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What does it mean when Jesus says “not to give what is holy to dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine”?

Today’s question has to do with a verse of Scripture that has found a home as an idiom in our culture “casting your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6). What exactly does it mean when Jesus says “not to give what is holy to dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine”? At first sight, this is such a weird, almost random phrase. However, there is more meaning than what we can see on the surface.

Let’s start by taking a look at the animals mentioned in this short verse: dogs and swine. In the ancient near east, dogs would be viewed much different than the beloved household pets we have today. Although a small population of dogs were domesticated and used to herd sheep, the greater number of these animals were known to be scavengers. They were wild, dirty, and dangerous animals. Swine were considered to be the ultimate picture of uncleanness. Although there were gentiles who had herds of swine, most pigs were like dogs—wild scavengers that foraged for food at the garbage dumps at the edge of town. Neither of these animals were something a traveler would want to encounter on his journey.

Now to what is told about the things given to these animals: what is holy and pearls. It would be incredibly profane for a Jew to have given a piece of holy meat that had been sacrificed in the Temple to wild dogs. Similarly, pearls were considered the rarest and most valuable of jewels and had no place with pigs.

When we add these two things together we begin to understand the profound meaning of this saying of Jesus: certain truths and blessings of our faith are not to be shared with people who are totally antagonistic to the things of God. They have no appreciation for that which is holy and righteous. They would take that which is “holy” and the “pearls” of every precious truth of God’s Word as foolishness and as an insult. Just as a wild animal that scavenges for food would trample under his feet the one offering the “food” of precious jewels or even the holy things of God, so also those who are enemies of the Gospel and ridiculers of the things of God will scorn and slander the precious truths of Scripture and attack the very faith of believers who offer that Word to them (“lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”).

I really like John MacArthur’s application on this saying: “When people not only reject the gospel, but insist on mocking and reviling it, we are not to waste God’s holy Word and the precious pearls of His truth in a futile and frustrating attempt to win them. We are to leave them to the Lord, trusting that somehow His Spirit can penetrate their hearts.”

Dear friend, if you have someone in your life like this I would encourage you to pray for the Lord to open their heart to the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

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