Book of Deuteronomy Chapter Fourteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Holiness, Eating And Giving
Verses 1-2: "You are the sons of the Lord your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave your forehead for the sake of the dead. 2 For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth." God CREATED the nation called "Israel," tenderly, lovingly, for His unique purpose on earth. Billions of people exist around the world and in history but few are chosen for lives of special significance. Mary, the mother of Jesus was such a person. So was Abraham, and then his son, Isaac, and grandson, Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. Abraham was a man of faith in the Lord (Genesis 15:6). In Hebrews 11:8-10, we observe his faith in action, and that faith also emerged in his wife, Sarah, who, out of her faith, bore Isaac when she was far too old for such things (Hebrews 11:11). From this small group of people a nation designed for faith in the Lord was created, a signpost to the world that such faith is what God wants. This people was to DIFFER from the groups they were displacing. Cutting and shaving oneself as outward signs of grieving for the dead as though they were gone forever, sent the wrong message. Moses' brother Aaron had now been literally out of this world for some time, and Moses would leave this planet shortly, but there is more. God gave you a body in the womb and at some point that body will leave as something more is given to you. Paul the Apostle later said, "we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling" (2 Corinthians 5:2). Moses, Aaron, Paul and all the rest of God's faithful, are alive and in the Presence of the Lord.
Verses 3-6: "You shall not eat any detestable thing. 4 These are the animals which 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 Any animal that divides the hoof and has the hoof split in two and chews the cud, among the animals, that you may eat." Food—how important it is—we don't live long without it! Some overeat, hoping to find the comfort of food in a painful world. Others eat too little, trying to control at least SOMETHING within this chaotic life. Specific foods were earmarked by the Lord for Israel, a people who were to puzzle their neighbors by the differences that God had prescribed for them. These dietary laws are not for all, though they may be right for some. Paul, a devout Jew who lived much later in time, was surprised by the freedom offered in Christ. In Romans 14, concluding in Verses 20-23, he wrote about these laws—"Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but... it is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak... whatever is not from faith is sin." Life is not merely about ourselves. Our concern for others is good but often misguided, for how can we effectively help unless we listen to the Lord who knows the person and the need better than we do? Yes, do good but also pray, and when you pray—listen—for the Lord is leading us in what we shall eat and what we are to do for others. Holiness is letting the Lord into our hearts, thoughts and lives.
Verses 7-10: "Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these among those which chew the cud, or among those that divide the hoof in two: the camel and the rabbit and the shaphan, for though they chew the cud, they do not divide the hoof; they are unclean for you. 8 The pig, because it divides the hoof but does not chew the cud, it is unclean for you. You shall not eat any of their flesh nor touch their carcasses. 9 These you may eat of all that are in water: anything that has fins and scales you may eat, 10 but anything that does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you." Moses' instructions to the people continue in these verses, and no doubt there were some among the listeners to his words who loved forbidden bacon. God's road for His people is not easy, but it is infinitely better than any other road we might choose. It's a way full of surprises and we do not know where it will lead us—but He does, and when things go wrong, it is often because we have deviated from His will. Certain animals and sea creatures were excluded from Israel's diet. Many wondered, "Why?" and some likely ate them anyway—to their sorrow. This is all about having faith in the Lord even when you don't understand. God has a unique calling for your life, and like learning to dance or sing, you will make a lot of mistakes before you finally get it right. Whatever it is, if it is "unclean for you," don't do it, no matter how much you might want to.
Verses 11-19: "You may eat any clean bird. 12 But these are the ones which you shall not eat: the eagle and the vulture and the buzzard, 13 and the red kite, the falcon, and the kite in their kinds, 14 and every raven in its kind, 15 and the ostrich, the owl, the sea gull, and the hawk in their kinds, 16 the little owl, the great owl, the white owl, 17 the pelican, the carrion vulture, the cormorant, 18 the stork, and the heron in their kinds, and the hoopoe and the bat. 19 And all the teeming life with wings are unclean to you; they shall not be eaten. 20 You may eat any clean bird." If I was among the people at that moment, I would have breathed a sigh of relief that chickens and turkeys were not stricken from the list of "clean bird(s)," but that relief may not be yours if the Lord has specifically led you to be a vegetarian. Paul discussed that problem in Romans 14:1-4—"let not him who eats (meat) despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servamt? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." Your doctor may have specific instructions about what is good as food for you and what isn't—it is God who has enabled him or her to become a doctor and you should listen. The advice to eat or not eat may be from the throne of God. So pray and listen to the Lord—in everything.
Verse 21: "You shall not eat anything which dies of itself. You may give it to the alien who is in your town, so that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you are a holy people to the Lord your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk." Here in this verse is a beautiful spiritual application—if it dies, if it's dead, let others do what they want to do, but for you—don't eat it. 1 Peter 2:2 teaches—"as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby," and the "word" that is food for us is found in what we call the "Bible." The English Standard Version, however, omits "the word" in that verse. Conversely, the ESV does include exactly that connection in Hebrews 5:13—"everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness," the Bible, the Word of God. Scripture is food to a hungry soul, helping us grow and mature. If something is taught other than the Word of God or if it is taught as some dead thing, you don't have to receive what is said. To do so would be like the terrible act of boiling a newborn in the milk of its mother. The Word of God is alive. Listen and respond as the living Holy Spirit leads you.
Verses 22-26: "You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. 23 You shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the Lord your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the Lord your God blesses you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 26 You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household." Whatever you may personally think about what is called "tithing" is less important than how God views it. A classic in the New Testament is the poor widow of Mark 12:41-44. Jesus sat near the treasury in Herod's Temple and watched as many came and donated money. He had the attention of all future-history and could have either endorsed tithing or condemned it. He did neither, for He instead knew that most were giving out of religious necessity, whereas the widow gave everything from a faithful heart. Israel was to tithe, and we are to faithfully give as the Lord leads us. Scripture teaches this: "let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Verses 27-29: "Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you. 28 At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. 29 The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do." Levites were descendants of Levi, one of Jacob's sons, and like the other sons, Levi was now dead but his legacy lived on through the tribe in Israel called by his name. Unlike other tribes, Levites were to be scattered throughout the lands of Israel, called to the purpose of serving the nation as priests and priestly assistants. Like clergy today, many were limited financially, for the call of God to service in ministry includes an implied vow of poverty. Some do become wealthy in ministry, but most don't, and for those called to serve, it's intended that others will support them financially. Like the poor widow, like "the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town," we are to pray and then give cheerfully as the Lord leads.
Lord, thank You for leading us. We pray for lives of holiness, in which we will hear Your Word and do Your will. Help us to be among those who cheerfully give, appropriately sharing the goodness, the mercy of God with those in need. Thank You, Lord. In Jesus Name. Amen.