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Bible Commentaries

Bridgeway Bible Commentary
Leviticus 11

 

 

Verses 1-47

11:1-15:33 CLEANNESS AND UNCLEANNESS

Since Israel's God was holy, Israel itself had to be holy (11:44-45). One duty of the priests was to distinguish between what was holy and unholy, clean and unclean (10:10). This holiness was to extend to every part of the people's lives, including the food they ate and their bodily cleanliness. Those who broke any of the laws of cleanliness were considered unclean and had to be ceremonially cleansed before they could join again in the full religious life of the nation. The whole system of ritual cleanness and uncleanness was an object lesson in sin, its results and its cleansing.

Besides having a religious purpose, the laws ensured that the nation as a whole would be as physically healthy as possible. The laws prevented people from eating foods that could be harmful, ensured that diseases received proper attention, and limited the chances of infectious diseases spreading through the camp. The laws also prevented Israelites from mixing too freely with people of surrounding nations, and thereby helped preserve the purity of Israel's religion.

Concerning animals (11:1-47)

In reading these laws, we should remember that they were given to a people few in number, living in a hot and very small country, in an age when scientific knowledge as we know it today was not possible. The laws were not meant to govern the lives of all people in every country or every age (Acts 10:13-15; Romans 14:14; Romans 14:20; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Timothy 4:4).

Groupings of animals as those that 'chew the cud', 'have divided hoofs', 'have fins and scales', etc. were not intended to be scientific classifications. Rather they were a simple means of identifying the various kinds of animals to be met in the region where Israel lived. Most of the animals here called unclean lived in places or fed on foods likely to contain germs. They could easily pass diseases on to any who ate their flesh (11:1-23).

Any person who touched the dead body of an animal was considered unclean till evening. In other words the person was quarantined till cleansed of possible disease-carrying germs (24-28; cf. Numbers 19:11-22).

In the case of lifeless objects that came in contact with anything dead, the treatment depended on how readily those objects could be washed or otherwise cleansed. If full cleansing was not possible, such as with earthenware pots, the object had to be destroyed (29-33). People had to be particularly careful concerning drinking water that was kept in earthenware pots, but a spring or well was usually considered safe since it had a constant supply of fresh water (34-40).

The section concludes with a reminder that these laws, though they brought obvious health benefits, were concerned basically with keeping the people holy before God. The covenant people of God were to be disciplined in what they ate and how they lived. They had to learn to choose the good and refuse the bad, if they were to maintain their lives in a right relation with him (41-47).

 


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Bibliography Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Leviticus 11:4". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/leviticus-11.html. 2005.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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