In view of the detestation in which death was legally held by the entire institution of the law of Moses, it is not wonderful that the Israelites should have been forbidden to eat “that which died of itself, or that which was torn with beasts” (Lev. 17:15), or that the same imputation of uncleanness should arise in such a case, and the same necessity exist for purification. To eat that which had died of itself was contact with death in a more intimate form than by touching a dead body or entering a death-defiled tent.
It might be supposed that eating flesh-meat in any case would be the contraction of this defilement seeing that creatures must be dead before they can be eaten. It would have been so if the law of Moses had been merely a hygienic system like vegetarianism. or any other attempt to found human feeding on the natural effects of certain foods on the human system. But the law of Moses was not a hygienic system, though all its principles were in harmony with the best hygienic principles: it was a system of spiritual significances adapted to serve the double purpose of physical well being and spiritual education. Therefore, while forbidding the eating of the flesh of animals that had died a natural death or been slain by other animals, it could consistently allow the eating of flesh properly killed: because although the physical state of the flesh might be the same in both cases, the allegorical bearings were not the same.
Flesh dying of itself would be diseased, and flesh rent for the sustenance of beasts of prey would be flesh dying in animal wantonness or in accident—neither of which could prefigure the sinless Lamb of God laying down his life in obedience to the commandment of the Father. So far as physical considerations were concerned, the meat in question was fit enough to be eaten. Hence, the Israelites were at liberty to “give it unto the stranger that is in thy gates, that he may eat it: or sell it unto an alien” (Deut. 14:21). As for themselves, they were “an holy people unto the Lord thy God”, and therefore bound by all that was involved in the law given to them.
But we come now to another class of eating, or rather to other rules affecting the eating of the children of Israel. They were not only to abstain from “that which dieth of itself or is torn of beasts”, but they were to abstain from the flesh of particular creatures even if properly slain’ and this is not on the principle of “liking” them or not liking them, but on the principle of certain peculiarities characterizing the creatures’ “Every beast that parteth the hoof, and cleaveth the cleft into two claws, that shall ye eat … . These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters’ whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh … . All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be abomination to you… Every creeping thing that flieth is unclean unto you … . Whatsoever goeth on the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat, for they are an abomination” (Lev. 11 and Deut. 14).
In accordance with these principles of classification, lists were drawn out of creatures that might be eaten, and creatures that might not be eaten. Among the former were the ox, the sheep, the goat, the hart, the roebuck, the allow deer, the wild goat, the pygarg, the wild ox and the chamois. Among the latter,—the camel, the coney, the hare, the pig, and many kinds of birds that could not be brought into the classification.
That these distinctions were what might be called artificial is evident from Paul’s remarks on meats, in Rom. 14: “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean”, The words of Jesus were to the same effect. “Not that which goeth into a man, but that which cometh out of a man (evil thoughts, adulteries, etc.), that defileth the man.”
Yet for the time being, while the law was in force, the distinctions between clean meats and defiling meats were real, and constituted part of the “righteousness which is of the law”, touching which Paul was blameless. The question which the mind is concerned to probe is—what spiritual principle was allegorically involved in the distinction made between clean and unclean beasts? We are aided somewhat in this quest by the vision which was thrice shown to Peter to prepare him for a divinely-purposed message apparently inconsistent with the previous commandment of the law to stand apart from the Gentiles. By this vision, we see the unclean beasts stood for persons. The features of the vision are familiar to all who are familiar with the Scriptures. Still, they seem to need repeating in this connection.
“A certain vessel descended unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” Peter doubted at first what this vision should mean; but when afterwards, by the Spirit’s direction, he stood in the presence of a company of Gentiles in the house of Cornelius, to whom he was sent to open the door of faith, he understood. He said, “God hath shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
The beasts, then, stood for men, and the peculiarities constituting them clean and unclean respectively, were but typical of qualities in men that make them suitable or otherwise for divine use. That those peculiarities should be associated with and resultant on certain states of flesh rendering them fit or unfit for use as human food, is an added excellence to the type, but the type is the main thing for us to consider.
The physical qualities of the flesh rejected as food are very secondary. A good digestion can assimilate almost any edible substance to the requirements of nutrition. It was the divine law in the case that was the material element. Now that the objects of the law have been accomplished in Christ, the law has been taken away. It was nailed to his cross (Col. 2:14). It “stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed till the time of the reformation”, and “could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience” (Heb. 9:10). But the lessons taught by the law remain.
And let it also be said, the discernments of wisdom, as bearing on natural things, remain. It does not follow because distinctions between clean and unclean beasts have been done away as a ground of acceptance to God, that therefore a wise man will eat anything or drink anything without regard to their physical effects. It still remains a command to abhor that which is evil, and to cleave to that which is good and lovely and of excellent report. There are some things that are of excellent report with all men: such as bread, water, the fruits of the field, the rain of heaven, and a thousand things besides. But there are other things and other habits that are not of excellent report, because of bad effects on the best faculties of men—that weaken and lower and debase the best powers of men, and that are always found in association with evil. Such are opium, tobacco, spirits, and the alcoholic drinks in common use among the people. They are in high favour with the children of the devil everywhere. They are not to be found with those who follow after righteousness, temperance, chasteness, holiness, in preparation for eternal association with Him who is Holiness itself. While all extremes and crochets are to be avoided, there is a middle ground of wisdom and excellence that affords a natural meeting place for the sons of God.
There are extremes of liberty from the law of Moses that degenerate to hurtful license: and there are extremes of fastidiousness as to meats and drinks that are hurtful to the true aims of the Gospel. The good sense fostered by the apostolic epistles is not likely to be found at either end, but in the wholesome middle ground, where all things that may be lawful are not necessarily practised as expedient, because of dangers in various directions. While no man is to judge another with respect to “meat, or drink, or an holy day, or the new moon, or the sabbath days” (Col. 2:16), we are to judge ourselves very severely under the law of Christ, which enjoins that we “neither eat flesh nor drink wine” if a brother is thereby stumbled, made weak or drawn into danger (Rom. 14:21).
It is the spiritual import of the law that is important for us to discern. What then was the import of those peculiarities upon which the cleanness or uncleanness of the animals was founded? What sort of men are they who correspond to the type of cud-chewing and hoof-parting animals? We are in the presence of at least the shadow of an answer when we hear the modern phrase “chewing the cud of reflection”. The literal act of chewing the cud is part of the process of preparing the food for assimilation by the animal tissues. Digestion in the grand requisite. For gross organizations, no great thoroughness is necessary in the process: a short alimentary canal is sufficient for the carnivorous races. The lion and the tiger bolt their food and it is converted quickly. But in the higher races, where a finer result is aimed at, in producing food for man in the flesh of the ox and sheep, there is a greater elaborateness in the structure provided for the conversion of grass and turnips into beef and mutton. The chewing of the cud belongs to the greater elaborateness of structure: the thorough preparation of food for conversion into life is the essential idea of this act.
It is not difficult to go from the typical to the spiritual in this matter. There is spiritual food and there is spiritual life that results from the eating and assimilation of that food. “Thy words were found, and I did eat them”, said Jeremiah. “The entrance of thy word giveth light”, wrote the Psalmist. “He that eateth me shall live by me”, said Christ; “the words that I speak unto you are spirit and life”, Men, then, who are given to turning over in their minds the divine knowledge conveyed in the words of truth are men who spiritually chew the cud. They are spiritually ruminant animals. They are the clean among men. As Jesus said, “Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.”
There is nothing mystical about this. It is the obvious fact that a man with the word of God stored in his mind, is a clean man by comparison with the man in whom the mere mind of the flesh prevails. He is clean in thought, clean in action, clean in all his ways—in a word, holy. His holiness is not the result of natural organization, but of the presence in that organization of the truth which sanctifies. The truth is the sanctifying power, and this not merely as a thing once learnt, but a thing constantly read and thought about.
The sheep nibbles the grass all the day long. Men of God are in harmony with the command which says “Be thou in the fear of God all the day long”, The sheep is constantly growing as a sheep. If it ceased its activities as a living animal, it would die. In the antitype, the process of spiritual life is constantly going on. There is no arrest or suspension. The word of God is read and pondered every day: God is thanked every day, “in sincerity and truth”, both at meal tables, and at bedside night and morning. God is before the mind every day, as a factor in all life’s calculations. The truth is much more than a knowledge of the fact that man is mortal and that Christ is the Saviour and that the Kingdom is coming. It is a knowledge of God as the possessor of heaven and earth and the weigher of actions. This knowledge cannot be retained except by the constant reading and reflection typified by the chewing of the cud by the clean animals—reckoned clean because they did so.
Israel were to eat such animals. Men figuratively eat one another in taking in what they say and do. They assimilate to each other by the act: men become like one another by intercourse. Here is where it becomes wisdom to choose your company, and not consort with fools because they are agreeable. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise.” The men who chew the cud, not only benefit one another, but are pleasing to God. “He taketh not pleasure in fools.” “The Lord taketh pleasure in his people.” “The Lord hath chosen the man that is godly for himself.” This is the testimony of the word, and it is in harmony with reason. Creation is for God’s pleasure, little as we may realize the idea of the Creator having pleasure. “For thy pleasure they (all things) are and were created.” But there are things in which He takes no particular pleasure. “The Lord taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man, or in the strength of a horse.” Mere mechanical energy or artistic beauty is but an element in the scheme of things. Enlightened intelligence in harmony with Himself is the apex of the scheme. This is the centre of the circle. Apart from this, other things and qualities are but as the disjointed parts of a machine. This intelligence is the result of observation and reflection of which God has made the human brain capable. Knowledge and understanding directed to Himself are the conditions in the human mind that afford Him pleasure. The majority of men have no pleasure in this knowledge. “They say unto God, Depart from us: we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.” They prefer sensation on the basis of the instincts which they forget are God’s invention with a right place when He is head. “They hate knowledge, and do not choose the fear of the Lord.” They are not given to reflection: they are given to sociality, conviviality, emulation, excitement. They do not chew the cud: they belong to the unclean animals. It is a great revelation that God approves of those only who know Him and delight in His memory and His service and His praise. It is a revelation that comes to us in many ways, and in none more forcibly than in the command to Israel that only those animals that chewed the cud were to be eaten, and that all others were to be unclean and defiling.
But this was not the only qualifying characteristic. The animal must not only chew the cud, but must divide the hoof: “The camel, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof, he is unclean unto you.- And the coney, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof, he is unclean unto you. And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof, he is unclean unto you” (Lev. 11:4–6). The hoof is a horny enclosure of the foot in hermetically sealed case, which, while contributory to the comfort of the animal, disqualifies it for walking on any but level ground. It cannot clamber among rocks or difficult places. It is liable to stumble on uneven ground: whereas, when the hoof is divided, and each half is parted into claws (Deut. 14:6), the creature can easily walk on hill sides and even among rocky places —as in the case of the goat or sheep. Surefootedness is the result of dividing the hoof and parting the clefts.
It does not seem difficult to see why this should be selected as a typical characteristic of acceptable men. “He that walketh wisely walketh surely.” “Walk in wisdom towards them that are without.” “Walk as becometh the gospel.” This “walking” is the practical direction of our affairs. A man who failed in this would be a very unsatisfactory kind of man, however much he might be given to ruminating on the word of God. A man all theory and no action—first class at describing what ought to be done, but with no gift at practising what he preached—would be the poor sort of creature signified by that which only chewed the cud but did not divide the hoof.
The other state of the case would be equally abortive—that is, where there might be excellent capacity for execution, but no understanding of what the will of God required. This case is also provided against in the type: “The swine, because it divideth the hoof, yet cheweth not the cud, is unclean unto you: ye shall not eat of their flesh, nor touch their dead carcase” (Deut. 14:8).
It is a little singular that this should be the particular animal that jars on Jewish susceptibility and appeals to Gentile gastronomy. The law of God made many creatures unclean besides the pig, and condemned many things besides the eating of swine’s flesh. Yet we hear little of these others, and see no concern for the will of God in a hundred other matters of which He has spoken, which is proof that it is not regard for the will of God, but zeal for a human crotchet, that is at the bottom of this pork and anti-pork controversy. Concern for the will of God would show itself in everything that God has expressed His mind about.
Still, it is dramatically interesting that a creature that symbolizes indifference to the will of God in combination with executive efficiency in matters in general should be the creature that, above all others, God’s nation is known for detesting, and that the Gentiles should be distinguished for championing—not that either of them wittingly play their part with reference to the significance involved. The Jew opposes the use of pork more than other things forbidden because the Gentile contends more for that than for other forbidden animals. But the fact remains that the one creature of all the unclean creatures that is the bone of contention between Jew and Gentile, is the one that represents the moral combination that is the most odious to God: neglect and indifference to His will in association with cleverness and efficiency in human directions. It is rather interesting and pretty that it should be so, though the nature of the situation is not discerned among the parties to the strife.
The hygienic (that is, the merely human) bearing of the controversy is the least important. It is an affair of digestive capacity merely. For those who can turn pork into flesh and blood without too great a stress on the gastric powers, pork is as good as any other form of food. But in the artificial life of modern times, few have the robustness of stomach needful to cope with its fibrous density, and to chemically quench its febrile tendencies. Therefore for most people, it is best left alone. But this is a question of individual judgment and experience, and not of divine law.
Divine law would leave no liberty whatever. A thing forbidden would be a thing unlawful to touch, even if “good for food, and pleasant to the eyes, and much to be desired to make one wise” But pork is not forbidden. It was forbidden to the Jews, but the law that forbade it has been done away (2 Cor. 3:7–11, 14; Col. 2:14–17; Gal. 4:21–31; 5:1–4, Heb. 9:9–12). The rule now in vogue among the friends of Christ is the one formulated by Paul: “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4). He says this in contrast to those who should arise among the brethren “commanding to abstain from meats”,
But things signified by the distinction established by the law between things clean and unclean, remain unchangeable parts of eternal truth—that those men only are acceptable to God who are given to feeding and reflecting on His truth, and to directing their ways in harmony with His commandments.
The classification of fowls and fishes as clean and unclean was necessarily based upon different features from those selected in the case of animals: but the lesson involved, though more dimly discernible, appears to be the same.
The birds forbidden are all those that are birds of prey and feed on carrion, such as the eagle, the vulture, the raven, the owl, the swan, etc., which would naturally stand as the types of men of low tastes and predaceous instincts.
The fishes forbidden are also those from which human appetite would naturally shrink; all those approaching the reptilian type in lacking fins and scales, and having therefore a heavy, greasy texture of flesh. Scales and fins appear to sustain the same analogy to chewing the cud and dividing the hoof: the scales rendering the creature more accessible to the watery element of life around it than when clad in an impervious skin; and the fins giving greater power of guidance in “the paths of the seas” than where motion has to be obtained by contortion of the body.
Among insects, all mere creepers, or having more feet than four, were forbidden as food. “Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them shall ye not eat; for they are an abomination. Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby. For I am the Lord your God; ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy, for I am holy … . I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth: to make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten” (Lev. 11:42–47).
All that is odious and unwholesome among the creatures is forbidden; all that is beautiful, innocent, and good for food, is allowed. We have only to apply this in the amplest way to see with new force the spiritual comeliness that is required at the hands of those whom God will take into His eternal fellowship.