Whatever in the water does not have fins or scales – that shall be an abomination to you. – Leviticus 11:12
Where I live on Tuesdays at a local Seafood restaurant during the summer you can get a one and a quarter pound lobster for around twenty bucks. That’s a pretty good deal (especially nowadays). On occasion my wife and I treat ourselves to such a lobster dinner. But isn’t eating shellfish prohibited in the Bible? Well yes, and no. The passage in question reads as follows:
Leviticus 11:9–12 (NKJV) – 9 ‘These you may eat of all that are in the water: whatever in the water has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers—that you may eat. 10 But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you. 11 They shall be an abomination to you; you shall not eat their flesh, but you shall regard their carcasses as an abomination. 12 Whatever in the water does not have fins or scales—that shall be an abomination to you.
Lobsters don’t have fins or scales! Oh, oh, are we in trouble? I don’t believe so. Let me explain.
Why did God inspire Moses to include such a prohibition? Part of the reason for such a prohibition was to instruct God’s people on the need to be distinct, uncommon, holy, once they entered the Promised Land. Leviticus is a book about holiness. Leviticus is a book of instructions God gave Moses to teach and have God’s people live by. At the end of Leviticus 11 we are given one of the strongest statements on God’s desire for His people to live holy lives. “For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45). Peter echoes these words in his first letter quoting, “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
What does eating shellfish have to do with being holy? To understand God’s word here we must go deeper than the surface. The Bible speaks of types (e.g., Romans 5:14). A “type” (Greek typos) is a die, a stamp or scar, a shape, a model, a pattern, a form. The Bible also speaks of “shadows” (Greek skia) or an image cast by an object, a sketch, an outline. In other words, to understand a passage like the one above in Leviticus 11, we need to go beyond the immediate limited application and consider a broader application in some principle or pattern that such a prohibition illustrates.
So what might the prohibition against eating shellfish be pointing to? Shellfish are bottom feeders; they crawl on the bottom of the ocean rather than swim through it. That’s significant. Let me explain. Water is associated with the word of God (Ephesians 5:26). Water is also associated with the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). Water is a cleansing agent. When we take in God’s word it cleanses our soul. When the Holy Spirit indwells us and overflows us, He cleanses us, “purifying our hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9). What is the largest body of water? The ocean. And where do shellfish live in the ocean? They crawl on the bottom of the ocean. What floats down and accumulates on the bottom of the ocean? All the defecation of every fish in the ocean as well as the waste, garbage, and refuse humanity throws there. What happens to all this defecation and garbage on the ocean floor? Some dissolve in the water, but some is eaten by the shellfish, the bottom feeders. Do you see where I am going with this?
I believe God’s prohibition against shellfish is a subtle shadowy warning to His people not to live like bottom feeders. God is concerned with our saturation. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, it isn’t really about how much of the Spirit we receive, it is how much of us we surrender to the Spirit. We should come to the Spirit asking, “Please fill me up, fill me to overflowing. I’m Yours.” When it comes to God’s word, God is concerned with us being saturated with His truth. God wants us to absorb His word. He wants us to make His word a part of ourselves. What can we learn and apply from the bottom feeder pattern in this regard? Let’s see.
First, don’t be a bottom feeder because bottom feeders live off waste. What floats to the bottom of the ocean has already been digested. Shellfish do hunt other creatures, but often shellfish live off of waste. How does this apply to us? We live like a bottom feeders when, instead of going to God’s word and digging in and having our own meal, we settle for the scraps or what others have consumed in God’s word. Don’t get me wrong, a good teacher of the word of God is a gift from the Lord. But if all we do is rely on others to prepare and dish out, and yes, digest God’s word for us, well, we’re living like a bottom feeder. Too many Christians are living at the Dung Gate (Nehemiah 2:13). Sometimes we must walk through a Dung Gate to get to God’s holy ground for us. But we need not live there. We need to move beyond it. We need to move past the dung heaps of life and go directly to God’s word and consume it. We need to be cleansed by the Holy Spirit and His cleansing word. We ought to grow some fins and swim in the ocean of God’s word. Let the Spirit help you sora like an eagle over the waters (e.g., Isaiah 40:31). I challenge you, dive into God’s word, it will cleanse you, it will nourish you, it will remove your hard shell and make you more holy absorbent.
Second, don’t be a bottom feeder because bottom feeders live off garbage. What floats to the bottom of the ocean? Garbage, castoffs, products harmful to the environment. What floats to the bottom of the ocean is what people dump into the ocean. A bottom feeder sometimes makes their home in a piece of garbage like a bottle or can. A bottom feeder covers themselves up with the garbage that floats to the bottom of the ocean. There is nothing of any nourishing value in the garbage dumped in the ocean. That which is dumped in the ocean pollutes the ocean. When we make the things of this world our home, when we cover up ourselves with the things of this world, when we try and nourish ourselves with the things that only negatively and harmfully pollute us, we are living like bottom feeders.
When we live like bottom feeders, we grieve the Holy Spirit. Theft, corrupt vulgar speaking, “bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking” are garbage in our lives that grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:28-30). We need to throw out the garbage! Grieve not the Holy Spirit!
Remember what the Apostle John was inspired to write, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17). Don’t settle for the world’s cast offs. Don’t rely on the things of this world to make your life fruitful and meaningful. If you do, you just may end up in the final garbage dump of all, Gehenna (e.g., Matthew 5:29-30; 10:28; Luke 12:5). Rise in the ocean of God’s word and live in God’s will, put the garbage behind you, then you will really be swimming.
Third, don’t be a bottom feeder because bottom feeders are lazy living on the bottom and living off what settles at the bottom. While shellfish move around foraging for food, even hunting for food, a bottom feeder consumes what floats down from the surface. As fish die in the ocean, parts of their dead carcasses float to the bottom. Bottom feeders live off that which is dead. They lay on the bottom and wait for their meal to float down to them. It is shameful when God’s people live as lazy bottom feeders. The Apostle Paul, one of the hardest workers in history, said the following:
2 Thessalonians 3:6–15 (NKJV) – 6 But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, 9 not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. 10 For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. 13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
No Spirit-filled Christian is disorderly, lazy or could be described by the above words of Paul. If you claim to be Spirit-filled and are living like the disorderly described above, you are living a fantasy, a falsehood, you are a Spirit offending bottom feeder. God does not call us to live as bottom feeders. God calls us to be diligent in our work whether it be secular or sacred.
When we live off the dead things of this world, when we lay back lazily waiting for someone to feed us instead of actively gathering food of God’s word, we have become a bottom feeder. Having a pastor that teaches God’s word powerfully in the Spirit is a tremendous blessing. We need good solid expositional and topical teachers of the word of God. But if the only input of the word of God we receive is what we get when we sit back in our seats and listen, we are acting like a bottom feeder. What a Bible teacher teaches may be delivered in the power of the Spirit, but sometimes, but the time it reaches us, or is received by us, it is dead on arrival. When we sit back like Christian couch potatoes and lazily wait for the message of the pastor to sink in, because of our lethargic position as a bottom feeder, we aren’t able to take in and be nourished by God’s word. Let me suggest some solutions. Be an active listener; take notes; follow in your Bible; if appropriate, ask questions. Don’t just sit on your rump like a bottom feeder, pay attention and engage with what is being fed to you.
Fourth, don’t be a bottom feeder, because bottom feeders crawl beneath God’s word rather than swim in God’s word. The ocean is a vast place. According to Wikipedia, in 1960 the bathyscaphe Trieste descended to the lowest recorded depth in the ocean. It was in the Mariana Trench near Guam and reached a depth of 6.780 miles! If Mount Everest were moved to this location there would still be 1.2 miles of ocean above its peak!  What’s my point? My point is God’s word is like the ocean, at the shore it’s shallow enough for the youngest babe in Christ to wade and not fear drowning. But the word of God is also like the ocean in that, the greatest scholar, theologian, disciple can travel out to see and never tough its bottom. Bottom feeders live in the ocean but don’t appreciate its vast volume of treasures and awe. There comes a time when we must grow in our faith. It’s okay to begin by dipping our toe in the ocean at the shore, but if we are healthy and growing and want to really appreciate the vast wonders of God’s word-ocean, we need to start swimming. We need to dive in and explore the ocean of God’s word. The blessing is that no matter how deep and far out we go in God’s word, there’s no end to what we can learn and be amazed by. Sometimes, as I have learned, you can be amazed by the same inlets and seas in God’s word. Bottom feeders miss out on all that. Bottom feeders live in their own little part of the ocean and because of that, they miss out on “attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).
We need to plunge deeply into the life of the Spirit. We need to come to the Spirit and fully surrender to Him. “Here I am LORD, I’m ALL Yours!” when we say “all” we mean my past, present, and future, it means my hopes and dreams, it means, my will, hopes and desires, all of me. Do that and you will be an overcomer, not a bottom feeder.
Do not be a bottom feeder, throw your line into God’s word and fish for His blessings. Don’t be a bottom feeder, plunge in and be refreshed and fed. Don’t be a bottom feeder, enjoy the voyage. Don’t be a bottom feeder, or you just may miss that beautiful horizon, that beautiful sunrise, or that beautiful sunset. Be washed in the water of God’s word. Be filled with the torrents of living water in the Holy Spirit. Don’t be a bottom feeder, be a fisher of men for Jesus. Amen.