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. Scriptural examples
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 18:1-15). Genesis alone is full of morality tales like these (compare Noah and Lot, Genesis 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 Leviticus 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 (Proverbs 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” (Proverbs 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 (Revelation17:1-6; Revelation 18:1-3). In stark contrast there is the happy news of the marriage supper of the Lamb and His bride (Revelation 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 (Luke 7:34-50).
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;1 Corinthians 10:31).
The story of Baal Peor speaks on. As our world falls ever more captive to its own cravings, we see he mounting personal and social challenges rising from food and sexual abuse. Are the people of God worshiping 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.