In Matthew’s gospel, Yahusha Ha’Mashiach (Jesus) told weary disciples that the rest he offered could be compared to an easy yoke and light burden. In this period, the Pharisees, which Yahusha often referred to as the synagogue of Satan, strove to maintain a seemingly dead religious system of forgiveness that laid heavy burdens on the people beyond the original instructions handed down by Moses by Yahuah (God).
Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV
What does this passage about Messiah’s easy yoke and light burden mean? How is it applicable today? What does this passage look like from a Bible-believing Torah perspective? These are questions this writer hopes to answer.
Easy Yoke and Light Burden — A Clash of Opinions
There is no shortage of teachings available on the Web discussing Matthew 11:28-30. Many teachers correctly point out that the passage means we are to submit ourselves daily to Yahusha (Jesus) and walk side-by-side with him doing the excellent work of the Kingdom. However, by contending that the Law (Torah) is a burden that was done away with, they nullify this assertion by taking this passage out of context.
Others suggest that, under the grace doctrine, our relationship with Messiah demands nothing of us. They maintain that Yahusha did all the work based on a flawed interpretation of Psalm 55:22, which refers to Yahusha bearing the burden of our iniquities (sin) on the cross.
“Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.”
Believers have a role to play in working out their salvation in conjunction with Yahusha, our High Priest. Let us pause, revisit, and unpack the contextual interpretation of Matthew 11:28-30 to understand its application, then and now.
“Come to me all you who labor and are heaven-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The word for labor used here is the Greek word kopiao (G2872) which can mean: to grow weary, tired, or exhausted (with toil or burdens or grief). It can also mean to labor with wearisome effort; to toil. Although this speaks of the natural and physical labors of mankind, in this instance it applies to legal and spiritual burdens.
The Greek word used here for burden is phortion (G5413). It is defined as a burden, load, (of the freight), or lading of a ship. It can also be defined as a burdensome rite as in the obligation Christ lays upon his followers. Compare and contrast this to the precepts of the Pharisees who laid oppressive burdens on the people. More on this later.
First, let’s take a look at how modern-day dictionaries define the word burden. According to Merriam-Webster, a burden is something that is carried – a load; duty, responsibility; something oppressive or worrisome; the bearing of a load; capacity for cargo as in the phrase “beast of burden.”
Interestingly, the definition speaks of duty and responsibility, which correlates to a believer’s duty and responsibilities of keeping and following the teachings of Yahusha by following Yahuah’s commandments.
The Heavy Burden of the Scribes and Pharisees
In the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, Yahusha points out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. Although they taught the Word of Moses from a position of authority, they did not obey it. Instead, they added rules and regulations to Torah which became a veritable ‘yoke’ of insufferable servitude.
Then יהושע (Yahusha) spoke to the crowds and to His taught ones, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on the seat of Mosheh. Therefore, whatever they say to you to guard, guard and do. But do not do according to their works, for they say, and do not do. “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but with their finger, they do not wish to move them.”
Matthew 23:1-4 TS 2009
The yoke mentioned in Matthew 11:29 is the Greek word zygos or zugos (G2218). As defined, it is the yoke or coupling device that is put on draught cattle. The term can be used interchangeably as a metaphor for any burden, bondage (slavery), or troublesome laws imposed on people.
the wooden bar (or frame) that joins two draft animals together at the head or neck in order to work together
an arched device placed on the neck of a defeated person
a frame that is fitted to a person’s shoulders enabling them to carry a load in two equal portions
servitude, bondage, tie, or link — especially: marriage
In the biblical context, the yoke analogy only fits with possibly two of these definitions and biblically aligns more closely with one.
It is evident in the passage that this invitation from Yahusha is prompting us to be yoked to him. We are invited to come and be joined to him in his life walk. His life walk served as an example of following Yahuah’s (God’s) laws in purity and simplicity without the added burdens of the law which the Pharisees had imposed. In the process, we learn from Yahusha and follow his gentle direction down the narrow path which leads to life everlasting.
Many of us are familiar with the story of how Ezra led the second wave of Yahudim captives in Babylon back to Jerusalem. (Ezra 7:1-7) It was through Ezra’s efforts, and faith in the Most High, that Torah was once again elevated to a place of prominence among Yah’s people.
On the first day of the first month he began his journey from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of Yahuah upon him. For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Torah of Yahuah, and to do and to teach statues and ordinances in Israel.
The book of Ezra records how the man whose name means “helper” led one of the most important spiritual revivals of his day. The reforms instituted by this amazing prophet, scribe, and priest helped the people reestablish their covenant relationship with the Almighty.
When reading through the book that bears his name it is hard to miss this man’s faith and humility. Because the hand of Yah was on him, he was able to accomplish the impossible.
Ezra, whose name is transliterated as Esdras in Latin, possessed an insatiable curiosity regarding end times, the destiny of mankind, Yah’s promises to his people, and the Creation itself.
Ezra’s Creation Story Echoes Genesis, Jubilees, and Enoch
The scriptures inform us that we get back what we invest when it comes to spiritual maturity and discernment. Those who desire to know more about the Kingdom of Yahuah benefit the most when they are willing to spend time in prayer and study.
It is the glory of Yahuah to conceal a matter, and the honor of kings to search it out.
In the apocryphal book of 4 Ezra (2 Esdras), we are privy to an exchange Ezra has with Uriel,1 an angel acting as an agent2 of the Most High. Following a seven day fast, Ezra the scribe articulates his version of the creation event.
When you compare the six days of creation as described in 4 Ezra with the accounts in Jubilees and Genesis, the similarities are undeniable. Additional verses from Job, Amos, 1 Enoch, and Psalms imply a creation model that supports biblical cosmology.
This article is written for those who are willing to throw off the shackles of mind controlled religion and dip their toe into “extra biblical” waters — namely, certain ancient manuscripts that were removed from our western Bibles. The creation accounts in 4 Ezra and Jubilees3 are posted so you can draw your own conclusions as to their compatibility with the Genesis narrative. After you’ve compared these creation accounts, ask yourself if this extra effort paid off in terms of helping you acquire a greater understanding of biblical cosmology, certain end times events, and the importance of observing Yah’s feast days.
Creation Day one
The first day of creation is characterized by seven great works. The Creator brings order out of chaos and light is separated from darkness. This evident in the Genesis, 4 Ezra, and Jubilees accounts.
However, Ezra gives us this nugget of information that is missing from both the Genesis and Jubilees accounts: the light mentioned here is taken from Yahuah’s treasuries or storehouses. These storehouses are also repositories of natural phenomena such as snow, hail, and wind. (Psalm 135:7, Job 38:22, Jeremiah 10:13)
And I said, O Lord, you spoke from the beginning of the creation, even the first day, and said this: Let heaven and earth be made; and your word was a perfect work. And then was the spirit, and darkness and silence were on every side; the sound of man’s voice was not yet formed. Then you commanded a fair light to come forth of your treasures, that your work might appear.
4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 6:38-40
The Jubilees account is even more intriguing. Angels were created on day one and given and assigned classes. Angels of the Presence and angels of Sanctification made up the higher orders, while other classes of angelic beings were put in charge of natural phenomena.
For on the first day He created the heavens which are above and the earth and the waters and all the spirits which serve before him – the angels of the presence, and the angels of sanctification, and the angels of the spirit of the winds, and the angels of the spirits of the clouds, and of darkness, and of snow and of hail and of hoar frost, and the angels of the voices and of the thunder and of the lightning, and the angels of the spirits of cold and heat, and of winter and of spring and of autumn and of summer, and all the spirits of his creatures which are in the heavens and on the earth, (He created) the abysses and the darkness , eventide, and night, and the light, dawn and day which He hath prepared in the knowledge of His heart.
Creation Day two
On day two we are given information regarding the structural foundation that holds up the heavens (firmament layers). This was such a massive undertaking that it was the only thing created on this day. Pillars of heaven and earth, apparently buttressed by winds, support these firmaments which also divide the waters above from the waters beneath.
He spreads out the heavens like a vault; upon the waters has he founded it.
4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 16:59
Again, on the second day, you did create the spirit of the firmament, and did command him to divide and separate the waters, that one part might move upward and the other part remain beneath.
4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 6:41
O Lord who inhabits eternity, whose eyes are exalted and whose upper chambers are in the air4,
4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 8:20
And on the second day He created the firmament in the midst of the waters, and the waters were divided on that day – half of them went up above and half of them went down below the firmament (that was) in the midst over the face of the whole earth. And this was the only work (God) created on the second day.
Here is what the prophet Amos, Job, and Enoch have to say:
He builds His upper rooms in the heavens and founds His vault upon the earth. He summons the waters of the sea and pours them over the face of the earth. Yahuah is His name..
He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth upon nothing. He has inscribed a horizon on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness.
I then surveyed the receptacles of all the winds, perceiving that they contributed to adorn the whole creation, and to guard the foundation of the earth. I surveyed the stone which supports the corners of the earth. I also beheld the four winds, which bear up the earth, and the expanse of heaven. And I beheld the winds occupying the exalted sky. Arising in the midst of heaven and of earth, and constituting the pillars of heaven.
1 Enoch 18:1-510 Cephyr
Creation Day Three
Four great works were done on day three:
the dry land appeared
the waters (under the heavens) are gathered to form seas
vegetation and fruit bearing trees appear
the Garden of Eden appears
Upon the third day thou didst command that the waters should be gathered in the seventh part of the earth: six parts hast thou dried up, and kept them, to the intent that of these some being planted of God and tilled might serve thee. For as soon as thy word went forth the work was made. For immediately there was great and innumerable fruit, and many and divers pleasures for the taste, and flowers of unchangeable color, and odors of wonderful smell: and this was done the third day.
4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 6:42-44
And on the third day He commanded the waters to pass from off the face of the whole earth into one place, and the dry land to appear. And the waters did so as He commanded them, and they retired from off the face of the earth into one place outside of this firmament, and the dry land appeared. And on that day He created for them all the seas according to their separate gathering-places, and all the rivers, and the gatherings of the waters in the mountains and on all the earth, and all the lakes, and all the dew of the earth, and the seed which is sown, and all sprouting things, and fruit-bearing trees, and trees of the wood, and the garden of Eden, in Eden and all plants after their kind. These four great works God created on the third day.
Both 4 Ezra and Jubilees are consistent with the Genesis account of what happened on the third day.
Then Yahuah said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And Yahuah called the dry land earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called seas. And Yahuah saw that it was good. Then Yahuah said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the her that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth; and it was so.
Creation Day Four
On day four of the creation week the Sun, Moon, and stars appear. These three heavenly timekeepers will set the boundaries of night and day, and calibrate months and years, the seasons, and feast days. The Sun, called the greater light, is pre-eminent. It is appointed to be the great sign that will govern sabbaths, appointed times, jubilees, and seasons of the year. This is covenant calendar language.
The Moon and stars are the lesser lights that govern the night. (Psalms 136:9) All three are said to be located in the firmament.
On the fourth day you commanded that the sun should shine, and the moon give her light, and the stars should be in order: and gave them a charge to do service unto man, that was to be made.
4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 6: 45,46
And on the fourth day He created the sun and the moon and the stars, and set them in the firmament of the heaven, to give light upon all the earth, and to rule over the day and the night, and divide the light from the darkness. And God appointed the sun to be a great sign on the earth for days and for sabbaths and for months and for feasts and for years and for sabbaths of years and for jubilees and for all seasons of the years. And it divides the light from the darkness [and] for prosperity, that all things may prosper which shoot and grow on the earth. These three kinds He made on the fourth day.
Jubilees 2: 8(b)-11(a)
Then Yahuah said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and sasons,a nd for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth; and it was so. Then Yahuah made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. Hemade the stars also. Yahuah set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And Yahuah saw that it was good.
Creation Day Five
Birds and sea creatures are created on the fifth day and told to be fruitful and multiply. But Ezra tells us that it was on this day that two other beings were given life, and a purpose. According to Ezra, Behemoth and Leviathan were among the first fleshly creatures that were created. Behemoth5 occupied land where there are a thousand hills while Leviathan lived in the sea. (Psalm 104:26)
Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eats grass as an ox. Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly. He moves his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together. His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron. He is the chief of the ways of Elohim: he that made him can make his sword to approach.
Job’s description of Leviathan is equally as fascinating.
Can you draw out leviathan with a hook? or his tongue with and cord which you let down? Can you put a hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through with a thorn?
Shall the companions make a banquet of him? shall they part him among the merchants? Can you fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish spears?
Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth are terrible round about. His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal. One is so near to another, that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another, they stick together, that they cannot be sundered.
When you dig a bit deeper into the destiny of these two amazing creatures, you may come to realize that they were created for a specific purpose. There will be survivors of the Great Tribulation who will see New Jerusalem descend from above and flock there for medicine, food, and mercy. These two creatures could be on the menu — the ultimate surf and turf meal that will serve as rations for the hungry and destitute until the food supply can be replenished.
You break the heads of Leviathan in pieces, and gave him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.
And Behemoth shall be revealed from his place and Leviathan shall ascend from the sea, those two great monsters which I created on the fifth day of creation, and shall have kept until that time; and then they shall be food for all that are left.
2 Baruch 29:4-6
Upon the fifth day you said to the seventh part, where the waters were gathered that it should bring forth living creatures, fowls and fishes: and so it came to pass. For the dumb water and without life brought forth living things at the commandment of God, that all people might praise thy wondrous works. Then you did ordain two living creatures, the one thou called Behemoth, and the other Leviathan; And did separate the one from the other: for the seventh part, namely, where the water was gathered together, might not hold them both. Unto Behemoth you gave one part, which was dried up the third day, that he should dwell in the same part, wherein are a thousand hills: But unto Leviathan you gave the seventh part, namely, the moist; and has kept him to be devoured of whom you will, and when.
4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 6: 47-52
And on the fifth day He created great sea monsters in the depths of the waters, for these were the first things of flesh that were created by his hands, the fish and everything that moves in the waters, and everything that flies, the birds and all their kind. And the sun rose above them to prosper (them), and above everything that was on the earth, everything that shoots out of the earth, and all fruit-bearing trees, and all flesh. These three kinds He created on the fifth day.
Jubilees 2: 11(b)-13(a)
Creation Day Six
The animal kingdom and man are created on day six. In the Genesis account we are told that the animals were labeled “living creatures according to its kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth.” Man was created to have dominion over the entire earth. He was created in Yahuah’s image.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, and over all the earth itself and every creature that crawls upon it.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
The Hebrew word selem (#H6754) is translated in English as image. The word can mean a physical representation of something. The term is suitable when used in the context of idolatry. However, when we are told that man is made in Yah’s image (selem) and likeness (demut), the meaning refers to man’s intended purpose — given to him by his Creator. He was to have dominion over the entire creation as a type of vice-regent.
God’s image obviously does not consist in man’s body which was formed from earthly matter, but in his spiritual, intellectual, moral likeness to God from whom his animating breath came. The emphasis of the prohibition of idols is that they are all material created things. This spiritual aspect of man has been damaged by the fall and is daily tarnished by sin. But it was seen in perfection in Christ and will be made perfect in us when salvation is complete.
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, p. 768
Upon the sixth day you gave commandment unto the earth, that before you it should bring forth beasts, cattle, and creeping things: and after these, Adam also, who thou made lord of all your creatures: of him come we all, and the people also whom you have chosen.
4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 6:53,54
And on the sixth day He created all the animals of the earth, and all cattle, and everything that moves on the earth. And after all this He created man, a man and a woman created He them, and gave him dominion over all that is upon the earth, and in the seas, and over everything that flies, and over beasts and over cattle, and over everything that moves on the earth, and over the whole earth, and over all this He gave him dominion. And these four kinds He created on the sixth day. And there were altogether two and twenty kinds. And He finished all his work on the sixth day –all that is in the heavens and on the earth, and in the seas and in the abysses, and in the light and in the darkness, and in everything.
The 7th Day Sabbath Rest
And on the seventh day Yahuah ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on that day He rested from all the work of creation that He had accomplished.
Unfortunately, the Genesis mention of Yah’s resting on day seven does not go far enough in my opinion. The Father’s seventh day rest was intended for mankind as well. It was set-apart for us so we would have a day to rest from our work (labor) and reconnect with our family and our heavenly Father.
This sabbath day of rest was not something strictly mandated for “the Jews.” It was a way to identify true covenant keepers. Jubilees tells us that the Father makes note of those who honor the sabbath day (the 7th day of the week).
And He finished all His work on the sixth day — all that is in the heavens and the earth, and in the abysses, and in the light and in the darkness, and in everything. And He gave us a great sign, the Sabbath day, that we should work six days, but keep Sabbath on the seventh day from all work. And all the angels of the presence, and all the angels of sanctification, these two great classes — He hath bidden us to keep the Sabbath with Him in heaven and on earth. And He said unto us: ‘Behold, I will separate unto Myself a people from among all the peoples, and these shall keep the Sabbath day, and I will sanctify them unto Myself as My people, and will bless them; as I have sanctified the Sabbath day and do sanctify (it) unto Myself, even so will I bless them, and they shall be My people and I will be their God.
This seventh day Sabbath6 rest was given to believers of all biblical ages from Adam to Yeshua, and will continue into the eternal ages to come. Yeshua and his disciples kept the Sabbath and we are expected to honor it too. Keeping the Sabbath is a sign or a mark that identifies true believers.
Ezra Kept Asking, Seeking, and Knocking
The point of this re-examination of the creation event is to inspire followers of Yeshua to emulate Ezra — a man who wanted to go deeper with Yah. The Father always rewards believers who desire to know more about Him and matters related to the Kingdom. We have to think for ourselves as we walk out this very personal salvation. We live in an age where we can no longer be satisfied with spoon-fed “traditional” church doctrine.
For those brave believers who are ready to break away from the religious doctrinal herd mentality and determine for themselves whether books like Jubilees, 1 & 2 Esdras, 1 Enoch or Baruch deserve consideration, we hear you. The Study Tools section of this website is loaded with resource links to help you along your way. And, as usual, we encourage you to always seek the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Maranatha!
1 Uriel is one of four archangels mentioned in 1 Enoch 8:1 and is credited with being the angel who enlightened the scribe Ezra through many visions. Uriel, as one of the angels of the Presence, was sent by Yah to Lamech to warn Noah (his son) concerning the impending world-wide flood with instructions on how to escape this judgment. (1 Enoch 10:1-4)
2 For information on the role angels play in ministry and agency, see The Gospel Worth Dying For Chapter 9, “Agency and Prolepsis.”
3 The R.H. Charles translation.
4 Deuteronomy 10:14 (LXX): “Behold, to Yahuah your Elohim belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, and the earth and everything in it.” Yah dwells in the highest part of the firmaments – the Heaven of Heavens. This is why He is sometimes regarded as the Most High.
5 The word behemoth (Strong’s #H930) is the same in English as it is in Hebrew and is the plural form of the word behemah (Strong’s #H929). Behemah can mean beast, cattle, or large quadruped (four-legged) animal. It is interesting that this creature is connected to a location where there are “a thousand hills.” Just speculation, but is there a connection to Psalms 50:10 which states: “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle (behemah) upon a thousand hills?”
6 The Sabbath is NOT Sunday, which is the first day of the week. The Emperor Constantine made Sunday a day of rest from labor and the Roman Catholic Church made this change. Unfortunately many Protestant denominations followed suit. See the article, “Who Changed the Sabbath to Sunday?” (Linking to this article is not an endorsement of this website or its ministry. It is for research purposes only.)
Whenever you bring up the Bible’s prohibition against eating unclean food, get ready for a fight. It is not an easy conversation to have with most Christians. And if you live in Texas or Louisiana, what I am about to say could be considered fighting words. But this subject needs to be addressed, as it deals with how our Creator wants us to treat our bodies — the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Do you not know that you yourselves are Yah’s temple, and that Yah’s Spirit dwells in you?
I Corinthians 3:16
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from Yahuah? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify Yahuah with your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19,20
What agreement can exist between the temple of Yah and idols? For we are the temple of the living Yah. As Yah has said: “I will dwell with them and walk among them, and I will be their Elohim, and they will be My people.”
2 Corinthians 6:16
If our goal is to become more like our Father Yahuah and His son Yeshua, we must strive to model their behavior. This is a lifelong transformation process that can only happen by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:1,2) We have to think differently about Torah — or, the Law.
Unfortunately, many of us have sat through countless sermons where we were told that “the law” had been done away with on the cross. We were taught that Old Testament commandments concerning food had no relevance in our modern age with its advancements in medicine and nutrition. The impression was given that we could eat anything we wanted because of…you know…grace.
Grace without the law is anarchy. The law without grace is tyranny.
Many fail to realize that the entire canon of Scripture instructs us in how our Creator wants us to live. These instructions apply to every generation, beginning with Adam. The wall of division between Old and New Testament was put there by men. And yes, there have been changes in the administration of the covenant since Genesis. However, these changes are not to be confused with changes in Torah.
There are different ministries, but the same Yahuah. There are diversities of operations, but it is the same Elohiym which works all in all.
And it was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for works of ministry and to build up the body of Messiah, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Yeshua.
Administrative changes or adjustments have been made in Torah instructions. However, these changes should not to be taken to mean that either the Father or Yeshua abolished the requirements of the law altogether. (Matthew 5:17)
Now if the ministry of death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at the face of Moses because of its fleeting glory, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry of righteousness! Indeed, what was once glorious has no glory now in comparison to the glory that surpasses it. For if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which endures!
The directions and instructions given to us in the Torah (Law) are the guidelines we are to follow in order to live righteously in relationship with Elohim — a lifestyle that will ultimately lead to eternal life. As this precious relationship grows and matures, our thoughts, actions and deeds will align with His. This is the epitome of righteous living.
What is Food?
Nowhere in the New Testament (Brit Ha’dasha) do we see an administrative change in the rules regarding clean and unclean food. In a broader sense, dietary restrictions aren’t strictly about food. The rules that govern what we should or should not eat has everything to do with Yah’s concern for our health and well-being. Our Creator knows that certain plants and animals, when ingested, can either kill us or ruin our health. This is why we are given instructions on what types of animals we should avoid ingesting.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of what foods are off limits to us, we must first understand what food is and what it is designed to do for us. Let’s begin with a secular definition of food. The American Heritage Dictionary1 defines food as:
Material, usually of plant or animal origin, that contains or consists of essential body nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals, and is ingested and assimilated by an organism to produce energy, stimulate growth, and maintain life.
There are two Hebrew words for food mentioned in the Old Testament writings. One is ma’akâl (H3978). It can mean food, fruit, or meat. Maakal is taken from akâl (H398) which means to eat, devour, burn up or feed. It is first mentioned in Genesis 2:9:
And out of the ground made Yahuah Elohim to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food;
The other word for food is ‘ôkel (H400) which is the word Joseph’s brothers used when explaining why they came to Egypt. Okel can mean meat, food, eating, victuals or prey. It also carries the understanding that through sustenance one becomes whole and satisfied.
The Most High wants our bodies to be filled with meats and vegetables and grains that will cause us to be whole, satisfied, and disease-free.
Detestable and Unclean
The notion of clean and unclean animals did not originate in the Mosaic law given at Sinai. Yah’s commandments, statues and laws have been in effect since the first couple resided in the Edenic paradise. When Noah was provisioning the Ark, he made room for both clean and unclean beasts and birds.
The clean and unclean animals, the birds, and everything that crawls along the ground came to Noah to enter the ark, two by two, male and female, as Yahuah commanded Noah.
The clean animals were to be used in the sacrificial system of worship and for food. The unclean animals were “vacuum cleaners” designed to keep our earthly home clean. More on this later.
As part of his Torah instructions we are cautioned not to eat any detestable (abominable) or unclean thing so that we can live long and enjoy healthy lives.
You are therefore to distinguish between clean and unclean animals and birds. Do not become contaminated by any animal or bird, or by anything that crawls on the ground; I have set these apart as unclean for you.
Food laws were (and are) two-fold in their purpose. They apply equally to the civil and the ecclesiastical. In antiquity, the purpose behind making a distinction between clean and unclean meats was to discourage the Israelites from becoming influenced by foreign cultures regarding their dietary and religious practices.
The Hebrews were taught to abhor certain foods eaten by other cultures so as to be a distinctive, peculiar people set apart for Yah.
Unclean Food Fights
As was mentioned before, there is a popular misconception that the New Covenant effectively abolished Yahuah’s laws and commandments. Many people assume that clean vs. unclean food restrictions were limited to ancient Jewish cultural practices. However, ministerial changes enacted following the transition from a Levitical priesthood to the ministry of Yeshua did not void Torah’s clean and unclean food distinctions.
Both Paul and Peter stressed the need for all believers to practice righteous behavior as outlined in the Torah. By doing so we demonstrate to the world our set-apartness and put obedience on display. For those of you who remain unconvinced, we will look at New Testament Scripture verses that prove that Old Testament food instructions are still in effect.
Peter’s Vision in Acts 10
He became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven open and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, as well as birds of the air. Then a voice said to him: “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” “No, Lord!” Peter answered. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
Although many believers assume that Peter’s vision meant that Old Testament dietary restrictions had been lifted, they are mistaken. Peter’s vision had nothing to do with food. The conversation he had with “the voice” was concerning how “unclean” gentile nations would now be eligible for a place in Yah’s coming Kingdom based on the redemptive work of our Messiah. Their conversion would be based on repentance and faith in Yeshua.
Read down to verse 28 of the chapter for context. When Peter met up with Cornelius in Caesarea, he told the people gathered in the Centurion’s home that the vision concerned the Gentiles — the nations.
He said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with a foreigner or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.
When Peter professed to never having eaten anything common or unclean, he was still obeying Torah dietary restrictions 2 ten years after the crucifixion of Yeshua.
A Pauline Controversy in Romans 14
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on his opinions. For one person has faith to eat all things, while another, who is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not belittle the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted him.
Therefore let us stop judging one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. I am convinced and fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed by what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother, for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good, then, to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
In Paul’s day meat was often sacrificed on pagan altars and dedicated to pagan gods. This meat would subsequently turn up in local meat markets for sale. These verses fail to support the argument that Paul was teaching that the law governing clean and unclean animals had been rescinded. The issue here had everything to do with a person’s conscience.
The debate was centered around a believer’s freedom in Messiah; their liberty operating within the framework of Torah. New believers from pagan nations were told by Paul that they had choices. If they did not want to risk eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols they could fast, or eat only vegetables. If their conscience was was not bothered by eating sacrificed meat, they could eat the meat. That’s why Paul, said “let each be fully convinced in his own mind”3 because “whatever is not of faith is sin.” 4
Paul was not giving permission to eat pork or any other unclean meat. Romans 14 deals with the notion of Christian liberty — behaving according to what your conscience allowed.
The Colossian Food Police
Therefore let no one judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a feast, a New Moon, or a Sabbath.
This passage has nothing to do with eating clean or unclean meats. The Greek word for food used here is brosis, which describes the “act of eating.” This is evidenced in the following literal translations of this verse:
Let no one, then, judge you in eating or in drinking, or in respect of a celebration, or of a new moon, or of Sabbaths,
Colossians 2:17Literal Standard Version
Let no one, then, judge you in eating or in drinking, or in respect of a feast, or of a new moon, or of sabbaths,
Colossians 2:17Young’s Literal Translation
Let no man therefore create a disturbance among you about eating and drinking, or about the division of the feast days, the beginning of the months and the day of the sabbath:
Colossians 2:17Lamsa Bible
Paul was not addressing believers who were eating unclean animals, nor is he criticizing teachers who advocated in favor of Old Testament dietary practices. The argument over clean or unclean food doesn’t even come up in this passage. Paul was confronting some strains of asceticism — the avoidance of anything enjoyable. These false teachers believed that by denying the body, people could achieve a greater degree of spirituality. Paul summarized this belief as “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle.”
If you have died with Christ to the spiritual forces of the world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its regulations: “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”? These will all perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such restrictions indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-prescribed worship, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body; but they are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
The Timothy Dilemma
They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from certain foods that God has created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creation of God is good, and nothing that is received with thanksgiving should be rejected, because it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
1 Timothy 4:3-5
Were these teachers warning believers not to keep antiquated laws concerning clean and unclean food? Paul’s beef with these teachers was that they were telling people to obey commands not found in the Scriptures. The Father encourages marriage and tells us which foods are good for us. The real issue here were beliefs rooted in Greek philosophy which taught that the body was evil and only the soul mattered. Their rules made them appear “hyper spiritual.” In reality these were the doctrines of demons. Again, asceticism rears its ugly head.
Paul was telling Timothy — and us — to trust the Scriptures and not questionable teachers with ulterior motives. It is by studying the word in context that we will be able to identify which meats are set apart by Yah for our enjoyment.
Bible Translations, Interpretations, and Commentaries
Before we go any further, I have to give a shout out to Sean Griffin of Kingdom in Context ministry. Sean’s caveat is “context creates comprehension.” He asserts, and rightly so, that if you cherry-pick certain Scripture verses to support your preferred dogma or doctrine then you will deceive yourself. When studying the Scriptures we must always consider the context. (Exegesis vs. Eisegesis)
Unfortunately (or futunately) we are living in a time where there are so many English bible translations that it is impossible to give an exact count. Couple this with the fact that these translations come in different “flavors”5 then it becomes a real challenge for those of us who sincerely desire a deeper understanding of what the Father is trying to tell us in His Word.
Consider these verses in chapter 7 of Mark’s gospel:
Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, and they saw some of His disciples eating with hands that were defiled—that is, unwashed. Now in holding to the tradition of the elders, the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat until they wash their hands ceremonially. And on returning from the market, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions for them to observe, including the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles, and couches for dining. So the Pharisees and scribes questioned Jesus: “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders? Instead, they eat with defiled hands.”
Mark 7: 1-5
The key to this exchange is found by examining the context! The Pharisees wanted to know why Yeshua’s disciples did not honor their hand washing ritual. This confrontation was not about clean vs. unclean meat consumption. The Pharisees were insulted because their traditions were being ignored.6
Later in the chapter, Yeshua explained to the crowd that witnessed the exchange what it meant to be truly defiled.
“Are you still so dull?” He asked. “Do you not understand? Nothing that enters a man from the outside can defile him, because it does not enter his heart, but it goes into the stomach and then is eliminated.”
Mark 7: 18,19
Your Bible translation probably ends the verse with a statement in parenthesis. This means the publisher or translator took liberties to “help” you understand what is being said. In the case of Mark 7:18 and19, are they helping you understand, or are they pushing the narrative that the rules governing clean and unclean food was done away with? (Violating Torah by eating unclean animals would have been unthinkable to Yeshua and his disciples.7 )
Here is a sampling of the discrepancies found among available modern, classic, and literal translations.
For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) NIV
Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? KJV
Because it does not enter into his heart, but into the belly, and into the drain it goes out, purifying all the meats. LSV
…since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) ESV
…because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods. NKJV
…because it doth not enter into his heart, but into the belly, and into the drain it doth go out, purifying all the meats. YLT
…since it does not enter his heart, but [only] his stomach, and [from there it] is eliminated?” (By this, He declared all foods ceremonially clean.) Amplified
Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all kinds of food. Webster’s Bible Translation
Because it does not enter into his heart, but into the belly and goes out into the latrine. Purifying all the food. LET
…because it does not enter his heart, but it goes into the stomach and then is eliminated.” (Thus all foods are clean.) BSB
…because it goeth not into his heart, but into his belly, and goeth out into the draught? This he said , making all meats clean. ASV
For it goes not into the heart, but into the belly, and goes forth into the privy, purging all food. SLT
This confrontation was not about clean vs. unclean meat consumption. It was about man made traditions that teach people to disregard the commandments of Yah.
Yeshua was saying that our bodies are designed to process and excrete small dirt or dust particles that might enter the body via unwashed hands. He was telling them that it was more important to have clean thoughts. Bible translators, by adding parenthetical commentary, were misrepresenting Yeshua’s words in order to sell the doctrine that dietary laws no longer had to be obeyed.
Eat At Your Own Risk
Baby back ribs, shrimp scampi, gumbo, fried calamari and escargot. What’s not to like? Is the Father being mean by telling us that these are foods we should avoid? Watch the video and decide for yourself.
Set Apart People
Now if perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on this basis the people received the law), why was there still need for another priest to appear—one in the order of Melchizedek and not in the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.
Hebrews 7: 11,12
The administrative modification made following the change from the Temple system (involving the Levitical priesthood) to the ministry of Yeshua meant that certain rules were no longer applicable. The law governing those who would serve in this new type of priesthood was changed, but not rendered invalid.
You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:5
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9
Yeshua’s ministry does not invalidate Torah. With Yeshua as our High Priest of the New Covenant, we are assured of “better promises” that include eternal life in the coming Kingdom — not “better law.” We can look forward to new glorified bodies in which the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) will operate to the fullest, guaranteeing that we will never sin again. In the meantime, we are to practice righteous living by respecting and obeying Yah’s instructions on how to live holy lives in this mortal flesh.
Remember, it was the pagan nations with unclean practices that Yah’s people were constantly being admonished to avoid. Part of the calling of Yeshua’s disciples was to steer people away from the profane, idolatrous, and abominable.
Those who consecrate and purify themselves to enter the groves—to follow one in the center of those who eat the flesh of swine and vermin and rats—will perish together,” declares the LORD.
And Yahuah said to him,Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.
Nevertheless, the foundation of Elohiym stands sure, having this seal, Yahuah knows them that are his. And let everyone that names the name of Mashiach [the Anointed Messiah] depart from iniquity.
2 Timothy 2:19The Cepher
Righteous People Behaving Righteously
In Deuteronomy,8 Moses warned the people that they would suffer if they chose to disobey the commandments of the Most High. If they behaved righteously, by obeying Torah, their lives would be blessed. The same holds true for us today. (We become like the god we serve.)
In the case of food, we are what we eat. The greatest nutritionist you could ever consult would be our Heavenly Father. He literally wrote the book on nutrition. It’s called the Bible.
The Father knew way back then that eating pork, shellfish, and other unclean meats would make us more susceptible to stomach ulcers, digestive tract infections, and cancer. The danger lies in the unseen bacteria and toxic micro-organisms that these unclean animals and insects carry. It doesn’t matter what eccentric foodie bloggers think. When we disobey clearly defined dietary laws we will eventually pay the price.
The bottom line is will we be obedient or give into the demands of our flesh?
I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore choose life, so that you and your descendants may live, and that you may love Yahuah your Elohim, obey Him, and hold fast to Him. For He is your life, and He will prolong your life in the land that Yahuah swore to give to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Deuteronomy 30: 19,20
As you share this information with family, friends and others, it is important not to be argumentative. We must respect each individual’s freedom of choice. We should never try to push Yah’s Torah on adults who have the right to make their own decisions. Shalom.
Act wisely toward outsiders, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Colossians 4: 5,6
1 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition
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