An early Valentine’s dinner last night led to chicken parmigiana on the table. When you’re eating chicken parm, you probably don’t give lots of thought to the reality that you’re eating a dead bird. What other birds have you eaten before? Turkey, maybe duck, pheasant. I’ve had dove. But we have a pretty short menu when it comes to the birds we’re willing to eat. Not to say there aren’t plenty of other possibilities. The nation of Israel had plenty of options, and they, too, had a shortened menu. God shortened it in His law. Leviticus 11:13–19 lists twenty flying creatures they could not eat. (Their classifications vary according to version. This list comes from the NET Bible.)
- Griffon vultures
- Bearded vultures
- Black vultures
- Eagle owls
- Short-eared owls
- Long-eared owls
- Little owls
- Screech owls
- White owls
- Scops owls
God restricted the people of Israel from eating these birds (and bats) because He wanted them to be holy. He was dwelling with them. His glory had visibly filled the tabernacle at the close of Exodus. He, being a holy God, required the people He was dwelling with also to be holy, pure, and set apart.
Fast forward, and God is now dealing with us differently. The Lord Jesus said,
Mark 7:15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile
him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.
The food laws found in the Old Testament do not apply to us. God does not require that from us. But His demand for holiness has not changed.
Jesus goes on to explain,
Mark 7:18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him,
Mar 7:19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
The Lord Jesus said we can eat what we want. Bearded vultures, buzzards, bats—have at it. It’s not what goes in your body that makes you unclean. It’s what comes out. And he gives us a list. Not a list of flying creatures, but a list of sins (Mark 7:20–23):
- Evil thoughts
- Sexual immorality
It’s not what goes in you that’s the problem. It’s what comes out of your heart. God cares about our holiness. And we’re unholy when the stuff on this list comes out of our hearts. God hasn’t changed. He still wants His people to be holy, pure, and set apart (2 Cor 6:16–17).
I don’t know how hard it was for the people to abstain from eating those birds and bats God told them not to eat. Were there owl aficionados among them? Were there connoisseurs or cormorants and crows? Who knows. There could have been people who loved eating those kinds of birds. But abstaining from this list of sins Jesus gave is hard. It’s easy to love sin. And love is what it comes down to. It’s about what we love. Follow this progression. Love God above yourself and your sin. Why?
1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
God showed His love for us by sending His Son to deal with our sin. Therefore, we must love Him because He loves us. He didn’t have to. And just as a wicked heart reveals itself with sinful words and actions, a pure heart filled with love for the Lord will reveal itself in obedience. Jesus said,
John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Loving unclean stuff is unholiness. Love for the Lord acted out in obedience is holiness. Love Him and live holy, and you can eat any bird or bat that comes across your plate.
Featured Image: Walter Crane, Sing a Song of Sixpence Picture Book (New York: John Lane, 1909).