GOD’S PEOPLE MUST MANIFEST THEIR DISTINCTIVE OF HOLINESS IN AREAS OF DAILY LIVING (e.g. DIETARY LAWS)
Michael Grisanti: This pericope begins and ends with a focus on Israel’s identity as God’s “children” (14:1), a people “holy to the LORD” (14:2, 21). This repeated emphasis forms an inclusio (the repetition of a theme or an explicit statement “enveloping” the passage) that highlights the theme of the entire section, namely, the impact of a holy identity on daily life. The practices delineated in the ensuing verses are not holy themselves but were ordained by Yahweh to mark out Israel more clearly from the pagan nations around them.
Daniel Block: Moses transforms the legal dietary document (Lev. 11) into a moral document (Deut. 14), declaring how Israel’s status as Yahweh’s “holy people” is to be reflected in actions as fundamental as eating. Here the focus of Israel’s pastor is on affirming what the Israelites may do rather than on prohibiting what they may not do. That Moses seems more concerned to open doors rather than to close them is reinforced by the opening declaration (“You are the children of the LORD your God,” v. 1a) and his framing verses 4–20 with statements that are profoundly ethical (vv. 1b–3 and v. 21). The positive introductions to the categories of food are equally striking (vv. 4, 9, 11, 20), suggesting these statements are better understood as grants of permission and invitation than as legal proscriptions. Being the covenant people of Yahweh implicates all aspects of life—even as mundane a matter as eating.
Gerard Gerbrandt: As does Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy here instructs Israel regarding clean and unclean animals, identifying which may be eaten and which are prohibited. As in the creation story of Genesis 1, the animal world is divided into three categories—animals of the land, animals of the sea, and animals of the air. Significant for the passage are its opening and closing, emphasizing the holy nature of Israel. Incorporated within the framework are a few additional prohibitions: against participating in certain mourning rites (14:1b), against eating animals that have died of themselves (14:21a), and against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk (14:21c).
Jack Deere: In conclusion, all these food laws would have reminded Israel of her unique status before God. No Israelite could eat without realizing that in every area of his life he was to be consecrated to God. Likewise an Israelite’s diet served as a testimony of his relationship to the Lord in the presence of Gentiles. As stated earlier, in the New Testament God abolished the food laws of the Old Testament (Mark 7:14–23; Acts 10:9–23). However, Christians should demonstrate their unique relationship to God by the purity of their lives. Christians may demonstrate their faith and unique relationship with the Lord by offering sincere thanks at mealtimes to God, the Creator and Provider of all food (1 Tim. 4:3–5).
I. (:1-2) OUR FAMILY IDENTITY AND OUR ELECTION CALL US TO HOLINESS
A. (:1) Our Family Identity Calls Us to Holiness
1. Sons of God
“You are the sons of the LORD your God;”
Gerard Gerbrandt: The people of Israel are children of God, both because this represents a tender and intimate relationship and because this relationship places responsibilities on Israel to live in a particular manner.
2. Separate from Pagan Customs Regarding Mourning Rites
“you shall not cut yourselves
nor shave your forehead for the sake of the dead.”
MacArthur: The practice of making deep gashes on the face and arms or legs, in times of grief, was universal among pagans. It was seen as a mark of respect for the dead, as well as a sort of propitiatory offering to the gods who presided over death. The Jews learned this custom in Egypt and, though weaned from it, relapsed into the old superstition (cf. Isa 22:12; Jer 16:6; 47:5). Tattoos also were connected to names of idols, and were permanent signs of apostasy.
Jack Deere: The other nations had peculiar and superstitious beliefs about dying and the dead. Some even worshiped dead spirits. The precise significance of the rituals mentioned here (Deut. 14:1)—laceration and shaving the head for the dead—is unknown today. But cutting oneself was a sign of mourning (cf. Jer. 16:6; 41:5; 47:5; 48:37). However, it is clear that these practices reflected beliefs about the dead that conflicted with faith in the Lord, the ultimate Source of life. Therefore when a loved one died, the Israelites were to demonstrate their faith in the Lord by refraining from these pagan practices. Today Christians may demonstrate even greater faith when a believing loved one dies (cf. 1 Thes. 4:13–18).
Daniel Block: He highlights their unique status with four expressions. They are:
(1) the children of Yahweh;
(2) a holy people, belonging to Yahweh their God;
(3) the elect people of Yahweh, chosen from all the peoples on the face of the
earth, to be
(4) Yahweh’s own treasured possession.
The meaning of these prohibitions against pagan practices in the present context seems to be bound up with the dietary laws themselves. Viewing this text as an invitation to eat at Yahweh’s table, it is important that the participants be ritually clean (cf. 26:14). If physical contact with a corpse was deemed defiling (cf. Lev. 11:24–40), how much more objectionable for the holy people of Yahweh to attempt spiritual contact with the dead.
B. (:2) Our Election Calls Us to Holiness
1. Chosen Purposefully – to be Holy and Dedicated to the Lord
“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God;”
All of our insecurities in life – our fears, our sense of inadequacy and lack of significance – are resolved by realizing how precious we are to our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are special!
Gerard Gerbrandt: As in Deuteronomy 7:6 (a verse identical to 14:2), Israel’s holiness is a by-product of its undeserved election, not something it achieves. This election is from all the peoples of the earth, thereby drawing attention to Israel’s unique status, as reflected in the phrase his treasured possession. The introduction and conclusion thus place the dietary regulations within a context of living in a manner consistent with Israel’s identity as a holy people. . .
Deuteronomy frames the dietary regulations with the statement For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and adds in the introduction, it is you the LORD has chosen out of all the peoples of the earth, his treasured possession. The dietary regulations thus are not the way to holiness, but they reflect and represent this holiness. Although concern for order and completeness may have been a factor in their original development, in Deuteronomy these regulations distinguish Israel from others: they set the boundaries between Israel as a holy people and the profane nations surrounding it.
2. Chosen Personally
“and the LORD has chosen you”
3. Chosen Possessively
“to be a people for His own possession”
We are a treasured, precious possession of the Lord God who both created and redeemed us.
Made-up Chorus I used to sing to my young children upon putting them to bed every evening:
“Precious . . . that’s what you are to me
You’re so precious my babykins my sweet [Julie]
I love my girl, you’re my pride and joy,
And you’re precious, so precious to me.”
4. Chosen Preferentially
“out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
The Creator could have chosen anybody . . . any nation . . . but He has chosen ME!
II. (:3-20) HOLINESS IS REFLECTED IN DIETARY LAWS —
CLEAN VS UNCLEAN ANIMALS WITH RESPECT TO EATING
A. (:3) Summary Prohibition
“You shall not eat any detestable thing.”
Daniel Block: The rationale for the boundaries described here is not clearly understood, Scholars have proposed a variety of theories for taboos on unclean food:
• cultic (they were associated with Canaanite religious practices),
• aesthetic (they are loathsome or repulsive),
• hygienic (they cause illness),
• sociological (they have ambiguous form and lack physical integrity), and
• didactic (they illustrate/teach wrongful behavior).
It seems most likely that the forbidden animals are rejected because of their association with death.
(1) Leviticus 11:24–40 emphasizes the defiling effect of contact with animal carcasses.
(2) The dietary instructions in Deuteronomy 14 are introduced with reference to rituals related to the cult of the dead (v. 1).
(3) The account concludes with regulations concerning animals that have died a natural death (v. 21).
In addition, we note that most of the animals designated unclean are carnivores, or scavengers that feed on carrion, or ground creatures in constant contact with unclean matter.
Duane Christensen: Forbidden foods are placed in the same category of the “abominations” of idolatry (7:25–26; 13:15), sacrifice of blemished animals (17:1); witchcraft and pagan forms of divination (18:9, 12), wearing clothing of the opposite sex (22:5), bringing “a harlot’s fee” in payment of a vow to YHWH (23:19), and other forbidden acts (12:31; 17:4; 20:18; 24:4; 25:16; 27:15; 32:16).
Eugene Merrill: The list of animals prohibited for human consumption is characterized by the single word “detestable,” a term that suggests anything that is repulsive to and abhorred by God or even man (cf. Lev 18:22-30; Deut 7:25; 12:31; 17:1; 18:9-14; 25:13-16; Prov 6:16-19). In the context these creatures were detestable because they represented objects outside the pale of covenant allowance for the Israelite diet and not simply because they may or may not have had nutritive or hygienic deficiency. That is, they were impure simply because the Lord said so and for that reason alone were detestable and to be avoided. This is precisely the principle underlying the Lord’s words to a protesting Peter, who, in his vision, refused to eat animals let down from heaven: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 11:9). All things are pure or impure as God himself dictates and not by inherent character or quality. Israel also, then, was pure (or holy) and the nations impure (or unholy) according to the elective purposes of God, not because of intrinsic qualities (cf. Deut 7:7-8).
B. (:4-8) Clean and Unclean Land Animals
1. (:4-6) Clean
“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.”
2. (:7-8) Unclean
a. (:7) Defining Characteristics
“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.”
Utley: This animal is apparently mentioned in Lev. 11:6 as “hare” or “rabbit.” It is interesting that Leviticus says (as assumed here) that the rabbit chews the cud. This is a good place to remind readers that the Israelites based their knowledge of nature on observable characteristic (phenomenological language). Rabbits do not, in actuality, chew the cud, but the rapid movement of their noses look as if they do. This is not an error in the Bible, but the recognition the ancients based their knowledge on observation, not modern, scientific methods.
b. (:8) Special Case of the Pig
“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.”
C. (:9-10) Clean and Unclean Sea Animals
1. (:9) Clean
“These you may eat of all that are in water:
anything that has fins and scales you may eat,”
2. (:10) Unclean
“but anything that does not have fins and scales
you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.”
D. (:11-20) Clean and Unclean Sky Animals
1. (:11) Clean
“You may eat any clean bird.”
2. (:12-19) Unclean
“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, 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. 19 And all the teeming life with wings are unclean to you; they shall not be eaten.”
3. (:20) Clean
“You may eat any clean bird.”
III. (:21) MAINTIAN YOUR DISTINCT HOLY STATUS
A. Avoid Food from Animals that Died a Natural Death
“You shall not eat anything which dies of itself.”
Peter Craigie: it is more likely prohibited because the animal had not been killed in the proper fashion and the blood drained out (see 12:16). For this reason, the animal could be eaten by a resident alien or sold to a foreigner, neither of which would have been possible if the meat was already bad. The Israelites were not to eat such meat, which would be ritually unclean, because they were a holy people to the Lord (see also 14:2).
a. Does Not Apply to Non-Israelites
“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,”
b. Applies to Israelites Due to Their Holy Status
“for you are a holy people to the LORD your God.”
B. Avoid Certain Types of Preparation of Food
“You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”
Duane Christensen: The Yiddish word kosher has made its way into the English language as referring to animals and food that conform to all the dietary laws for slaughter and preparation, including the separation of meat and dairy products, on the basis of the prohibition of boiling a kid in its mother’s milk (Deut 14:21b).
Eugene Merrill: Exactly what this means has been much debated, but it clearly has to do with a religious or cultic ritual so abhorrent to the Lord that it is mentioned twice previously as a summary statement of that which is illicit to Israel as a special people. The first of these occurrences is in Exod 23:19, the verse that brings to a conclusion the so-called Book of the Covenant. Here it is also in the immediate context of festival keeping and proper use of blood and other materials of sacrifice (23:14-19). The second allusion to the rite appears in Exod 34:26, at the end of the “ritual decalogue” of vv. 10-26. Here it follows a statement identical to that of Exod 23:18-19 and in the same liturgical context of festival and offering.
It is reasonable to conclude that the boiling of a young goat in its mother’s milk was part of a Canaanite festival ritual that so epitomized that depraved cultus that it came to symbolize all that was evil and detestable in it. Both uses of the prohibition against it in Exodus are in festival contexts and, indeed, this is the case here in Deuteronomy as well, though here the festival instructions follow rather than precede it (Deut 14:22-29). Its position in Deuteronomy is to allow it to serve as a framing device matching the prohibition of 14:1.