Chapter 14


Command to Abstain from Pagan Burial Customs

        • You are the children of the Lord your God, so don’t cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads in mourning for the dead. The Lord has specifically chosen you, out of all the other nations on the earth, to be His special people. You are a holy people belonging to the Lord your God.

          • This is a specific call for the Israelites to differ from the pagan nations in their mourning/burial rituals.

            • On the pagan custom of cutting, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes: “Lacerating oneself in mourning was a heightened expression of sorrow (Jeremiah 16:6; 41:5). In the Ugaritic Baal Cycle, when the chief god Ilu (El) learns that Balu (Baal) is dead, he goes into paroxysms of grief that emphasize the magnitude of the catastrophe: ‘…With a stone he scratches incisions on (his) skin, with a razor he cuts cheeks and chin. He harrows his upper arms, plows (his) chest like a garden, harrows (his) back like a (garden in a) valley.’”

          • On shaving of the head the NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “This practice also pertained to lament for the dead (see Leviticus 19:27-28; 21:5-6), but the exact meaning of this rite is unknown.”

          • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible also adds, “The fundamental Hebrew meaning of holy focuses on separation of a person or thing for a particular function or use. A derivative meaning is ‘pure’ or ‘morally and spiritually upright.’”

Clean and Unclean Foods

        • You must not eat anything detestable. You may eat the following animals:

        • ox, sheep, goat, deer, gazelle, roe deer, wild goat, ibex, antelope, and mountain sheep.

        • You may eat any animal that both has divided hooves and chews the cud. You may not eat or touch the carcasses of the following animals that either chew cud or have divided hooves, but not both. They are unclean for you:

          • camel, hare, hyrax, pig.

          • The NLT Illlustrated Study Bible notes, “The hyrax is a rabbit-sized, hoofed mammal.”

          • Believe it or not, this Scriptural information given about the hyrax is often used by skeptics to discredit the Bible. Technically, the hyrax does not “chew the cud” like a true ruminant (cow, etc). I know, it seems a seriously TINY issue, but if you ever get this argument presented to you there is a good response. This topic is outlined fully by Tekton Apologetics in their article Is the Bible Wrong About Hares Chewing the Cud?

            • As the article notes, the issue is essentially one of translation. As most people are aware, sometimes there are simply not any English words that exactly confer the same meaning as the Hebrew. In these instances, scholars do their best to accurately translate the meaning of the word into English. The thing is, most Hebrew scholars are not biologists. This Evidence for Christianity article summarizes the two primary issues this way:

            • Two issues are at hand: the definition of ‘cud’ and that of ‘chewing.’ Let’s take a close look at the Hebrew version of both. Here is the word for ‘cud’ according to Strong’s: gerah, the cud (as scraping the throat):–cud. There are a few factors we need to keep in mind here. First, this word is used nowhere in the Old Testament besides these verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy… Second, refection is a process whereby rabbits pass pellets of partially digested food, which they chew on (along with the waste material) in order to give their stomachs another go at getting the nutrients out…Contrast this with what cows and some other animals do, rumination, which is what we moderns call ‘chewing the cud.’ They regurgiate partially digested food in little clumps called cuds, and chew it a little more after while mixing it with saliva. So then: partially digested food is a common element here. We therefore suggest that the Hebrew word simply refers to any partially digested food — the process is not the issue, just the object.”

            • Also, while many Bible translations read “chew the cud,” the more literal translation of the Hebrew is “bring up the cud.” “Our other key word here is ‘alah, and it is found in some grammatical form on literally every page of the OT. This is because it is a word that encompasses many concepts other than ‘bring up.’ It also can mean ascend up, carry up, cast up, fetch up, get up, recover, restore, take up, and much more. It is a catch-all verb form describing the moving of something to another place.”

            • So: the Hebrew word is question is NOT specific to the process of regurgitation; it is a phrase of general movement. And related to the specific issue at hand, the rabbit is an animal that does ‘maketh’ the previously digested material to ‘come’ out of the body (though in a different way than a ruminant does) and does thereafter does chew ‘predigested material’! The mistake is in our applying of the scientific terms of rumination to something that does not require it.”

        • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “The instruction not to touch their carcasses was primarily to maintain ritual purity.”

        • You may eat any marine animals that have fins and scales. If a marine animal doesn’t have fins and scales you may not eat it, it is unclean for you.

          • Guzik notes, “Therefore, most fishes were considered clean – except a fish like the catfish, which has no scales. Shellfish would be unclean, because clams, crabs, oysters, and lobster all do not have fins and scales.”

        • You may eat all birds except for the following which are unclean for you:

        • eagle, bearded vulture, black vulture, kite, any kind of falcon, any kind of raven, ostrich, short-eared owl, seagull, any kind of hawk, little owl, long-eared owl, white owl, desert owl, osprey, cormorant, stork, any kind of heron, hoopoe, and bat.

          • Again, skeptics note that the bat is not a bird. The HCSB answers, “Inclusion of the bat in the list of unclean birds, though not technically correct according to modern taxonomy, is consistent with the intent of the passage: to forbid the eating of large flying creatures. Establishing a second category with only one representative would have been unnecessary and confusing in a culture in which biological distinctions followed rules different from those of the modern world.”

        • You may not eat any insects with wings that walk on the ground. They are unclean for you. However, you may eat any bird or insect that is clean.

          • Note that Leviticus 11:20-23 clarifies that flying insects that walk on the ground are considered clean if they also have jointed legs to enable jumping. Examples given are: locusts, crickets, grasshoppers.

        • You may not eat anything that you find already dead because you are a holy people belonging to the Lord your God. However, you may give it to a foreigner living among you to eat, or you may sell it to a foreigner.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible explains, “Animals that had died a natural death were considered unclean (even if considered clean while living) because they had not been slaughtered according to ritual protocol and their blood had not been properly drained and disposed of (see Deuteronomy 12:23-25).”

          • HCSB makes this important addition, “The permission given to foreigners to eat meat prohibited to Israelites was not because of superior attitude on the part of the Israelites…Foreigners, not governed by such restrictions, were free to eat.”

        • You must not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “The actual meaning of this prohibition remains speculative. One of the more popular notions in the mid-twentieth century was that this command was directed at a particular religious practice of nearby polytheistic societies.”

        • Guzik makes two notable additions in his commentary:

          • It illustrated the third principle behind the dietary laws of Israel: They were a statement of separation from the nations and prevented Israel from having easy fellowship (sitting down at a common meal) with Gentiles.”

          • This law, because of strange rabbinical interpretations, became the reason why one cannot have a kosher cheeseburger. Observant Jews today will not eat milk and meat at the same meal (or even on the same plates with the same utensils cooked in the same pots), because the rabbis insist that the meat in the hamburger may have come from the calf of the cow that gave the milk for the cheese, and the cheese and the meat would ‘boil’ together in one’s stomach and be a violation of this command.”


        • Each year you must set aside one-tenth of all the produce grown in your fields (grain, new wine, and oil), including the first born of of your herds and flocks and bring them to the place where God has designated to have His name dwell to eat them there in His presence. This will teach you to fear the Lord your God.

          • Guzik notes, “When the tithe was delivered to the tabernacle (and later, to the temple), a portion of the tithe was enjoyed in a ceremonial meal “with” the LORD. The remainder was given to the priest.”

        • How did this teach the Istaelties to fear (revere) God? Guzik adds, “This was the purpose of tithing; to build an honor and reverence for God. The paraphrase in the Living Bible puts it plainly: The purpose of tithing is to teach you always to put God first in your lives (Deuteronomy 14:23b, Living Bible).”

        • However, if you live too far away from the place where God chooses to put His name to bring these things, you may sell the tithe portion o your produce and livestock and bring the money to the Lord’s chosen place. When you arrive, you may spend the money to buy anything you want to to eat or drink: cattle, sheep, wine, other fermented (alcoholic) drink, or anything else you want. Then, you are to feast and rejoice with your family there in the presence of the Lord your God. Don’t forget about the Levites in your town because they they don’t have an inheritance.

          • Regarding the option the Lord gave to individuals who would have a long distance to travel Guzik notes, “Laws like this show us that God is a common-sense God. He does not place unreasonable demands on His people. He made a way for them to more conveniently tithe.”

          • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The ancient practice of giving a tenth preceded the law of Moses (Genesis 14:20; 28:22) and existed in other ancient cultures.”

          • This is also an excellent passage to refute the demonstrably false, yet very common teaching that Scripture views consumption of alcoholic beverages even in moderation as a sin. Some claim that the Bible is “unclear” on whether or not alcohol consumption in moderation is sinful or that there is room for “interpretation.” This assertion generally stems from a well-meaning effort to protect individuals from the clear Biblical sin of drunkenness along with the horrible catastrophes that may follow. However, as you will see below, this claim is Scripturally unsupportable.

            • I would also caution individuals who legitimately feel convicted to abstain from alcoholic beverages (and therefore should personally abstain) to refrain from declaring an action to be sin that the Bible does not categorize as such. This is simply because such assertions are above anyone’s pay grade, so to speak. We do not declare what sin is- God does. This practice of declaring an non-sinful act sinful for protective purposes is the equivalent of “building a fence” around the law in order to prevent fellow Christians from being tempted to break it. Though many Christians today may not realize it, this is exactly what the Pharisees of Jesus’ time had done and which Jesus expressly condemns. This article from Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum is very enlightening with regard the development of Pharisaic Judaism: The Three Sabbath Controversies Between Jesus and the Pharisees.

        • At the end of every third year, bring the tenth of your produce for that year and store it in your town. This is for the Levites who don’t have an inheritance, the foreigners that live among you, the orphans, and the widows living in your towns so that they can eat and be satisfied also. Then, the Lord your God will bless you in all the work you do.

          • Because the Levites had no geographic inheritance of their own and were forbidden to engage in secular work, they depended on the support of other tribes.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

        • An annual tithe was required of all adult Israelites males as part of their festival observances (Deuteronomy 15:20; 16:16-17). The tithe every third year met the needs of the Levites and other dependent classes in Israelite society.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

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