You shall not eat any abominable thing.…
The prohibition of some kinds of food proceeds upon the principle that it is not wise to gratify every appetite. There must be denial somewhere. If every desire and lust of the body be indulged, injury will ensue to the nobler capacities of the soul. Pruning of the wild growths of carnal desire is essential to real fruitfulness. Divine restraints are acts of genuine kindness. Discrimination in animal food was based on true wisdom.
I. BECAUSE IT WAS A SANITARY BENEFIT. In that early age, the sciences of physiology and health were unknown, and even now they are in their earliest infancy. We are, however, now aware of the fact that some (at least) of the flesh prohibited to the Hebrews is more or less unwholesome. Nor is it improbable that in that Eastern climate some flesh is more unwholesome for food than in our own land. As a father cares for the health of his child, so God cared for every part of Israel's well-being. Nothing escapes God's attention. "The Lord is for the body." With infinite tenderness, God legislated for the meals of the Hebrews, and gave them the advantage of his unerring judgment.
II. BECAUSE PARTIAL ABSTINENCE WAS SALUTARY FOR THE SOUL.
1. It taught them that fleshly appetite was not to be gratified for its own sake - not for mere pleasure. To strengthen and broaden the desires of the mind is an advantage in itself; but, excessive strength of bodily appetite is an evil, an injury to the real man. The lesson requires to be early learnt, that our nature requires government, that our highest good can be reached only by self-restraint and self-mortification. Bodily desires and inclinations are designed to be servants, not masters.
2. It exercised them in practical self-denial. The noblest qualities of human character are acquired only by personal discipline. Some parts of our nature have to be repressed; some have to be stimulated. The fleshly propensities have always been unfriendly to the spirit's life. It is a lesson hard to be learnt, to forego lesser enjoyments for remote advantages. The favor and society of God amply recompense for all minor pains.
3. The general rule of action was typical of higher truths. All such animals might be eaten as "parted the hoof, and chewed the cud." There was, doubtless, a reason for this permission arising out of the constituent nature of the flesh. But spiritual lessons also were suggested, viz. that to be acceptable for God's service there must be with us mental digestion of his truth, and there must also be practical circumspection - in our dally walk a separation from worldly contamination.
III. BECAUSE THIS DISCRIMINATION IN MEATS WOULD CONSTITUTE A VISIBLE PARTITION FROM THE HEATHEN. To bring to a successful issue the Divine purposes in the Hebrew race, it was incumbent to maintain broad distinctions between them and the heathen round about. They lived a coarser and more animal life. Animal passions were fostered by the glutting of the appetites. Some of the animals denied as food to the Jews were used by the heathen for divination; therefore it was safest to label such animals and birds as an abomination. A wise captain will give to a sunken reef a wide berth. Further, these differences in social customs and domestic habits would serve as perpetual barriers against intermarriages with neighboring tribes. This might appear unsocial and exclusive. But lesser good has to be sacrificed for loftier and eternal blessing. To every quibble of human reason it is surely enough to reply, "God knows best." This proscription of some kinds of food applied to the Jews only. They might supply to strangers among them food which they were forbidden to eat themselves. Thus a practical lesson was taught them that they were to be pre-eminently holy. The moral attainments of others were not to be the standards by which they should measure conduct. More plainly than speech did such prohibition say, "Be not conformed to the world." What it is allowable for others to do, may be sin for me to practice.
IV. BECAUSE THIS ARRANGEMENT SERVED FOR THE DALLY DISCIPLINE OF FAITH. Of the first importance was it that the faith of the Hebrews should be maintained, and that their faith should be practically displayed. Very clearly God had assured them that this was his will concerning them; and, whether any reason appeared for the demand or not, as his acknowledged servants they were bound to obey. Such a requirement had some correspondence with the test imposed on our first parents. The act forbidden might be in itself indifferent - having no moral character. Apart from the command, they might have eaten, or abstained from eating, without any violation of conscience. This would make the matter a better test of obedience. In abstaining from such and such meat, they did no one wrong; they violated no law of nature, no law of God: they did themselves no injury. They still had enough to meet all the necessities of hunger. Here, then, was [a true test whether men would simply obey God's word, even though obedience should mean privation. This was the discipline of faith. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou shalt not eat any abominable thing.