Learning to Love Leviticus: Divided and Digested
Suggested Reading – Chapter 11: 1-8, 44-47
“This is the law concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in the water, and all creatures that swarm on the ground, in order to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between the animals that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.” Leviticus 11:46-47 HCSB
We now enter into the part of Leviticus that deals with what is clean and what is unclean. Before we dive in, I’d like to explain what it means to be unclean.
Being unclean is not the same as being sinful. The Bible Project Podcast used a great example: In western civilization we consider eating in the bathroom unclean. We wouldn’t say that action is sinful, but just not the most sanitary choice.
The Israelites also had culturally influenced ideas of what was clean or unclean. And God was now setting up new standards for cleanliness, wanting to set the Israelites apart from the rest of the world as we have talked about before.
“For I am Yahweh your God, so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy. You must not defile yourselves...For I am Yahweh, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God, so you must be holy because I am holy.” Leviticus 11:44-45 HCSB
The first set of standards God speaks about is regarding their food. He lists off the types of animals that are clean to eat and the ones that are not. He goes into different categories and distinguishes clean and unclean animals in each one – land animals, water animals, birds, insects, and special category for animals that “swarm on the ground” (Leviticus 11:29) at the end. Today we are talking about the land animals.
Once again, someone might wonder what this all means for us in the twenty-first century. Are we supposed to be eating a certain way? Does God really expect us to manage our diets like the Israelites did thousands of years ago? If not, how are we supposed to relate to all this?
My first thought when reading this chapter wasn’t about our physical food, but rather our spiritual food. Time and time again Jesus called Himself the “living bread” (John 6:35) or “bread of life” (John 6:51). The Word of God is also described as something we receive nourishment from (Matthew 4:4, Jeremiah 15:16).
Could it be that this chapter of Leviticus gives us insight on how to properly satisfy our spiritual appetites? Let’s take a look and see what we find.
“You may eat all these kinds of land animals. You may eat any animal with divided hooves and that chews the cud. But among the ones that chew the cud or have divided hooves you are not to eat these.” Leviticus 11:2-4 HCSB, emphasis mine
The land animals that were clean had to have two features: They must have divided hooves and they must chew the cud. If an animal had one of these features, but not the other, it was considered unclean. And, of course, an animal with neither of these features was unclean as well.
An animal with a divided hoof has a foot that is split into two parts. Unlike an animal with a webbed foot, the two pieces are completely separate from each other. Are we not also called to separate from our old selves when we come to Christ?
“So get rid of your old self, which made you live as you used to—the old self that was being destroyed by its deceitful desires.” Ephesians 4:22 GNT
Our first step for a healthy and nourishing spiritual life is letting go of our old self and letting Christ’s spirit create a new self in us. The Hebrew word for divide is paras and it literally means, “to break apart” (Strong’s Concordance).
We can’t keep our strings attached to parts of our old life or old self. We have to become completely divided or broken apart from it. The cross is our dividing point. The old ends and the new begins.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 1 Corinthians 5:17 NIV
The second feature of a clean land animal is that it “chews the cud”. Ruminant animals (animals that chew the cud) have a four-compartment stomach and “are able to break down grass and other coarse vegetation that animals with one stomach cannot digest” (http://aitc.ca/bc/uploads/ruminants.pdf). They swallow their food once and allow their digestive system to break the food down. Then, they regurgitate it, chew it again, and swallow it a second time to completely digest the food.
I know. It’s gross. But I think there’s some truth to be taken away.
These animals are fully digesting their food. They are chewing it, breaking it down, chewing on it some more, and then letting their body absorb the full amount of nutrients.
How many times do we read scripture like that instead of just reading a quick verse and being on our way? Could you imagine the benefits we would receive if we fully digested the Word of God?
In Luke 8, Jesus told a great story regarding these truths:
“A sower went out to sow his seed. As he was sowing, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the sky ate it up. Other seed fell on the rock; when it sprang up, it withered, since it lacked moisture. Other seed fell among thorns; the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. Still other seed fell on good ground; when it sprang up, it produced a crop: 100 times what was sown…
This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. The seed along the path are those who have heard and then the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the seed on the rock are those who, when they hear, welcome the word with joy. Having no root, these believe for a while and depart in a time of testing. As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit. But the seed in the good ground—these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit.” Luke 8:5-8, 11-15 HCSB, emphasis mine
See, Jesus knew the value of fully digesting the Word of God. Not half digesting it, not swallowing it whole, causing a stomachache, but chewing on it, meditating on it, and allowing it to really sink in. He knew that when we do that, we have abundant and healthy spiritual lives.
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many...” Deuteronomy 11:18-21 NIV
But what happens when we are completely divide from our old selves, allowing the Holy Spirit to renew us, but we do not spend a good amount of time in the Word? Or what if we do spend much time in the Word, but don’t allow the Holy Spirit to do that dividing work?
Neither situation brings about cleanliness or holiness. One without the other will only lead to frustration and unchanged hearts. We end up living double lives with stunted growth and we become the people Paul warned the church to stay away from.
“I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person…not even to eat with such a one.” 1 Corinthians 5:11 NASB
Do you think that you’ve separated from your old self? What areas might you need to ask God for help? (Always remember that we can never do this on our own. We should never be striving to change or be acceptable to God. Instead, surrender yourself in prayer to Him and ask the Holy Spirit to change your heart. It’s never an overnight transformation, but rather a slow and steady change. That’s what grace is for. Don’t beat yourself up over slipping into old ways. Just bring it to God in humility and accept His love in faith.)
What does your regular Bible study look like? Is it more of a fast food, grab-and-go style? Or do you “chew the cud” and allow God’s words to be fully digested?
Have you noticed a difference in the seasons of your life where you’ve allowed the seed of God’s word to plant and bear fruit? What differences have you seen?
When we encounter the doubled-lifed Christian, how are we to respond in truth and love?