The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah (“law”). It continues the story of the first 4 books and picks up exactly where the book of Numbers ends (with the people on the plain of Moab). Therefore, as we set the context for the book of Deuteronomy, it is important that we briefly summarize the theme of the previous books to see how the story of God unfolds.
Genesis describes God’s plan to bless the Israelites and the world through one man named Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Exodus focuses on God’s loving act by which He rescued the Israelites from Egypt in order to have a covenant relationship with them. Once the children of Israel are redeemed, Leviticus instructs them to live a holy life that reflects the life of their covenant redeemer (cf. Lev. 19). Since the first generation of the Israelites failed to obey God wholeheartedly, the book of Numbers displays a strong contrast between God’s faithfulness and the nation’s failure. That is why the book of Deuteronomy reiterates and expands on the covenant to a new generation of Israelites poised to enter and conquer the Promised Land. The message of the book is centered around two key terms: love and loyalty (Deut. 6:4-5).
Following the pattern of the previous two chapters (which deal with the first two commandments), Deuteronomy 14 is an exposition of the third commandment: You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain (Exo. 20:7; Deut. 5:11). Taking the LORD’s name in vain means to associate His holy character with something that is unholy, ordinary, meaningless, or empty. One way this could happen was to disobey the Suzerain LORD concerning dietary restrictions and also to bring an offering that would associate His holy name with something abhorrent. This chapter deals with what was and was not acceptable for the Israelites to eat and to tithe.
Deuteronomy 14 can be outlined as follows:
How to maintain holiness and purity in mourning (Num. 14:1 – 2)
How to maintain holiness in their diet (Num. 14:3 – 21)
Creatures on the Land (Num. 14:3 – 8)
Creatures in the Sea (Num. 14:9 – 10)
Creatures in the Air (Num. 14:11 – 18)
Creatures that Crawl (Num. 14:19 – 20)
Creatures that are Dead (Num. 14:21)
How to tithe their agricultural products (Num. 14:22 – 29)
These requirements were meant to teach the Israelites the proper way to please their Suzerain (Ruler) God. In each case, it was up to Israel to choose whether to comply. But God made it clear there were consequences for their choices.