If God came to you in a dream telling you to break the law, would you do it? Through the ages, people have claimed God has told them to commit all manner of evil, including murder. I feel we’re getting on thin ice by bringing this up. Know this, God wouldn’t tell people to commit evil, as that goes against his character. But what about other laws like breaking the speed limit or trespassing? Would God tell someone to break a law like that? If so, why? As we continue studying Acts 9:32-11:18, God is about to do just that.
In the previous post, we learned how God, in a vision, revealed himself one day to a non-Jewish man, Cornelius, instructing Cornelius to send for the Apostle Peter. If you want to read for yourself what happens next, open a Bible to Acts 10:9-16.
At noon that same day in Joppa, Peter is on the roof of the house praying, and God is about to blow Peter’s mind. Peter goes into a kind of trance and he sees a sheet from heaven dropping down to earth, holding animals from that list deemed unclean by Jewish law. The voice of the Lord then commands Peter to kill and eat them, and of course Peter is repulsed. He has never, ever, ever eaten any of those unclean foods. The Lord answers, “do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
A dream of a blanket with animals? What is that all about? A couple years ago, we had a sermon series through the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy chapter 14, we learned about a list of food that God categorized as clean and unclean for the nation of Israel.
“Clean and unclean” is not referring to delicious food and gross food. Instead, this list describes for Jews what is kosher or not kosher. Kosher means “fit,” but not “fit” like a person who exercises and is in shape. Kosher refers to what is “fitting” or “acceptable” to eat. Another way of describing it is “clean” and “unclean”.
Still today in Judaism, kosher law is a big deal. On a package of food, you might find some symbols indicating that food is kosher or clean. The heart behind kosher law is that Jews want to avoid anything that God has declared unclean.
God wanted Israel to be clean and holy, whereas the nations around them practiced a lifestyle and religion that was unholy.
Deuteronomy 14 verses 4-20, then, is a list all kinds of animals that are clean and unclean, very much related to the difference between holiness and that which is unholy. To our modern ears, the list might sound bizarre.
For example, Jews could eat sheep and goats, but not pig or rabbits. And they were not allowed eat insects, except for any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper, because they had jointed legs for hopping? Huh?
What gives with all these clean and unclean animals? Why does God choose some and not others? Scholars have numerous opinions about these perspectives, but the one option they all agreed on is this: some, if not most, of the unclean creatures were used in worship of other false gods, and of course Yahweh wants there to be no association between his people and false gods.
That is important to know, because that idea of cleanliness and holiness was their Jewish cultural identity for thousands of years. This is all that Peter has ever known. Furthermore, to this point, the church is maybe 3-5 years old, and frankly, those Christians hadn’t taken much initiative to follow Jesus’ command that they were to be his witnesses not only in Jerusalem and Judea, but to the whole world. Those original Christians were still thinking Jewish. They’re still thinking Kosher.
For them Kosher was not just about which foods were okay to eat. Kosher also dictated what kinds of people they would interact with. Basically, Jews would interact with Jews, and all others were “unclean.” With a few exceptions that we saw through Philip’s ministry in chapter 8, and through Saul’s preaching in Damascus in chapter 9, the Jewish Christians were also still thinking Kosher, keeping the good news about Jewish within Jewish circles. The vision that God gives Peter, therefore, is mind-boggling to Peter. God was clearly saying that Kosher was no longer in effect. As we saw in the story, though, Peter is really struggling with this. Why?
Anytime God would tell a person in a dream that he wants them to break a law, we should be struggling. Check back tomorrow as we try to put ourselves in Peter’s shoes. Maybe we would be struggling too.