You don’t eat pork? Are you Jewish?
These are the questions I hear most often when it is revealed that we don’t eat pork. My typical answer is that no, we are not Jewish. We really don’t fit into a category, and as we study, we have decided that there is a reason why YHVH told us what we can and cannot eat. Most people follow that up with the idea that it is probably for our health.
Unfortunately, whenever this topic comes up, it is not at a time that allows for discussion on the matter, so the answer is often left at that. If it comes up again, I am able to expound, but more often than not, that is as far as the conversation goes. So, why do we keep the “dietary laws?” Let’s start with what meat scripture tells us is food.
In Exodus 11, we are given a list of animals that we may and may not eat. These animals are in the clean and unclean category. This tells us what animals may be categorized as food. They include the land animals that both chew cud and have a cloven hoof, the water animals that have both fins and scales, insects that are winged and hop, and then we are given a list of birds that may not be eaten.
“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat…“These you may eat, of all that are in the waters. Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat…“These you may eat, of all that are in the waters. Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat…Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. Deuteronomy 11:2-3, 9, 21
The scriptures above focus on the animals that can be food. It is safe to say that any animal that does not fit this criteria is not food. Is this list of animals something arbitrary? Is it only for Israel? Why do we need to have food defined for us?
- Blessings vs. Curses
The conclusion that most people come to on their own as to why we obey YHVH in respect to His definition of food is that it is for health reasons. It does make sense that YHVH would tell us to eat only healthy foods in order to provide the best care for us. After all, He did give us a choice when it came to obeying His law…
“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of YHVH your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of YHVH your God, but turn aside from the way that I commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known. Deuteronomy 11:26-28
I used to read this passage and think that if we obeyed YHVH, He would miraculously bless us, and allow bad things to happen to us if we disobeyed. While this could be the case, it is also true that the instructions, the commandments, that YHVH gave us are pretty common sense. It is also common sense that if we obey these, there are natural benefits that follow, and if we don’t, there are natural consequences. This is definitely the case with the food instructions YHVH gave.
In Leviticus 11, we are first given the outline of what categorizes a land animal as clean, then we are given a list of examples of unclean land animals. These are the pig, camel, hare, and badger.
What are the health risks of eating these animals? Since the animal that is most eaten in the U.S. and most other countries is the pig, let’s take a look at it.
Pigs eat anything and everything – including dead and diseased animals.
Pigs are known to be carriers of a variety of parasites in mass quantities.
Pigs do not sweat.
Pigs, much like all of the animals that are deamed unclean, are the earth’s natural garbage clean up system. They eat whatever they find – veggies, fruits, waste, rotting animals, even each other. It is no wonder that they are filled with parasites. Add to the fact that they do not sweat, denying them the ability to detoxify, and you have yourself a bit of a septic mess.
Next we are told what water animals are clean. Although we are not given examples of unclean water animals, it’s easy to figure out which animals would not be on that list – clams, oysters, shrimp, crab, catfish, just to name a few.
What do these animals have in common? Just like the example of the pig, all of these animals act as the garbage clean up system. They clean the waste from rivers, lakes, and oceans – sea creatures that have died from disease and man-made waste probably top the list as the most toxic things that they eat.
Instead of being given a list of birds that we can eat, we are given a list of birds that we may not eat. These include the eagle, vulture, kite, falcon, raven, ostrich, hawk, sea gull, owl, stork, heron, hoopie, and bat. All of these birds are scavengers. They eat dead animals that have died for various reasons including disease.
Finally, we are told that there are insect that we may eat. These are only the winged insects that walk on all fours with two extra legs that have joints for jumping. Think grasshoppers, crickets, and locusts. What do other insects eat? Think about it. Where do you find flies, beetles, maggots, etc.? Gross!
All of these unclean animals are to be detestable to us.
Going back to the idea of common sense commandments with natural blessings and curses, can you see what the choices we are given? We can either choose to be healthy or sick.
Although we are given the choice, I believe that YHVH wants us to be healthy. The very first commandment ever given – the commandment that the first man did not keep, but the second man did – is the command to be the image of YHVH.
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
This commandment is still our responsibility, and like all of the commandments, the one concerning what is and is not food shows us how to bear His image. He doesn’t allow unclean animals to be offered in His temple, and we shouldn’t allow them into our “temples” for the same reason.
Although the blessing of being healthy is a wonderful reason to detest unclean animals, it isn’t the only reason why we choose to live by these guidelines.
- Be Holy
For I am YHVH your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am YHVH who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Exodus 11:44-45
In the same breath that we are told that we are not to defile ourselves by eating unclean, we are also told to be holy. How does the things that the we eat have anything to do with being holy? Everything – if you understand the definition of holy. When something is holy, it is set apart. For example, the Sabbath is a holy day because it is set apart from all of the other days. While you would work on all other days, on the Sabbath, you would rest. We are to be holy by setting ourselves apart from other nations – those who worship other gods – through our actions. One of the ways that we do that is by obeying YHVH’s instructions – including the dietary guidelines.
How many times does scripture tell us that even though we are in the world, we are not of it? How many times are we told to be separated? This is how we become a light that the world can see. A light that others can’t help but see.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14
Until I started keeping the commandments as YHVH said, I only thought I was separating myself from the world, but it was never really evident to me until my family began following the dietary guidelines that YHVH gave us. We certainly do not make a big deal out of the fact that we don’t eat pork or shellfish or bottom feeders, etc. In fact, we make sure that people do not feel like they have to go out of their way to accommodate us, (What kind of image bearers would we be if we did?) but, of all the things people notice that is different about what we do, the one thing that they tend to comment about is our diet. By simply keeping to the food that YHVH has provided for us, we have taken a large step towards being holy – set apart. This is one way that we are different from the world.
While we are doing our best to be set apart from the world, we have found that the more important goal is to be set apart to/for YHVH. The daily thought that goes into avoiding the things that this world calls food, but YHVH doesn’t, serves as a reminder to us that we should live a life set apart towards and for our God. And by keeping our minds on Him, it helps us to continue walking in love for those who are still in the world.