Friday, June 24, 2005


"Never, Lord"

Acts 10 and 11 record a vision Peter saw (animals lowered in a sheet for him to kill and eat), through which God taught the church that the Gentiles were not unclean, but were in fact objects for the Gospel. It was a turning point for the church. Yet, at the time, Peter objected, using the words of Ezekiel in Ezekiel 4:14.

When Peter said, “Never, Lord,” (Acts 11:8) when told to kill and eat, he was not speaking a contradiction (how can God be Lord if we are saying no to him?). He was merely arguing for a modification of the plan, on the basis of Ezekiel’s request regarding his instructions.

The Mosaic Law set rules about which animals could and could not be eaten without ceremonial uncleanness (Leviticus 11). It also had rules about touching corpses, skin diseases, bodily discharges, etc., which would also result in uncleanness (Leviticus 11-15). By the way, ceremonial uncleanness was not the same as sin.

There was no rule against entering the home of Gentiles or eating with Gentiles; these were man-made extensions of the God-given rules. The very chapter where Ezekiel made his “Never, Lord” protest, however, includes a prophecy of uncleanness in exile among the Gentiles. Ezekiel 4:13 says, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the Gentiles where I will drive them.” This, however, indicates that the food is otherwise defiled and that the judgment will be worsened by the cultural embarrassment of being captive among Gentiles at the time.

God told Ezekiel to act out the siege of Jerusalem, lying on his left side for 390 days (one day for each year of Israel’s sin) and bearing the sin of Israel, while eating a meager diet of barley and beans cooked over a fire burning human excrement. He would then lie on his right side for 40 days to symbolize the years of Judah’s sin.

Ezekiel protested (v.14), “Never, Lord, God of Israel, because my soul has never defiled itself with uncleanness, and I have not eaten anything found dead or torn by animals from my youth until now, and no unclean meat has ever entered my mouth.” He is not denying the authority of God to give him orders. He is expecting God to be consistent with His own commitment through the covenant.

God changed the instructions based on Ezekiel’s complaint, saying essentially, “O.K., I won’t make you defile yourself. You can use cow manure for fuel. But you must deliver and act out my message of judgment.”

When Peter saw the vision of the sheet of animals, he thought of Ezekiel’s prophecy. The italicized words above (from Ezekiel 4:14) are exactly used in Peter’s protest as recorded Acts 11:8.

In the initial account of Peter’s vision in Acts 10:14 the verbal correspondence is less complete, which might indicate that Peter himself, thinking about the experience between its occurrence and the time he met with the believers in Jerusalem, reported his experience to the Apostles more in reference to Ezekiel’s experience.

In Peter’s case, God does not change the assignment in order to protect Peter from defilement. Instead, He responds essentially, “No, this won’t defile you, since I have made these foods clean [and these people clean]. But you must deliver my message of salvation.” As the rest of the story indicates, Peter got the message, and eventually so did the entire church.

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