Food. You’ll find it at the very bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and at the very top of God’s list of concerns. Today, nearly 1 in 8 people suffer from chronic malnutrition (resulting either from necessity or choice) and, while they fight the pangs of hunger, many more toss the scraps from their evening meal straight into the garbage can. From anorexia to obesity, it’s evident that both too little food and too much can have a damaging effect upon our bodies. But can our choice of what to eat and how much also impact our ability to effectively share the Gospel message?
That’s exactly the question that we’ll be exploring over the course of the next few weeks. As we do, we’ll examine the Biblical perspective on food, the role that food played in ancient cultures and how our decisions regarding what we will or won’t eat can influence the way people see our God. We’ll also take a look at some practical issues as we examine resources for determining whether what we’re eating is really good for us, share some tips for forming healthy habits, and present a few ways that we can play a role in providing food for those in need.
In order to fully understand these topics, however, we need to start at the beginning. The very beginning. Before He placed man upon the earth, God created food in the form of the vegetation that turned our dusty brown globe into a lush paradise. Whether that food was there to prevent the death of mortal humans (who may have lived like immortal humans in the presence of such abundance) or to provide enjoyment for immortal ones is an argument for theologians. For us, it’s enough to note that immediately after commanding Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply”, God issued a second command, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) From the very start, what men chose to eat (or not to eat) was what set those who followed God apart from those who didn’t.
We see this “set apart” pattern continued in the dietary commands given to the ancient Israelites. (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14:2-21) While some argue that the foods mentioned in these passages were forbidden due to unsanitary methods of storage and preparation, it’s worth noting that many of the surrounding nations from the Egyptians to the Canaanites, regularly partook of them and (at least as far as we know) didn’t experience higher rates of death or sickness than did the Israelites. The difference, however, was a readily visible one and those who came into contact with the Hebrews would have known fairly quickly that, “these people aren’t like us.”
While not all Israelites took these dietary commands seriously or obeyed them for the right reason, there were always those who did and the prophet Daniel is a fine example. In Daniel 1, we read how he and three of his friends, upon finding themselves in the court of the Babylonian king, made the request that they not be fed the less-than-kosher foods being offered to the other Hebrew captives. While their attendant was hesitant, he finally agreed to let them eat only vegetables and drink only water for a period of ten days. At the end of the period, the attendant would have the right to put them on the standard diet if they didn’t meet muster.
You can bet that these four men stood out at the dining table, their plates stacked with salad rather than steak. Doubtless, many of their fellow Hebrews saw their meal choice as a judgment upon anyone who didn’t stand firm according to the laws of Jehovah. The pressure must have been enormous, yet at the end of the trial period, then men who stood out because of their culinary selections also stood out for their strength and brains. They were different… and it was that difference that caused others to begin asking questions about just who they were and, more importantly, the God they served. (To be continued…)