I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But I said, “Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.” But the voice answered me again from heaven, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (Acts 11:5-9)
Peter Challenged God’s Word
The Law of Moses was stringent regarding eating certain foods. There was a long list of foods considered clean and unclean. Any beast that did not chew the cud and have a split hoof was unclean. Catfish were unclean because they had no fins or scales. Birds like vultures were prohibited because they lived off the carcasses of dead animals. All creeping things were unclean if they did not hop. The devoted Jew was cautious about eating only foods authorized under the Law of Moses. God wanted His people to be separate from the Gentiles and restricting certain foods impressed upon the people what was holy and unholy.
Peter was the epitome of the devout Jew. He declared he had never eaten anything common or unclean. While Peter was staying in the city of Joppa, the apostle had a vision. He was very hungry and saw the heaven open and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. He immediately recognized the animals as unclean. A voice told him to kill and eat but he refused. The voice told him a second time to kill and eat and he again refused. Peter was not going to be swayed away from his convictions. He was determined to hold his course in keeping the word of the Lord.
The diligence of Peter is a commendable trait to pattern after as one of courage, faith, fidelity, and obedience. It was clear the animals on the sheet were forbidden by the Law of Moses. Peter forcibly resisted the voice that told him to kill and eat. What Peter failed to appreciate in his diligence to hold tight to his beliefs is the realization the voice was from God, not man. The vision was a parabolic lesson about what Peter was about to do. Three men arrived at the house in Joppa to take Peter back to the household of Cornelius, who would become the first Gentile converts in the infant church. Peter understood this later as he recounts the experience to those in Jerusalem.
God told Peter to do something that was not in accordance with the Law of Moses. On the surface, his actions were right, but Peter failed to acknowledge that the Lawgiver permitted him to kill and eat and he should have done so. Abraham was told to take his only begotten son, Isaac, and offer him as a burnt offering. Where has there been acceptance of human sacrifice in any law given by the Lord? Never. God asked Abraham to do something that was against every fiber of righteousness. Abraham did not question God. He took his son and placed him on the altar, preparing to kill him and then burn his body as a sacrifice. Abraham obeyed the word of God without question.
The lesson of Peter and the unclean animals was illustrative of the opening of the kingdom to the whole world. There is also a deeper lesson about obeying the word of God. Peter argued with the demands of God. Like Abraham, Peter should have acted as if God’s righteousness would be established even if he did eat the unclean animals. God set aside the death penalty facing David and Bathsheba because He was the Lawgiver and had the right to set aside the penalty. Obedience is obeying the word of God whether a man understands it or not.
Many refuse to obey the will of the Father because they do not understand what a little water has to do with salvation. Why should anyone remember the body and blood of Jesus on the first day of the week? What profit is there to live the Christian life when there is so much more to do in life? Human wisdom tries to usurp the word of God, making it fit the carnal nature of the world. When God speaks, men should not question but obey. This does not create a zombie world of morally controlled robots. It becomes the character of a faithful heart to hear the word of God – and obey. Why? Because it is God’s word. Peter soon realized what God wanted him to do and never turned back. Listen to the word of God. Stop arguing with God. You will never win.