Today we will be exploring the topic of the integrity, and how living out the firm convictions we hold about God’s word can be a shining example to others who don’t know God. These firm beliefs can have a positive influence into the world around us, and ultimately glorify God.
A clear example of this type of successful witness is illustrated by the early life of the prophet Daniel. In his days, the Jewish people had been taken captive to Babylon, and Daniel’s life began to take on a different purpose.
Daniel 1:1, 3, 5, 8 – “During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. … Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. … The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service. … But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.”
One of our admonitions from Yeshua in the Sermon on the Mount is to demonstrate virtue and purity that exceeds those who are merely following external commands (Matt. 5:20). Sometimes these external commands take the form of direct regulation, and sometimes these “commands” come in the form of allowances or tolerations of our culture that would violate the purity of our relationship with God. We must resist both forms of this type of cultural influence if we are to maintain our integrity and our holiness as God’s people.
In the case of Daniel and his friends, they were removed from their home and brought to a completely different culture under a new political regime. Even though they were favored within this new dynamic, Daniel and his friends, in their integrity, resolved not to be negatively influenced by this turn of events and to remain loyal to God.
The Hebrew culture that Daniel had been raised in had very specific dietary requirements in order to maintain faithfulness to the Torah, or instruction, of God for his people. This is spoken of in detail in Leviticus 11 where various types of animals are considered “unclean” for consumption by God’s people. These dietary commands were intended to be an indication of the holiness, or set-apartness of God’s people from among the other nations.
Leviticus 11:45-46 – “For I am Yahweh, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God, so you must be holy because I am holy. This is the law concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in the water, and all creatures that swarm on the ground…”
Since Daniel and his companions would have no idea what kind of meats might be provided to them during their captivity, they determined it would be best to stick only to vegetables, since there were no dietary restrictions in Torah regarding vegetable foods.
Now, to me, this demonstrates a high level of integrity that Daniel and his friends possessed. They had been removed from their homeland and were living in a totally different environment. And even though they were captives, they were being treated well. It would have been easy to justify eating whatever was provided to them. However, even given the “freedom” to eat all types of foods and meats in his new environment, Daniel was committed to remain faithful to the requirements of Torah at any cost.
Daniel 1:9-12, 15 – “Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. But he responded, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has ordered that you eat this food and wine. If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded.” Daniel spoke with the attendant who had been appointed by the chief of staff … “Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water,” Daniel said. … At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king.”
Now there are many people who have taken this information to mean that God desires all people to be vegetarians because of the positive effects of this type of diet on Daniel and his friends. And if someone chooses to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, I wouldn’t contest it. I think it’s totally fine and if done properly it can provide all of the necessary nutrients people need and it can have many healthful benefits. However, I don’t believe that this verse or passage should be used to justify that God desires all people to be vegetarian. Clearly, as mentioned previously in Leviticus 11, God has definitely allowed his people to eat meats, just specific kinds. This, to me, indicates something else was going on here. In this instance of Daniel in Babylon, I believe God was providing a unique case of nourishment for the point of demonstrating his ability to provide for those who remain faithful to him. Daniel and his friends became examples to this chief of Nebuchadnezzar’s staff that their God was able to meet their needs, even if it meant going against the cultural command or regulation of eating the royal rations.
This idea of foods and holiness continued to be an issue into the age of the apostles and the early Messiah believers. This may seem counterintuitive to most believers today because of the general understanding that Yeshua removed all restrictions on unclean foods for believers in the New Covenant. However, I am going to be presenting a different perspective today and one that I hope can at least be considered based on a demonstration of the information and history on this topic.
Regardless of how people today think there were no dietary restrictions on believers, the Bible clearly relates that there were at least some, which was demonstrated by the first council in Jerusalem in Acts 15. Let’s look at that findings of that council to see what those restrictions were.
Acts 15:19-21 – [James speaking] “Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those among the nations who turn to God, but instead we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood. For since ancient times, Moses has had those who proclaim him in every city, and every Sabbath day he is read aloud in the synagogues.”
Okay, so we can immediately determine a couple of things from this passage. Firstly, there were clearly sexual restrictions, and food restrictions on meat offered to idols, meat that had been strangled (or not bled out), and from blood specifically. These restrictions are all based in Exodus 20, Leviticus 18, and 19.
Exodus 20:4-5 – Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them…” [Food offered to idols would be considered serving the idol].
Leviticus 18:29 – “Any person who does any of these detestable practices is to be cut off from his people.” [The entire chapter there describes in graphic detail a whole list of defiling sexual practices].
Leviticus 19:26 – “You are not to eat anything with blood in it…”
So for believers today to say that there were no Torah dietary restrictions on believers in Messiah after the death and resurrection of Messiah, that is just not the case.
Secondly, this command is being directed at “those among the nations who turn to God.” Who are these people? Well, we know that the Jews had been scattered among the nations to Assyria and Babylon hundreds of years earlier in an event recognized as the Diaspora or Dispersion or Scattering. It is known that many if not most of them continued to live in those areas.
To demonstrate this, let’s review a list of those individuals who had assembled at that significant Pentecost in Jerusalem at the beginning of the apostolic age:
Acts 2:5-6, 8-11 – Now there were Jews staying in Jerusalem, devout people from every nation under heaven. When this sound [rushing wind] occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them [the apostles] speaking in his own language. … “How is it that each of us can hear them in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts), Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the magnificent acts of God in our own tongues.”
The study of tongues will have to remain for another time, however, we can see where all of these Jewish believers were living at that time: all over the known world. Additionally, Peter also emphasizes the mission to the Diaspora Jews by assigning his first epistle to those very Jewish believers:
1 Peter 1:1 – “Peter, an apostle of Yeshua Messiah: To those chosen, living as exiles dispersed abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…”
You see, non-Jewish Gentiles were not exiles that had been dispersed abroad, but Jewish colonies in these areas were. They were scattered everywhere, and this is why the apostle Paul began missionary journeys to these areas. He would begin first in the synagogue in those towns, and then share the gospel of the kingdom with anyone else who would listen if the Jews of that area rejected his message.
The third thing we can see from the Jerusalem council passage is that the restrictions that they came up with were aimed at those scattered Jews first and foremost. Why? Well James makes the following statement in v. 21: “For since ancient times, Moses has had those who proclaim him in every city, and every Sabbath day he is read aloud in the synagogues.”
Why would he mention anything about Moses and synagogues unless this was who the council’s resolution was aimed at? These facts help us identify that the message of these food restrictions was aimed at Jewish believers and the God-fearers (Gentiles who also worshiped the one true God) and were familiar with the dietary restrictions of Leviticus 11. They would be familiar with it because “every Sabbath day [Moses] was read aloud in the synagogues.”
This also helps us recognize why food offered to idols became such a focus among the early congregations, as idolatry is absolutely forbidden in scripture and would have been a hotly debated topic.
There was much concern among the various congregations regarding the types of foods that would be acceptable to eat, and the potential opportunities to eat unclean foods were many and varied.
There were markets in the urban areas where meat was sold in the nations to where the Jews had been scattered. Sometimes that meat had been offered to idols before being put out for sale to the general public in the market. Also, banquets were routinely held in the shrine of some idol; they didn’t have restaurants in those days. All of these cultural routines had become a source of contention for many of the early believers, because they couldn’t tell if the food they were purchasing or eating, even if it met the dietary restrictions of Leviticus 11, had been previously offered to an idol, thereby in their minds becoming unclean in the sight of the one true God.
The apostle Paul spends quite a bit of several epistles in attempting to address this cultural concern so that believers could maintain their integrity among the nations where they were living, and still remain faithful to God. Most prominently he addresses this issue in 1 Corinthians chapters 8 and 12, and Romans 14. Both of these believing communities at Rome and Corinth were living among idolaters, and would have plenty of opportunity to encounter food offered to idols. Some of the Roman believers had gone so far as to adopt the method of Daniel by only eating vegetables in order to avoid accidentally eating unclean food (Romans 14:2).
The ultimate point through all of this was that there was an emphasis on maintaining integrity and holiness as God’s people among the nations. God had emphasized to his people to “be holy because I am holy” in the context of the dietary restrictions of Leviticus 11, and his New Covenant people in those cultures were trying to maintain that level of integrity in their daily practice.
Now we come to our practices as believers today. Do the food restrictions of Leviticus 11 still apply to believers today? If it was a simple matter of all of Torah being done away with at the cross, as most people hold to in our current time, then the answer would be no, we are not limited in our food choices. However, as many of you who have participated in these podcasts or followed my posts at coreofthebible.org may know, I hold that Torah is eternal, regardless of covenant. I believe this because Yeshua was absolutely clear on this point in Matthew 5:
Matthew 5:17-19 – “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
I believe, as Yeshua taught, that only the Torah commands that have been fulfilled are no longer enforceable. This would include things like anything related to the priesthood or tabernacle, since those all foreshadowed the work of Messiah in life and in his substitutionary death on the cross. The commands have not “gone away” for the reason that they can still testify to the truth of Messiah, so that we can still see what they were and how they apply, but they have been fulfilled in Messiah. This is why we no longer have a need for a temple or animal sacrifices.
However, the food laws were not tied to the temple or the priesthood, but to the holiness or the set-apartness of God’s people. God’s people are only holy or set-apart when we live in holy and set-apart ways. We are still commanded in the New Testament writings to be holy.
Ephesians 1:4 – For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him.
1 Peter 1:15-16 – But as the one who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.
Unless a believer today thinks it’s ok by God to not be holy in all we do, then I believe we are commanded by God’s eternal Torah to abide by those same commands in regard to food. And really, when you pare the list down to its essentials, it essentially limits the modern believer’s diet only in regard to pork and shellfish. While God’s people have always been allowed to eat certain insects, I really don’t plan on beginning that practice.
Let me be quick to add that I believe this really is a personal decision of conscience between God and the individual, at least based on Paul’s instruction in this area. In regards to food practices of New Covenant believers, the term “conscience” is mentioned at least 8 times. Ultimately, Paul says that all things should be done in love, and that:
Romans 14:22-23 – Whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith, and everything that is not from faith is sin.”
Look, I’m not going to go around and condemn believers who still eat pork and shellfish because I realize that they are likely simply living in the tradition they were taught; I don’t believe they are being purposely rebellious toward God. I can only share my perspective based on my studies and practices that I have come to know over the years of looking at and reviewing the roots of these types of issues in the ancient cultures and texts. I know I don’t have all the answers, but I do my best to live faithfully to the convictions I do have, and really, that’s all that can be expected of anyone. The issue comes down to one’s understanding of covenant, law, Torah, idolatry, and holiness. These are big topics that require a large scope of wisdom and understanding of ancient cultural practices that in many ways do not make sense to us in our modern world.
What we do need to keep in mind is that integrity is based on our own understanding of God’s word at any given time. As we grow in faith, our understanding of these kinds of things can shift and grow over time, which may require different actions as we come to new awareness of our relationship with our Creator.
What we should focus on is that our commitment to integrity has the ability to influence others through maintaining a set of internal convictions based on God’s word that will not be shaken under any circumstance. This was how Daniel maintained a strong, positive witness for Yahweh even while in captivity in Babylon. This type of strong conviction is a highly valued commodity among all people because it is rarely seen in common practice.
Probably the simplest way to understand all of this information is that it is our obligation as believers to be so thoroughly committed to our faith that through our integrity we become the influencers of those around us, rather than allowing them to influence us. Don’t just know what you believe, but why. Understanding why we allow or don’t allow certain things in our lifestyle practice will provide the strongest witness to outsiders who are curious to understand more about the Bible, God, and Yeshua. These are the types of godly interactions that God can and does use to grow the kingdom, and to change the world.
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