Chapter 1
Deuteronomy as Narrative-Law

This series of essays will address the food laws in Deuteronomy 14:1-21.
To some, this may seem like a work of supererogation. After all, why should
a Christian be interested in outdated “laws” from the book of Deuteronomy?
I hope to show that meditation on this portion of Scripture is profoundly
edifying, both for its own teaching and for the help it offers in understanding
the law of Moses as a whole.
By way of introduction, I need to say a word about the word “Torah.” Or,
rather, I need to let Gordon Wenham say a word.

The English term ‘law’ covers a much narrower range of
literature than the Hebrew term torah, or the Greek nomos, which
are conventionally translated ‘law.’ Hebrew torah would be
better translated ‘instruction’, and the torah comprises the whole
of the Pentateuch, Genesis to Deuteronomy, despite the fact that
these books contain a fair amount of narrative. Psalm 1:2,
inviting the reader to meditate on the torah day and night, seems
to envisage the book of Psalms as well as the Pentateuch being
the torah.

Perhaps David saw the Psalms also as included in Torah. However that
may be, it is certain that Torah included the whole of the Pentateuch, a
considerably large portion of which is not at all what modern Christians
would regard as “law.” What I argue here is that the commandments and
statutes given to Israel are given in the context of the story, as the many
allusions to the covenant narrative make clear. Meditation on the Torah,
therefore, also means considering the relationship between the narrative and
the commandments.
As our study of Deuteronomy 14:1-21 will make clear, there is a
fundamental narrative thread in the Torah — the story of the gift of the
covenant. This is the story of Yahweh as Father redeeming His son, Israel, as
part of Yahweh the Creator’s project of redeeming His world. The Father/son
relationship of love and grace is the basic framework for the whole of the
Pentateuch and therefore for the whole Old Testament. There is nothing in

Gordon Wenham, “Law in the Old Testament” in The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies, ed.
by J. W. Rogerson and Judith M. Lieu (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 351.

the Torah that smacks of “law” in the way most modern Christians think of
“law” in contrast with grace. Loving Fatherly instruction in righteousness
and wisdom included commandments and rules for life in the land, but
obedience to Yahweh’s ordinances was never put in the context of a merit
system. Yahweh loved His son and called for His son to respond to His love
with love. Of course, as the Creator of the world, Yahweh “imposes” His love
on His son, Israel. Israel does not really have the choice to say yes or no to
Yahweh’s gift.
However, as the story of the fall and its consequences shows, when men
reject the love of God, they reject all love and create for themselves a world of
bondage and oppression, a world dominated by fear, hatred, and revenge.
Cain, Lamech and others who rejected God’s love and grace made a choice
that was murderous and oppressive precisely because it was self-destructive.
They ruined themselves spiritually and psychologically by turning away
from their Creator and His love. As a result, they marred all around them.
Thus, Israel did not have a choice between Yahweh’s love and some other
love, for apart from the Creator, there is no other. Israel had a choice between
the way of Abel and the way of Cain.
The story of creation and fall, the story of the flood, the story of Babel,
and especially the stories of the Patriarchs and the Exodus underly the
instruction in Deuteronomy, which constantly alludes to the covenant
narrative. To repeat, then, I will argue that through abundant allusions, the
food-law passage in Deuteronomy 14:1-21 gives commandments in the
context of a covenant story about Yahweh’s love for His son Israel.
Not only is the narrative flow of the books of Genesis through Numbers
essential to our understanding of Deuteronomy, we must remember that the
book of Deuteronomy itself is a sort of narrative as well. We may think of it as
a book of laws, but in itself it constitutes a kind of story, as its very first verse

These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the
Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between
Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab. (Deu. 1:1)

Just as Jacob gathered his sons around him to speak a final word of
blessing to them (Gen. 49), Moses gathers the people of Israel so that he can
offer them his last words of instruction and blessing. In other words, within
the context of the larger stories of the Creator’s love for mankind and
Yahweh’s love for His chosen son, Israel, we also have the story of Moses’

love for the people of Israel. Deuteronomy is his last gift to the people he
sacrificed his life for.
Within Deuteronomy also, there are many stories connected to the
instruction. Moses retells stories of events that were already recorded in
different words with different nuance or emphasis. Perhaps most
prominently, the story of the gift of the Ten Commandments, or, more properly,
the Ten Words repeats the basic emphasis, though the narrative itself is
Consider: beyond the allusion to the Exodus story in the preface (Exo.
20:2; Deu. 5:6), both Exodus and Deuteronomy provide a specific narrative
context for the giving of the commands. In the book of Exodus, the most
immediate context is provided by the story of the Israelites arriving at Sinai in
Exodus 19. The narrative is continued in Exodus 20:18-21, before the detailed
laws are given in Exodus 20:22-23:33, and then is completed in Exodus 24.
The structure of the story of the gift of the Ten Words in Exodus shows that
the law is grounded in the covenant narrative.

A. Narrative: The Covenant Offered (Exodus 19:3-25)
B. Laws (general): The Decalogue (Exodus 20:1-17)
C. Narrative: The people’s fear (Exodus 20:18-21)
B* Laws (specific): The Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22-
A* Narrative: The Covenant Accepted (Exodus 24:1-11)

In Deuteronomy, the Ten Words are introduced by a narrative reminding
the children of Israel of Horeb and their fear of the great fire and mountain
(5:2-5). Then, after the giving of the commandments, Moses recounts the fear
of the children of Israel at the mountain (5:22-33), essentially the same story
as recorded in Exodus 20:18-26, but with modifications and additions. In both
cases, there is emphasis on the Israelites fear of Yahweh. In Deuteronomy,
Yahweh even expresses His wish that they would truly fear Him (Deu. 5:28-

A. Narrative: Introduction to the Ten Words (5:1-5) (people’s
fear, vs. 5)
B. Law: the Ten Words (5:6-21)

The simple outline above is from Joe M. Sprinkle in Biblical Law and its Relevance: A Christian
Understanding and Ethical Application for Today of the Mosaic Regulations (Landham, MD:
University Press of America, 2006), p. 57.

A* Narrative: Conclusion to the Ten Words (5:22-33) (people’s
fear, vs. 24-29)

Finally, as I emphasized previously, the Ten Words — which expresses
the heart of all of Israel’s laws — can only be understood in the light of the
whole covenant story, beginning with Genesis 1:1. The most superficial
reading of the Second Word makes this clear, though, of course, creation is
relevant for all ten. In Exodus, the Fourth Word specifically alludes to the
creation story, which is the source of the whole idea of Sabbath (Exo. 20:8-11).
Obviously, too, no explanation of the Sixth Word would be adequate if it
neglected the story of creation. It is because man is God’s image that his life is
sacred. Without taking the time to discuss each one, suffice it to say that the
rest of the Ten Words rest equally on the creation story. The conclusion of the
matter is that in the Bible there is a world-story that puts Deuteronomy in the
context of creation by a personal God who loves the world He created and
His image, mankind. Torah is an expression of His character and a revelation
of His name no less than instruction in His will.

Chapter 2
The Third Word in Deuteronomy 5:11

In this chapter, I argue that Moses’ reworking of the Ten Words in
Deuteronomy 5 includes adding nuance to the Third Word. This prepares the
way for his sermonic application of the Third Word in Deuteronomy 14:1-21.
The approach I take here was introduced by James Jordan in his brief
introduction to the structure of Deuteronomy,
though my argument and
explanation do not come directly from him.
Contrary to many interpreters, Jordan interprets the Third Word —
“Thou shalt not take the name of Yahweh thy God in vain, for Yahweh will
not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” — as if the Hebrew word
translated “take” referred to something more than a verbal act. Though he
does not defend his interpretation in detail, he seems to understand the word
“take” in its meaning of “carry” or “bear,”
rather than the more restricted
sense of “lift up” as a verbal act.

The Third Word has to do with the character of God’s people,
those who take up (wear) His Name. They are not to do so in
vanity, in the sphere of death and impotence.

The question, then, is: does the Third Word address the broader issue of
how the Israelites bear God’s name in their lifestyle, as well as how they “lift
up” His name in speech acts, such as oaths, prayers, and songs of praise?
Does Moses intend that we read the word “take” as if the command suggests
a fuller meaning — both the narrow notion of a speech act and the broader
idea of “wearing” the name of God in daily life?
Let’s begin by considering the Third Word in Deuteronomy. The Hebrew
of the Third Word in Exodus 20:7 and Deuteronomy 5:11 is exactly the same.

Thou shalt not take the name of Yahweh thy God in vain; for
Yahweh will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Covenant Sequence in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics,
This verb is used, for example, in Exodus 19:4 where Yahweh says that He “carried” Israel
to Himself on eagles’ wings.
Covenant Sequence, p. 62. He does not explain his interpretation of “vanity” as the “sphere of
death and impotence” either.

However, there is something new in Deuteronomy. Even if we restrict
our investigation to the text of Ten Words (Deu. 5:6-21), we discover that
Moses adds nuance to the Third Word in Deuteronomy in two ways. First, in
Deuteronomy Moses revises the first five commandments so that the
expression “Yahweh your God” appears nine times. Then, he also uses
“Yahweh” alone once and “God” alone once, resulting in 10 occurrences of
“Yahweh” and 10 of “God” in the first five commandments.
The exact use of
10 times each for “Yahweh” and “Elohim” is, no doubt, intentional and
suggestive. However, the last five commands (6-10) — and this is true both in
Exodus and in Deuteronomy — never mention the name of God. In both
books, this lines up the Ten Words in two sets of five commands that can be
seen as parallel to each other, though in Deuteronomy the parallel is perhaps
more emphatic because of the special use of the name of God. In either case,
we are invited to compare each parallel command. For the present
consideration, that would be the Third and the Eighth Words.
What would this imply? It would mean that understanding the Eighth
Word would be aided by comparison to the Third and vice versa, just as
understanding the Sixth Word would be aided by comparison with the First
and so on. Exactly how would this work? Let’s consider the First and the Sixth
Words since the relationship is clear and not as likely to be disputed. The Bible
forbids murder because man is created in the image of God. To kill a man is
to commit an act which defies God Himself, because it is an act which
blatantly defiles His image. On the other hand, showing respect to other men
because we believe they are created in the image of God is a way of honoring
God as our God.
In the case of the First and the Sixth Words, it is not difficult to see how
the two commands “exegete” one another. The structure of the Ten Words in
Deuteronomy and the example of the First and Sixth Words should persuade
us that similar comparisons with the rest of the commandments will bear
fruit. There is well known Biblical precedence for this, since the prophets
commonly associate the Second Word and the Seventh Word when Israel’s
idolatry is referred to as spiritual adultery. Discovering the exact meaning for
the relationship between the Third Word and the Eighth may not be as direct
or clear, but I believe we can assume that a relationship is suggested, though
it is beside the point to pursue that details of that now. What we see here is
that in Deuteronomy, the division between the first five and last five

Actually, the word elohim occurs 11 times in the first five commands, but once (Deu. 5:7) it
refers to false gods, so I have not counted it. In Exodus 20:2-12, the name “Yahweh your
God” occurs 5 times, the name “Yahweh” alone occurs 3 times, and the name “God” alone
occurs 1 time.

commands is even more emphatically stressed, so that the invitation to
compare the two sets of five commands also receives greater emphasis.
The second way Moses adds nuance to the Third Word in Deuteronomy
is by changing the last word in the Hebrew of the Ninth Word so that he
associates the Third and the Ninth Words. In Exodus 20:16, the last word of the
command in Hebrew is the word translated “false.” But in Deuteronomy,
Moses changes this to another word, which is also translated into English as
“false” in the Ninth Word. The word “false” in Exodus is the Hebrew word
often translated “lie,” whereas the Hebrew word in Deuteronomy is often
translated “vain.” In Deuteronomy Moses takes the Hebrew word usually
translated in the Third Word as “vain” and uses it again in the Ninth Word,
which then becomes, literally, “You shall not bear ‘vain’ witness against your
In so doing, Moses is in fact editing the Ninth Word in a manner
suggested by Exodus 23:1.

Thou shalt not take up a false (vain) report:
put not thy hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.

In Exodus 23:1, it is clear that the “vain report” in the first half of the verse is
explained as being an “unrighteous witness” in the parallel section in the
second half of the verse. This is obviously an application of the Ninth Word.
Thus, in Exodus 23:1, the Ninth Word is reiterated in somewhat different
language, referring to the false witness as a “vain report.”
Since the Hebrew word translated “vain” is only used four times in the
Pentateuch and only one other time in Exodus (20:7), its use in Exodus 23:1
stands out and links this verse with the previous use in Exodus 20:7 in the
Third Word. The only other two uses of this Hebrew word in the Pentateuch
are in Deuteronomy 5:11 and 5:20, the Third and Ninth Words. In other words,
in Exodus, the detailed laws in chapters 21-23, which expound the Ten Words,
specifically associate the Third and Ninth Words. Moses took note of the
association in the book of Exodus and repeated it in Deuteronomy by
changing the word “false” in the Ninth Word to make it the same as “vain” in
the Third Word — bringing the Third and Ninth Word together in a new way.
To restate this again, when Moses repeats the Ten Words in
Deuteronomy, he follows the instruction of the laws in Exodus to slightly
change the wording of the Ninth Word and thereby emphasize the link
between the Third Word and the Ninth. This obviously implies that bearing
false witness against one’s neighbor is taking the name of Yahweh in vain,
since witnesses would take an oath in court. A false witness would be

dishonoring the name of Yahweh whose name he called upon in his oath. But
there is an additional significance here. Moses is also suggesting that to take
the name of Yahweh in vain is to bear false or vain witness against Yahweh
Himself. The notion of using Yahweh’s name in vain includes uses of His
name which misrepresent who He is — a sin Israel frequently committed in
the wilderness when the Israelites repeatedly claimed Yahweh brought them
out of Egypt to kill them in the wilderness.
We see by this that in its narrowest meaning, the Third Word has to do
with how one uses the name of Yahweh in one’s speech. This is borne out by
further references in the Old Testament.

He that hath clean hands and a pure heart,
Who hath not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And hath not sworn deceitfully. (Psa. 24:4)

For they speak against thee wickedly,
And thine enemies take [thy name] in vain. (Psa. 139:20)

However, we should not conclude from this that the concern of the Third
Word may be limited to Israel’s use of the name of God in speech acts, for the
use in a speech act necessarily implies a broader meaning. The logic of the
connection would be something like the following. In speech acts, an Israelite
“lifts up” or “takes” the name of Yahweh rightly when he takes righteous
oaths in His name, prays to Him, worships Him, praises Him. Such proper
uses of the name of Yahweh are the opposite of taking His name in vain. But
the righteous use of God’s name in a speech act such as an oath would
necessarily imply that the oath must be kept. Not keeping what would
otherwise have been a righteous oath would be taking Yahweh’s name in
vain. The broken oath would be rendered unrighteous by the behavior that
followed it. Praying to Him, worshipping Him, and praising Him, while at
the same time disobeying His commandments would also constitute misuse
of His name. In this way, the narrow meaning explicit in the command
necessarily implies a broader meaning. An Israelite’s speech act in using the
name of Yahweh must be consistent with a lifestyle that honors Him.

If we compare the Hebrew of Psalm 24:4 with that of Exodus 20:7 and Deuteronomy 5:11, it
becomes quite clear that the Psalm is referring to the Third Word. The exact Hebrew from the
Third Word translated “not take” appears in Psalm 24:4 as “not lifted up” and the Hebrew
word translated “in vain” in the Third Word appears in Psalm 24:4 as “to falsehood.”
The allusion to the Third Word here is also undeniably obvious. What the Third Word forbids
— taking the Name in vain — is what God’s enemies are said to do. Note that in the original
the expression “thy name” is implied rather than being stated.

As we might expect, the logic implicit in the command is expressed
relatively clearly in the law. Consider, for example, the following pair of laws,
specifically tied together by the Hebrew expressions.

Thou shalt not steal, nor deal falsely,
nor lie to one another.
Thou shalt not swear falsely by my name,
so as to profane the name of thy God;
I am Yahweh. (Lev. 19:11-12)

The juxtaposition of these laws implies that stealing, deceiving, and
lying to one another would be forms of dishonoring the name of Yahweh.
Similarly, Leviticus 18:21 includes idolatry as parallel to profaning Yahweh’s

And thou shalt not give any of thy seed
to make them pass through the fire to Molech;
neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God:
I am Yahweh. (Lev. 18:21)

A clearer and more remarkable example of the Third Word being
associated with the behavior of the people of Israel is found in Deuteronomy
28, where Moses pronounces the blessings that accompany obedience to
God’s commandments. Here Moses specifically alludes to Exodus 19:1-6,
where Yahweh first brought the people of Israel to Himself at Sinai and
offered them the grace of His covenant. In this promise, Moses indicates that
obedience to the law would mean that Israel was fulfilling her calling to be
Yahweh’s holy people. What is especially notable is that Moses says that
keeping the commandments of God will testify to all the peoples of the earth
that Israel is “called by the name of Yahweh.”

Yahweh will establish thee for a holy people unto himself,
as he hath sworn unto thee;
if thou shalt keep the commandments of Yahweh thy God,
and walk in his ways.
And all the peoples of the earth shall see
that thou art called by the name of Yahweh;
and they shall be afraid of thee. (Deu. 28:9-10)

Plainly, if Israel is the people who are called by the name of Yahweh, then
disobedience to His covenant would constitute breaking the Third Word
because they would be bearing/wearing His name in a vain manner.
It is because the people of Israel were to be called by the name of
Yahweh their God that they were commanded to be holy, for it was
imperative that they be like the God they represent.

For I am Yahweh your God:
sanctify yourselves therefore,
and be ye holy;
for I am holy:
neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping
thing that moveth upon the earth. (Lev. 11:44)

Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel,
and say unto them,
Ye shall be holy;
for I Yahweh your God am holy. (Lev. 19:2)

Sanctify yourselves therefore,
and be ye holy;
for I am Yahweh your God. (Lev. 20:7)

Leviticus repeats a characteristic refrain, though the language varies
slightly (Lev 11:44–45; 18:2, 4–6, 21, 30; 19:3–4, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 25, 28, 30–32,
34, 36–37; 20:7–8, 24; 21:12, 15, 23; 22:2–3, 8–9, 16, 30–33; 23:22, 43; 24:22; 25:17,
38, 55–26:2; 26:13, 44–45). In some cases, a command is followed by the simple
expression, “I am Yahweh.” In other cases, the fuller expression appears, “I
am Yahweh your God.” In Leviticus 18:4-5, the two expressions follow one
another in consecutive verses.

Mine ordinances shall ye do,
and my statutes shall ye keep,
to walk therein:
I am Yahweh your God.
Ye shall therefore keep my statutes,
and mine ordinances;
which if a man do,
he shall live in them:
I am Yahweh. (Lev. 18:4-5)


What is clearly implied here is sometimes stated more fully with the
expression “for I am Yahweh” (cf. Lev 11:44–45; 20:7; 21:15, 23; 22:16; 24:22;
25:17; 26:1, 44). However, even when the declaration of God’s name is not
prefaced by “because,” we cannot miss the point. Israel is to obey God’s
commandments because Yahweh is their God and they are His people. They
represent Him in the world and are called by His name — the name that is
manifested in the commandments that He gives to His people. His holiness is
revealed in the law itself and through His people when they walk in His ways.
With this larger context of the law of Moses in mind, James Jordan’s
interpretation of the Third Word in Deuteronomy seems justified. Though the
command especially addresses speech acts, the verb used seems to suggest
the broader meaning which the laws of Moses spell out. In other words, if I
understanding Jordan correctly, he is suggesting that though Exodus 20:7 and
Deuteronomy 5:11 could have employed different verbs, they both use the
verb often translated “carry” to refer to speech acts because this verb also has
a broader use. This particular verb was chosen in order to imply the broader
meaning. Given the evidence I have pointed to in this chapter, it seems to me
that an ancient Israelite meditating on the law could think both of “lifting up”
the name of God in an oath or prayer and also of “carrying” (being called by,
or wearing) His name in everyday life.

Chapter 3
Introducing Deuteronomy 14:1-21

In 1979 Stephen Kaufman penned a groundbreaking essay on
Deuteronomy, arguing that it was a meticulously structured and carefully
composed book. In his view, chapters 12 to 26 in particular follow the order of
the Ten Words, expounding and applying those laws to ancient Israelite
The evangelical Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser and Reformed
Old Testament scholar James Jordan both followed Kaufmann’s basic
approach, though Kaiser follows Kaufmann’s outline almost exactly, while
Jordan has revised it considerably. I am persuaded that Jordan’s analysis is
superior, especially when it comes to understanding Deuteronomy 14:1-21. In
this chapter, I attempt to explain why Deuteronomy 14:1-21 should be
understood as a sermonic meditation on the Third Word.

Deuteronomy 13 in the Laws of Moses

Kaiser, following Kaufman, understands the laws of Deuteronomy 13 to
be included under the Third Word, continuing the section to Deuteronomy
14:27. But he regards this pericope as especially difficult to analyze.

Deuteronomy 13:1 to 14:27 are expansions of the injunction not
to take the name of the LORD God in vain. Of all the sections in
Deuteronomy 12-25, this one is the most difficult to associate
with the Decalogue. Kaufman’s rejoinder to this problem is to
acknowledge that on the surface there is some validity to this
complaint. But, he argues, instead of regarding Deuteronomic
law as a direct commentary or sermon on each commandment
in the Decalogue, the case presented here is that Deuteronomy
contains “statutes” and “judgments” “designed to provide
divine authority for the religious and social reforms it

Stephen A. Kaufman, ‘The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law,’ Maarav 1979, vol. 1: 105–58
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), p.

Kaufman’s attempted justification for beginning the laws applying the
Third Word with chapter 13 is forced at best.
Chapter 13 is evidently
concerned with problems of pagan idolatry, the domain of the First and
Second Words.
Of course, in so far as idolatry constitutes blasphemy against
Yahweh’s name, worshipping idols and tolerating idolatry would amount to
a violation of the Third Word as well as the First and Second Words. But the
laws of apostasy in chapter 13 obviously concentrate on idolatry as defined
by the First and Second Words, setting forth three cases in which the people of
Israel are tempted to worship other gods, calling for the death penalty for the
seducer in each case.
Deuteronomy 13:2 (13:3 in Hebrew) refers to following other gods with
an expression that would be literally translated “walk after other gods.” The
exact Hebrew expression “walk after” is used four times in Genesis to
describe someone following another person (Gen 24:5, 8, 61; 32:19). The
expression does not appear in Exodus or Leviticus. It occurs once in Numbers
to refer to a person following another, as in Genesis (Num. 16:25). But in
Deuteronomy, where the expression occurs five times, it is used exclusively to
refer to “walking after” other gods (Deut 4:3; 8:19; 11:28; 13:2; 28:14).
Moreover, 13:2 is the fourth of those five occurrences, so the particular
nuance of the expression has been established, especially since the first
reference was to a recent incident in Israel’s history in which 24,000 people
died of a plague because of “walking after” Baal of Peor (Deu. 4:3).
There is also a similar expression “go and serve” — literally “walk and
serve” — which is never used in the Pentateuch before Deuteronomy and
only used in Deuteronomy four times — twice in chapter 13 in reference to
idolatry (13:6, 13), and twice later in Deuteronomy (17:3; 29:26) clearly
referring to idolatry. Outside of Deuteronomy, this expression is used in
Deuteronomy-influenced historical books three times, always with reference

See Kaiser, Ibid., pp. 132-33. I do not think it is worth reproducing the argument in detail
here. Suffice it to say that I agree with Kaufman that there are allusions to First and Second
Word passages in 14:1-21, but the point of those allusions is not to identify which
commandment is being treated, but to define Third Word obedience as making Israel distinct
among nations which practice idolatry. For Israel to bear the name of Yahweh, they must not
be like the nations around them. Chapter 13, on the other hand, is clearly devoted to First and
Second Word issues.
It seems to me that in Deuteronomy 6-13, there is no strong division between the first two
commandments. Jordan understands 6-11 to be application of the First Word and 12-13 to be
application of the Second Word. I believe his analysis is basically correct, but it also seems to
me that the two commandments overlap in so far as the idolatry being forbidden in 12-13 is
the worship of other gods. The distinction between the First and Second Words is seen more
clearly in the positive thrust of the teaching in 6-11 and 12-13. The First Word section (6-11) is
especially concerned with loving and trusting Yahweh. The Second Word section (12-13) is
about worshipping Yahweh at the place He choses.

to idolatry (Josh 23:16; 1 Kgs 9:6; 16:31) and one other time in Chronicles with
reference to idolatry (2 Chr 7:19).
The language in Deuteronomy 13, therefore, points distinctly to the
problem of idolatrous worship. If Moses is treating the Ten Words in order, it
seems patently obvious that chapter 13 is part of his sermonic application of
the First and Second Words.
The two expressions discussed above belong to the technical language
of idolatry in the book of Deuteronomy, but the most obvious expression
referring to idolatry in Deuteronomy 13 is “other gods.” The very first time
this expression occurs in Scripture is in Exodus 20:3, in the First Word: “Thou
shalt have no other gods before me.” Altogether there are 63 verses in the Old
Testament that refer to “other gods,” with almost one third of them appearing
in Deuteronomy (Deu. 5:7; 6:14; 7:4; 8:19; 11:16, 28; 13:2, 6, 13; 17:3; 18:20; 28:14,
36, 64; 29:26; 30:17; 31:18, 20). The distribution of this expression is also
remarkable. The first instance in Deuteronomy is in the First Word (5:7),
which is expressed in language identical with Exodus. It occurs five more
times in the section of Deuteronomy that is indisputably concerned with the
First and Second Words (6:14; 7:4; 8:19; 11:16, 28). When the expression “other
gods” appears in chapter 13, where it is used 3 times (13:2, 6, 13), it has
already been quite certainly established as First and Second Word language.

It seems fair to conclude, therefore, that Deuteronomy 13 is not a Third
Word passage, but rather part of the application of the first two commands. I
argue, following Jordan’s analysis, that it is not until Deuteronomy chapter 14
that Moses turns to the Third Word.

Deuteronomy 14:1-2

Should we regard Deuteronomy 14:1 as the beginning of a new section?
Part of the answer to that question is to be found in the way Deuteronomy 13
concludes. The final verse of Deuteronomy 13 closes the instruction about
being seduced to worship false gods in language that appears elsewhere in
Deuteronomy either in introductions or conclusions to a pericope: “hearken

It is also noteworthy that the expression “other gods” does not appear in any of the other
laws except 17:3 and 18:20, both passages belonging to the application of the Fifth Word,
significant because Deuteronomy constantly portrays Yahweh as Israel’s Father. Otherwise,
references to “other gods” appear in the last sections of Deuteronomy where Moses
pronounces blessings and curses and warns the Israelites about their future. Within the
exposition of the Ten Words in chapters 6-26, references to “other gods” are almost
exclusively confined to chapters 6-13.

to the voice of Yahweh.”
In this case, it is clearly the conclusion to chapter
13, not the introduction to a new section.
The first words of Deuteronomy 14 confirm the view that the last words
of Deuteronomy 13 are a conclusion to a pericope, for Deuteronomy 14 begins
abruptly with an extraordinary expression. It’s exact wording is
unprecedented and never repeated verbatim in all the rest of the Old

Sons you [are] to Yahweh your God!

The unexpected declaration provokes questions: Why all of a sudden
this unusual language, referring to individual Israelites as sons of Yahweh?
Why such a brief and startling transition? The simplest answer to these and
similar questions is that Moses uses an unusual expression to signal the
introduction to new section. The immediate shift of language breaks off the
application of the First and Second Words, alerting the reader to the fact that a
new topic will follow. That this proposed answer is correct is confirmed in
three ways — by the literary allusions in the first two verses, the content of
the section as a whole, and the inclusio in verses 1-2 and verse 21.
Before we investigate this threefold confirmation, we need to consider
briefly the first words of Deuteronomy 14:1. Though the exact language of
14:1 does not appear any where else in Scripture, there are close expressions
(Deu. 32:5, 19-20) and one passage in particular that Moses seems to be
alluding to.

And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh,
Thus saith Yahweh,
Israel is my son, my first-born:
and I have said unto thee,
Let my son go, that he may serve me;
and thou hast refused to let him go:
behold, I will slay thy son, thy first-born. (Exo. 4:22-23)

The expression “hearken to [b not l] the voice of Yahweh” (hwhy lwøq V;b omv) occurs only 29
times in the entire Old Testament, 11 times in the book of Deuteronomy (Deu. 13:18; 15:5;
26:14; 27:10; 28:1–2, 15, 45, 62; 30:8, 10). In Deuteronomy 27:10, the phrase is part of a
conclusion to a section, as it is in Deuteronomy 13:18. In chapter 28 the phrase appears five
times, twice in the introduction to the blessings (28:1-2) and three times in the section on the
curses — at the beginning (28:15), near the middle (28:45), and near the end (28:62). In
chapter 30:8, 10, the phrase again appears in a conclusion.

While Exodus 4:22-23 refers to the nation in the singular as Yahweh’s
son, Deuteronomy 14:1 refers to the individual Israelites as Yahweh’s sons.
However, the importance of the declaration in Exodus 4:22-23 and its
prominent place in the story of Israel’s redemption are such that it is hard to
imagine Moses is not intentionally pointing back to the famous declaration
calling for Pharaoh to release Yahweh’s firstborn son. Also, shifting from
singular to plural is a common phenomenon in the Hebrew Bible, appearing
in 14:1-2 as well (note the shift from the plural “ye” in verse 1 to the singular
“thou” in verse 2, and from the plural “Yahweh your God” in verse 1 to
“Yahweh thy God” in verse 2). In Deuteronomy, for example, both the
expressions “Yahweh thy God”
and “Yahweh your God”
frequently and Moses shifts from singular to plural in the same context
without obvious reasons for doing so.
Though the emphasis changes, it
seems likely that references in the singular and plural to Israel as God’s son
are related and should be seen as teaching a single truth that God is the
Father to His people.
In Deuteronomy 14:1, what would the significance be of a reference to
the people of Israel as Yahweh’s sons?
Again, the simplest and most
obvious idea would seem to be the best explanation. The declaration that the
people of Israel are the sons of Yahweh says in no uncertain terms that they
are His special people, different from all other peoples in the world. Or, to
put it in other language, in calling them His sons, Yahweh identifies Himself
with the people of Israel. Deuteronomy 28:9-10 seems to confirm this
reasoning by alluding back to the theme of a “holy people” which appears

“Yahweh thy God” is much more common (Deu. 1:21, 31; 2:7, 30; 4:3, 10, 19, 21, 23–25, 29–
31, 40; 5:6, 9, 11–12, 14–16; 6:2, 5, 10, 13, 15; 7:1–2, 6, 9, 12, 16, 18–23, 25; 8:2, 5–7, 10–11, 14, 18–
19; 9:3–7; 10:9, 12, 14, 20, 22–11:1; 11:12, 29; 12:7, 9, 15, 18, 20–21, 27–29, 31; 13:5, 10, 12, 16, 18;
14:2, 21, 23–26, 29; 15:4–7, 10, 14–15, 18–21; 16:1–2, 5–8, 10–11, 15–18, 20–17:2; 17:8, 12, 14–15;
18:5, 9, 12–16; 19:1–3, 8–10, 14; 20:1, 13–14, 16–17; 21:1, 5, 10, 23; 22:5; 23:5, 14, 18, 20–21, 23;
24:4, 9, 13, 18–19; 25:15–16, 19–26:5; 26:10–11, 13, 16, 19; 27:2–3, 5–7, 9–10; 28:1–2, 8–9, 13, 15,
45, 47, 52–53, 58, 62; 29:12; 30:1–7, 9–10, 16, 20; 31:3, 6, 11).
“Yahweh your God” with the plural for “you” occurs less often (Deu. 1:10, 26, 30, 32; 3:18,
20–22; 4:2, 4, 23, 34; 5:32–6:1; 6:16–17; 8:20; 9:16, 23; 10:17; 11:2, 13, 22, 25, 27–28, 31; 12:4–5, 7,
10–12; 13:3–5; 14:1; 20:4, 18; 29:6, 10; 31:12–13, 26).
Note the shift back and forth in Deuteronomy chapter 1, for example. 1:10, “your God;”
1:21, “thy God;” 1:26, “your God;” 1:30, “your God;” 1:31, “thy God;” 1:32, “your God.”
Driver’s comment is noteworthy: “[Sons are ye to Jehovah your God] what is affirmed in
Ex. 4:22f. (JE) of Israel as a nation (“Israel is my son, my firstborn”) is here transferred to the
individual Israelites: they are Jehovah’s children; and while on the one hand they are the
objects of His paternal care and regard (1:31 8:5), they owe to Him on the other hand filial
love and obedience, they should conform their character to His, and do nothing that is
unworthy of the close and intimate relation in which they stand towards Him.”

repeatedly in Deuteronomy, including 14:1-2,
and affirming that the nation
shall be called by the name of Yahweh. In other words, in 14:1-2, the “holy
people” are the sons of Yahweh, which 28:9-10 translates into the people
“called by the name of Yahweh.”

Yahweh will establish thee for a holy people unto himself,
as he hath sworn unto thee;
if thou shalt keep the commandments of Yahweh thy God,
and walk in his ways.
And all the peoples of the earth shall see
that thou art called by the name of Yahweh;
and they shall be afraid of thee. (Deu. 28:9-10)

The nation of Israel is called by the name of Yahweh because they are
His sons. His name is in them. These allusions suggest clearly that the abrupt
declaration in 14:1 that the Israelites are the sons of Yahweh serves as an
introduction to the Third Word. No other explanation for this remarkable
proclamation at this particular place in Deuteronomy fits so well with the
context. Furthermore, the idea that we have an introduction to a new section
here is borne out, as I said above, by the inclusio in verses 1-21, the literary
allusions in the first three verses, and the distinct content of the section,
especially as compared with what follows.
First, consider the inclusio. Beginning and ending a portion of Scripture
with the same or similar language is a frequently occurring literary device,
defining the boundaries of a particular literary discourse. That Moses in
Deuteronomy should uses such a device is no surprise. In the words of Jack R.
Lundbum, “The book of Deuteronomy is widely acknowledged to be the
rhetorical book of the Hebrew Bible.”
Recognizing structural devices like
chiasmus and inclusio are essential to an analysis of its literary composition.
In the case of Deuteronomy 14:1-21, at one level the inclusio is patently clear.

“For you are a holy people to the Yahweh your God” (14:2).

“. . . for you are a holy people to Yahweh your God” (14:21).

The Hebrew expression occurs only 7 times in the Old Testament, five of which are in
Deuteronomy (Deut 7:6; 14:2, 21; 26:19; 28:9; Hos 11:12; Dan 8:24).
“Inclusio and other Framing Devices in Deuteronomy I-XXVIII,” Vetus Testamentum, vol.
46, July 1996, pp. 296-315.

The inclusio may also include the reference to the dead in verse 1 and
animals which die of themselves in verse 21, as well as a possible connection
between the Israelites being the sons of Yahweh (14:1) and being forbidden to
boil a child/young goat in its mother’s milk (14:21). If the two less clear cases
are also intended as literary markers, the case for 14:1-21 as a literary unit is
even more apparent.
Second, consider the literary allusions in the first three verses and their
relationship to the content that follows in verses 4 to 21. I will argue for the
allusions more fully in the next chapter. For now, I will simply point them out.
There are allusions to two of the Bible’s greatest stories, as well as to laws in
Deuteronomy about being separate from the nations and laws in Leviticus
about priesthood and food. The abundance of literary allusions in the
compact space of a few verses connecting a clearly distinguished pericope
with other stories and laws characterizes these verses as an introduction to
the pericope as a whole. By introducing the Third Word with such a rich web
of allusions, Moses alerts his readers that he is taking up a new
commandment and that he expects the reader to consider the commandment
in the light of the other passages he alludes to.
Third, the content of Deuteronomy 14:1-21 is distinct both from what
precedes and from what follows. In contrast with 12-13, there is no more
mention of idolatry, though there is allusion to the idolatrous nations.
Immediately after 14:1-21, Fourth Word concerns appear when Deuteronomy
14:22 — again abruptly changing the subject — offers a command about
tithing which is continued with instruction about festivals (14:23 ff.). Thus,
beginning in Deuteronomy 14:22, Moses is unquestionably applying the
Fourth Word.


I believe I have presented adequate evidence for taking Deuteronomy
14:1-21 as a distinct unit. Since it follows a unit that treats the First and Second
Words and is itself followed by a unit that treats the Fourth Word, it is not
difficult to conclude that it must be concerned with the Third Word, even
though the content of this section may not seem to bear an obvious
relationship to the Third Word. The introduction to the laws in Deuteronomy
14:1-21 suggest the same, since it claims that the children of Israel are the sons
of Yahweh. Among other things, that would mean that they bear His name,
as Deuteronomy 28:10 explicitly states.
There is one other matter to be mentioned. Jordan takes the final
expression in Deuteronomy 14:21 to be the introduction to the Fourth Word.

The identical command in Hebrew appears two other times in the laws of
Moses, both times in the book of Exodus and both times in connection with
bringing offerings to Yahweh.

The first of the first-fruits of thy ground thou shalt bring into the
house of Yahweh thy God. Thou shalt not boil a kid in it
mother’s milk. (Exo. 23:19)

The first of the first-fruits of thy ground thou shalt bring unto
the house of Yahweh thy God. Thou shalt not boil a kid in its
mother’s milk. (Exodus 34:26)

These two references seem to connect the command forbidding boiling a
kid in its mother’s milk with Fourth Word concerns about offering and rest in
the land. Since the language in Deuteronomy 14:21c is identical to the two
previous passages, it would appear to be an introduction to the Fourth Word
in language that is almost a code.
I believe that Jordan is correct that it is an introduction to the next
section, but it may also be a conclusion to the Third Word as well. In other
words, the command about boiling the kid in its mother’s milk may function
as a hinge or hook, connecting both with verse 1 — where the Israelites are
said to be the sons of Yahweh — as an inclusio, and also with verses 22 ff. as
an introduction to the section on the Fourth Word. As such, this seemingly odd
command, which is repeated three times in the law of Moses, would be both a
striking conclusion to the food laws and a transition to the concerns of the
Fourth Word which immediately follow. Its place here in Deuteronomy further
confirms Jordan’s analysis of Deuteronomy 14:1-21 as a Third Word section.

The Hebrew of the two verses in Exodus is identical, but for some reason the LXX
translates them differently.

Chapter 4
Allusions in Deuteronomy 14:1-21

In the first chapter, I argued that the story of the covenant is what
unifies and grounds the laws in the book of Deuteronomy. In the third
chapter, as part of my argument that Deuteronomy 14:1-21 forms a distinct
pericope, I claimed that these verses contain a number of literary allusions. In
this chapter, I hope to demonstrate that Moses really does make these
allusions. More importantly perhaps, I address a question that I have hitherto
assumed without directly addressing. Could an ancient reader be expected to
note the allusions I have been speaking about? Obviously, allusions that
would not have been noticed could have no literary purpose. Even if a
modern reader might think he finds allusions, for this literary device to have
any real meaning, the allusions would have to be identifiable to an ancient
reader — though not necessarily to any and every ancient reader.
After all, we should expect that a sophisticated reader like David,
having both a poet’s linguistic sensitivity and also musical gifts, would have
taken note of aspects of a passage that a less cultured reader would miss. Of
course, given the differences in time, language, culture, and music — not to
mention spiritual gifts and genius — David would probably note much that a
modern reader would miss, also. Still, to some degree, a modern reader can
trace how a man like David might have considered a text like Deuteronomy
14:1-21. Though I am going to confine myself to literary allusions in the
Pentateuch, David would no doubt have read the passage in the light of the
subsequent history as well. That part of his meditation will not be included in
our thought experiment.

Is the Bible Really so Full of Allusion?

To answer the question posed by the subtitle, we need to consider
briefly the nature of literary allusion. Robert Alter, a prolific Jewish scholar
who has written much about the Bible as literature, affirms that literature is
inescapably allusive.

All literature, to be sure, is necessarily allusive: writers are
compelled in one way or another to make their text out of
antecedent texts (oral or written) because it would not occur to
them in the first place to do anything so unnatural as to
compose a hymn or a love poem or a story unless they had some

model to emulate. In the Hebrew Bible, however, what is
repeatedly evident is the abundance of authoritative national
traditions, fixed in particular verbal formulations, to which later
writers respond through incorporation, elaboration, debate, or

Allusion to antecedent literary texts is an indispensable
mechanism of all literature, virtually dictated by the self-
recaputulative logic of literary expression. No one writes a
poem or a story without some awareness of other poems or
stories to emulate, pay homage to, vie with, criticize, or parody,
and so the evocation of phrases, images, motifs, situations from
antecedent texts is an essential part of the business of making
new texts.

Since we are considering Moses, and since I take it for granted that he
was, as the Scriptures present him to have been, the basic author of the first
five books of the Bible — though they were updated or edited somewhat by a
later prophet or prophets — we have to ask why he would make allusions to
material that he himself wrote or edited?
It would not only be to interact
with a previously written authoritative tradition — though in his last words,
recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, that aspect might be more prominent.
For the original editor and author, Moses, literary allusion would have been,
among other things, a form of shorthand.
In other words, by alluding to previously written material, Moses sends
his reader to the previous texts and invites him to meditate on the two texts
together. In this way, he is able to say far more in far fewer words. He is able
to communicate a complex and intricate message through apparently simple
statements. Of course, this also creates the need for an aesthetically
sophisticated reader, for a reader who takes time to meditate and compare, to
consider the relationships between history and law and the modifications that
necessarily arise as the covenant situation changes. Or, to put it in different

Robert Alter, The World of Biblical Literature (New York: Basic Books, 1992), p. 50. Alter has
written extensively on the literary nature of the Bible, including the following titles: The Art of
Biblical Narrative (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1981), and The Art of Biblical Poetry (New
York: Basic Books, 1985).
Ibid., p. 110.
I refer to Moses as “editing” material because I believe that the book of Genesis was
composed by editing writings that had been preserved from the long past. In that sense,
when Moses himself began to compose books by the inspiration of God, he would have been
interacting with a previously established authoritative tradition.

words, this form of writing creates the need for interpretation. Getting to the
heart of the matter requires intellectual work, pursued in a spirit of humility.
Contrasting Biblical stories with Homer, Eric Auerbach wrote the

It is all very different in the Biblical stories. Their aim is not to
bewitch the senses, and if nevertheless they produce lively
sensory effects, it is only because the moral, religious, and
psychological phenomena which are their sole concern are made
concrete in the sensible matter of life. But their religious intent
involves an absolute claim to historical truth. . . .

The Bible’s claim to truth is not only far more urgent than
Homer’s, it is tyrannical—it excludes all other claims. The world
of the Scripture stories is not satisfied with claiming to be a
historically true reality—it insists that it is the only real word, is
destined for autocracy. All other scenes, issues, and ordinances
have no right to appear independently of it, and it is promised
that all of them, the history of all mankind, will be given their
due place in its frame, will be subordinated to it. The Scripture
stories do not, like Homer’s, court our favor, they do not flatter
us that they may please us and enchant us—they seek to subject
us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels.

When we read Moses, we have to assume that he believes himself to be
exactly what the Scriptures purport him to be, a prophet of God, chosen by
Yahweh from his birth to accomplish a unique work in the history of the
world. We have to assume that he is not only conscious of this calling, but
that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, he sincerely attempted to fulfill it. Part of
his work in seeking to fulfill his calling under God would have been to write
Scripture, knowing that it is revelation from God through him. Alluding to
previous Scripture for the purpose of provoking deeper understanding of
Israel’s mysterious and sovereign God would have been a natural part of his
literary endeavor, because allusion facilitates the reader’s quest for God
through the text He inspired. At the same time, rather than putting
everything on the surface, as Homer did, Moses writes so that the text is as
much of a paradox as it is revelation. The reader is called to bow before God
to know the message, even in its most superficial meaning.

Eric Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1953), pp. 14-15.


How Are Literary Allusions Established?

There are a number of ways to establish a literary allusion. The simplest
is through the use of a key word, a word that is used so rarely or with such a
narrow range of meaning that its very appearance in a text would compel an
intelligent reader to recall other occurrences of the word, especially the
original occurrence. In the passage we are considering, there is an example of
just this kind of literary allusion in the use of the word translated “treasured
possession.” This rare word, appearing only eight times in the Old Testament
(Exo. 19:5; Deu. 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Mal. 3:17; Psa. 135:4; Ecc. 2:8; 1 Chr. 29:3), has
a very distinct historical significance that no intelligent reader would have
Of course, the quotation of an entire phrase or sentence would establish
a literary connection between two passages also. So, in Deuteronomy 14:21,
Moses quotes verbatim what he had previously written in two places (Exo.
23:19; 34:26). Since the command itself seems almost odd, its threefold
repetition would draw attention and provoke questions, initiating the labor of
meditation and interpretation.
No less remarkable in this context is the nearly verbatim repetition of a
rather long verse of Scripture previously appearing in the book of

For thou art a holy people unto Yahweh thy God: Yahweh thy
God hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession,
above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth. (Deu. 7:6)

For thou art a holy people unto Yahweh thy God, and Yahweh
hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession, above all
peoples that are upon the face of the earth. (Deu. 14:2)

As is clear from the relatively literal English translation above, the
verses quoted diverge very slightly, but the two are so close that the words in
Deuteronomy 14:2 inevitably take the intelligent reader back to Deuteronomy
7:6 to consider the relationship between the two texts.
Literary allusion can also be established by closely parallel language
employed to treat a clearly parallel topic. Consider the following two laws
and note the similarity of the language.

They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they
shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in
their flesh. (Lev. 21:5)

Ye are the children of Yahweh your God: ye shall not cut
yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the
dead. (Deu. 14:1)

The word translated “baldness” above is used only twice in the
Pentateuch, in the two verses above, and only eleven times in the Old
Testament (Lev. 21:5; Deu. 14:1; Isa. 3:24; 15:2; 22:12; Jer. 47:5; 48:37; Eze. 7:18;
27:31; Amos 8:10; Mic. 1:16). Whatever the relationship of the other passages
may be, clearly the two references in the Pentateuch are connected, both by
language and content. Leviticus is concerned with mourning by the priests in
particular. Deuteronomy treats mourning customs of the people of Israel as a
whole. Moses brings the two laws together and invites his readers to consider
the relationship between them.
Literary allusion may also be rather more subtle. It does not require
common vocabulary, nor does it demand parallel ideas, except in a rather
abstract way. When I have taught Deuteronomy 14:1-21 to various groups
and asked them what previously written passages of Scripture come to mind,
I have usually been greeted with silence. But when I rephrase the question
and say, “Moses here says one kind of food is permissible and another kind of
food is forbidden. Does that sound familiar?” everyone picks up the parallel
passage immediately. It should be too obvious to mention. How could an
ancient Israelite reader encountering a passage about forbidden food not
think of the story in Genesis 2-3?
Of course, an intelligent reader of Deuteronomy 14:1-21 will naturally
recall the same food laws that were recorded in more detail in the previously
given Scripture in Leviticus 11:1-47. Since these are the only two passages in
the law of Moses that offer a detailed list of what may and may not be eaten,
the ancient reader will be drawn to compare them. The second list must be
dependent upon the first, but the relationship between the two is not
necessarily simple.
To answer the question in the subtitle directly, then, literary allusion can
be established in various ways, including a simple key word, a phrase, a
quoted verse or partial verse, repetition of similar content, or even by the
broad association of a similar idea or theme. Since we are talking about the
Bible as a work of art, we should expect to find in it the same kind of subtlety,

complexity, and intricacy we see in the beauty of the world God created as a
work of art.

Would An Ancient Reader Really Have Seen The Allusions?

To answer this question, we should not be thinking of the “average”
reader, but rather a reader like David — a reader who was himself an author,
a reader who thought carefully about words and expressions, as well as
theological content. David was a theologian, politician, military leader, poet,
musician, and shepherd. He performed his work in each of these distinct
realms so well that even if his talent had been limited to only one of them, he
might have been a historically significant person.
Let us also suppose that David had obeyed the instruction in
Deuteronomy 17:18-20 and had written out his own copy of the law of Moses
by hand in order to read in the law daily. Even more than simply reading, we
have to assume that David gave time to seriously weighing the message of
the text. Why must we assume that? Because God commanded Joshua to
mediate on the law daily and David himself described the righteous man —
not necessarily a king — as one who meditated on the law day and night.

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth,
but thou shalt meditate thereon day and night,
that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written
for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous,
and then thou shalt have good success. Josh. 1:8

But his delight is in the law of Yahweh;
And on his law doth he meditate day and night. Psa. 1:2

I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all thy doings;
I muse on the work of thy hands. Psa. 143:

To “meditate” on the law apparently involved speaking out loud,

repeating what was written in the law. But the process of meditating would
have also included weighing and comparing, asking questions and seeking
understanding. In that process, noticing similar language and expressions,

This is implied by the Hebrew word.

especially for someone reading the original Hebrew, would be a natural
ingredient. Different passages discussing the same or similar topics would
obviously be considered together. The fact that Biblical revelation was
comprehensively historical would invite an intelligent reader to ask historical
questions and seek answers by reading and re-reading the inspired and
authoritative history.
It is also commonly assumed that a godly ancient Hebrew like David
would have large portions of the law memorized. Repeated reading would
result in natural memorization to some degree. But passages of Scripture like
Psalm 119:11 suggest that godly people specifically devoted themselves to the
task of memorizing Scripture.

Thy word have I laid up in my heart,
That I might not sin against thee.

Thus, a man like David, who would presumably have memorized large
portions of Scripture, would note similar language appearing in different
places. Meditating on the Scripture, therefore, would have included asking
questions about the similarities and repetitions that he could easily recall,
without needing to consult a scribe or a scroll.
In conclusion, then, taking David as our standard for the sake of
argument, it is not possible to imagine that the author of so many Psalms —
themselves filled with allusions to Israel’s history and Scripture — would
have been so literarily insensitive that he would have simply not noticed the
similarities of language and content which are the means of establishing
literary allusion. Neither is it possible to imagine that a theologian and poet
who devoted himself to meditate on the Scriptures would not have ask
questions about the literary purpose or the theological significance of an
allusion. Given the way allusions appear in the Bible, it would be absurd to
deny that Moses and other authors intended to communicate by means of
these sorts of literary devices, just as it would be absurd to imagine that
David or other godly readers simply did not understand what was written.
However, it also seems clear from the oldest extant extra-Biblical Jewish
exposition of Scripture that methods of discovering allusion and meditating
on them were lost through unbelief. The leaders of the Jews in Jesus’ day no
longer understand the Scriptures.

What Allusions are Present in Deuteronomy 14:1-21?

We have already answered this question in part, but it might be helpful
to present a summary and clear statement of the allusions in this rich passage.
Let me begin by simply listing them.

1. In the words, “Ye are the sons of Yahweh your God,” there is
an allusion to Exodus 4:22, where the nation is called the “son of
Yahweh.” This, in turn, also provokes questions about what it
means to be a son of God and invites us to consider deeper
theological themes.
2. In the command not to cut themselves for the dead in the
second half of 14:1, there is an allusion to the priestly laws for
mourning in Leviticus 21:5-6. The law in Leviticus is
immediately followed by a statement that the priests must be
holy to God, which is also picked up in Deuteronomy.
3. In 14:2, when Moses declares that the people are a holy people
to Yahweh, he repeats almost verbatim what he had written in
Deuteronomy 7:6, clearly linking the two passages.
4. The key word usually translated “treasured possession”
points back to the story of Israel at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19:1-6.
5. The list of forbidden and allowed foods in Deuteronomy is a
repetition of the list in Leviticus, but there are differences which
would call for thought.
6. The list of forbidden and allowed foods in Deuteronomy
would inescapably remind an ancient Israelite of the story of
Genesis 2-3.
7. The law forbidding Israelites to boil a kid in its mother’s milk
(Deu. 14:21b) points clearly to the laws in Exodus 23:19 and
34:26, where the identical rule is given.


To restate what is involved in the seven allusions pointed out above,
there are allusions here to two stories: the story of the Garden of Eden and the
Fall (#6), and the story of the Exodus (#1), with its climax at Mt. Sinai in the
presence of the glory cloud of Yahweh (#4). There are also allusions to five
other passages of instruction in the law of Moses, Exodus 23:19 and 34:26 (#7),
Deuteronomy 7:1-6 (#3), Leviticus 11 (#5), and Leviticus 21:1-6 (#2).
In addition to these seven allusions, each of which is relatively easy to
discover, I am inclined to see another more subtle allusion to another story. In
order to see this allusion, we have to remember that when Biblical writers

quoted a verse or alluded to previously written Scripture, they are not “proof-
texting,” simply trying to prove a point by the authority of Scripture without
regard for the larger context or message of the passage they refer to. On the
contrary, Biblical writers quote or allude to previously written Scripture with
the larger context and message in mind. An allusion to forbidden food,
therefore, would not simply be an allusion to the verses in the Genesis story
where God commanded man about the trees (Gen. 2:16-17), but to the story as
a whole. A godly reader like David would recall and meditate on the story of
creation and the fall in order to have a deeper appreciation for the instruction
in Deuteronomy 14:1-21.
That being so, I believe that a good case can be made for another
allusion, though it is not directly stated in the text. It seems to me that
recalling the list of forbidden foods in Leviticus 11, especially with its
language of discerning the holy and common, clean and unclean, would
naturally also bring to mind the shocking narrative that immediately
precedes the food laws in Leviticus, for the food laws themselves point back
to the story of Nadab and Abihu — the sons of Aaron who were judged
before God for offering forbidden incense. The fact that their story recalls the
story of Adam and Eve makes the association all the more natural and likely.
If I am correct, there are, then, allusions to two main stories and one
secondary story, as well as allusions to five laws. In the next chapter, I will
discuss what these allusions communicate and show how they relate to each
other to form a network of allusion aimed to enforce a single message.

Chapter 5
Meaning of Allusions in Deuteronomy 14:1-21

I have argued that Deuteronomy 14:1-21 is an independent literary unit
that applies the Third Word to the lives of Israelites from the time of Moses
and Joshua. In this short pericope, Moses suggests broad and deep meaning
by means of literary allusion to the stories of the creation and the exodus
from Egypt. He also alludes to other laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy,
establishing a secondary literary allusion to the story of Nadab and Abihu. In
this chapter, I seek to show what the combined meaning of these allusions
would be, though I must admit from the outset that in the nature of the case,
stories and the laws that are related to them abound with significance. The
mine is too rich to be emptied in a short essay.
In order to unpack the meaning of these complex allusions, I exercise
what I hope is sanctified imagination. I try to imagine what a Joshua or David
might have understood, reading the text with the kind of literary sensitivity
such men would have had. Thus, in this chapter, I am not trying to read as a
Christian with a New Covenant perspective. However, my Christian thinking
may have intruded itself into my thought experiment in ways that I have not
noticed. All the same the attempt has been edifying for me and I hope it will
be for the reader also.

Alluding to Adam and Eve

As I said in the previous chapter, it is inconceivable that an Israelite in
Joshua’s day — or any time in Israel’s history — could have read a passage
which allowed certain foods and condemned others without recalling the
story of the Garden. Forbidden food is at the heart of the first story in the
Bible. When Moses forbids food again, a godly Israelite reading and thinking
about his words absolutely must reconsider the original story.

Adam and Animals
Where would the Israelite start in his meditation? I think that perhaps
even before considering the command about food, an ancient Israelite might
have considered man’s first contact with animals, since it is particular animals
that are forbidden in Deuteronomy 14:1-21. For moderns this might be
difficult and might not be the most natural starting point because few of us
have regular contact with animals. But in an agricultural society like that of

Israel after the conquest, animals would be very much a part of the daily
reality of the vast majority of the Israelites, even those who lived in the cities.
People with so much contact with animals would note the language
used. For example, in Deuteronomy, the animals that are forbidden are called
an “abomination,” a Hebrew word often associated with the immorality of
the Gentile nations in Leviticus (Lev. 18:27-30) and with Gentile idolatry in
the book of Deuteronomy (Deu. 7:25-26; 12:31; 13:14; 17:4; 18:9, 12; 20:18;
27:15; 32:16). In the book of Leviticus, the forbidden animals are called
“detestable,” a word which only appears 11 times in the Old Testament,
primarily in Leviticus speaking of the forbidden animals (Lev 7:21; 11:10–13,
20, 23, 41–42; Isa 66:17; Ezek 8:10). These are striking labels for the unclean
animals. In both cases, the words Moses used would have reminded readers
and hearers of Gentiles, especially their immoral customs and idolatrous
What is the connection with Adam? It is found in Adam’s naming of the
animals (Gen. 2:19-20). Naming animals involves analyzing them and finding
an appropriate “label” for each of them, one that depicts something of their
character, especially — I assume — something of their relationship with man.
God commanded Adam to name the animals in order to teach Adam who he
was and to educate him about his relationship with other created things. With
this background in Genesis, a foundational story for a godly Israelite, it
would be natural to view animals as God-designed sermons on life. Adam
listened to God’s basic instruction through the animals and won a wife. Then,
God sent another animal to teach Adam and Eve about the tree.
In other words, on the basis of the Genesis story of creation, Israelites
would view animals as God-given teachers. An Israelite reading about
animals, especially when the animals are specifically tied to Gentile customs
and idolatry, would have remembered the story of Adam’s naming of the
animals and sought to understand the lesson Yahweh was trying to teach
them through the laws of forbidden animals. In the case of some of the
animals, at least, the instruction would have been obvious. For example,
animals like lions or eagles that prey on other animals display a lifestyle that
is similar to idolatrous Gentiles that make war on and oppress other nations.
Though this does not give us a transparent rule for all of the prohibited
animals on the list, it does offer a partial answer, the beginning of something

Jordan notes that among fish, not all carnivores are forbidden. He concludes that
forbidden carnivores among land animals are not forbidden because they are carnivores, but
because of the other qualities mentioned in the text. It seems to me, however, that the
prohibition of carnivores among the land animals and birds is not the kind thing that would

Not only are the forbidden animals often animals that prey on other
animals to live, they are also and more importantly animals that share a
special relationship with the dirt that was cursed because of Adam’s sin. This
is the more profound connection between the various forbidden land animals.
Contact with dirt would be contact with death, with the land that called for
man’s death. Animals without hooves walk on the ground with their bare feet,
so to speak, and therefore are defiled with the dirt.
Beginning with this insight, it should not have been difficult to conclude
that the forbidden animals are similar to the serpent in the Garden that was
cursed to live in the dust and eat dust. So, animals that in one way or another
resemble the serpent would be unclean.
Also, the association of forbidden
animals both with Gentiles’ lifestyle and the serpent in the Garden would
remind the ancient Israelite that the Gentile nations’ worship of idols was not
worship of nothing. It was demon worship. Idolatrous nations were enslaved
to the Serpent and their lifestyles reflected their devotion to the devil. The
Israelites were the sons of Yahweh and their diet was restricted to animals
which had a lifestyle that reflected Israel’s calling to be a holy people.

Eating the Fruit
What else might a godly reader in Joshua’s day have discerned? To
begin with, I do not think it is far-fetched to imagine that such a godly reader
would have noticed the difference between a command like “Thou shalt not
kill!” and a command like “Thou shalt not eat from the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil!” Adam was created upright and good, but at the same time,
somehow, able to fall. There is a mystery here we cannot wholly penetrate,
but the facts of the situation seem relatively plain. Given that Adam was
upright, it is highly unlikely that the Tempter could have persuaded him to
murder Eve and eat her dead body. But eating the fruit of an apparently
arbitrarily forbidden-tree was something altogether different. The forbidden
fruit constituted a test of trust, not a test of basic moral sense, a test of love
and loyalty, not a test about something glaringly evil. That is part of the
explanation for the possibility of the temptation.

go unnoticed. How could an ancient Israelite not associate the carnivores with the Gentiles’
lifestyle — even if that is not the whole explanation?
The restriction to animals that divide the hoof and chew the cud is more difficult to
understand. James Jordan opines that the traditional interpretation is probably best. That is,
that dividing the hoof refers to discernment and chewing the cud to meditation on God’s
word. See, James B. Jordan, Studies in Food and Faith (Tyler, TX: Biblical Horizons, 1989), pp.
204 ff. I am also indebted to Jordan for the insight that unclean animals are connected with
the serpent.

I believe, too, that a reader in Joshua’s time could have thought through
the test in the Garden and understood the story in some depth, as allusions to
the story of the Garden suggest. Certainly he could have seen that as soon as
Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit that they not only had their eyes
opened, but they also came to know good and evil — albeit they knew good
and evil from the perspective of the person who had fallen into evil and
become its slave. That is part of what the Scripture means when it says that
they knew they were naked.
Thus, as an ancient reader thought about the story, questions would
come to mind, such as, What if Adam and Eve had refused the Serpent? (Do
we as modern readers really imagine that a godly man in Joshua’s day would
not have ask this?) The question seems inescapable. But what would have
been the answer? It seems relatively apparent that had Adam and Eve
refused the temper, they would still have come to the knowledge of good and
evil. The temptation would have been a help to them. Obeying God’s
command without temptation would not necessarily have taught them
anything. But having been tempted to doubt God and then refusing the
temptation by making a clear decision not to doubt His love or His word
would have resulted in enlightenment. As a result, they would have come to
know good and evil from the perspective of one who had decided to stand
with the good. Something like this line of reasoning should not have been
difficult for a godly reader in Joshua’s time.
What would that mean for the food laws in Deuteronomy? The first and
most obvious answer would be that the Israelites should trust Yahweh and
obey His laws, whether they understand them or not. But they should obey in
the hope that what they do not yet understand would someday be clear to
them if they obeyed in faith. The lesson would have been clear enough —
right understanding, like all blessing, comes through faithful obedience.

Temporary Restriction
There is at least one more inference an ancient Israelite could have made
as he reflected on the story of the Garden. As I suggested above, it is not too
far-fetched to imagine that a godly Israelite in Joshua’s day would have asked
himself, what if Adam had not disobeyed? He would probably have
concluded that if Adam and Eve had been obedient to Yahweh’s command
and refused the temptation to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil, they would have attained the knowledge of good and evil. But he might
have carried his reasoning one more step. He might also have concluded that
once that had attained that knowledge, the prohibited fruit would be no
longer forbidden. In other words, he might have reasoned that the

prohibition would have been temporary because it had a specific purpose.
Though the prohibition was arbitrary in one sense, it was not entirely so. It
was intended to be educational. Once Adam and Eve had graduated from the
school of the knowledge of good and evil, they would probably have been
allowed to take the fruit of that tree in commemoration of their graduation.
If a person reasoned that far, it would be easy to take the next step and
infer that the prohibition of Satan-like animals was also temporary and
educational. What would have been the lesson? Perhaps a godly Israelite
would think about it something like this: The serpent was under the curse,
but until the coming of the seed of the woman, the conflict between her seed
and the seed of the serpent would characterize human history. As the history
of the world from the Garden to the Conquest had shown, the seed of the
serpent often overpowered and persecuted the seed of the woman. Thus,
until the coming of the Messiah to save the seed of the woman, the people of
God would face trials and difficulties. They would be like sheep in a world of
lions and wolves. But when the Messiah came, He would crush the serpent’s
head, freeing the oppressed and leading to the fulfillment of the covenant
promise that all the nations of the world would be blessed through Abraham
(Gen. 12:3).
In this way, the prohibition of serpent-like foods would have been a
reminder not only of the fall of man and the serpent’s power in history, but
also of the promise of the Messiah. The godly Israelite, in other words, could
have understood the prohibition of serpent-like food as “you may not eat
these animals yet — not until the Messiah conquers the serpent.” The
prohibited animals could remind the Israelites that someday the Messiah
would come and conquer. They might also realize that after the Messiah had
conquered the serpent, they would be able to eat the serpent-like animals
because the Messiah’s dominion had been realized.
My suggested line of thought here may go too far for an ancient Israelite,
but I do not think it would have been impossible. At any rate, the forbidden
foods had a relatively clear connection with the serpent. If an ancient Israelite
could have seen that, he would have been reminded of the promise of the
Messiah who would defeat the serpent. He would be refusing certain foods in
hope of the Messiah. Food laws contained the promise and an encouragement.

Alluding to the Exodus

The allusion to the Exodus story is contained in the first words of
Deuteronomy 14:1 — “ye are the sons of Yahweh your God” — as well as in
the use of the technical term translated “treasured possession,” “His own

possession,” “peculiar people,” “precious people,” and so forth. The two
allusions together bring to mind the whole story of the Exodus, from the call
of Moses to the arrival at Mount Sinai. A godly Israelite recalling the story of
the Exodus would have much to meditate on. I can only suggest a portion of
what such a meditation might include.
The allusion to Israel as Yahweh’s son comes near the beginning of the
Exodus story as Yahweh commissions Moses in words that briefly encompass
the entire story of Yahweh’s judgment of Egypt.

And Yahweh said unto Moses,
When thou goest back into Egypt,
see that thou do before Pharaoh all the wonders
which I have put in thy hand:
but I will harden his heart and he will not let the people go.
And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh,
Thus saith Yahweh, Israel is my son, my first-born:
and I have said unto thee,
Let my son go, that he may serve me;
and thou hast refused to let him go:
behold, I will slay thy son, thy first-born. (Exo. 4:21-23)

For Israel to be Yahweh’s firstborn son implies that Israel has a special
place, the highest place, among all the nations of the world. Thus, in the story
of Exodus, the gift of Abrahamic covenant and the calling of Abraham and
his descendants to bring blessing to all the world reverberates in the
background. When Israel finally arrives at Sinai, Yahweh declares more fully
what His son’s special position among the nations is — Yahweh’s firstborn is
called to serve Him as the royal priesthood.
In Deuteronomy 14:1, the allusion to the Exodus 4:21-23 statement of
Israel’s sonship connects naturally with the allusion in Deuteronomy 14:2 to
Exodus 19:1-6 and the statement that the people of Israel are Yahweh’s special
treasure. Just as the allusion to sonship comes from an important passage in
the early part of Exodus, so, too, the allusion to Israel as a “special treasure”
comes from one of the most important declarations in the Old Testament,
Yahweh’s words to Israel when the nation arrives at Sinai. Note how this
short proclamation of Yahweh’s covenant grace is both introduced and
concluded with similar solemn language.

And Moses went up unto God,
and Yahweh called unto him out of the mountain, saying,


Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob,
and tell the children of Israel:
Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians,
and how I bare you on eagles’ wings,
and brought you unto myself.
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed,
and keep my covenant,
then ye shall be my special treasure from among all peoples:
for all the earth is mine:
and ye shall be unto me a royal priesthood, and a holy nation.
These are the words
which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. (Exo. 19:3-6)

What Yahweh had promised, He had accomplished. He did indeed
punish the Egyptians as He said He would, killing their firstborn to redeem
His own firstborn son. Moreover, He brought His firstborn son to Himself
(“brought you unto myself”) — profoundly personal language, which comes
with even greater emphasis when read in the light of the preceding clause. He
brought His son, Israel, to Himself “on eagles’ wings” — language repeated
in Deuteronomy 32:11.

As an eagle that stirreth up her nest,
That fluttereth over her young,
He spread abroad his wings, he took them,
He bare them on his pinions.

As Deuteronomy’s allusion to Exodus 19:4 shows, the reference to the wings
of an eagle speaks of Yahweh loving Israel with a mother’s love. Like a
mother eagle, with tender care Yahweh guarded Israel and carried His son
out of Egypt and to His mountain, to Himself.
The grace of redemption from Egypt and Yahweh’s motherly concern
for the son in the wilderness on the way to the mountain of God were the
prelude to the personal meeting at Sinai where the covenant was granted as
an expression of Yahweh’s redemptive love. Therefore, the statement “if you
will obey my voice and keep my covenant” cannot be read as if Yahweh’s
motherly affection had somehow been transformed into thundering threats,
or as if a king was now imposing a treaty on a defeated vassal. In fact, the
covenant intended to make the firstborn son of Yahweh a co-ruler with Him,
a “royal priesthood” and a “holy nation.”


Holy Nation, Holy Food
The food laws in Deuteronomy are prefaced by allusions to the Exodus
and Sinai, specifically reminding the Israelites that they were called to be a
holy nation because they were Yahweh’s precious treasure, beloved by
Yahweh with the love of a mother and father. They had been set apart from
all the nations of the world and had been given the gift of the covenant
because Yahweh had promised Abraham that his descendants would be
blessed and also be a blessing (Gen. 12:1-3). Since the Exodus itself was in
fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to Abraham (Gen 15:13-16), the whole
Exodus story and the gift of the covenant at Sinai could only be understood in
connection with Abraham.
The food laws, therefore, defined what it meant for Israel to live a holy
life in the holy land. Avoiding all serpent-like food, while awaiting for the
coming of the Messiah, constituted an essential aspect of Israel’s call to be
holy, to be different from the nations around her, for those nations were
enslaved to the Serpent. In contrast, for an Israelite every meal was to be a
confession that Yahweh had chosen them from among all the nations, called
them His firstborn, and given them His covenant as His holy people.
Israelites following the laws restricting them to holy food would been
proclaiming the truth that Yahweh had made them His holy people (cf. Lev.
11:43-45). Thus, the restrictions had a positive message and meaning.

Holy Food, Holy Mission
As the holy people of Yahweh, set apart from the rest of the world as
His special treasure, Israel had a special priestly calling, which the gift of the
covenant at Sinai stressed. Their calling to be a royal priesthood indicated
what it meant for Israel to be Yahweh’s firstborn. As royal priests, Yahweh’s
firstborn would rule the world with Yahweh — just as Adam would have,
had he obeyed Yahweh’s food laws. But Israel was to rule as a priestly nation,
which meant the firstborn had a spiritual calling to bring blessing to all the
nations of the world (Gen. 12:3). With the story of the fall in mind, it would
not be difficult for a godly Israelite to understand that obeying the food laws
which defined Israel as holy would be essential to fulfilling their mission to
bring blessing to the world.
It is also significant that Deuteronomy begins the list of permitted
animals with the three sacrificial animals which the priestly nation would
offer to Yahweh for the forgiveness of their own sins and the sins of the world
(Deu. 14:4). Eating meat was probably not an everyday matter for the
common Israelite. But at the festivals each year there would have been an

abundance of the meat of the sacrificial animals, so that Israelites would have
enjoyed their feasts in the presence of Yahweh (Deu. 12:7, 12, 18) — a
profound reminder of their priestly calling and mission to bring blessing to
the world.

Special Food, Special Love
Though we read the food laws as limits on Israel’s diet, that is not the
way they were supposed to see them. That is why, in Deuteronomy, Moses
begins by reminding the Israelites of Yahweh’s special love and calling,
displayed so wonderfully in the Exodus and declared so profoundly at Sinai
(Deu. 14:1-2). In this way, Moses’ introduction to the food laws was designed
to protect the Israelites from the Satanic slander that had succeeded in the
Garden. To Adam and Eve, Satan lied about the character of God. He
slandered Yahweh’s name, implying that the food command in the Garden
expressed mean-spirited jealousy, hatred, and petty mindedness. According
to the Serpent, Yahweh’s command was not fatherly love intended to instruct
His son, but Yahweh’s narrow, unloving demand. When Adam and Eve ate
the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were affirming
Satan’s slander of Yahweh’s name.
Any prohibition, especially one that was seemingly arbitrary, could
attract the same sort of slander. Since nations around Israel ate some of the
forbidden foods, the slander that Yahweh was prohibiting Israel from
enjoying good things could occur to an Israelite or be suggested by pagan
neighbors. Moses, therefore, puts the food laws under the Third Word as
defining what it means for the Israelites to bear the name of Yahweh in their
daily life, to live as His beloved sons and special treasure. The food laws are
prefaced by a reminder of Israel’s high calling and Yahweh’s covenant love,
so that the prohibition of certain foods would be understood in connection
with that special calling and parental love. Food laws that forbade serpent-
like animals were especially appropriate for a priestly people who would
draw near to Yahweh and bear His name in the world. Understanding the
food laws rightly — in the light of the preface and the allusions to the Garden
and the Exodus — would not only prevent Satanic slander or
misunderstanding, but also, and even more, make the food laws a blessing, a
reminder of Yahweh’s grace and love for His firstborn, as if the law read:
“You are Yahweh’s beloved son and special treasure, therefore in love
Yahweh has given you this special diet.”

Alluding to the law in Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy 14:2 is almost an exact repetition of Deuteronomy 7:6.
There is, therefore, no question about the fact of the allusion. But it is an
allusion to a law, not a story. In this case, it is important to remember that, as
I explained before, an allusion to a previous passage is intended to bring to
mind the whole context, not simply the repeated words. Recalling the whole
context in Deuteronomy 7 makes the reason for the allusion clear.

When Yahweh thy God shall bring thee into the land whither
thou goest to possess it, and shall cast out many nations before
thee, the Hittite, and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the
Canaanite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite,
seven nations greater and mightier than thou; and when
Yahweh thy God shall deliver them up before thee, and thou
shalt smite them; then thou shalt utterly destroy them: thou
shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them;
neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou
shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto
thy son. For he will turn away thy son from following me, that
they may serve other gods: so will the anger of Yahweh be
kindled against you, and he will destroy thee quickly. But thus
shall ye deal with them: ye shall break down their altars, and
dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and
burn their graven images with fire. (Deu. 7:1-5)

For thou art a holy people unto Yahweh thy God: Yahweh thy
God hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession,
above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth. (Deu. 7:6)

Israel’s holy calling required that Israelites avoid Gentile idolatry
completely and entirely. In particular, no compromise with or mercy toward
the nations of Canaan was permitted, for they were under the judgment of
Yahweh’s wrath. The reminder of Israel’s holy status and the blessing of the
covenant came also with a reminder of Israel’s calling to be an instrument in
Yahweh’s hand to judge the Canaanites — the calling which Israel failed to
fulfill when the holy people responded to the report of the 10 spies in unbelief,
giving in to the slander of the serpent (Num. 13-14).
The food laws are prefaced, then, with a reminder that can be seen to
constitute a warning as well. By alluding to a passage that repeats the
command to judge the nations of Canaan, Moses also reminds Israel of their
rebellion against Yahweh at Kadesh Barnea and their failure to believe

Yahweh’s promise, a theme that has been repeated in Deuteronomy (Deu.
1:19-46; 2:14-15; 9:22-24). Just as Adam’s obedience was tested with a simple
command, Israel’s obedience would be tested by food laws. Trusting Yahweh
and obeying Him as His holy people would bring success and blessing in the
coming conquest because Yahweh loved His son Israel and delighted to bless

Alluding to laws in Leviticus

As we have seen, there are two allusions to the laws in the book of
Leviticus. The more general allusion is to the food laws in chapter 11 of
Leviticus. The second allusion is more narrow, but I believe it would not have
been difficult for an ancient Israelite to discern, since the relatively rare
Hebrew word translated “baldness” is only used twice in the whole law of
Moses (Lev. 21:5; Deu. 14:1) and the basic content of the two passages is the

Priestly Laws of Mourning
By alluding to Leviticus 21:5, Moses directs the reader’s attention to a
paragraph defining the laws of mourning for the priests. This might seem out
of place in the introduction to the food laws, but it actually fits in well with
the allusion to Exodus 19:1-6 in Deuteronomy 14:2 — the story of Yahweh
making whole nation to be a royal priesthood. Thus, priestly nation had
mourning laws that were similar to and related to the mourning laws for their
Of course, for the nation as a whole to be Yahweh’s priests did not mean
that there were no distinctions among priests, as Israel learned in the
wilderness through the failed rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
Yahweh had called the whole nation to holiness, but within the general
priesthood given to the nation, there were distinctions. Aaron and Miriam
had to learn a similar lesson with respect to Moses (Num. 12).
What is interesting here is that one feature of the mourning laws
specifically given to the priests in Leviticus is repeated in Deuteronomy and
applied to the Israelites as a whole — though other restrictions on the priest’s
mourning are not applied to the nation. The fundamental issue was holiness,
a calling shared by the nation with its priests and reiterated in Deuteronomy
14:2 in a progression of thought that is basically the same as the passage in
Leviticus 21:5-6. Note also the concern for Yahweh’s name, the concern of the
Third Word.


They shall not make baldness upon their head,
neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard,
nor make any cuttings in their flesh.
They shall be holy unto their God,
and not profane the name of their God;
for the offerings of Yahweh made by fire,
the bread of their God, they do offer:
therefore they shall be holy. (Lev. 21:5-6)

The allusion to this priestly law in Deuteronomy 14:1, therefore, ties in
with the emphasis on Israel as the special priestly nation and to the special
demands placed on a holy people. Specifically, they are called to avoid
Gentile customs, — probably associated with idolatry (cf. 1 Kings 18:28) —
that would bring defilement. Obedience to the food laws, which would
constitute the Israelites as a distinct people, were similarly a way in which
they honored the name of Yahweh and lived a holy life as those who are near
Him, His priestly people.

Levitical Food Laws
The meaning of the narrower allusion is made more clear by the allusion
to the food laws of Leviticus 11, perhaps the first portion of the law an
Israelite would remember as he read Deuteronomy 14:3-21. The law in
Leviticus stands out especially because of the well-known words near the

For I am Yahweh your God:
sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy;
for I am holy:
neither shall ye defile yourselves
with any manner of creeping thing that moveth upon the earth.
For I am Yahweh that brought you up out of the land of Egypt,
to be your God:
ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (Lev. 11:44-45)

The emphatic statement “for holy am I” occurs in those exact words
only four times in the Old Testament, all in Leviticus (Lev 11:44–45; 19:2;
20:26; 21:8). In each occurrence, the people of Israel are called to imitate
Yahweh’s holiness as His called and chosen holy nation. The food laws in

Leviticus are emphatically laws of holiness for the nation called to be priests
to the Holy God.
Note how in the paragraph below, which briefly repeats the essence of
the food laws, there is similar emphasis on the relationship between food
laws and Israel’s call to live as Yahweh’s holy people.

Ye shall therefore keep all my statutes,
and all mine ordinances,
and do them;
that the land, whither I bring you to dwell therein,
vomit you not out.
And ye shall not walk in the customs of the nation,
which I cast out before you:
for they did all these things,
and therefore I abhorred them.
But I have said unto you,
Ye shall inherit their land,
and I will give it unto you to possess it,
a land flowing with milk and honey:
I am Yahweh your God,
who hath separated you from the peoples.
Ye shall therefore make a distinction
between the clean beast and the unclean,
and between the unclean fowl and the clean:
and ye shall not make your souls abominable
by beast, or by bird, or by anything wherewith the ground
which I have separated from you as unclean.
And ye shall be holy unto me:
for I, Yahweh, am holy,
and have set you apart from the peoples,
that ye should be mine. (Lev. 20:22-26)

Nadab and Abihu
There is something more implied in the emphasis placed on making
distinctions between clean and unclean animals. In Leviticus the repeated
command to make a distinction between clean and unclean (Lev 11:47; 20:24–
26) is grounded in the story of Nadab and Abihu, whose failure to make
proper distinctions in their priestly service cost them their lives. Immediately

after Nadab and Abihu are judged by Yahweh, and Aaron is forbidden to
mourn for his sons, Yahweh adds this instruction.

And Yahweh spake unto Aaron, saying,
Drink no wine nor strong drink,
thou, nor thy sons with thee,
when ye go into the tent of meeting,
that ye die not:
it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations:
and that ye may make a distinction
between the holy and the common,
and between the unclean and the clean;
and that ye may teach the children of Israel
all the statutes which Yahweh
hath spoken unto them by Moses. (Lev. 10:8-11)

Nadab and Abihu had failed to make the distinctions they should have
made between the holy and the common, the clean and the unclean. At least
that would seem to be the implication of this law forbidding the priests to
drink alcohol when they go into the Tabernacle. Apparently Nadab and
Abihu were drunk, which led to their indiscretion. They violated their call to
holiness. Since they were holy leaders in a nation that was called to imitate
Yahweh’s holiness, the incident held special significance, for it constituted the
fall of the priests, just as the sin of worshipping the Golden Calf at Sinai
constituted the fall of the priestly nation.
The incident with Nadab and Abihu is subtly alluded to in Leviticus 20
(quoted above) as it points back to the food laws of chapter 11 with its call to
imitate Yahweh’s holiness. Leviticus 20 repeatedly emphasizes the
importance of making distinctions, using a key verb four times. This is not
evident in English because English usage demands different words be used. I
have put the key verb in italics below.

I am Yahweh your God,
who hath separated you from the peoples. (20:24)

Ye shall therefore make a distinction . . . (20:25)

. . . which I have separated from you as unclean. (20:25)

And ye shall be holy unto me:

for I, Yahweh, am holy,
and have set you apart from the peoples,
that ye should be mine. (20:26)

The emphatic repetition of the key word from Leviticus 10 would serve
to remind Israelites of Nadab and Abihu’s sin and warn them of the
importance of making appropriate distinctions, for as a priestly people they
drew near to Yahweh to serve Him in His house. These associations all
belong to the food laws in Leviticus. In Deuteronomy 14, Moses’ allusions to
Israel’s sonship, the priestly mourning laws of Leviticus 21:5-6, Israel’s
mission to conquer Canaan (Deu. 7:1-6) and the gift of priestly status at Sinai
(Exo. 19:1-6) all combine with the allusion to the food laws in Leviticus both
to encourage Israelites by the reminder of Yahweh’s gracious love and to
warn them by the reminder of their past failure and the failure of Nadab and
Abihu. The set of allusions bring to mind both the grace of the covenant and
the weight of priestly responsibility.

Allusions and Daily Life

Assuming that an intelligent reader could and would note all the
allusions here, we need to consider the implications of such a meditation for
daily life as a godly Israelite. What would mediation on these allusions mean?
The answer, I believe, is at least fourfold.

Faith, Worship, War
For the ancient Israelite first hearing Moses’ sermon, or perhaps hearing
it read again for the 30
time, the allusions to the Exodus and his special
privilege as a son of God would strengthen his faith and encourage his
worship of God. For understanding the allusions would help him see what it
means that he bears the name of Yahweh not only in special worship, but also
in everyday life in the food he eats or the food he rejects.
In special worship, the ancient Israelites faced a complex reality. On the
one hand, a system of worship that forbade anyone but priests to enter the
tabernacle told them in no uncertain terms that they were not worthy to enter
Yahweh’s house. They could offer Him sacrifices, but they had to stand in the
yard outside the house. Only special representatives could go in, and even
then most of them were not allowed into the throne room of His presence.
That was reserved for the most special representative who was only allowed
to enter the throne room one day of the year for a brief ceremony. Does this
sound strange? Perhaps it does, but in ancient Israel this law had a special

purpose. For the whole priestly system and the forbidden house were
designed to remind Israel of Adam’s sin and the fact that mankind had been
cast out of the Garden with him.
On the other hand, however, the fact that the Creator of the world had
chosen the children of Israel out of all the peoples on the earth and had made
His abode with them communicated His grace and love in terms no less clear
and certain. The declaration that they were the “sons of Yahweh” and the
reminder that He views the nation as His “special treasure” would encourage
the Israelites to approach Yahweh without fear, trusting in the mercy and
grace of the God who saved them from Egyptian bondage.
Trusting in Yahweh’s love and grace and rejoicing in His goodness, of
course, would mean enthusiastic participation in the sacrificial worship
system, including both respect for the priestly system that keeps them away
from Yahweh — in contrast, for example, with Korath, Dathan, Abiram, and
On (Num. 16) — and also thankfulness for redemption from Egyptian
bondage — the theme of Passover, which began every new year, and the
Sabbath day (Deu. 5:13-15), which ended each week.
Beyond this, worship for the ancient Israelite was connected to warfare
in ways that most Christians do not think of. To begin with, the conquest
generation could not worship Yahweh and at the same time refuse to go into
the land and fight against the Canaanites. To believe in and worship Yahweh
necessarily meant to fight His battle. If they were the sons of Yahweh and His
holy people, they had to fight the holy war that He commanded them to fight.
The allusion to Deuteronomy 7:1-6 would bring to mind the responsibilities
of holy war for the people who have been blessed to be called His “special
But that is not all. Even though “holy war” in the narrow sense would
be over when the land of Canaan was conquered, there was another war
implied by the food laws — a war against idolatry and the Serpent. Referring
to forbidden food as “abominable” (Deu. 14:3) reminded the Israelite of
Gentile immorality (Lev. 18:22, 26–27, 29–30; 20:13) and idolatry (Deu. 7:25–
26; 12:31; 13:14). Their separation from immorality and idolatry was part of
the blessing of being Yahweh’s holy people, but it was also a call to the
spiritual battle against idolatry in their own hearts and a political battle
against all attempts to reestablish idolatry in the land.
The fact that the “abominable” animals were animals that were in one
way or another reminiscent of the serpent in the Garden would remind the
godly Israelite that the real battle was against the Serpent himself.
Throughout history the seed of the woman and the seed of the Serpent would
be locked in deadly combat until the true Seed of the woman appeared who

would defeat Satan and free man from bondage. Until He appeared, they
were to fight in faith. Every act of sincere worship, in which the name of
Yahweh was “lifted up” righteously, was a blow struck against the foe.

Self-consciously Wearing Yahweh’s Name
I argued in an earlier chapter that in Deuteronomy 14:1-21 Moses
sermonizes on the Third Word. Thus, the allusion to Exodus 4:22-23 and the
declaration that each Israelite is a son of Yahweh his God was intended to
impress on the ancient Israelites the fact that they “carry” the name of
Yahweh all the time, everywhere they go, in all that they do. Just as Moses’
instruction about the First Word included an exhortation to love Yahweh and
keep His words on their hearts (Deu. 6:5-6), so also his instruction on the
Third Word would impress them with Yahweh’s love for them and their
responsibility to live as His children.
As we saw, the law forbidding pagan mourning customs links to the
mourning law for the priests in Leviticus (21:1-6). Also, the allusion to Exodus
19:1-6 reminded the Israelites that they were a priestly nation. It would be
clear, then, that the prescribed priestly conduct was intended to picture to the
nation the life of Yahweh’s priestly people. The high priest in particular was
the representative Israelite. He wore on his chest the breastplate with the
stones for the twelve tribes and on his shoulders the names of the twelve
tribes inscribed in stone, as if to say that in his every movement he carried the
twelve tribes with him. His work was the work of the whole nation. But even
more important than the name of the tribes on his shoulder and their stones
on his breastplate was the name of Yahweh on his forehead: “Holy to
Yahweh” (Exo. 28:36-38). The high priest bore the name of Yahweh as His
In a secondary sense, then, for the people of Israel to be Yahweh’s sons
and a priestly nation meant that they, too, always bore the name of Yahweh.
Their clothing marked them out as Yahweh’s people because of the blue
tassels they wore, pointing to the blue in the tabernacle and the priests’

And Yahweh spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them
that they make them tassels on the wings of their garments

Every use of the word “blue” in the five books of Moses is to the tabernacle or the priests’
clothing, except the one reference to the tassels on the Israelites robes (Exo. 25:4; 26:1, 4, 31,
36; 27:16; 28:5–6, 8, 15, 28, 31, 33, 37; 35:6, 23, 25, 35; 36:8, 11, 35, 37; 38:18, 23; 39:1–3, 5, 8, 21–
22, 24, 29, 31; Num 4:6–7, 9, 11–12).

throughout their generations,
and that they put upon the tassel of each wing a cord of blue:
and it shall be unto you for a tassel,
that ye may look upon it, and remember
all the commandments of Yahweh, and do them;
and that ye follow not after your own heart and your own eyes,
after which ye use to play the harlot;
that ye may remember and do all my commandments,
and be holy unto your God.
I am Yahweh your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God:
I am Yahweh your God. (Num. 15:37-41)

Just as their clothing was to be a testimony to them of Yahweh’s love
and grace in order to remind them to do His commandments, the food laws
also were to remind them to keep all of Yahweh’s commandments so that
they would not profane the name of Yahweh by imitating Gentile idolatry,
but “carry” His name righteously to honor Him.

Education and Food Laws
Instruction of the next generation was a high priority in ancient Israel. A
godly Israelite would appreciate this deeply and probably think about
education or understand his duty along the lines I suggest in what follows.
First, nowhere is the importance of educating the next generation more
evident than in the book of Deuteronomy where the command to teach
children the commandments of Yahweh is included in the application of the
First Word as the daily expression of what it means to love Yahweh with all
the heart.

Hear, O Israel:
Yahweh our God is one Yahweh:
and thou shalt love Yahweh thy God
with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
And these words, which I command thee this day,
shall be upon thy heart;
and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children,
and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house,
and when thou walkest by the way,
and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand,

and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes.
And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house,
and upon thy gates. (Deu. 6:4-9)

Second, in addition to this profound exhortation to devote oneself to
teaching the next generation, we are given a concrete picture of ancient
instruction in the rules for teaching children at passover. Though it may not
be entirely clear from the passage, it seems that Exodus 12:26-27 is
establishing a sort of ceremonial form of instruction that would be repeated
each year at the passover.

And it shall come to pass,
when your children shall say unto you,
“What mean ye by this service?”
that ye shall say,
“It is the sacrifice of Jehovah’s passover,
who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt,
when he smote the Egyptians,
and delivered our houses.”
And the people bowed the head and worshipped. (Exo. 12:26-

Though encouraging children to be inquisitive may seem superfluous,
in this law godly curiosity is endorsed through a ritual in which children ask
the meaning of the Passover. Of course, this sanction of natural curiosity in
the celebration of Passover at the beginning of each year would have broader
ramifications. Children would feel free to ask the meaning of other laws as
well — which is, no doubt, exactly what Yahweh intended. In other words,
the law in Exodus 12:26-27 corresponds to the instruction in Deuteronomy
6:4-9. The one law commands parents to teach children; the other law
encourages children to ask questions promiscuously.
We must also note that the answer to the question above is a story,
however abbreviated. I assume that at Passover, the whole story would be
told over and over, which is why the abbreviated form would communicate.
But the point is, to the question, “What does this mean?” the answer is to be a
story, not a philosophical discourse. Israel was called to be a story-oriented,
story-full people.
It seems obvious, therefore, that the same process would be repeated
with the food laws. Children would ask their parents what it means that some

animals are clean and others to be “detested.”
It would have been easy to
imagine why mice or cockroaches should be detested. But why should horses
be detested? They have noble bearing and are beautiful animals. Children
might also ask why the people in the caravans traveling through Israel ate pig
meat, while it was forbidden to them. They would wonder why the aliens
living with them were allowed to eat animals that died naturally, but they
were not. In short, the food laws would have provoked multitudes of
When children asked about the animals and food laws, the parents
should have known how to respond because Deuteronomy alluded to stories
to introduce the food laws — the story of the Garden and the story of the
Exodus and the revelation of Yahweh at Sinai. These stories are rich enough
that they can be told over and over from many different angles. And, of
course, the stories themselves would provoke other questions.
Just as every Passover was a time of instruction, every meal afforded
opportunity to remind parents and children of the story of the command in
the Garden and Adam’s disobedience, the story of the promise of the Messiah
and the first animal sacrifice, the story of Abraham and the patriarchs who
received the covenant promises that were fulfilled in the Exodus, the story of
Moses and Pharaoh, and the story of Sinai. Since the food laws spoke of
Israel’s special calling to be different from the Gentiles and to fight against the
Serpent until the coming of the Messiah, each meal could and should have
been an opportunity to teach children by constantly rehearsing the stories
and promises. The food laws were given to stimulate natural curiosity so that
children could learn about and trust in the Messiah to come who would
defeat the Serpent and free not only Israel, but all the nations of the earth
(Gen. 12:3).

Israel’s Mission and the Food Laws
A godly Israelite would have realized that the geography of ancient
Israel was important. Every godly Israelite would have recognized that
Yahweh gave His special people a strategically located land which linked
Europe and Asia to Africa. The Cambridge Ancient History refers to a

Strictly speaking, the word “detestable” is not used for all unclean animals and is never
used in Deuteronomy. In Leviticus, the Hebrew word “detestable” occurs 9 times, but it is
only used of unclean fish, birds, and insects (Lev 7:21; 11:10–13, 20, 23, 41–42). However, in
Deuteronomy a parallel word is used and translated “abomination.” In Deuteronomy 14:3,
the word “abomination” seems clearly to cover all the unclean animals. Since the two words
are rough synonyms, it seems fair to say that all the unclean animals are “detestable,” though
the word “abominable” would be more correct.

“network” of trade-routes running through ancient Israel.
These routes
were profoundly important for trade between the great ancient empire of
Egypt with kingdoms and empires in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Media
or even further to the East. To have major trade routes on both sides of the
Jordan river meant that numerous caravans would be traveling through Israel,
carrying the riches of Egypt to Babylon and Persia, and vice versa. Since the
land was about 180 miles long, it would have taken perhaps five days or
more for a caravan to travel through it.
Caravans would need places to rest,
to water and feed their animals, and places to buy food (cf. Gen. 42:27).

In other words, Yahweh led His people to a place where the world
would come to them to hear the Gospel, so that every people could be blessed
through Abraham. Confronting a new and different diet, travelers would
almost certainly have asked the meaning of the food laws and customs. Given
such an opportunity, Israelites were supposed to be ready to tell them stories,
beginning with the story of the forbidden food in Genesis and continuing all
the way to Sinai and the new laws of forbidden food that distinguished Israel
as Yahweh’s beloved people.
If Israelites had kept the laws of Moses, it would have afforded them
numerous opportunities to tell the story of Yahweh’s redeeming grace to
Gentiles traveling through the land when they asked about the Israelites’
strange clothing and diet. The Sabbath would have been surprising to foreign
travelers, who no doubt would have been amazed to see not only the
Israelites resting one day in seven, but the slaves and animals resting, too.

Even the Mosaic law of capital punishment for murder would have been
surprising, since in other ancient Near Eastern societies murderers could
usually buy their way out of punishment.

The Cambridge Ancient History, edited by I. E. S. Edwards (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2008), Vol. II, part 2, p. 582.
A camel traveling 4 miles per hour for ten hours could cover 40 miles a day, but that seems
like a hard pace to keep up for a long time.
The story of the Levite traveling through Gebeah suggests that in many places lodging for
travelers depended on private hospitality (Jud. 19:15). Even though Gebeah was situated on
or near a smaller trade route, it apparently had not developed inns by the time of the Judges.
But in Jericho, Rahab ran an inn. So, even in ancient times, there was lodging and food for
travelers in some cities. By the time of David and Solomon, trade would have developed
much more and the major trade route on the coast would have been in Israel’s control, as
well as port cities like Joppa and Ashkelon.
There was apparently no parallel to the Israelite Sabbath in other ancient Near Eastern
cultures. See, John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context: A Survey of
Parallels between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), p. 35.
The laws of Ur Namu seem to demand the death penalty for murder [Martha T. Roth, Law
Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1995),
p. 72.] But the Hittite laws specifically allow for compensation [Ibid., p. 215], which was



In this chapter, I have tried to show how a godly Israelite with a well-
educated and sanctified imagination might have meditated on Deuteronomy
14:1-21. There was much for him to consider. The rich web of allusion in these
verses invited the ancient Israelite to mediate on his special calling and to
remember Yahweh’s gracious love in order to encourage him in the face of
temptation. It was not only the nation as a whole that was Yahweh’s son, each
individual Israelite, too, was given that name. Because the nation was
Yahweh’s special treasure, so were the individuals that made up its people.
This testimony of Yahweh’s love meant that in a secondary sense each
Israelite could be thought of as bearing Yahweh’s name in a manner
analogous to the high priest, who had Yahweh’s name inscribed in gold on
his forehead.
Among the allusions were some that would remind him of the sin of
Adam in the Garden as well as the sin of Israel at Kadesh. The Israelites who
first heard Moses’ sermon knew they faced great battles ahead and that they
must not imitate Adam’s disobedience or that of their fathers. Related to this,
food laws would have had special significance for people who for forty years
had been eating mostly manna. Their diet was about to change, but they had
to enter the land first. The food laws covered what they could and could not
eat after they crossed the Jordan when the manna had ceased. Thus, prefacing
the food laws with allusions to stories reminding Israelites of past sin should
have spiced each meal with warning and encouragement.
The detestable animals, with their Gentile-like violence and serpent-like
closeness to dirt, would also remind Israelites that they had been delivered
from Egypt in order to serve Yahweh as His special people. They were not to
live like the Gentiles or worship their gods. Rather, they were part of a
history-long spiritual battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of
the serpent. When the true Seed of the woman appeared, He would deliver
All of this counted as very practical instruction in what it means to bear
the name of Yahweh. Since they lifted up His name in praise and prayer, the
Israelites were called to a lifestyle like that of the sacrificial animals. Most

apparently most common [A Companion to the Near East, ed. by Daniel Snell (Malden, MA.:
Blackwell), p. 162]. However, there seem to have been significant variations among societies.
Conclusions are somewhat difficult because the information available is partial at best [A
History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, ed. by Raymond Westbrook (Leiden: Brill, 2003), pp. 77-
79, 130, 176, 515-518, 644-649, 810-811, 961-962, etc.].

especially, they were to eat every meal in hope for the coming Messiah who
would crush the head of the Serpent.

Chapter 6
A Christian Meditation on Deuteronomy 14:1-21

In the nature of the case, “the” Christian meditation on Deuteronomy
14:1-21 cannot be written. Meditation offers too many possibilities, opens too
many doors. There is not one and only one correct set of associations for a
Christian to consider when thinking of Deuteronomy 14:1-21. We could
consider how Israel kept or did not keep the laws here and what those laws
mean for us now as Christians. We could meditate on the whole notion of
sonship from its beginning in the Garden of Eden to its culmination in the
revelation of the Son of God. We could also consider almost endless questions
about what it means to “wear” the name of God. The list goes on. So, I do not
imagine that what I have to offer can even cover most of the bases, let alone
be a full exposition.

No More Clean and Unclean

I can, however, address the basic issue. In the new covenant there is no
more distinction between clean and unclean. This is most fundamental and
important. It seems that from the time of the fall, there was a distinction
between clean and unclean animals. At least from the time of Noah, the
distinction was well known, for Noah took seven of the various clean animals,
instead of just two, so that he could offer sacrifice after the flood (Gen. 7:2-5;
Erasing the distinction between clean and unclean animals is
tantamount to creating a new world, which is exactly what Jesus did. The old
world of the flesh and fallen Adam was the world in which clean and unclean
animals dwelt. It was the world in which the old Israel lived and worshiped
God. It is profoundly important to teach Christians that Jesus changed the
world, that His death and resurrection created a new reality in which the old
distinctions have been done away and replaced with something better.

Jesus and the Clean/Unclean Distinction

Jesus’ most profound comment on the food laws comes in a passage in
which He is rebuking the Pharisees for exalting their own traditions above
God’s law. As James Jordan explains, Jesus’ comments here critique the
Jewish laws that were added to Scripture, not the Biblical food laws per se. But
after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter, who stands behind Mark’s Gospel, saw that

Jesus’ instruction here had broader and deeper implications that what anyone
noted at the time.

And he called to him the multitude again, and said unto them,
Hear me all of you, and understand: there is nothing from
without the man, that going into him can defile him; but the
things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the

If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear.

And when he was entered into the house from the multitude,
his disciples asked of him the parable.

And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also?
Perceive ye not, that whatsoever from without goeth into the
man, it cannot defile him; because it goeth not into his heart, but
into his belly, and goeth out into the draught? (This he said,
making all meats clean.) And he said, That which proceedeth
out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the
heart of men, evil thoughts proceed, fornications, thefts,
murders, adulteries, covetings, wickednesses, deceit,
lasciviousness, an evil eye, railing, pride, foolishness: all these
evil things proceed from within, and defile the man. (Mark 7:14-

The words in parenthesis — This he said, making all meats clean — are
Peter’s later reflection on the profound meaning in Jesus’ words. But until the
cross, these words were not wholly in effect. What Jesus said was indeed true.
It would have been true in Moses’ day as well. If an Israelite was starving and
in need of something to eat, and if the only thing that presented itself at the
time was a pig, he would not be defiling himself in any deep sense by eating
it. Real defilement comes from within man’s heat, from which every sort of
sin and evil proceeds. Yahweh was never more concerned with pork than
with covetousness, adultery, murder, or theft. The food laws were intended
to be educational, not to define certain animals as having a sort of quasi-
magical power to defile.
However, it was Jesus’ death on the cross that reconciled all things unto
God, thus removing the distinction between clean and unclean, as well as
making the whole world holy in principle. There are now no especially

“holy” places in the sense in which the word was used in the Old
What Jesus taught in Mark 7 pointed forward to new covenant

Peter and the Clean/Unclean Distinction
Even though Jesus taught about clean and unclean in a way that pointed
to the erasing of the distinction, His disciples obviously did not grasp what
He said. So, when God granted Peter a vision of clean and unclean animals
and told Peter to eat indiscriminately, Peter objected.

Now on the morrow, as they were on their journey, and drew
nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray,
about the sixth hour: and he became hungry, and desired to eat:
but while they made ready, he fell into a trance; and he
beholdeth the heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending,
as it were a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth:
wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts and creeping
things of the earth and birds of the heaven.

And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill and eat.

But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that
is common and unclean.

And a voice came unto him again the second time, What God
hath cleansed, make not thou common. And this was done
thrice: and straightway the vessel was received up into heaven.
(Act 10:9-16)

Just as Peter rebuked Jesus when He spoke of going to the cross (Mar.
8:32), in Acts 10, Peter attempts to correct God: “Not so, Lord; for I have never
eaten anything that is common and unclean.” The translation above makes
clear one aspect of the meaning that some translations obscure. For Peter to
refuse to eat would be to “make” common what God had cleansed. To refuse

I qualify my statement because there may be places where the people live a much holier
lifestyle than others, and so the place may be “holy” in that sense. But in the old covenant,
the holiness of a place had to do with God’s presence and manifestation. There were
gradations of holiness, the temple being the most holy general area, and within the temple,
the most holy place being the holiest of all spaces. There is nothing corresponding to that
now in the new covenant era. God dwells in each individual who believes in Him. The
church has become the new holy place.

to eat pork, for example, for religious reasons is to “make” pork unclean, in
spite of the fact that God has already cleansed it. What does that mean?
As I pointed out above, we have to remember that the distinction
between clean and unclean was introduced by the fall. In the original creation,
all was clean. Holiness and unholiness are not quite the same. Differences in
the degree of holiness are differences in nearness to God, so it can be said that
even apart from sin, there would have been some places more holy than
others. Without the fall, however, there would not have been any place, thing,
or person who was unholy, just some that were less holy. The full system of
clean-versus-unclean and holy-versus-unholy that was established by the
Mosaic law presupposed the fall of Adam and the destruction that sin had
brought into the original harmony of the creation.
Jesus’ death on the cross changed all of that. The world that had been
undone by Adam was reconciled by Christ, so that in principle — though not
yet wholly in fact — the world was restored and even exalted. Paul says that
Christ reconciled “all things unto Himself, having made peace through the
blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or
things in the heavens” (Col. 1:20). The disharmony that entered the world
through sin was done away and peace was won. There cannot now be an
unclean person, thing, or place, and no food that should be regarded as an
“abomination” or “detestable.”
For men now, after the cross, to maintain the dietary rules of the old
covenant and to insist that certain foods are unclean is to deny the efficacy of
the cross and attempt to drag man back to the covenantal situation prior to
the cross. It is a form of rejecting Christ and the cross, even though a man
who does it, like Peter did, may have no such intention.
The vision to Peter made clear to early Christians that there could be no
more clean and unclean. In the case of Peter’s vision, God communicated that
Gentiles could be accepted equally with Jews through faith in Christ and
baptism. But this was as hard to digest as pork, so Peter continued to struggle
with the issue, as we see in Galatians when Paul had to rebuke Peter publicly
for refusing to eat with Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-21).


Christians in the era of the new covenant have much to learn from the
law of clean and unclean foods. But it is not something that applies directly,
as if these laws prescribed a truly Christian diet. It is, rather, the symbolism of
the law as originally given and as fulfilled in Christ that makes these laws
especially edifying for Christians.

An intelligent and godly Israelite in Joshua’s day would refuse pork not
only because God said to do so — though, of course, that would have been
sufficient reason — but also because he would have perceived the
relationship between pigs and serpents, and because he would have
understood that God forbade all animals that were similar to the tempter. If
he thought deeply enough, he might have understood that serpent-like
animals must not be eaten until the Messiah comes, who will defeat the devil.
To eat serpents is to have complete victory over them, but not until the
Messiah comes would anyone be able to confess their faith in Him by eating
For Christians, therefore, eating pork should not merely be seen as equal
to eating beef or chicken. Pork or shrimp are special in the sense that foods
that were unclean under the law are now clean specifically because of the
cross of Christ. They are victory foods. By eating what was formerly unclean,
we are confessing our faith in the victory of Christ and the cross. We eat the
serpent because Jesus defeated him.

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