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Vayikra/Leviticus 11:9 This you shall eat from everything that is in the waters ...
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Although they are part of the same list, the same set of dietary laws that Moshe and Aharon are commanded byHaShem to teach to the people, this command and the preceding command concerning animals - "These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the land animals" (Vayikra 11:2, NJPS) - stand apart from the remainder of the list. Birds are treated simply by, "the following you shall abominate among the birds -- they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination" (v. 13, NJPS), without any list approved for eating; flying insects start with "all winged swarming things that walk on fours shall be an abomination for you" (v. 20, NJPS), followed by permission to eat locusts, crickets and grasshoppers. What makes the first two categories different from the rest? They start with a statement of what you can eat, only then followed by the details of what you can't eat. The rule for animals and the rule for fish both begin on an essentially positive note. These specifications appear again in Moshe's second exposition of the covenant with the next generation of Israelites on the Plains of Moab, waiting to enter the Land: "These you may eat of all that live in water: you may eat anything that has fins and scales. But you may not eat anything that has no fins and scales: it is unclean for you" (D'varim 14:9-10, NJPS). In forty years, no-one has seen or eaten a fish, but Moshe repeats the rule, changing only forbidden status from "an abomination" to "unclean".
Rabbinic commentary, such as it is on these verses, mainly focuses on the details of the exclusions and why the exclusions are excluded. The rabbis want to know exactly what fins and scales are, the number of each that the fish has to have, when it has to have them and whether they easily can be removed. It makes a difference whether the fish swims close to the surface or is a bottom-feeder, or whether the water is flowing or stagnant. All of these questions relate precisely to the eternal Jewish question - How can a Jew live in a non-Jewish world? - but miss the main intention of this and the previous command, which is to say that 'fish' (and animals) as commonly encountered, are good to eat with a few exceptions, while what follows are generally not for eating with a few exceptions. We have to remember that in biblical days, many Israelites, for example those living in and around Jerusalem, would never have seen a fish, let alone eaten one.
Following rabbinic logic, as explained by Samson RaphaelHirsch, this is a general proposition followed by two particular cases, then followed in the next verse by prohibitions. The general proposition states that anything that lives in water may be eaten; the particular cases - having fins and scales, and living in flowing water (seas and rivers) - amplify the general proposition. The prohibitions that follow limit the general proposition by explicitly removing the categories - without fins and scales, no matter where they live - that are prohibited. Also prohibited are fish raised in water that is not flowing, such as a cistern or a vessel. Modern fish-farming confirms this latter point: fish that are bred or kept in stagnant or insufficiently flowing water are generally unhealthy and become diseased.
Perhaps this pattern of logic can help us resolve an apparent contradiction in the Apostolic Writings. All the gospels report multiple occasions when Yeshua exorcised demons from people. Although the stories vary, the overall message is quite clear: Yeshua had authority over the demons, not because He had permission from the devil, but because He had authority over the devil. The whole of the spiritual realm was subject to Him. Craig Keener makes the point that "Yeshua's widespread expulsion of demons constitutes no minor strategic retreat [by the devil], but a wholesale assault on Satan's kingdom."1 This authority is based on the fact that Yeshua had already defeated Satan at the Temptation - which is why He can delegate that authority over evil spirits to His disciples when He sends them out to minister in His name: "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons" (Matthew 10:8, ESV).
Matthew and Luke both present Yeshua teaching the parable of the strong man after He is accused of casting out demons "by Beelzebul, the prince of demons" (12:24, ESV). On the contrary, Yeshua says, "how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man?" (12:29, ESV). Luke's report of Yeshua's words is even stronger: "when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his spoil" (Luke 11:22, Bibvle(ESV)). That is precisely what Yeshua is and has done: He is stronger that the devil and, by refusing all three temptations during His wilderness experience after being baptised and anointed with the Spirit, He has defeated and bound the devil. Yeshua and His disciples are already dividing the spoil: healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead and preaching good news to the poor. Yeshua's words in the synagogue at Nazareth - "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (4:21, ESV) - are coming true!
Now, Mark's account is different. He omits the context of Yeshua casting out a demon and the following accusations and rebuttal. He doesn't have the parable of the strong man. Instead, he uses the context of the disciples complaining to the Master that other people, people who are not part of their circle - what, perhaps rather jealously, the disciples see as their inner circle as Yeshua's immediate, chosen, twelve - are exercising an exorcism or deliverance ministry in Yeshua's name. Mark starts with, "John said to Him, 'Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us'" (Mark 9:38, ESV). Somewhat to their surprise, Yeshua tells them not to interfere: "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in My name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me" (v. 39, ESV). It's okay, He says; if he is doing miracles in My name - which requires faith and relationship - then he won't speak against Me. He ends with the general proposition: "For the one who is not against us is for us" (v. 40, ESV); if you are not against Yeshua, then you are for Him.
Luke and Matthew - using identical words, "Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters" (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23, ESV) - present the restrictions to the general proposition. Keener comments, "Yeshua allows no would-be disciples to straddle the fence: one either follows Him or opposes Him, just as one does with the devil."2 Darrell Bock is equally blunt in his commentary on Luke: "To not consciously join Yeshua is to be against Him. When it comes to deciding about Yeshua, there is no neutral ground."3 This seems very black and white and appears to contradict Yeshua's words in Mark. How can we resolve this? Look a little more closely at the two different contexts and what Yeshua says. In Mark, someone who is not part of the 'in' crowd is exorcising demons in Yeshua's name; Yeshua endorses this and says makes the general statement. Although not one of the twelve, this other disciple is exactly that: a disciple. He is still a follower of Yeshua, rightly exercising Yeshua's authority in Yeshua's name. He is adding to or building up the kingdom of G-d by extending its reach and pointing more people to Yeshua, demonstrating that "the kingdom of G-d has come near to you" (Luke 10:9, ESV), just as Yeshua instructed His disciples.
In Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, Yeshua speaks to those who are not gathering with Him, who are not participating in His ministry and mission and will end up being the cause of division. Pointing to the intertestamental text, "They were scattered over the whole earth by lawless ones" (Psalms of Solomon, 17:18), Bock says, "rather than helping to bring in the harvest, the harvest is lost in their hands."4 These people, by rejecting Yeshua, by speaking against Him, cause division and fracture among the disciples and the kingdom of G-d. In the immediate context, they have questioned Yeshua's ministry, trying to credit His miracles to the devil, making Him out to be in league with Satan. Absolutely not so, Yeshua responds; He has already defeated and bound Satan, but the lawless ones - those who question and accuse Him - are, effectively, working with the devil to scatter and break up the flock. They are not with Him and they are scattering.
Like the fish in our text from the Torah, which are generally good to eat unless they have the specific signs of being non-kosher - no fins and/or the absence of scales - people who claim to be followers of Yeshua and are generally showing the signs of the kingdom, such as but not exclusively by performing miracles in Yeshua's name, but don't belong to a particular church, ministry or denomination, are to be recognised as disciples unless they show signs of division and dissension. Let's face it, we all tend to be rather parochial at times, judging others by whether they look, sound or behave like us. But Yeshua's message for all of us in these days when the kingdom is being forced underground and into exile until He returns, is "you will recognize them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:20, ESV).
1. - Craig S Keener, The Gospel of Matthew - A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), page 363.
2. - Keener, page 365.
3. - Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53 ECNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996, page 1084.
4. - Ibid.
Further Study: Luke 6:43-46; Ephesians 4:25-32
Application: The question for all of us today is whether we are really following Yeshua or just going along with the crowd. Are we gathering or scattering? Are our questions - and questions in general are good - helpful, honest and searching, or are we actually doubting and denying, scattering and dividing the people?
Comment - 09Apr23 19:29 Joshua VanTine: May we indeed learn from our Master Yeshua how to distinguish clean "kosher fish" with scales and fins, those who gather for the Kingdom, from the unclean who scatter and defile. A real blessing of a drash to ponder and act on at this moment. Shalom, shalom!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2023
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