The buzzard? The buzzard! But many other animals easily might have filled the same slot: the buzzard is simply an arresting example. So that we don’t dismiss as silly the notion that a buzzard is intended to teach us anything, please note that the following words come directly from the mouth of the Lord: “These, moreover, you shall detest among the birds; they are abhorrent, not to be eaten: the eagle and the vulture and the buzzard” (Lev. 11:13; see also Deut. 14:12). In addition to other creatures mentioned later, the list also interdicts the following birds: the kite, falcon, raven, ostrich, owl, sea gull, hawk, little owl, cormorant, great owl, white owl, pelican, carrion vulture, stork, heron, hoopoe, and bat (vv. 14-19). Doubtless, there were in some cases health reasons for banning the eating of certain creatures, but since that explanation does not seem to fit all the forbidden creatures equally, we must look elsewhere for the reason for the clean/unclean designation ordained by God. What might God have had His chosen people (and us by extension) learn from the lengthy and sometimes seemingly arbitrary designation of living creatures as either clean or unclean, edible or inedible, and abhorrent or acceptable?
1. God has a will concerning everything. What a teaching tool! Everywhere a child looked, he saw evidence that God’s will covered even the mundane areas of life, whether what foods were to be eaten, how they were prepared, childbirth and motherhood, diagnosing disease, even dealing with garbage and human waste. “Dad, why may we eat locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers but not flies and spiders?” “Because God said so, son.” All that life presented reminded the Israelite that God’s will governed everything they encountered.
2. Something is either right or wrong—according to God’s view. There were no grey areas in Israel’s life. Though they might not have been able initially to discern whether a certain choice or opportunity was of God, God made it dramatically clear that every action, every choice, every thought, and every desire was either right or wrong. And God alone is the arbiter who determines which it is.
3. The fact that we cannot always understand or explain God’s ways does not give us permission to disobey Him. God never tried to explain His choices of clean and unclean animals. He simply announced that one creature was clean, another unclean. He makes His will clearly known, but He is under no obligation to explain it to us. When Job questioned God about his trial, God simply gave Job a recitation of the power and wisdom He had manifested in creating and sustaining the world and all it contained. Job’s duty and privilege were to trust fully and obey implicitly.
4. Those who belong to God must avoid anything that would defile them. Distinctions between clean and unclean animals served as a constant reminder to Israel that God is holy and that He expected His chosen people to live lives separated unto Him. Egyptians, Syrians, and Babylonians might eat anything they chose. But God’s people had a higher calling. What they did on this earth was governed by heavenly and eternal considerations—not what was merely pleasant or seemed advantageous for the moment.
5. Everything should be done for the glory of God. Israelites daily received an object lesson in two truths elaborated in the New Testament: (1) “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (I Cor. 6:20); (2) “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31).
The buzzard teaches us that life does not consist of chance or a series of random choices, that believers live in a kingdom governed by God, that whether or not we can fully explain God’s will it is right and to be obeyed, that the small things matter to God, that we have been called to glorify Him, and that He richly blesses those who obey Him.
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