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Holy to the Lord (Deuteronomy 14)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

1. Different

How different are we to the people that we live among? What is it about us as God’s people that makes us different to the people around us? If you were lined up alongside eleven others, would someone pick you out as the believer because of the way you live or would you be largely indistinguishable from the people of this world?

2. Holy to the Lord

Today we want to think about what it means for us to be God’s holy people. We are looking at chapter 14 of Deuteronomy where Moses reminded the Israelites of who they were and what it meant for them to be a people holy to the Lord their God. In verses 1 to 2 of chapter 14 Moses reminded the Israelites that they were children of the Lord their God. Out of all the people of earth the Lord had chosen them to be his treasured possession.

Deuteronomy 14:1-2

You are the children of the LORD your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, 2 for you are a people holy to the LORD your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen you to be his treasured possession.

Moses reminded the Israelites that as a people they were children of the LORD their God[i]. Out of all the people of the earth the Lord had chosen them to be his treasured possession. They were a people who were holy to the Lord. set apart for him. This meant that they were not to be like the nations around them, but they were to be like their God. As the LORD had told them, while they were still back at Mount Sinai nearly forty years earlier...

Leviticus  11:45

I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore, be holy, because I am holy.

In this chapter Moses mentions three things that were to mark the Israelites as his holy people: 1) the way they mourned their dead; 2) the food that they ate; and 3) and the setting aside of tithe.  We want to look at all three of these things and think about how they made them different to the people around them.

(1) Don’t mourn like pagans

Moses first told the Israelites that they were not to cut themselves or shave the front of their head for the dead (v1). He gave them the reason is the next sentence. It was because they were a people holy to the Lord their God.

Shaving your head and cutting your own body was a common way that people mourned their dead in the ancient near east[ii]  and sought the favour of their lifeless gods. But God’s people were to be different. They weren’t to be like the people around them for they were God’s people set apart for him. They were not to adopt the religious practices of the people around them and approach the Lord in the way that the people around them tried to get the attention of their lifeless gods.

We see an example of this much later in Israel’s history in the time of King Ahab in 1 Kings chapter 18. In that chapter we read the story of how Elijah the prophet confronted 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. There was a kind of showdown between the prophet Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal with all the people of the northern kingdom of Israel watching on.

Two altars were set up and the 450 prophets of Baal were to call their god and Elijah would call on the name of Yahweh and whoever answered with fire the people were to acknowledge as God. The 450 prophets of Baal danced around the altar that had been set up crying out to Baal as though if the made enough noise he would pay attention to them. When that didn’t get any response, we read that they shouted louder and “slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed” (1 Kings 18:28). We read that they did this until the evening sacrifice “but there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:29). Self-mutilation was a common way people in the ancient world thought they could get the attention of the gods. But it wasn’t to be this way with God’s holy people.

The Israelites didn’t need these extreme measures to get the attention of the Lord, their God. For the Lord was like a father who cares for his children (see Deuteronomy 1:31). He wasn’t distant or remote. He had drawn near and had made himself known. He had revealed his name to them, and he had rescued them out of Egypt and made them his people. He didn’t need to be cajoled for his people to get his attention.

The Lord Jesus told his disciples something similar when he said that we are not to be like the pagans who think that they will be heard because of their many words (Matthew 6:7). Jesus told his disciples not to be like them for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. We are not to approach the Lord the way that others approach their gods. He doesn’t hear us because of what we do, but because of what Christ has done for us to bring us to the Father. We need to remember who we are in Christ. We are children of God through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

(2) Don’t eat any detestable thing

In verses 3 to 21 Moses went on to explain that being holy to the Lord meant not eating any detestable thing. The laws that governed what the Israelites could eat would have been another way that Israel were set apart from the nations around them. It was to mark them out as being different.

We are not told what made some things permissible to eat and what made others detestable. But one of the clear differences between the Israelites and the nations around them was what they were willing to put on their plate and eat. The food laws had to do with what animals were to be regarded as clean and could be eaten and those that were regarded as unclean and could not be eaten. The list is divided into three general areas 1) land animals 2) water animals and 3) winged animals.

  • Land animals

In verse 4 and 5 Moses listed the land animals that they were able to eat. The principle that they were to follow is then given in verse 6. They could eat any animal that had a divided hoof and that also chewed the cud. The cud is the partly digested food that in some animals gets sent back up from the stomach to the mouth for a second round of chewing. It gets chewed again before it goes back down into the stomach to be fully digested.

The Israelites are told that they can eat of any animal were both conditions are met – they chew the cud and have a divided hoof. Animals that chew the cud but didn’t have divided hoof couldn’t be eaten and neither could animals that had a divided hoof that didn’t chew the cud. The pig was given as an example of the later.

  • Water animals

In verses 9 to 10 Moses states the principle that was govern what they could catch and eat from the water. If it has fins and scales it could be eaten, but if it didn’t it couldn’t. So, a snapper would have been OK to order at the fish and chip shop, but calamari and prawn cocktails would have been off the menu for sure.

  • Winged animals

The last general category of animals is those with wings including insects. They are told that they could eat of every clean bird. We aren’t told what birds are clean only those that weren’t in verses 12 to 18. In verse 19 all winged insects are ruled out.

After these three general categories of creatures two further prohibitions are given. Firstly, the Israelites were told that they couldn’t eat anything that they came across that had died naturally rather than having been butcher, although it was perfectly OK to they could give it to a foreigner to eat. Lastly, they were not to cook a kid (a baby goat) in its mother milk.

  • No clear explanation

What you might have noticed as you read these instructions is there is no explanation given as to why some creatures were able to be eaten and others were regarded as unclean and could not be eaten.

Lots of suggestions have been made over the course of history such as some animals being safer to eat than others as though the food laws were a matter of health and hygiene. Another suggest has been that some animals were associated with pagan rituals. Others suggest that some animals were ruled out because they would eat the rotting flesh of other dead animal. None of them are bad suggestions, but no explanation stretches wide and far enough to cover all the unclean animals.

For instance, in the case of dead animals if it was just a matter of hygiene why would be Ok for foreigner living among the Israelites to eat something that the Israelite couldn’t because of health and safety. The only explanation given in verse 21 for why the Israelite couldn’t eat it and why the foreigner could was …

Deuteronomy 14:21

“But you are a people holy to the Lord your God”

The food laws seem to be more about maintain a distinction between the Israelites and the nations. As they kept these laws they were reminded of two things. Firstly, that they were a holy people, a people who’d been set apart for the Lord. They were to be different to the people around them. As one commentator has concluded…

“Whatever the original reasons may have been, it is clear that the observance of these food laws serves to separate the people of Israel from others. Perhaps no single practice among Jewish people through the centuries has set them apart from other people more than the kosher food laws.”[iii]

But this way of marking out God’s people didn’t continue under the new covenant. Jesus taught his disciples that it wasn’t what goes into a person’s mouth that makes them ‘unclean” but what comes out of a person. It’s the evil that springs from sinful desires of our hearts. In saying this Mark reported that Jesus declared all foods “clean” (see Mark 7:14-18). The thing that marks us out as Jesus’ disciples is our love for one another. Jesus said to his disciples by this everyone will know that you are my disciples(see John 13:34-35). What is to characterise children of God is love. The apostle Paul wrote…

Ephesians 5:1-2

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

(3) Set aside a tithe (a tenth)

The third thing about being God’s holy people was that they were to aside a tenth of what they produced each year and take it to the place that God had chosen to celebrate and rejoice in his kindness and provision.

Deuteronomy 14:22-27

Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. 24 But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice.

The people were to set aside a tenth of what they had harvested each year and take it to the Temple. To make this easier, a mechanism was provided for those for whom getting there with their tithe would have been a major logistical nightmare. They could exchange their tithe for silver and then convert it back again into whatever they wanted to present as their tithe.

Tithes were used in part to support the Levites who served in the temple (see Number 18:21-24) but also as a celebratory meal that the whole family were to share together with the Levites in the presence of the Lord. Everyone was to rejoice before the Lord.

Deuteronomy 12:12

12 And there rejoice before the LORD your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns who have no allotment or inheritance of their own.

The only variance to this was that every three years all the tithes were to be stored away in the towns rather than taken to the Temple so that the Levites, and foreigners and the poor (the fatherless and widows) who lived in those towns might be provided for.

Moses told the people that they were to do this so that they might learn to revere or fear the Lord. It was teaching them to acknowledge the place that the Lord had in their lives as their provider and sustainer. He was the one who had supplied their needs. He would send the rain. He would bless the work of their hands and make it fruitful. As Moses had told them that if they were careful to follow his laws then the Lord would keep his covenant of love with them as he had sworn to their ancestors that he would. Moses told them...

Deuteronomy 7:13

13 He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and olive oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you. 14 You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor will any of your livestock be without young. 15 The LORD will keep you free from every disease.

It was just a matter of their hard work or picking the right time to harvest or to sow the seed or finding a good pasture for their flocks. The were totally dependent on the Lord to bless them. To set aside 10% to celebrate his generosity and support the Levites and the poor was for them to acknowledge that it was the Lord provided everything, not just the 10% but all of it. And it was to recognise that what he had supplied to them was not just to be used for themselves but to bless others as God had blessed them.

3. Children of God

How do you see yourself? The point of this chapter was to remind Israel that they were children of God and how they were to live as God’s holy people. Out of all the people on the face of the earth, the LORD had chosen them to be his treasured possession. and that they were to live as his holy people. They were to be like the people around them, but like their God.

  • This is what we are

We too need that understanding of who we are so that we might live as his people. The apostle John wrote…

1 John 3:7

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

We have become children of God. That is what we are, not through anything that we have done, but like Israel through God grace and kindness in saving us. In our case his grace that has been poured out on through the Lord Jesus Christ. Through his sacrifice on the cross for our sins we are now children of God, God’s holy people. It’s all those who believe in the Son of God who are given the right to be called children of God (John 1:12). That is what we are and that is how we are to live in this world.

  • We are to be different

We aren’t to go on living like the people around us who don’t know God. We are to be different. We are to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy. But that difference is now not seen in what we eat or don’t eat, but in our love for one another. Jesus said that this would be how they would know that we are his disciples. It would be in the way that we love and care for one another.

It will be seen in our generosity and the way that we share what we have with others. The way we use what we have been given reveals how we view God. It reveals whether we trust him enough to be generous with what we have. It reveals whether believe that what we have comes from his hand or our own.

The apostle Paul wrote that the Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7) and I think that at least one of the reasons that the Lord loves seeing his children giving generously and doing cheerful has to do with what the apostle says next. “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every good work”. A cheerful giver believes that. They trust in their Father in heaven to supply what they need. They believe that God can bless them abundantly so that that have all that they need to be generous and to get on with the good work that God has prepared for us to do. God loves seeing his children behaving like him. It honours him.

  • Remember who we are

Like Israel we are to remember who we are. We are children of God. We are God’s chosen people, his treasured possession and we to live in this world not like the people around us for whom their money and their possession are the security. But we are to love one another and to be generous and willing to share knowing that our Father in heaven knows what we need. We don’t need We don’t to cajole or persuade him to get his attention. He cares for us because through the mercy of the Lord Jesus giving himself for us we have become his holy people, his treasured possession.



[i] Literally they are referred to as “sons of Yahweh”. “Yahweh” is the name that God gave to Moses when he revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 3. In our English Bibles wherever you see the word “LORD” in capital letters that title has been used instead of translating God’s personal name, “Yahweh”.

[ii] J.A. Thompson, “Deuteronomy”, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, page 177.

[iii] Christensen, D. L. (2001). Deuteronomy 1–21:9, Revised (Vol. 6A, p. 294). Thomas Nelson.