Clean and Unclean Animals
11 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.
“These you may eat, of all that are in the waters. Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat. But anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you. You shall regard them as detestable; you shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses. Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you.
“And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.
“All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you. Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. Of them you may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you.
“And by these you shall become unclean. Whoever touches their carcass shall be unclean until the evening, and whoever carries any part of their carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening. Every animal that parts the hoof but is not cloven-footed or does not chew the cud is unclean to you. Everyone who touches them shall be unclean. And all that walk on their paws, among the animals that go on all fours, are unclean to you. Whoever touches their carcass shall be unclean until the evening, and he who carries their carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening; they are unclean to you.
“And these are unclean to you among the swarming things that swarm on the ground: the mole rat, the mouse, the great lizard of any kind, the gecko, the monitor lizard, the lizard, the sand lizard, and the chameleon. These are unclean to you among all that swarm. Whoever touches them when they are dead shall be unclean until the evening. And anything on which any of them falls when they are dead shall be unclean, whether it is an article of wood or a garment or a skin or a sack, any article that is used for any purpose. It must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the evening; then it shall be clean. And if any of them falls into any earthenware vessel, all that is in it shall be unclean, and you shall break it. Any food in it that could be eaten, on which water comes, shall be unclean. And all drink that could be drunk from every such vessel shall be unclean. And everything on which any part of their carcass falls shall be unclean. Whether oven or stove, it shall be broken in pieces. They are unclean and shall remain unclean for you. Nevertheless, a spring or a cistern holding water shall be clean, but whoever touches a carcass in them shall be unclean. And if any part of their carcass falls upon any seed grain that is to be sown, it is clean, but if water is put on the seed and any part of their carcass falls on it, it is unclean to you.
“And if any animal which you may eat dies, whoever touches its carcass shall be unclean until the evening, and whoever eats of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening. And whoever carries the carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening.
“Every swarming thing that swarms on the ground is detestable; it shall not be eaten. Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, any swarming thing that swarms on the ground, you shall not eat, for they are detestable. You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them. For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
This is the law about beast and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms on the ground, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.
Leviticus 11 Commentary
by Hank Workman
At first glance, the listing of unclean and clean animals of which God spoke about seems to us a bit much. Certainly, there are animals on this list we would never consider having for a meal, but for others listed they may be part of our regular diet.
The overall scope of this, however, speaks toward God’s protection. God who made all animals of sea and land knew the inner workings of His creation. He knew what carried parasites and disease of which the ancient people did not. This protection is seen even when Europe was ravished by the Black Death or otherwise known as the Bubonic Plague. This disease caused chaos as it killed 1/4 of all of Europe’s people. What is fascinating to consider as part of history is the Jewish settlements and communities there were kept safe. The disease for the most part never broke into their ranks. This was due to their following the laws concerning what was kosher to eat and what was not.
Although the matter of kosher food was put to rest at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, this chapter truly is more than about what can be eaten. God’s laws were calling His people to holiness. His intention then as it is now was to set apart His own toward being holy. God had called His people, delivered them from a land of Egypt that was ravished with idolatry and hedonistic on many levels.
His people were not to be that way. They were called to be different and live moral lives, showing outwardly an inward work of Him. For certain as they would cross over into Canaan they would encounter a whole array of options from food to idolatry. As we know, they would fail on this front. But God had laid out the holy living aspect way ahead of their feet every crossing the border giving protection personally from the things that would assault and call them.
This same calling is upon each of us.
God knows the inner workings of our heart. He knows the ways in which things can draw us in. He knows what lies ahead. So when God puts a kibosh to some thing in our lives it is for our own protection. May we be reminded God is looking out for His children. He is preparing us for whatever lies ahead. He gives fair warning. Even if it makes absolutely no sense to us, when God speaks and gives directives we are to obey.
Leviticus 11 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
In Leviticus 11, God outlines both the clean and unclean animals. A general rule which was given to Israel was that clean animals would “chew the curd” but also have a completely divided hoof. Animals needed to have both of these characteristics to be considered clean. A few examples of clean animals were oxen, cattle, sheep, goats, and deer. Unclean animals would have been pigs, camels, rock badgers (hyraxes), and rabbits.
But there is also a spiritual significance to these animals that brings application for the modern Christian. Believers today should meditate on the Word of God (chew the cud) as well as have a separated walk from the rest of the world (separated hoof).
Levitical Laws & The Early Church
The Levitical laws regarding food caused an uproar in the early church. For years, the distinguishing feature of the Jewish people was their strict adherence to food laws and rituals. This was ingrained into their culture, and it was highly beneficial from a practical perspective. It was also a defining characteristic that separated them from the Gentiles. They were clean while the Gentiles were considered dirty. You could even say it became their identity.
Jesus, however, attacked this elevation of the law which went far beyond what God intended when He first implemented it here in Leviticus. In fact, it was not just with food. Jesus called out the act of elevating the Pharisaic tradition over the Word of God on many occasions. In a famous showdown with the Pharisees, Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter with laws and traditions.
Don’t you understand? Anything that goes into your mouth goes into your stomach and then on out of your body. 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these are the things that make you ritually unclean. 19 For from your heart come the evil ideas which lead you to kill, commit adultery, and do other immoral things; to rob, lie, and slander others. 20 These are the things that make you unclean. But to eat without washing your hands as they say you should—this doesn’t make you unclean.”Matthew 15:17-20 GNB
Basically, it’s more important to have a clean heart than to have clean hands before eating. This should have been obvious. In Mark’s version of the story, he adds, “Thus he declared all foods clean.” What a scandalous remark this must have been for the Jews who were listening! Peter also has a vision that affirms the point Jesus is making here with food.
He saw heaven opened and something coming down that looked like a large sheet being lowered by its four corners to the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals, reptiles, and wild birds. 13 A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “Certainly not, Lord! I have never eaten anything ritually unclean or defiled.” 15 The voice spoke to him again, “Do not consider anything unclean that God has declared clean.” 16 This happened three times, and then the thing was taken back up into heaven.Acts 10:11-16 GNB
Soon after this, Peter preaches to Cornelius, a Gentile, and he is saved. It would have been unlawful for Peter to associate with a man like Cornelius. However, it is striking to consider that Peter connected the vision of clean/unclean food to clean/unclean people. Just as the ability to eat all foods had been given, the Gospel had also been opened to all people.
Through Christ we have freedom. Paul warns that, although we may eat freely as Christians, we should never cause another to stumble with our decision. It is love that guides the believer, not the strict rules of the law.