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Bible verses about Eating as Metaphor
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Deuteronomy 8:2-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This is one of the earliest references to the parallel between physical and spiritual eating. It is not directly stated but implied. God intended Israel's experiences in the wilderness to instruct the Israelites that all of life, both physical and spiritual aspects, depends upon God's providence. These verses also confirm that leading a good life, an abundant life, is dependent upon one's spiritual, mental, and emotional base. These elements of the mind determine one's outlook, goals, and reactions to the myriad vicissitudes of life. These verses confirm that God directly leads us into many of them, as a means of instructing us, producing dual results: first, to experience them and develop certain characteristics; second, to test us so both He and we can see where we stand and how we cope.

A major problem is that human nature compels us to focus almost totally upon the physical. God provides us "wilderness experiences" to let us know that there is a spiritual aspect to life that requires feeding and maintenance just as surely as the physical. Prayer, study, meditation, and obedience are the assimilation process in this parallel. Within this feeding/assimilation process, our relationship with God, worship, and religion should be enhanced to play an effective, positive role in life. Worship is more than adoration and reverence; it is the response of the whole person to the entirety of God's will in all aspects of life. In the church, at home, on the job, and in the community, our direction must always be whatever God wills.

Starvation of the spirit is less obvious on the outside than physical hunger because the spirit starves much more slowly and it resides within. Spiritual malnutrition may go unrecognized for long periods because the body and life goes right on. Yet just as surely as one's body gives signs that it needs nourishment, so does the spirit, and it, too, will eventually be recognized on the outside by its symptoms.

When the body cries out for food, one feels emptiness in the stomach, weakness in the muscles, and even sleepiness. If it goes on long enough, a faintness and headache may arise. But when the spirit is malnourished either from deprivation or a harmful diet, the gradual reaction in life is different.

Spiritual weakness appears, as does sin. With sin comes anger, irritability, exasperation, depression, discouragement, melancholy, despondency, gloominess, bitterness, hatred, resentment, self-pity, hopelessness, despair, paranoia, envy, jealousy, family conflict, arguing, divorce, drunkenness or other addictions, and competitiveness as self-centeredness deepens.

A purpose of Deuteronomy 8:2-3 is to emphasize to Israel and now to us that the source of spiritual nourishment is more important than the nourishment itself. If we have the right source, the nourishment will be good. Otherwise, the situation is hopeless. Our source of nourishment must, of course, be God.

When tempted by Satan, Jesus quotes this verse (Matthew 4:4). He suggests in His answer that, unlike Esau, He received a vitality that sustained Him even though He had not physically eaten. Therefore, He had no need to succumb to Satan's temptation. Israel also demanded bread in the wilderness. They ate and proceeded to die there. Jesus denied Himself bread, instead trusting God in submission to Him, retained His righteousness, and lived.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Three)


 

Deuteronomy 8:2-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God's Word is just as essential to spiritual life as food is to physical life. Just as one must discipline himself to provide and eat physical food, so must one exercise discipline to seek and ingest spiritual food. If one will not do this, then, just as physical health will decline without adequate food, a person's inadequate spiritual diet will lead to spiritual disease. At the very least, one's quality of life will be severely compromised.

In Deuteronomy 8, God merely states that life has psychological aspects and does not indicate whether bread or God's Word is more important. It only states that God's Word is needed for life. By drawing attention to everlasting life in John 6, Jesus clarifies that what goes into the mind for processing and assimilation is far more important than what goes into the stomach.

The quality of what enters the mind will be the major factor that determines the quality of life. Jesus first emphasizes, using the imperative tense, that we should strive for the food that endures, that is, satisfies forever. He wants us to recognize its potential. Merely reading God's Word and putting it into the mind is just the beginning of its usefulness. We must combine further actions to our reading because the Word's ultimate effect does not magically happen. Principally, we must also believe it and put it into action.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Four)


 

Isaiah 55:1-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Isaiah 55:1-3 contains an appeal, continuing the theme that there is a spiritual food that nourishes the inner man and fills one's life in a way and with abundance that all of a person's material things cannot. That God is speaking about His Word is seen in the word "listen," which is directly connected to the phrase "eat what is good." This food is, of course, spiritual, and its source is God. Interestingly, He says to come and buy, but not with money. This food cannot be purchased with material wealth. All the money in the world cannot purchase it, but it still must be bought. Recall that the foolish virgins in Matthew 25 are advised to go out and buy oil from those who sell in preparation for the coming of the Bridegroom.

The "food" in Isaiah 55 and the "oil" in Matthew 25 can be bought only by means of the dedication and commitment of one's life in submission to Christ. By being a living sacrifice in prayer, study, meditation, and obedience, one becomes energized by the food of God's Word. In addition, one can "purchase" it only from those appointed by God to "sell" it. It can only be bought from those already converted and provided by God with the gifts to teach it to others. In most cases, this is the ministry of the true church.

Jeremiah 3:15 provides us with clear Old Testament evidence that the principle of feeding the mind with the correct instruction leads to good spiritual health: "And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding." God clearly states that a mind fed with the right things can produce wisdom, holiness, and happiness. In other words, He promises that those who hear Him will be fed the elements of an abundant life through shepherds who exhibit godly character. God's Word, if it is believed and practiced, produces a unique perspective of life and a balance that cannot be found through any other means. Nothing that man has produced through philosophy or religion can even come close. These elements of human society have played major roles in producing restless, anxious, violent cultures.

We must choose to secure the best diet for the mind to utilize and assimilate into one's moral and spiritual character, as well as other expressions of personality. The world produces an almost overwhelming amount of spiritual junk food and outright spiritual garbage, and it is within easy reach of any mind anywhere no matter where one lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Three)


 

Isaiah 55:1-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Remember who is saying this and to whom. Jesus Christ, the God of the Old Testament and our Savior is speaking, not to the world in general as some may think, but to all those who have made the covenant with God.

Under the Old Covenant, this includes Israel and Judah, and under the New Covenant, the church. Verse 1 essentially invites us to come and eat freely, that is, without restriction, because all that He offers is good to eat. However, the English translation hides a tone of pity. In Hebrew, it pleads for us to take advantage of what God has made readily available. It bears a pleading tone because suffering and discouraged people seem to be doing all but the right things to help them overcome their difficulties. These people are "spinning their wheels" in their preoccupation with Babylon, a type of the world.

By contrast, the tone of verse 2 is mildly chiding as well as urgently warning. It admonishes against spiritual foods that indeed may make one feel "full" but really do not nourish the spiritual life's genuine needs. Eventually, one feels that something is missing. Our Savior does not argue but asks, "Does all this really satisfy you? Is this the end to which you are called? Is this what life is all about?" He implies that those He has invited will have to choose to change their spiritual diet. Then He urges us to listen carefully. It is almost as if He says, "Listen! Listen!"

He then exhorts us to eat what is good, that is, what He has specifically made for this purpose. In verse 3, His admonishment becomes abundantly clear when He says, "Come to Me [and] hear." What comes from Christ truly nourishes, satisfies, and produces spiritual strength and richness, fortifying the spiritual wall that protects us from falling away.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Seven)


 

John 6:47-51   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Verses 47-51 reinforce the strategic role eating—listening to and believing in—God's living Word, Jesus Christ, plays in producing everlasting life. The knowledge that one gains by listening to and applying God's Word results in the greatest of all possible blessings: everlasting life. Remember, eternal life is quality of life as God lives it, as well as endless life.

Notice also that those who believe already have this life. It is the gift of Jesus Christ. Those who have believed have "eaten" Him, and thus He calls Himself the Bread of Life. This Bread does what no other bread, even manna, can do. It works to impart spiritual life and banish spiritual death. He adds that He is the "living bread," implying that He lived in the past, is living in the present, and will live in the future. He will always be there to provide nourishment. Further, we must not just taste this Bread. Once the process begins, we must eat it continuously so that we can assimilate Him into us and begin living life in Him and He in us.

Up to this point, Jesus has insisted that He, not manna, is the true Bread of Life. Now, He adds a new thought: This Bread will give His life in the flesh so the world may also live. He means that we cannot have everlasting life without also "eating," believing, accepting, assimilating, His voluntary, vicarious death by crucifixion for us. The Father gives the Son, and the Son gives Himself. Apart from this sacrifice, Christ ceases to be bread for us in any sense.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Four)


 

Hebrews 5:12-14   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In using milk as a metaphor in I Peter 2:2, Peter is in no way chiding people as Paul does in Hebrews 5:12-14. The former uses milk simply as a nourishing food because his emphasis is on desire, not depth. Paul uses milk as a metaphor for elementary because he wants to shock the Hebrews into comprehending how far they had slipped from their former state of conversion.

Paul also uses milk as a metaphor for weak or elementary in I Corinthians 3:1-2: "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able." Paul judges the Corinthians as weak based upon their behaviors and attitudes, which reflected no spiritual progress. So he "fed" these immature Christians elementary knowledge because things of greater depth would have gone unappreciated, misunderstood, and unused. These references directly tie spiritual diet to growth in understanding, behavior, and attitude.

Paul's milk metaphors are scathing put-downs! Undoubtedly, he seriously hurt the feelings of many in the congregation, yet he is free and clear before God of any charge of offense. He does not question their conversion, but he certainly rebukes their lack of growth. He rightly judges that they need to have their feelings hurt so they could salvage what remained of their conversion.

In I Corinthians 3, the embarrassing immaturity that required him to feed the people like babies also produced strife and factions in the congregation, proving that the people were far more carnal than converted. The Hebrews account is more complex: The people had once been more mature but had regressed. It is a situation vaguely similar to elderly people becoming afflicted with dementia, except that faith, love, character, conduct, and attitude were being lost rather than mental faculties. This resulted in the people drifting aimlessly.

An additional insight regarding an insufficient spiritual diet appears in the next chapter. Paul tells them that their problems are directly related to being lazy. Dull in the phrase "dull of hearing" in Hebrews 5:11 is more closely related to "sluggish" or "slothful." It is translated as such in Hebrews 6:12, ". . . that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."

Paul charges them with being lazy listeners; they are not putting forth the effort to meditate and apply what is taught them. They are, at best, merely accepting. That they are not using what they hear is proof enough for Paul to understand that they are not thinking through the seriousness or the practical applications of the teachings. In other words, they are not assimilating what they hear, and the result is a lack of faith and a consequent faithlessness. His rebuke is far more serious than the one in I Corinthians 3 because these people are older in the faith. They have frittered away a large amount of time that would have been far better spent on spiritual growth.

Paul attempts to shame and shock them into realizing how far they had slipped by calling these grown people—some of them undoubtedly elderly—infants. He goes so far as to tell them that they are unacquainted with and unskilled in the teaching on righteousness. In other words, he attributes to them the one particular trait of infants: that they do not understand the difference between right and wrong, a characteristic that defines immaturity. A parent must instruct and chasten a child until it understands.

The Bible provides ample evidence that a poor spiritual diet results in a spiritually weak and diseased person, just as a poor physical diet works to erode and eventually destroy a person's physical vitality. Similarly, we can see that a person can be in good spiritual health but lose it through laziness or another form of neglect. Just as a mature adult needs good, solid nourishment to maintain his vitality and remain free of disease, the spiritual parallel follows. For one to grow to spiritual maturity and vitality, a mature Christian needs solid, spiritual nourishment, assimilated and actively applied, to continue growing and prevent regressing, as opposed to the Hebrews sluggish spiritual deterioration.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Eight): Conclusion (Part One)


 

1 Peter 2:1-2   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Following I Peter 2:1, in which he admonishes us to rid ourselves of the fruits of spiritual junk food, Peter lists evidence of a mind afflicted with a poor spiritual diet. Malice is ill will, the desire to inflict pain. Deceit is lying or crafty, seductive, and slanderous activity. Hypocrisy is pretending to be what one is not. Envy is the strong desire to possess what belongs to another. Evil speaking is using the tongue to gossip, deceive others, or destroy reputations.

Peter proceeds to encourage us to crave God's Word just as a baby craves milk. He is not encouraging us to desire elementary spiritual food but emphasizing the energy we should exert to get good spiritual food. Babies demand milk as if their very life hangs in the balance at each feeding.

The apostle calls God's Word pure, meaning uncontaminated, unpolluted by fraud or deceit. God's Word is truth (John 17:17). David says that God's Word is refined seven times (Psalm 12:6). Truly, Peter is teaching us that God's Word promotes spiritual growth and good health just as good food can do physically.

In using milk as a metaphor, Peter is in no way chiding people as Paul does in Hebrews 5:12-14. The former uses milk simply as a nourishing food because his emphasis is on desire, not depth. Paul uses milk as a metaphor for elementary because he wants to shock the Hebrews into comprehending how far they had slipped from their former state of conversion.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Three)


 

 




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