sell it to a foreigner

Today's devotion from Deuteronomy 14.

Recently, I had the opportunity to engage in a pretty good conversation with someone struggling with faith. One of the points of discussion was actually Deuteronomy 14.  His interpretation of these dietary restrictions was this was that God was permitting the Israelites to poison their neighbors.

There are several problems with that conclusion, many in the context alone. For example, this command stems from the status of the Israelites as, “…the sons of the LORD your God.” Everything that follows has to do with their special designation and nothing to do with those undesignated peoples. The point is that these are things that other people might do, but due to their position as God’s chosen people, they were to refrain.

Thinking about this with common sense, don’t you think the people of this time and place would have known how to tell if meat was safe or not? It’s not like this is an issue of the Israelites being told to lace the meat with poison. It involves food found in such a natural way that even children would have been familiar with the process. While our modern sensibilities may cause us to turn our noses up at the thought of eating something that is found dead, it still happens in our world today.

Then, there is the issue of consistency in Scripture. All throughout the Pentateuch God has shown the Israelites how to be inclusive. Given that this directive specifically speaks to interactions with “the sojourner who is within your towns,” and carries the implication of foreigners choosing to live among the Israelites, the intent is not to poison others. That thought seems to fit more within the framework of the anti-Semitism that existed in the days of Chaucer or Shakespeare when men were afraid Jews would steal their souls.

Many of these ceremonial laws existed because the Israelites were to be different from the nations around them. The spiritual distance between them and their neighbors was evidenced in these ceremonial ways. It has nothing to do with God being mean or nasty to others, but everything to do with His special relationship with Israel.

Likewise, there are characteristics that He has commanded among New Testament believers in order to create visible distinction between His children and unbelievers. Unlike many other religions that teach violent or coercive conversion or cultural withdrawal, Christ has commanded His followers to be different through love.