Abomination to the Egyptians
The idea of “abominations” has deep roots in Israel’s story.
Back before Israel had any laws. Before the Ten Commandments. Before the Exodus. Before they had been given any rules about what to eat and what not to eat.
The idea (and the word) first appears when Joseph is Pharaoh’s righthand man and his brothers come and find him.
Joseph eats alone. Joseph’s brothers are then served on their own. And the Egyptians eat with neither—because eating bread with the Hebrews would be an abomination to the Egyptians (Genesis 43:32).
Israel in Egypt is a people excluded from table fellowship with their hosts because they, themselves, are an abomination to their host people.
And when Jacob, the patriarch of this family joins his sons in Egypt, when the whole family comes with all their flocks and herds, this exclusion is compounded. They are shepherds. And every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians (Genesis 46:34), so Israel will live in Goshen.
So when, five chapters later in the book of Exodus, God sides with Israel, God is siding with the abomination. He is not only coming to take the side of the enslaved against the oppressor, he is coming to take those who, from the very beginning, had been excluded from table fellowship because they were “an abomination.” He is coming to side with those who, from the very beginning of their time in Egypt, had been excluded from daily social intercourse because they were “an abomination.”
God took their side, embracing the abomination as God’s own beloved, first-born son.
Turning the Tables
As the laws for Israel unfold, they turned the tables on the nations around them. Israel an abomination? No—it’s the people of the land who are an abomination.
Israel was to keep its divine worship from mirroring the idolatrous abominations of the people who were in the land before them (Deuteronomy 7, 12, 13, 17, 18). In fact, the people of the land were to be utterly annihilated so that they would not teach Israel worship practices that are an abomination (Deuteronomy 20:16–18).
Then, of course, there was the food. Israel was not to eat foods that were an “abomination” (Deuteronomy 14:3). Just as Israel had been an abomination to the Egyptians, and this isolated them, prohibiting them from sharing a meal, so Israel would insulate itself with its own food laws, keeping its table “pure” from the “defilements” of the people around them.
The labeling of each of these things as “abominations” was not simply a statement of how they were perceived by God. They were statements of how Israel perceived their neighbors. They were religious commitments with severe social judgments.
Israel would be separate. They would avoid the people of the land. They would annihilate the people of the land.
They had adopted the script of the Egyptians, but written themselves into the place of powerful.
Opening Up the Table
The apostle Peter might be excused for having a hard time with his alleged dream. When a sheet of creepy crawly things appears and a voice says, “Rise! Kill and eat!” it is almost certainly going to be a test.
“Will you, Peter, stand for the purity demanded by the Lord, rather than eat this sizzling piece of bacon?” “Yes, Father! Nothing unclean has ever passed my lips. No abominations for me! Now, please take that plate away!”
But that’s not how it went down. Instead, it was a massive revision in the abominable. God was embracing the abomination as God has done at the Exodus. God was purifying what previously was “unclean.”
“What I have purified, don’t you defile.”
The table would be opened up. Now, no longer would the law of purity and impurity, of food as “abomination,” isolate the people of God from the people of the land.
The script had changed. No longer was it the same script of the powerful pure sealing themselves off from the abominable outsiders. God had embraced the abomination. Again. And shown that the purifying power of God’s embrace overcomes the defiling power of the world’s “abominations.”
And So the Pastor Reads
In 2016 the pastor stands up to read: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22).
And we must ask: where is God in this?
Is God upholding the script of the Egyptians that excluded the Israelites as an abomination? Is God upholding the script of the Israelites that held the people of the land and their practices to be an abomination? Is God upholding this division between the people of the land and the people who came before? Is God on the side of the circumcision party, demanding the assimilation of the abominable outsiders to the pure practices of Israel?
Or is God embracing the abomination? Is God renewing God’s favor for the enslaved and excluded? Is God demonstrating, yet again, that God’s power to create purity overwhelms the world’s power to create defilement?
Which plot better describes the character of God in the story you believe?