Deuteronomy 14:1-23.
 
Live for the LORD, Your God.

Copyright © 2012, John.W. (Jack) Carter
     www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV


One might be able to attempt to imagine the state of the Nation of Israel as Moses saw it on the Plains of Moab, immediately prior to their entrance into the Land of Canaan.  Moses can clearly recall the purpose that brought him back to Egypt about 40 years ago:  to free the nation of Israel from Egyptian bondage.  God chose to reveal Himself to Abraham, the father of this nation, because of Abraham’s faith in Him, and the legacy of faith that would follow him.  God promised Abraham that his sons would become a great nation, and through that nation the entire world would be blessed.

As Moses observes this nation on the Moab plain, Moses certainly had his doubts that this would become the godly nation that was its calling.  His teaching God’s plan to the people seemed to have very little impact on them as most remained faithless and secular.  There was a small remnant of faithful who the LORD would continue to preserve, but most of the people gave little attention or concern towards Moses’ teaching.

Moses, because of his own unwavering faith in the LORD, understood the blessing and consequence that accompanies that faith: a life that is lived in fellowship with the Creator.  The choice of that fellowship is the fundamental characteristic of faith itself, a choice that will make a dramatic change in the life of the one who chooses God.  A choice to follow God is a choice to turn away from the wickedness of this world by submitting to Him as LORD… giving to Him all of the authority in our lives that He truly deserves.  There is a change in direction that takes place with this decision, for a choice to reject the One True God is a choice to continue under the authority of the evil one, the prince of this world, satan himself. 

FAITH SEPARATES ONE FROM WORLDLY FAITHLESSNESS

Consequently, there should be a dramatic difference in the character of one who follows the LORD and one who follows the world.  One of the primary differences is a product of a simple principle:  faith in God reveals to us the faithlessness of this evil world, and leads us to reject its ungodliness.  As Moses is preparing Israel to cross the Jordan into the land where they would find settlement among a pagan population, Moses provides some simple and reasonable instruction on some ways that the people can live a lifestyle that rises above that of the Canaanites, a lifestyle that honors God and noticeably separates them from the evil and secular practices of this world.

Deuteronomy 14:1.  Ye are the children of the LORD your God: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.

There is one simple difference between Israel and the other nations.  It was God’s choice to reveal Himself to the world through Abraham and his descendents through relationship with those who have faith in Him.  As the Creator of the universe, it is God who is its father, and it is God who is then in a father-child relationship with Israel.  God often referred to Israel as His “children.”  As such, it is quite reasonable that God, who blessed them and cared for them, would desire that they are not swept up by the evil of this world, but rather, by virtue of their relationship with Him would choose to live a godly life.

How does one turn from the wickedness of this world to the light of the love of God?  One important thing that is needed is for God’s children to recognize the ungodly and inappropriate attitudes and actions that are a normal part of this pagan world.  In Chapter 14 Moses contrasts some of the ungodly pagan practices of the world around them with an alternative lifestyle choice that rises above those practices by purposefully acting in ways that are in stark contrast by their submission to the LORD and His authority.

The first examples that Moses have to do with some of the practices of the Canaanites that are entirely inconsistent with a testimony of faith in God.  Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of a Godly life is the way that the faithful approach the subject of death, for in faith is found, not only hope, but the only hope available to mankind when facing the end of life on this earth.  For the faithful, death is simply a transition from the stresses and limitations of this world for an eternity with the LORD as He takes us home with Him.  The faithless have no such hope.  Consequently, there is good reason for grieving when there is no knowledge or understanding of a life after this one.  Pagan religious practices have always played upon this grief, resulting in expressions of grief that are not consistent with faith. 

The two practices here refer to shaving and cutting of one’s skin with knives.  “Self-flagellation” as this practice is called, was a common pagan practice that served to express submission to the pagan gods.  The idea behind self-flagellation is simply that the practice is deemed so dramatic that its practitioners hope to gain the attention of their gods.  We see evidence of this at Mount Carmel when Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal.[1]  People of faith do not need to “gain the attention” of God.  God hears all of the prayers of those who love Him.  It would be entirely inappropriate for a person of faith to be engaged in any practice that denies the true nature of God.  Such practices by the faithful serve only to confuse their testimony and draw them away from the hope that God gives.

This example also helps us to understand the intent behind the Mosaic Law.  The command is not so much a law that forbids cutting oneself as it exposes the inappropriateness of such behavior on the part of a person of faith.  When one understands the intent behind the command, the command makes sense and a person of faith would simply choose to follow it because of their faith nature.  As Moses continues, he describes the character of that faith nature.

Deuteronomy 14:2.  For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.

Moses describes the reason why people of faith should live differently than those who are faithless:  God has ordained the faithful as an holy people, separated out from this evil world for Himself.  This ordination has resulted in a division of the people into two distinct groups:  Those who place their faith and trust in the LORD God, Jehovah, Creator, and those who do not.  God has drawn out of this world for Himself those who trust in Him.  This makes them different from the world, lifting them “above” the nations of the earth.  We find this to be a fundamental attribute of the life of faith that we also find throughout the teaching throughout scripture.[2]  Peter writes,

1 Peter 2:9.  But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

When one considers God’s purpose for those who trust in Him, it is quite evident that people of faith should be considerably different than those who are without faith.  While the people of this world respond to situations out of ignorance, people of faith can respond to situations with godly truth and wisdom.  God’s purpose for people of faith separates them from the world:

1.     A chosen generation.  God has chosen, or elected by His sovereignty, to give eternal life to those who have placed their faith in Him, giving to them the status of a son of God. 

2.     A royal priesthood.  God has chosen, or elected by His sovereignty, to reveal Himself to those who place their faith in Him, and grant them full and unhindered access to Him through prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit. 

3.     A peculiar people.  Perhaps a word that may better help us to understand this adjective is “unique.”  There is only one true God, and a relationship with Him makes one completely different than the rest of the world.  The presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer defines their uniqueness.

4.     That ye should show…  God’s purpose for the believer is clear: to praise God among those who do not know Him so that they too can receive the blessing of salvation.

Consequently, it is entirely inappropriate for a person of faith to demonstrate the faithlessness that is so much a part of the culture within which they are immersed.  Yet, statistically, there seems to be very little difference in the lives of those who claim faith.  Divorce and adultery rates within the church mimic the godless culture outside its walls.  Abortion, the modern parallel of child sacrifice to the god of self centeredness, is as prevalent among those who claim to be Christian as those who do not.[3]  The issue today is the same as that which was faced by the Israelites:  people who have been presented with an opportunity to know God choose to follow a greater desire to be accepted by the world, accepting the practices of its culture, and by so doing, compromising their faith.

FAITH SEPARATES ONE FROM WORLDLY IGNORANCE.

Deuteronomy 14:3.  Thou shalt not eat any abominable thing.

“Culture” is a set of beliefs and practices that define a society, and though this world seems to be getting smaller all the time, there still remains a mosaic of different cultures.  Each establishes what it considers to be acceptable and unacceptable behavior.  People of faith, who choose to honor the LORD and do so in view of a godless world will not be led to insult those people.  The ancients held great importance in their choice of foods, considering some to be acceptable and others to be abominable.  We have few parallels to draw from in our modern culture.  One example might be the insult of eating beef in the presence of one who practices the Hindu sect that venerates cattle.  Some church fellowships consider alcoholic beverages, particularly liquor, to be abominable, and it would be also likewise insensitive and insulting to indulge in drinking liquor in the presence of one who considers it to be evil.  The point that Moses is making is to simply recognize this issue, and be aware of those things that would damage their testimony among the heathen as they are called to praise God and follow Him. 

Sometimes we misunderstand the passages to follow, considering these imperatives to be a list of “dietary rules.”  The context of scripture is consistent, and we might do well to be reminded that people of faith do not live by “rules” of scripture as much as they embrace the context of those rules, because their nature begins to mimic the nature of God.  Consequently, it is helpful when scripture illuminates practices that are ungodly so that a person of faith can choose godliness.  So, Moses illuminates:

Deuteronomy 14:4-6.  These are the beasts which ye shall eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat, 5The hart, and the roebuck, and the fallow deer, and the wild goat, and the pygarg, and the wild ox, and the chamois. 6And every beast that parteth the hoof, and cleaveth the cleft into two claws, and cheweth the cud among the beasts, that ye shall eat.

First, Moses lists some of the animals that are among those that are quite acceptable to eat within the scope of their culture.  Though some of the names of these animals are not common today, the pygarg and the chamois refer to antelope and ibex, respectively.  Serving the meat of these animals would not serve to insult the community in which they live.

Deuteronomy 14:7-8.  Nevertheless these ye shall not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the cloven hoof; as the camel, and the hare, and the coney: for they chew the cud, but divide not the hoof; therefore they are unclean unto you. 8And the swine, because it divideth the hoof, yet cheweth not the cud, it is unclean unto you: ye shall not eat of their flesh, nor touch their dead carcase.

Ancient culture also had a very complex set of beliefs concerning rules pertaining to their pagan religious practices.  Each nation created its own set of mythical gods to give them some reasoning for everything from the sun, moon, and stars to plant growth, animal, and human reproduction.  Though these practices are ignorant and based upon untruth, taking part in those practices would identify a person of faith with them and with that ignorance.  Some of the “abominable” practices of pagan worship included drinking blood and handling dead animals as part of what they believed was some form of “exchange” of power or life from that animal.  Of course, people of faith understand that all life comes from the LORD, God, The Creator. 

In addition to considerations of pagan religious connotation, the list of clean and unclean animals also include a distinction between those which can be safely prepared for consumption and those that cannot.  In this way, the list serves to protect the faithful from food-borne dangers that they had no science to identify or understand.  It would be another 1700 years before people would learn of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes that are dangerous to health.  Consequently, the list of unclean animals includes those such as pigs, rodents, animals that eat carrion, and others that tend to contain microbes and worms.

Just as Moses refers to the eating of the meat of land animals, he also lists some of the aquatic life and fowl that holds a similar dietary context:

Deuteronomy 14:9-20.  These ye shall eat of all that are in the waters: all that have fins and scales shall ye eat: 10And whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye may not eat; it is unclean unto you. 11Of all clean birds ye shall eat. 12But these are they of which ye shall not eat: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray, 13And the glede, and the kite, and the vulture after his kind, 14And every raven after his kind, 15And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckoo, and the hawk after his kind, 16The little owl, and the great owl, and the swan, 17And the pelican, and the gier eagle, and the cormorant, 18And the stork, and the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat. 19And every creeping thing that flieth is unclean unto you: they shall not be eaten. 20But of all clean fowls ye may eat.

 

We can observe in this list of clean and unclean the identification of aquatic life that does not have scales and birds that eat carrion the same protection from microbes and worms that we find in the previous list.  Fish and birds that eat plants or live meat are listed among the clean, and those that eat carrion are listed among the unclean.

Deuteronomy 14:21.  Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself: thou shalt give it unto the stranger that is in thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto an alien: for thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.

Moses ends this discussion with a reference to two more dietary restrictions.  The first refers to the eating of meat from an animal found dead.  Today we understand that the decomposition of meat begins immediately upon the death of the animal, so rotting meat is quite foul and dangerous to eat.  However, the second reference to giving or selling this meat to an unbeliever implies that it is clear that the reference is to fresh meat from clean animals that has been properly and safely prepared.  By taking this second step, Moses points out one more way that people of faith can separate themselves from the pagan culture in which they are immersed: by setting a standard of practice that is higher than that held in their culture and maintaining that standard without compromise.

Possibly the closest parallel that people of faith can draw from Moses’ sermon on dietary purity is to consider those practices that are common to today’s secular and pagan culture that make statements that are contrary to the truths of the gospel, that deny the power and provision of God, and compromise the purity that is a part of the expression of true, uncompromised, faith in God.

In an attempt to be true to God, people of faith have often misunderstood and misapplied the concept of “rules,” simply replacing the laws of scripture with another set of legalistic requirements, specifying what people should wear, what they should eat, etc.  Religious legalism is still prevalent among many Christian groups.  Any time we observe religious “rules” we should always remember the Shema, Deuteronomy, Chapter 6 that teaches a doctrine that is contrary to legalism.  People of faith express their faith in purity, not by keeping the law, but by following the nature of purity and faith that the Holy Spirit places in their hearts.  People of faith do not obey the law because of a fear of breaking it:  they follow the law because it is their nature, a new nature of purity and godliness that God inspires through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

FAITH SEPARATES ONE FROM WORLDLY GREED.

Deuteronomy 14:22.  Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year.

The teaching of the tithe was a new concept in the ancient near-east, separating the Israelites from virtually every other worldly culture.  Where the rest of the world is characterized by taking, the Israelites are to be characterized by giving: again simply the fruit of a true faith-nature.  The concept of the cash flow itself is not unlike the pagan nations that exact taxes from its citizens.  In royal kingdoms, the king literally owns everything in his kingdom and is free to take what he wants from his subjects, and if he is a beneficent king, he might use the proceeds to care for the poor.  However, history reveals few kings who demonstrated such beneficence. 

The concept of the tithe completely changes the context of taxation.  A tithe is “given” to the LORD, and is an honorable and praiseworthy act of love for Him.  A person who demonstrates a true faith nature gives joyfully, desiring to do something good for others as an expression of their unstoppable agape love.

Deuteronomy 14:23.  And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always.

The giving of the tithe was to be a celebration.  Again, this idea is quite contrary to the taxation that is exacted in the pagan nations.  Once each year, usually at harvest time, each family is to bring a tithe (literally, the first tenth) of their harvest to the tabernacle to (1) be consumed by themselves while taking part in the celebration, (2) to be shared with others in a community-wide “pot-luck” feast, and (3) to supply the tabernacle with the resources to needed to minister to the community.  Certainly, the Israelites are not going to consume the entire tenth of their gross national product in one feast.  The tremendous largess of this tithe is kept by those who supervise the tabernacle (the Levites) to support those who are landless, including themselves, the priests, and the poor and needy in their communities.

Deuteronomy 14:24-27.  And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the LORD thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD thy God hath blessed thee: 25Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose: 26And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household, 27And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee.

Many people lived too far from the tabernacle to physically carry their tithe, so Moses explained a reasonable solution:  convert the tithe to cash and bring it to the tabernacle.  However, the celebration of the gift was not to be omitted.  Prior to entering the temple, cash from the tithe could be used to purchase everything needed for the feast.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29.  At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: 29And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.

Through the giving of the tithe, Moses described a new way to meet the resource needs of the nation.  Rather than use his position as an autocratic king who demands taxes from the people, Moses laid down a plan of voluntary giving, a plan that allows people of faith to express their love for the LORD and their love for others in a substantial and important way.  Like the other directives concerning their diet, Moses offered a new way to approach the necessities of life, a way that allows people of faith to express their love rather than requiring people to follow the letter of law.  This paradigm concerning behavior would serve to identify Israel in a way that would separate them from the pagan and secular world they were immersed in.

Likewise, people of faith are today to be separate from the world in areas of pagan and secular practice, living for the LORD a life that seeks to praise Him and honor Him in all they do.  Where the world does things by law, people of faith do things by love.  Where the world is self-centered, people of faith are others-centered.  It is when people of faith live out that faith through uncompromised godly living, that they are separate from the world: a unique people who by their testimony can be use of God to minister to those in need, to be part of His Kingdom work, and to receive the full measure of peace and joy that God promises to those who love Him.  This is the life that Jesus describes as “living it to the full,”[4] 

Moses’ guide to godly living is a great reminder to all of us that God has a plan and purpose for those who place their faith and trust in Him.  That purpose involves a call to godly living that separates the faithful from the secular and pagan world in both attitude and practice as the Holy Spirit replaces a love for the world and its prince with a love for the LORD.  Let us not allow the distractions of this world to blind us to the truth and bring compromise into our faith.  Let us embrace the LORD and His blessing, taking a stand for godliness in our attitudes and actions.  It is then that we will see the LORD use us in ways beyond our own imagining, accomplishing for the LORD what Israel failed to do:  show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.[5]


[1] 1 Kings, Chapter 18.

[2] Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 26:18; Psalm 135:4; Titus 2:14, e.g.

[3] The Barna Group, www.barna.org.

[4] John 10:10.

[5] Ibid. 1 Peter 2:9.