Thursday, August 30, 2007

Deuteronomy 14:1–21

Deuteronomy 14:1–21: Food, and worship

Synopsis

This chapter rehashes some more rules that the Israelites have been given, mostly to do with dietary restrictions.

  • When mourning, the Israelites are forbidden to cut themselves, or shave the front of their heads, for the dead. They are to be holy to the LORD, because He has chosen them from out of all of the peoples on the face of the Earth, to be His treasured possession.
I’m assuming that this is in reference to practices of the nations currently living in the Promised Land. I’m guessing that it was part of their cultures—and/or their religions—that when someone died, they would cut themselves, and/or shave the front of their heads. If this assumption is correct, then the LORD is setting down a law which is specifically intended to set the Israelites apart from the other nations, and not fall into their practices.

  • The Israelites are not to eat any “detestable” thing. This is clarified further:
    • They are allowed to eat:
      • ox, sheep, goats, deer, gazelle, roe deer, wild goats, ibex (whatever that is), antelope, and mountain sheep
      • animals that have a split hoof divided in two, and that chew the cud
      • creatures that live in the water, and have fins and scales
      • verse 11 says that they may eat any “clean” bird, and verse 20 says that they may eat any clean “winged creature”—where “clean,” in this case, is defined by what it is not. see below for “unclean” birds/winged creatures.
    • They aren’t allowed to eat:
      • animals that don’t chew the cud, or that don’t have a split hoof; examples are given of animals are forbidden because they have split hooves but don’t chew the cud, or chew the cud and don’t have split hooves
      • creatures that live in the water but don’t have fins and scales
      • “unclean” birds, which are:

        …the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, the black kite, any kind of falcon, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the cormorant, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat. (verses 12–18)
      • any flying insects that swarm
      • any creature—clean or unclean—that is found already dead. They are allowed to give the animal to an alien, living in their midst, and they’re even allowed to sell it to a foreigner, but the Israelites are not allowed to eat it.
I don’t have much to say about this (other than whatever I wrote in the Thoughts section, below).

  • The Israelites are not to cook a young goat in its mother’s milk
This is a rule I’ve never fully understood, except that it just seems kind of cruel, to me, to cook a goat in its own mother’s milk. I don’t know if that’s the reason for this rule or not. But it is stated a number of times in the Old Testament, so it was obviously worth repeating. I’m wondering if there is something culturally significant about this rule, that I just don’t know about.

Thoughts

This isn’t really related to the chapter, but I’ve been trying to use proper tenses, in blogging through the Old Testament books; for example, when going through the laws, I usually used the past tense, and tried to say "the Israelites were not to do this, and they were not to do that.” However, when blogging about events, I was using the present tense, such as “Moses then approaches the burning bush, and says something.” I probably made lots of mistakes, but that’s what I was trying to do. (I felt that the summaries flowed better, if they were in the present tense, but the reason for putting the laws in the past tense is that I don’t want there to be confusion, since some of the laws were intended just for the Israelites, and no longer apply to the modern-day Christian.) But in the book of Deuteronomy, I’ve been trying to use the present tense, even when Moses is reminding them about laws, because it’s really a speech that Moses is giving to the Israelites. That may not make sense to you, but it makes sense in my head…

It might seem odd to have a rule about cutting yourself for the dead in a section which is mostly concerned with dietary restrictions, however, I believe the intent of all of these rules is the same: The Israelites are not to worship the LORD the way that the surrounding nations worship their gods—and they are definitely not to worship other gods. It’s not stated here, but there is a theory that some or all of these dietary laws were intended to separate the Israelites from the other nations, and their religious practices. e.g. if there is a rule about not eating certain animals, it’s quite possible that it’s because those particular animals would be associated with certain religious practices of the other nations.

Even if these rules were not specifically religious, it’s possible that they were cultural. God makes it clear in numerous places that He doesn’t want the Israelites mixing with the other nations, because He knows that if they do, they will be pulled into those nations’ idolatry as well. So even if these rules were not directly religious, they may have been indirectly concerned with worship.

Or, they may have had nothing to do with worship at all. In which case it really is odd that the rule about cutting yourself for the dead is included in this section.

As I said, there are a few theories as to why some of these laws are included in the Old Testament. If you come across someone claiming to have the reason, take it with a grain of salt—it’s a bit more contentious than the person is letting on.

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