When I was young, I did not understand that the guidelines for clean and unclean eating in the Old Testament were mostly about making sure you washed your hands before you ate. After all, that seemed immensely important to my mom when I sat down to eat, so it must have been equally as important to God. It was only later that I realized this was about what kind of food to eat:
Say to the Israelites: These are the creatures that you are allowed to eat from the land animals
So God says to Moses and Aaron, and so the long (and sometimes boring for Christians who do not follow kosher laws) section of Leviticus begins detailing what foods are acceptable and unacceptable, clean and unclean, for the Israelites. I have read some studies that show there were health reasons for the delineation between animals or cultural reasons, as the peoples who were in the Promised Land ate much of what the Lord deemed unclean. Quite frankly, though, for many Christians this seems to be a portion of the Bible that has no impact on our lives whatsoever. Yet there is a way we can take this section of Scripture and still benefit from it.
God spent much of Exodus showing both the Egyptians and the Israelites that God makes a distinction between the two peoples. This is to show that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is God and it on the side of those who worship Him. Now in Leviticus, God spends much time showing that there are distinctions within Israelite society. Israel is not holy simply because they are a chosen people. There are decisions they have to make in life and there are consequences to those actions.
By making a distinction between certain foods, the Israelites will have to make decisions as to what is God-honoring to eat or not to eat. This is a way in which to practice making God-honoring decisions in other aspects of life–such as murder, theft, lying, and what God one worships. By having to make everyday decisions about food, the Israelites’ wills could be strengthened to make the right decisions in those other areas of their lives.
This idea exists within the Church today in the discipline of fasting. Especially during Lent, many Christians voluntarily do without certain types of food. It is not because the food is evil in and of itself, but by denying that food it can strengthen our spiritual muscles so that we can deny temptation when it presents itself to us.
During the rest of this Holy Week, may we all grow in our spiritual strength!