Posted in coaching

the weird clothing law

I have a lot of sympathy for those who have been wounded by insensitive and harsh treatment—especially from Christians. The last thing I want to do is to add more pain. So how do we interpret the weird law in Deuteronomy 22:5 that says, “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” Is this about who gets to wear the pants?

This law is a good example of how archaeology can help. Christianity is a historical faith based on actual events. In this case, archaeological discoveries can enhance our understanding of the clothing worn by people in the Bible.

The ancient cemetery of Beni Hasan in Egypt reveals a distinctive clothing difference between the Hebrew people and the Egyptians. The two Egyptians wear the traditional white linen kilt; but the Hebrews are wearing colorful robes. The length of the men’s robes stopped at the knees; the length of the women’s robes came down close to their ankles. The men are wearing sandals while the women wearing fashionable short boots. No one is wearing pants!

On the famous obelisk of Shalmaneser III, we see Jehu, the king of Israel, bowing before the king of Assyria. Neither Jehu, the Assyrians, nor the Israelites are wearing pants. If everyone was wearing robes, what was the reason for “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God”?

The word “abomination” occurs 117 times in the Old Testament. In the majority of cases, “abomination” is used to describe the behaviors associated with pagan, idolatrous practices that are abhorrent to God. Here’s one example: “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations” (Deut 18:9). OK, so we’re dealing with pagan practices.

Once again archaeology comes into play. The Canaanites were known for building “high places” to their gods, Baal and Asherah. These “high places” had an altar with rooms around it for “male cult prostitutes” (1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7) and “female cult prostitutes” (Hosea 4:14). Canaanite literature confirms that cultic prostitutes engaged in sexual acts with participants at the “high places” in order to elicit a response from Baal.

These cult prostitutes wore special garments that identified with Baal and Asherah—garments that would often disguise their gender. In 2 Kings 10:22, Jehu “said to him who was in charge of the wardrobe, ‘Bring out the vestments for all the worshipers of Baal.’” Worshippers of Baal wore clothes that identified them as worshippers of Baal. At one point, the Israelite women were even sewing the special garments. Josiah “broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord where the women wove hangings for the Asherah” (2 Kings 23:7). The exchange of gender roles in pagan cults was not uncommon in the Ancient Near East.

Deuteronomy 22:5 has nothing to do with “who wears the pants”! It’s really about idolatry. Idolatry always distorts God’s image, creating confusion for God’s image bearers. Instead of reflecting God’s image, idols can only reflect a confused, broken, distorted image. We must help each other to follow Jesus! Everyone is created in God’s image and deserves dignity and respect—no matter what identity issues they are facing. The good news of the gospel is that all of us are equally invited to be met and transformed by God’s tender loving grace in Christ Jesus.

Posted in coaching

the weird unclean food laws

Why were some animals and food declared clean, while others were labeled unclean? What was it that made camels, rabbits, geckos, mice, and pigs unfit for dinner? No amount of cocktail sauce could save the shrimp from being banned from the kitchen table! Why were these creatures classified as unclean?

If the primary purpose of the food laws was for health reasons, it is surprising that Jesus abolished them! There must be another reason. In Mark 7:18-19, Jesus said, “Whatever goes into a person cannot defile him” to which Mark interprets “(Thus he declared all foods clean).”

The observance of the food laws was the mark of the faithful Jew. Abstinence from certain foods set them apart from other peoples. As the laws distinguished clean from unclean animals, so Israel was reminded that God had distinguished them from all the other nations on earth to be his own possession.

This food-represent-people connection becomes evident when God shows Peter a vision of heaven opening “and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals … and there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’” Peter refused to eat any of the animals presented to him because the clean animals had been made “common” by being in direct contact with the unclean animals on the sheet. The idea of Gentiles being unclean (unacceptable) was so ingrained in Jewish thought, that Peter deemed it to be ‘unlawful’ (though God hadn’t) to associate with or enter the house of a Gentile. But “the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common’” (Acts 10:13-15). After God repeats this scenario three times, Peter finally gets the message.

When Peter meets with Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, he clarifies the symbolic meaning of the food laws. “God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). In the vision, there were animals and Peter rightly interpreted them to represent people.

Peter continues to expound on his new revelation. “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him … Jesus Christ … is Lord of all” (Acts 10:34-36). The distinction between clean and unclean foods is as obsolete as the distinction between Jew and Gentile. The food laws were never meant to keep the Jewish people from associating with non-Jews. To be “set apart” to God’s purposes does not mean disengagement with the world. God had always intended Israel to be a light to the nations, so that by her light, salvation may reach the end of the earth.

According to Paul, “Food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse” (1 Cor 8:8).  “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:4-5). God’s kingdom isn’t about food and drink (Rom 14:17). When we seek his kingdom and righteousness, our food will be to do God’s will (John 4:34).