Many of the prohibitions and requirements in the Old Testament seem pointless to the modern Western mind. A case in point is the ban on eating pork (Leviticus 11:7). After all, to most people, a good pork loin served with apples and nuts makes for a very fine meal! Understanding the purpose of the Mosaic Law, generally, and the cultural view of swine in particular is essential to appreciating the Law’s restriction on eating pork.
The Law given to the Israelites had a number of important purposes. Following God’s prescribed actions was not to be a simple ritual; rather, obedience to the Law expressed a strong internal faith in God and healthy fear of Him. Deuteronomy 30 records the blessings God would grant Israel if they followed Him and the curses He would enact if they did not. These blessings and curses were an integral part of the covenant between God and Israel, so the Law was the basis of a conditional covenant. Also, the Law, including the prohibition against eating pork, stood as a unique sign of the privilege granted to Israel, setting them apart from their pagan neighbors.
The whole world in Moses’ time was idolatrous, with each nation believing in many deities. The forbidding of eating certain foods such as pork distinguished between what would later be termed “Jew” and “Gentile.” The dietary restrictions further indicated that Israel was a separate nation and a chosen people. Saying “no” to eating pork and other practices of the pagans helped the Israelites to break free from idolatry—a sin they assuredly struggled with (see Exodus 32).
Under the Old Testament Law, not only was eating pork forbidden, but even touching the meat of swine made one ritually unclean (Deuteronomy 14:8). This detail further insulated the Israelites from pagan practices. The Canaanites kept herds of swine and sacrificed them to idols. God wanted His people to distance themselves from all such activity.
Then there are the hygienic concerns related to the Law’s dietary restrictions, including the ban on eating pork. It is well known today that pork carries any number of diseases, and the meat requires stricter cooking techniques than other meats such as beef or poultry. In Moses’ day, there was no knowledge of microscopic pathogens, and the cultural norm was to eat raw or under-cooked meat (Leviticus 19:26). Of course, eating under-cooked pork would have posed a significant health threat to the Israelites, but God providentially protected them through the Mosaic Law. “If you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you” (Exodus 15:26).