CONQUEST AND CRAVINGS
by Jason Overman
Our bodies are better witnesses than our beliefs alone.
I learned this truth over lunch with three co-workers at Pizza
Hut. One was a longtime friend and committed Christian. The other
two were fresh on the job and not believers.
Loading our plates at the buffet, I asked the waitress if
the admired pizza had pork sausage or hamburger on it. Back at
the table I found my friend Todd explaining to the others my
custom of eating according to the biblical principle of clean and
unclean foods. The conversation turned even more personal when he
suddenly added, "If you think that's strange, Jason was also a
virgin when he got married."
You may imagine what came next. "What? No bacon? No
fornication!?I" Despite my initial embarrassment, my personal
habits provided the chance to share faith in the God of Israel
and in His Son Jesus Christ. Whatever other benefits these habits
may incur, on this day I learned that such "strange" practices
are acts of worship that witness to a forgetful world of the One
who made us and loves us.
That God cares how we eat and love is evident from
Scripture, The Bible does not just talk about food and sex a lot;
it often links the two. One particular story well illustrates
After forty dusty years of wandering in the wilderness,
Israel stood on the brink of the Promised Land. As she peered
into Canaan, sizing up the giants there, Moses reminded Israel of
a sad event years before- one she dared not repeat: "Your eyes
have seen what the LORD did at Baal Peor; for the LORD your God
has destroyed from among you all the men who followed Baal of
Peor" (Deuteronomy 4:3).
Years later, after her conquest of Canaan, Israel recalled
this story and its warning once more: "Is the iniquity of Peor
not enough for us, from which we are not cleansed till this day,
although there was a plague in the congregation of the LORD ...?"
"Baal Peor" names the story of how Balak, king of Moab, having
failed to halt Israel's desert march by way of curse, took
Balaam's advice and overcame Israel by seducing her with a wide
Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to
commit harlotry with the women of Moab. They invited the
people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate
and bowed down to their gods. So Israel was joined to Baal
of Peor, and the anger of the LORD was aroused against
Israel (Numbers 25:1-3).
At first only camping, Israel now remained, settling and
assimilating into the Moabite culture. Idolatry was the result,
and the means to an idol was her unguarded and open indulgence of
unsanctioned food and sex. In these moments, worship was betrayed
and witness ruined.
The tragic story of Pear is one that Israel never forgot.
Beyond the early recollections, her poets and prophets also
rehearsed what that first generation simply called "the incident
of Peor" (31:16). David writes, "They joined themselves also to
Baal of Peor, and ate sacrifices made to the dead" (Psalm
106:28). And Hosea laments:
I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your
fathers as the firstfruits on the fig tree in its first
season. But they went to Baal Peor, and separated themselves
to that shame; they became an abomination like the thing
they loved (9:10).
The incident is discussed in the New Testament too. Paul
tells the Corinthian church, going to extremes over food and sex
in the name of liberty, that the ancient Israelites are "our
fathers" and that their experiences are "our examples" so that
"we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted." He
recounts to them the stories of the golden calf and Baal Peor
(see 1 Corinthians 10:1-8). Finally, in Revelation the Pergamos
church is rebuked for allowing itself to be overtaken in the sin
of Peor: eating things sacrificed to idols and committing sexual
The Baal Peor story is a lingering lesson for God's people.
It demonstrates how easily food and sex can be turned toward
idolatrous ends. The lust that Paul warns of, the coveting that
seized and enslaved Israel so quickly, is at the heart of
idolatry (Colossians 3:5). There is no need for stone when our
cravings create idols of our own bodies. Peor is the sober
reminder that the unchecked appetite can exploit even natural
desires to our ruin.
Food and sex are linked from the start. Genesis 1 celebrates
them as a part of God's good creation, inviting Adam and Eve to
be "fruitful and multiply," to eat "every herb ... every tree"
(vv.28, 9). Chapter 2 adds restriction, as one tree is prohibited
for food and sexuality is identified within marriage (vv.15-25).
Then chapter 3 explains how violation of divine limits yields
a world where food and sex are subverted from blessing to curse
as each is tainted by domination and travail (w.16-19).
Like all God's creatures, humans are subject to powerful
drives. Food and sex are among the most basic and speak to our
very survival. But there is more to these cravings than physical
release. Unlike animals, we do not just feed; we dine. We do not
just mate; we make love. Food and sex are as much about intimacy,
belonging, and delight as about a brutish instinct. Human
behavior is not just the reflection of natural need but also of
the Creator's intention for those who bear His image.
Within God's design, both food and sex are to be enjoyed to
the fullest as gifts that sustain and enhance life. Beyond these
limits, the gift turns into something else - a debt, a demand
that cannot be satisfied. When we stray beyond the boundaries,
coveting as Adam and Eve did, convinced that freedom means more
choices rather than right choices, we are conquered by our
cravings and captive to our lusts. The lesser life that follows
is not the life God intended.
The Bible explores food and sex and their potential for
blessing or curse throughout its pages. In story, in law, in
poetry, the pairing of the two - in ways subtle or obvious -
admonishes us of their dangers and delights. They warn that we
must master our appetite or be mastered by it.
In story, for instance, we find Esau governed by his
cravings in trading his birthright for stew and choosing a wife
from the heathen (Genesis 25:34; 26:34; Hebrews 12:16). In
contrast Sarah and Abraham generously shared their food with
strangers and, to their surprise, conceived Isaac in old age
(Genesis 18:115). Genesis alone is full of morality tales like
these (compare Noah and Lot, 9:21; 19:32-36).
In law there is instruction on how holy people are to
cultivate holy appetites. Leviticus 11 and 18 build on the
limiting principles of Eden. The first focuses on food and the
animals to avoid; the second, on sex and the relations to avoid.
The grievous nature of the offenses is evident in that each
is deemed "abominable" and "unclean." Both are reiterated in
chapter 20, and Israel is invited to be holy as her Lord is holy
(vv.8-26; for similar restrictions on food and sex in relation to
blood, see 17:14; 20:18).
In poetry there is much talk of the delights and dangers
inherent in food and sex. Proverbs warns those "given to
appetite" to beware of the drunkard and glutton, the harlot and
seductress (23:1-28). But at the same time, the Song of Solomon
celebrates the pleasures of love and of food: "He brought me to
the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love" (2:4).
The same goes for the New Testament, where regular mention is
made of food and sex. The apostle's decree, for instance,
outlines behavior patterns that apply to both Jew and Gentile.
"Abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality,
from things strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:20; 21:25). All
four of these items pertain to either food or sex, which also
find their way often into Paul's vice lists (compare fornication
and drunkenness, Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10).
In the imagery of Revelation, Babylon is called a fornicator
and unclean animal, a harlot who drinks the blood of saints
(17:1-6; 18:1-3). In stark contrast there is the happy news of
the marriage supper of the Lamb and His bride (19:7-9).
The Gospels contain stories regarding food and sex as well.
The marriage wine at Cana speaks to the joyful character of these
good gifts (John 2:1 -11 ), even as the reckless promiscuity of
the prodigal son leads to pigpen rations, then home to his
father's table again (Luke 15:11-32).
This "home again' is important for those wanting to live
within divine limits. While Jesus is the very righteousness of
God, He was not exclusionary. Unlike the pious elite of His day,
He did not distance Himself from harlots and drunkards but
ministered to them instead (7:3450).
BAAL OR YHWH
Our manner of eating and loving will make us different from
the culture around us, but it should not make us distant from it.
God wants to sanctify us body and soul (1 Thessalonians 5:23). He
desires that our lives be a question in need of an answer, an act
of worship, a living witness to those who cannot imagine
glorifying God in the ordinary, everyday acts of eating and
loving (1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31).
The story of Baal Peor speaks on. As our world falls ever
more captive to its own cravings, we see the mounting personal
and social challenges rising from food and sexual abuse. Are the
people of God worshipping and witnessing to our Lord despite the
cultural pressure? Or are we, like Israel at Peor, being
assimilated into a wider culture of gluttony and lust?
Of all the pagan gods Israel encountered, Baal was the one
she found hardest to resist, and it remains so to this day. Baal
was a god of reckless abandon; YHWH is a God of established
limits. Baal indulges without restraint; YHWH blesses within
boundaries. Baal exalts the sensuous to the status of worship;
YHWH grounds the passions in the spirit of discipline. Baal
offers unlimited freedom; YHWH offers the reassuring bonds of
covenant. Baal asks for nothing and takes our very life; YHWH
asks for our life and gives us His in return.
Baal is no god but rather the collection and projection of
our own selfish appetites. I recently saw him on display at the
Louvre in Paris. The 3,300-year-old stele bearing his image came
from a place and time not far removed from Peor. He looked a lot
like me, but I hunger and aspire to a higher "image" than this.
Jason Overman serves the congregation in Jasper, AR.
June 2007 Bible Advocate - a publication of the Church of God,
7th Day, Denver, CO. USA