“Cleanliness is next to godliness!” How often have you heard someone say that? It’s usually met with an eye roll, because whoever is repeating this tired phrase is probably smugly scolding something we’ve done that does not meet their standards, and we’re just like “Please leave me and my comfortable filth alone”.
But Leviticus 11 has got me thinking that maybe those people have a point! The words “clean” or “unclean” are mentioned what feels like six billion times in this chapter, by God Himself. But it’s a slightly different kind of “clean”. Instead of organization and stain removal, God is talking about animals – the kind the Israelites were to eat, and the kind they were not to eat. God explains that animals who both have divided hooves and chew the cud are safe to eat. Animals that only have one of those qualities, however, are not safe for food. The same goes for fish without fins and scales, a whole list of owls and birds, flying insects that walk on all fours, animals with paws, and animals that move along the ground. Not only should these animals not be eaten, but some of them shouldn’t even be touched, or they will make the person unclean. Dead animal carcasses were also to be shunned – anyone or anything they touched would be declared “unclean” and would need to be washed or tossed.
I wonder if the Israelites were surprised by how particular these rules were. Or maybe at this point in their journey with God, they were starting to get used to it.
The Treasures Within:
It’s Father’s Day tomorrow, and speaking of Fathers, God here reminds me a lot of my dad. When we were younger, my dad would often give my brother and I random advice and unsolicited instruction. “Are you flossing your teeth? Make sure that you always floss your teeth really well.” “You need to stop eating all this candy and gum.” “When’s the last time you had raw vegetables? You need to eat some vegetables.” As sudden and sometimes irritating as these comments were, deep down I thought it was sweet and really appreciated it. My dad didn’t want to get on my nerves, he wanted to help me. He wanted to make sure I was doing everything I could to make my life healthier and more pleasant, in the long and short term.
That’s how these verses here in Leviticus 11 strike me. Even though the laws may seem arbitrary to the finite and unaware minds of humans, God gave the Israelites each instruction for a reason. Think about the times the Israelites lived in. Think about the lack of running water. No emergency care centers. No Walmart fully-stocked with soap bars. No way to Google to see what is food and what isn’t food. Imagine how often people died back in those days because they caught a disease from touching something they found dead along the side of the road or eating a random animal they know nothing about! The Israelites were being protected by God’s instructions! God was their nutritionist and hygienist! He was tenderly looking out for them, just like a concerned and loving parent.
Clean Eating is Next to Godliness?
But there was another element to God’s laws. At the end of the chapter God says to Moses, “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy…I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.”
Be holy? Holiness? Holiness is praying. Holiness is studying the Bible. Holiness is having a close relationship with God. What does holiness have to do with what we eat for lunch? This concept is weird to us because we separate our lives out into chunks. We spend time cultivating ourselves physically, and then we move on to our emotional health. Finally, we make time to enhance our spiritual lives. But that’s never been God’s plan. There aren’t specific pockets of our lives into which God never enters. There are actually zero parts of us that God does not have expert knowledge of! To separate parts of our lives from Him is to deny that fact. Why would we not obey God’s laws about caring for our body? Why would we not search the Bible for guidance on maintaining emotional and mental health? Living every facet of our lives in the way God wants us means we trust Him. It means we believe in Him. It means we want to be just like Him. Holy. Complete. Healthy. Joyful. Who wouldn’t want that?
God’s Message To Us:
“I want the absolute best for you.” If only we knew the smile that lights God’s face when He looks at us. If only we knew the thoughts He thinks about us – every day, every minute. If only we could feel His heartbeat. If only we believed that He really does love us more than anything. If we did, maybe we would obey more cheerfully. If we did, maybe we wouldn’t convince ourselves that we or a well-educated human in a lab coat knew better than Him. If we did, maybe we would be happier. Maybe we would really live our best lives. Laws and commandments and rules are no one’s favorite, but these parts of the Bible reveal to us God’s love and wisdom. They show us what He wants for us. And news flash, when God wants something for us, that means it’s possible. We may not be able to feel God’s heartbeat or see His smile, but we can listen to and obey His words, His love letter. If we do, I think we’ll find that not only does He know what He’s talking about, but He knows it better than we ever could have imagined.
What do you think? What was your reaction to the laws here in Leviticus 11? What do you think God was thinking when He wrote this chapter of the Bible for you?