etc. – nothing is to be left out.

Separation: it’s not just an Old Testament concept.  It goes far beyond such things as mere dietary laws.  That’s why Christ condemned the Pharisees who viewed themselves as so obedient to God because they strained their broth through a cloth to make sure they didn’t swallow a gnat, the smallest “unclean” animal. Yet Jesus said that they, in that process, were swallowing a camel (the largest unclean animal) (Matthew 23:24) because on the “inside you are full of greed and wickedness (Luke 11:39).” 

So, what about you and what about me?  Are we separate from the world in all that we do with a motive to glorify God with every aspect of our life?  For you see, that’s exactly what God has called us to – separate from sinners, just like Jesus was, yet loving them into the kingdom, just like He did. And that includes loving our enemies – just one more way to be separate from this world.

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