Handling Truth Wisely
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“Neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6).
Jesus’ instruction to His disciples recorded in Matthew 7:6 required them to decide what were the “pearls” and who were the “swine.”
The disciples were not to judge so that they “be not judged” (Matthew 7:1), meaning they were not to condemn anyone, because God is able to open anyone’s eyes at any time. Thus is seen the merit of Solomon’s words, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7). While desiring to share the gospel of the kingdom, the Christian must heed Jesus’ instruction to not “cast your pearls before swine.” What lessons can we learn from Jesus’ instruction in this text?
Under the Law Covenant the Israelites were given strict instructions regarding the animals they were permitted to eat and those that were forbidden: “And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth. Whatsoever parted the hoof, and is cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat. Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof … And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven-footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you” (Leviticus 11:1-8). The Israelites were permitted to eat only those animals that had divided hooves and chewed the cud. Both criteria had to be met.
The specifications suggest that there was significance in divided hooves and chewing the cud. However, there do not seem to be any Scriptures that give insight into why those two characteristics determined the acceptability of any animal. Thus, the Israelites did not have any spiritual principles upon which to base their judgment. Their only option was to comply with the dictates of God.
There are four other passages of Scripture that confirm swine were to be regarded as unclean:
● “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion” (Proverbs 11:22). The swine being unclean was the illustration used to identify a loose-living woman as being unclean.
● “I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts; A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick; Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels” (Isaiah 65:1-4). One of the reasons that Israel was deemed to be a rebellious people was because they ate of “swine’s flesh.”
● “He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations” (Isaiah 66:3). This text describes offering swine’s blood as an abomination to God. ● “They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 66:17). Again, eating swine’s flesh was considered an abomination.
In the absence of any Scriptural clues regarding the principles behind God’s classification of swine as unclean, the natural characteristics of swine may shed light on the reasons for God’s decree. There are three characteristics that might be relevant: the nature of their food, their tendency to trample under foot, and their tendency to rend others, as described in the theme text.
Swine can eat almost every foodstuff that is consumed by human beings, such as vegetables and meat remnants (which may be classified as household food scraps). Nevertheless, in some circles it is feared they will eat some foods that are toxic to human beings, hence their flesh will be toxic.
Swine have a high body mass when measured in relation to their size. Their footprint is small and so the pressure they exert on the ground is high, making it common for the things they walk on to be crushed. Additionally, due to the high pressure under their hooves, ground is often broken into dust and objects upon which they walk are tramped into the soil and lost. The term “trample” is meaningful, as we will show later.
Should the ground be wet, the soil becomes mud. Swine have no sweat glands and therefore they wallow in mud to cool off (animals with sweat glands do not need to wallow). This might be one reason why swine are regarded as unclean. There is no mystique about the meaning of rending in our theme text: it simply means to tear into pieces. Compared to the manner in which some other animals eat their prey, swine tear the carcass of another animal and then devour the pieces. They rend their prey.
Devils Into Swine
The perception that swine are detestable is strengthened by Jesus casting the unclean devils out of the man and into swine: “And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit … when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. … Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea … And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine” (Mark 5:1-16). Thus, those swine were literally a “habitation of devils.”
Another example of the disrepute of swine is the occupation of the prodigal son. “And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him” (Luke 15:11- 16). The lowly estate to which the man descended was reflected by his employment being a most despised occupation — feeding swine — and being prepared to eat swine’s food.
In the material world pearls are precious stones and are not appreciated by swine. The Scriptures speak of the gospel of the kingdom as a pearl. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). Those who do not appreciate the value of the pearls of truth would be like the natural swine which would not recognize the value of precious stones. Pearls, being unsuitable for swine to eat, would be discarded by them, and likely trampled into the ground. Thus, the lesson for the Christian is not to cast the pearls of truth before “swine” because they will immediately regard them as inedible and undesirable. Therefore, they would cast them off and trample them into the ground, thus treating the truth with contempt (Matthew 7:6). The consequences of casting pearls of truth before those who are unable to appreciate them extend beyond allowing the truth to be treated with disrespect (that is, ridiculed). The swine would then return and rend the one who cast the pearl before them because the pearl did not satisfy their hunger. Likewise, the one who is unable to “digest” the truth will often become aggressive and deliberately ridicule the message and messenger. While the Christian is not to be ashamed of ridicule regarding the pearls of truth, it is also improper to deliberately subject the message to scorn. We are to be, as Jesus said, “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
As Christians, we should note when the truth is not being accepted and not try to force one who is not ready to accept it. As mentioned earlier, we cannot judge that the person will remain “swine” but we do need to be wise enough to share the pearls of truth with those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). Thus, the Christian is exhorted to “see that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15). The exhortation is strengthened by the lessons to be learned from the illustration of the swine and pearls.