You shall not eat any abominable thing.…
The regulation of the diet of the children of Israel was most important in view of their remaining a "peculiar people" unto God. In no way half so effectual could they, as a nation, be kept distinct from other nations, with whom it was undesirable on religious grounds that they should associate. By interdicting some of the animals used by surrounding and heathen nations, the Lord, as far as possible, prevented Israel's association with them. To this they had been accustomed in Egypt; for some of the animals they, as Israelites, would eat were regarded as sacred by the Egyptians, and on no account would be slain or eaten by them. Hence the slaves had never commingled with their taskmasters. The two rivers would not coalesce. The Canaanites and Phoenicians, again, ate freely of flesh that the Hebrew dare not touch; and even the Arab would eat such animals as the camel, the hare, and the jerboa, all of which - the latter translated "mouse - were for-hidden to the children of Israel.
I. THE REGULATION OF MEATS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT WAY OF SEPARATING ONE NATION FROM ALL OTHER NATIONS. For if association at table is an impossibility, all other association will be very superficial and comparatively harmless. Nothing more effectual," says Dr. Kitto, "could be devised to keep one people distinct from another. It causes the difference between them to be ever present to the mind, touching, as it does, upon so many points of social and everyday contact; and it is therefore far more efficient in its results, as a rule of distinction, than any difference in doctrine, worship, or morals which men could entertain It is a mutual repulsion continually operating; and its effect may be estimated from the fact that no nation in which a distinction of meats was rigidly enforced as a part of a religious system, has ever changed its religion." And we are surely taught the wisdom of expedients to keep up the desirable separation between the Church and the world. If every religious custom were abandoned, and the conduct of religious people were conformed in all particulars to that of their worldly neighbors, religion would soon become a name, and nothing more. "Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2).
II. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE ANIMALS SYMBOLIZED THE DISTINCTION WHICH SHOULD EXIST BETWEEN GOD'S PEOPLE AND THE WORLD. An excellent writer has suggested that in individual development we pass through the stages attributed to the organic world as a whole; children, for example, passing, through the "parrot" or the "monkey" stage. "Animated nature" seems designed to mirror human nature," whether in its evil or in its good propensities: Man finds himself in the image of the lower animals as well as, on his higher side, in the image of God. In conformity with this arrangement, then, the Jew was trained to regard certain animals as clean and edible, while others were unclean and forbidden. Towards the one class he was drawn, from the other he was repelled. Now, in the clean animals may be discovered certain good qualities, which make them fit illustrations of the moralities expected from an Israelite. For example, the characteristic of rumination, which belonged to the clean animals, was a fit type of that thoughtfulness and quiet meditation which should characterize the people of God. Again, sure-footedness characterizes the animals with the cloven hoof, which symbolizes the steadfastness of religious character. Speed and cleanliness also characterize the fishes that were accounted clean. On the other hand, the unclean beasts, birds, and fish illustrate most powerfully the lustful, selfish, and impure spirit which characterizes unregenerate man. Not only, therefore, did the distinction among the animals secure the desired national separation, but also that poetic outlook upon nature which discovers in it a great parable for the soul. Thus Emerson says, "Every rational creature has all nature for his dowry and estate. It is his, if he will He may divest himself of it; he may creep into a corner and abdicate his kingdom, as most men do, but he is entitled to the world by his constitution. In proportion to the energy of his thought and will, he takes up the world unto himself." What a richness of thought is thus afforded to the thoughtful soul!
III. THAT WHICH DIED OF ITSELF WAS ALSO EXCLUDED FROM THE DIET OF ISRAEL. In such a case there was no guarantee that the blood had been properly drained from the carcass, and that the atoning element had been solemnly eliminated from it. In fact, in such cases there is not the sacrifice of life which we have seen to obtain in the normal sustenance of the world. God's people consequently must avoid all contact with death, and keep themselves pure unto him. And this arrangement surely symbolized that watchfulness over our contact with the world, which should characterize all professors of religion. We must "keep our garments unspotted from the world," we must even in certain critical times "let the dead bury their dead," and deny ourselves that intercourse with the spiritually dead which otherwise might be most proper.
IV. A KID WAS NOT TO BE SEETHED IN HIS MOTHER'S MILK. A quotation from an old writer will best improve this commandment. "This is not the meaning of the command, Content yourselves to eat the kid, but take heed that ye eat not the dam also; neither is this the meaning of it, Ye shall not cat flesh with milk, as the Chaldee paraphrast paraphraseth it; neither is this the meaning of it, Take heed that ye seethe not the kid in the mother's milk, as the superstitious Jews expound it at this day; they will not seethe flesh and milk in one pot, neither will they cut both flesh and cheese with one knife; and amongst the precepts which they have written of things lawful to be eaten, they forbid the eating of flesh and milk together; but the meaning of the place seemeth to be this, Ye shall not eat of a kid as of a lamb (for so the LXX. translate it) so long as it sucketh the dam, for all this time it is as it were but milk; they might sacrifice it when it was but eight days old, but not to eat of it so long as it was sucking (1 Samuel 7:9). 'Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered.'" This would consequently form a ceremonial appendix to the sixth commandment, and would teach that abstinence from the semblance of cruelty which should characterize the people of the Lord. In accepting of God's bounty in the matter of flesh, care should be taken that no unnatural cruelty should be practiced or encouraged. The sanctified ones are thus taught to keep themselves separate from the world, to regard nature as a great parable for the soul, and to conduct themselves in that considerate spirit which should characterize the disciples of Jesus. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou shalt not eat any abominable thing.