We all know that God says that “the fat is mine” dozens of places in the Old Testament. Did you ever wonder why? And for that matter, why would God ask us to do something that is impossible? Why do I say impossible, you ask? Well, every piece of meat that you eat, regardless of where you get it on the animal, has at least SOME fat in it. So while we can eat “lean” hamburger, 98% fat free, we’re still eating 2% of the fat that is “God’s”, aren’t we?
This last question in particular I see as critically important because if all we can do is “try” to avoid the fat, then it sets us in a habit of just “trying” to do what God wants, when we all know that avoiding all fat is quite impossible short of being a vegetarian. It sets us in a fatalistic attitude where we accept that we can’t succeed and assume God just wants us to do our best – which is terribly debilitating to righteousness, and results in people just “trying” to be righteous. Which, not surprisingly, never works.
God never asks you to do something that you cannot FULLY and completely obey! And avoiding the fat is no exception! See for yourself.
Leviticus 3:14-16 And he shall offer thereof his offering, even an offering made by fire unto the LORD; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards, And the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them, which is by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away. And the priest shall burn them upon the altar: it is the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat is the LORD’S.
That verse does “plainly” say that all the fat is the Lord’s. But look at how it prefaces it; it describes the fat that covers the inwards, which includes a deposit known as “perirenal fat” in modern biology, and “the fat above the kidneys” in classical biology. And the fatty mass surrounding the liver (the caul). In other words, the “visceral fat” (chest-cavity fat) as it is now called is all specifically mentioned; but not mentioned is the “subcutaneous” (under-skin) and intra-muscular fat. All of the fat you will find in ground chuck will be intra-muscular fat. So is the fatty layer that often accompanies shanks and certain steaks.
As you read through all of the old testament prohibitions against eating the fat, you will never find a mention of intramuscular fat or subcutaneous fat being prohibited or reserved for God. But rather every time that “ALL the fat is mine” or a similar statement is made, it has been prefaced with or followed by a definition of “ALL the fat”. For example:
Leviticus 7:3-4 And he shall offer of it all the fat thereof; the rump, and the fat that covereth the inwards, And the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the flanks, and the caul that is above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away:
And in the next verse, “All his fat” goes undefined, but the verse after connects us back to the previous sacrifice:
Leviticus 4:19 And he shall take all his fat from him, and burn it upon the altar. And he shall do with the bullock as he did with the bullock for a sin offering, so shall he do with this:
How was the fat handled on that sacrifice?
Leviticus 4:9 And the two kidneys [of the bullock for the sin offering], and the fat that is upon them, which is by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away,
Again, only visceral fat is mentioned. And that is consistent throughout the Bible. But what does all of it MEAN? We know WHICH fat God reserved for Himself, but we still don’t know WHY!
Leviticus 7:22-25 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Ye shall eat no manner of fat, of ox, or of sheep, or of goat. And the fat of the beast that dieth of itself, and the fat of that which is torn with beasts, may be used in any other use: but ye shall in no wise eat of it. For whosoever eateth the fat of the beast, of which men offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD, even the soul that eateth it shall be cut off from his people.
That is one of the key verses on this subject; what exactly does that tell us? It tells us that God is very serious about us not eating the fat, that is clear. And the other verses make it clear that He is speaking of visceral fat.
It also tells us that unlike, say, pork, the fat is not unclean; because it “may be used in any other use”. Other uses for fat include soap, grease, candles, waterproofing, and quite a few other things.
And finally it is interesting to note that God only mentions the fat of oxen, sheep, and goat; it does not mention chicken fat or fish fat. And on the issue of fat they are completely ignored elsewhere as well.
This world, and the things in it, are made after the pattern of heavenly things. Hebrews 8:5 indicates this, although admittedly this is not really the context it was in. But we know that we are fashioned in the pattern of God; made in his image, to look just like him. But the world around us is all a part of a master pattern; from what the animals represent to how they are made, it is all part of a big picture. And particularly those things that God makes an issue of such as the fat and the blood being reserved for Himself have a deeper symbolic meaning.
Biologically, the fat is used by the body to store excess energy in good times for hard times; let us make an analogy; fat is the “money” your body needs to survive. When there is a temporary excess of money coming in, on payday or harvest season, you will first spend that money on this week’s grocery bill, and then you will store the surplus in a bank. Then in the downtime between your next payday you will draw on that reserve. If you have a well paying job or low expenses, then you will continue to have an excess every month and save that money back for your retirement, children, and grandchildren.
And that is, in a nutshell, what fat is designed to do. When you take in more carbohydrates (starches and sugars primarily) than your body will use between now and the next meal, the excess is primarily stored as fat; the fat is deposited in various parts of your body and when you fast (voluntarily or involuntarily) these fat cells are broken down and used for energy. And now we have enough groundwork laid, I can tell you what fat MEANS, and WHY God chose it for Himself.
Genesis 45:18 And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.
Fat is considered by many cultures, particularly those in the middle east, to be a delicacy. And as we saw, only the visceral fat is prohibited. Here God promises that they will eat the fat of the land. There is also a dual meaning because here the fat (the same Hebrew word is used as elsewhere in Leviticus) is pictured as a blessing of plenty of food and good land. Because the fat is one of the end products of metabolism in the body, God uses it to represent the end product of working a good productive land – in that sense, the fat would also represent the bottles of wine and oil, the barns full of hay and the bins full of grain for the next year.
Numbers 18:12 All the best <same word “fat”> of the oil, and all the best <fat> of the wine, and of the wheat, the firstfruits of them which they shall offer unto the LORD, them have I given thee.
Here God uses the same word translated as fat in a metaphoric sense to mean the “best” portion of something. Obviously wine is entirely fat free, so it has no fat in the literal sense. And here God was giving the “best” – the “fat” of the land to the sons of Levi. And now comes the fascinating part:
Numbers 18:20-21 And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel. And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.
Later on in the same chapter, after going through all the things God had given to the tribe of Levi, He sums it up in the word “tenth” – the tithe! It is the TITHE that the “fat” represents! There is another, even stronger proof of this, in…
Ezekiel 34:3 Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.
This was a parable meant to condemn bad ministry who was concerned with fleecing the flock and not with shepherding it and keeping sin out of it. And as part of the condemnation He accuses them of being clothed with the wool – not a sin, obviously – and of eating the fat (which as long as it wasn’t the visceral fat wasn’t a sin either!). But the fat is represented again as the TITHES and money which was fleeced from the “sheep” in God’s “flock”.
So here is the conclusion: as God blesses a righteous person or nation, they accumulate excess; called in the Bible “increase”. As a healthy body grows on good food, it accumulates a healthy excess which it stores back called “fat”. As a righteous person saves back this “increase”, God requires that a tenth be saved back as tithe and given to Him. The rest of your increase you are free to enjoy the fruits of however you see fit.
Numbers 18:17 …burn their fat for an offering made by fire, for a sweet savour unto the LORD.
God required the Levitical priesthood to burn on the altar all visceral fat; this was God’s portion, his “tithe” of the animal. The rest (in most cases) they were free to enjoy themselves. The fat that was removed was a lump portion of energy which the animal, thanks to God’s blessing, had been able to save up and which God took as His tithe of that animal.
The fat pictures God’s blessing of an animal and a people; most of that fat and that blessing is ours to keep, but the visceral fat is representative of God’s portion, and eating that is stealing from God (Malachi 3:8), and whoever eats it will be cut off from Israel (Leviticus 7:25). Pretty simple really.
So don’t think twice about that 2% fat in your hamburger; enjoy it as the blessing of God that it is. And the moral of the story? Don’t ever accept that God will ask you to do something that can’t be done perfectly.
Psalms 63:5 My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow [same word: “fat”] and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: