vs. 1-2 “ 1You are the sons of Yahweh your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead. 2For you are a people holy [set apart] to Yahweh your God, and Yahweh has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
So much can be said on the first sentence of verse 1 here. The Israelites are considered set apart (Hebrew: qadosh; dedicated for a specific purpose) as “sons of Yahweh”, in a familial relationship to him and thus are entitled to the inheritance of Yahweh and also are responsible for obedience to him. Statements like “sons of Yahweh” show how God viewed Israel in terms of a Father/Son relationship. We see this terminology elsewhere in the Old Testament as well:
“Yahweh your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how Yahweh your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.” (Deuteronomy 1:30-31; ESV Modified)
“Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; For Yahweh speaks,”Sons I have reared and brought up, but they have revolted against Me.”” (Isaiah 1:2; NASB Modified)
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says Yahweh of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name.” (Malachi 1:6; ESV Modified)
Ultimately this paternal relationship of Yahweh to his adopted (Deuteronomy 7:6-7; Amos 9:7) people was revealed through his only begotten son Jesus, through whom came the grace of adoption to actually have the right to become sons and daughters: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12; NKJV).
This relationship is once again tied between the concept of Israel as a son (typifying Jesus) and Jesus as the Son of God in the Old Testament in Hosea 11:1: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (NKJV). This passage is quoted in Matthew 2:15 as applying to Jesus. The full revelation of the Sonship of Jesus and the Fatherhood of Yahweh was not given until the New Testament but glimpses of it were not absent in the Old Testament.
The sonship of Israel mentioned here is not the only relation used by God to describe Israel, but it is a major aspect and theme of their relationship to God. Another relation of Israel to God is the relational aspect as of a wife to her husband (Jeremiah 3; Ezekiel 16; Hosea 2:16). That relationship will be explored more fully in the comments at those passages. No one relationship metaphor fully captured the multifaceted relationship of Israel to God though, as also is the same for the Church, which is important to keep in mind so that the intent of the choice for the kind of relationship described in any particular passage is taken into account.
In this case Israel is the adopted son rescued by his father from Egypt, and is being told in their Father’s law how they should behave because of what he has done for them. This is the exact same basis and reason stated by God to preface the Ten Commandments: “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2; KJV Modified). The rescue/deliverance and love theme seem present regardless of whether the son or wife relations of Israel to Yahweh are used (Son: Deuteronomy 1:30-31; Hosea 11:1; Wife: Ezekiel 16) so perhaps it is best here to see the sonship metaphor as employed in relation to God as the lawgiver (as a Father sets the rules of the house for sons to follow) and not the lover (as with a wife) to Israel. The Father as a lawgiver image would be appropriate for its place here in Deuteronomy, the retelling of the law (Deuteronomy taking its name from deutero- ‘second‘, nomian- ‘law‘). Interestingly the change in relationship status for Israel mentioned in Hosea 2:16 may reflect the day when Israel will not see God in relation as their lawgiving master (Baali) but as their loving husband (Ishi), which fits with Paul’s message about the law being a tutor in Galatians until fullness of knowledge and relationship came.
vs.3-21 “3You shall not eat any abomination. 4 These are the animals 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 Every animal that parts the hoof and has the hoof cloven in two and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. 7 Yet of those that chew the cud or have the hoof cloven you shall not eat these: the camel, the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud but do not part the hoof, are unclean for you. 8 And the pig, because it parts the hoof but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch.
9 “Of all that are in the waters you may eat these: whatever has fins and scales you may eat. 10 And whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.
11 “You may eat all clean birds. 12 But these are the ones that you shall not eat: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, 13 the kite, the falcon of any kind; 14 every raven of any kind; 15 the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind; 16 the little owl and the short-eared owl, the barn owl 17 and the tawny owl, the carrion vulture and the cormorant, 18 the stork, the heron of any kind; the hoopoe and the bat. 19 And all winged insects are unclean for you; they shall not be eaten. 20 All clean winged things you may eat.
21 “You shall not eat anything that has died naturally. You may give it to the sojourner who is within your towns, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to Yahweh your God.
“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
God’s primary intention here is not just to prohibit the eating of certain animals simply because of what kind of animal they are, but ultimately to consider the distinguishing between animals as being a matter of what should be practically treated as clean and unclean. God very well could have reversed the animals that were on the clean and unclean lists and the Israelites still would have been bound to it. The greater importance lies on how one deals with clean and unclean things – whatever those things may be. The intention goes beyond the specific animals, for whatever reason they were chosen (we trust they are not purely arbitrary but acknowledge that God’s reasons are not immediately accessible to us or perhaps even important to know – else there would have been a necessary elaboration on God’s reasons for picking certain animals beyond physical or behavioral characteristics).
Some people go too far I think and try to allegorize the significance of individual animals. While Paul does allegorize Old Testament scripture on occasion (such as in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10 as discussed below) he looks more at the importance of a thing/person’s status, significance, or actions taken in relation to them and does not delve down deep to the individual details of the figure itself. Even in Paul’s allegory of Hagar and Sarah in Galatians 4 as representing the covenant of the law and the new covenant (respectively) he did not make much of the people themselves but their status as bond and free woman and the actions of casting out or staying based on that status. The “status” of the animals here, if for any additional allegorical or metaphorical purpose (beyond the obvious literal meaning), must be considered in relation to the categories of clean and unclean as a whole, not the individual details of each animal.
For example a cleaved hoof is a description of the class of animals God wants considered as unclean, but should not be taken as an intrinsic reason for designating them as such. The animals with a cleaved hoof are not unclean because they have a cleaved hoof, but because God designated those with a cleaved hoof to be among the unclean. The distinction is subtle but two New Testament revelations lead me to this conclusion discussed below.
The first is that God can at any time make an animal clean, as he revealed to Peter in the vision of the heavenly sheet in Acts 10. The vision had its application in instructing Peter to consider as clean the previously unclean Gentiles, for sure. However, in light of Paul’s discussion on whether Christians can eat certain foods in clean conscience or not, the actual details of Peter’s vision (animals being chosen as the visualization – and the vision itself was given to regard a previously unclean people as clean thus setting a precedent for further revelation on cleanness), and Jesus’ own comments that what goes into a man does not defile him, I believe that the indication is that God has declared all animals clean under the New Covenant. Only those bound under the law must still make those distinctions because of the covenant stipulations of the law to treat them as such. If “unclean animals” as a category is removed then all animals are automatically clean.
The second is how Paul applied another Old Testament passage concerning the treatment of an animal: “For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop” (1 Corinthians 9:9-10; ESV).
Paul saw beyond the literal command to its intended significance. So in like manner we should consider that many of these commands concerning animals which God was telling Israel to abstain from eating as unclean were issued as unique injunctions that would distinguish (set apart – related to the concept of “holy” and “consecrate”) them from the surrounding nations in obvious ways. The distinctions of clean and unclean appear before Moses but the abstaining from eating was unique to the Covenant of the Law with Israel.
We do find, however, that the concept goes back all the way to the days of Noah, concerning clean and unclean animals brought into the Ark. But this classification was not used as clean and unclean in relation to eating but rather in relation to sacrifice. Only the clean animals were to be sacrificed after the flood (thus why more were brought on-board than the unclean). We are met again there in the account with a lack of information about when or why such distinctions of clean and unclean were made though. Genesis 7 is the first mention of clean animals in the Bible, with no explanation or elaborations. Does this prove that the distinctions existed long before if not ever since creation?
My answer is manifold. I believe this indicates that God designated certain animals as clean and unclean from an early time but that the relations to them, as to eating, were covenantal in nature. Not until the Law of Moses do we see an injunction about eating to be based on this status. In Noah’s time the relations to them were sacrificial in nature, but sacrifice and bloodshed were not a reality as far as be know in the Garden of Eden. The very first bloodshed of an animal is implied when God clothed Adam and Eve with a “coat of skins” (Genesis 3:21) after they sinned, which we know of as “the Fall”. I would question whether the distinction of clean and unclean existed in the Garden of Eden. Could such a status have been created as a result of the Fall? Why would such a relation be necessary prior in the Garden? I think the distinction would have been created after the Fall.
That does raise the question though about in what relation the animals on the Ark were considered clean or unclean. Both sacrificing and eating involve a “who(m)” committing or receiving the action or its results. So in each case we must ask “Clean or unclean in relation to whom?”. For eating the distinction is in relation “to mankind”: if man eats an unclean animal he becomes defiled under the Law of Moses. What about sacrifice? It is possible it has two aspects, one being in relation to God and the other to mankind. The sacrifice is for God, thus if it is unclean God will not honor it. Mankind though is the offerer of the sacrifice and to sacrifice something unclean on the alter is to profane it (which is sin to them).
In any case I think all such distinctions for behavior in relation to animals have been erased under the New Covenant since we see no evidence for continued observation of commandments that take it into consideration, though the terminology of clean and unclean continues in the New Testament in relation to the believer (2 Corinthians 7:1), but not in relation to food or sacrifice (Jesus was our atoning sacrifice [Romans 3:25] and now we present ourselves as a free-will offering/sacrifice [Romans 12:1]) .
[To be continued]