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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 11

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-8


Section Three

This chapter begins the third part of the Book of Leviticus. The first part, chapters 1-7, deals with man’s approach to God by means of sacrifices. The second part, chapters 8-10, deals with the priesthood to administer these sacrifices. The third part concerns that which separates man from God: uncleanness, either ceremonial or moral. This third part consists of four sections:

1. Chapters 11-15, ceremonial uncleanness, caused by unclean food, and infectious diseases.

2. Chapter 16, 17, uncleanness of the entire congregation of Israel, to be atoned for on Yom Kippur the Great Day of Atonement.

3. Chapters 18-20, moral uncleanness and its punishment.

4. Chapters 21-27, the ceremonial and moral uncleanness of priests.

Verses 1-8:

At this point, Moses instructs Aaron, as high priest and spiritual leader of the people, giving regulations defining clean and unclean creatures.

Two plain rules define the means by which the Israelite could know if an animal were clean or unclean, fit or unfit for eating:

1. Any animal which dies of itself is unclean regardless of whether it were clean or unclean when alive. The reasons: the flesh would still contain the blood, which was expressly forbidden; and

such dead flesh would tend to contain harmful bacteria.

2. Two plainly visible characteristics: if an animal chewed the cud and had a divided hoof, it was considered clean; if it only chewed the cud but did not divide the hoof, or if it divided the hoof but did not chew the cud, it was unclean.

Four specific examples are given:

The camel, which chewed the cud, but did not divide the hoot, was unclean.

The coney, shapham, the Hyrax Hyricaus, a small animal similar to a rabbit. This animal lived in troops, among the natural caves and rocks of the land, see Pr 30:26; Ps 104:18. This is a cud-chewing animal, but does not have cloven hooves. ,

The hare, arnebeth, the Same animal as the hare or rabbit today. This small animal chews the cud, but does not divide the hoof.

(Some "naturalists" contend that the coney and hare merely give the appearance of chewing the cud, but do not actually do so. However, recent documented observations of the eating habits of these animals confirm the accuracy of Moses’ words. Droppings of these two animals are of two kinds: hard, and soft. The animal re-ingests the soft droppings, chewing them as a cud.)

The swine, because he divides the hoof and is cloven-footed, but does not chew the cud.

The swine, hare, and coney all frequently contain the micro­organism which causes trichinosis, a potentially fatal disease. Also, in the Orient the swine was carnivorous and filthy, and these habits created a natural revulsion for his flesh.

Verses 9-12

Verses 9-12:

Aquatic creatures could be distinguished as clean or unclean, by the presence or absence of scales and fins. Any creature with both fins and scales was considered clean. Any creature having scales but no fins, or fins but no scales, was regarded not only as unclean, but as "an abomination." Unclean sea creatures included eels, catfish, and shell fish.

Verses 13-19

Verses 13-19:

Fowls designated as unclean were those which feed upon carrion or offal, rendering them susceptible to carrying of loathsome diseases and thus repulsive to the appetite.

Included in the list of unclean fowls are:

Eagle, esher, a large, hawk-like bird with a wingspread often as much as four feet.

Ossifrage, peres, "bone-breaker," the "bearded vulture."

Ospray, ozniyyah, fish-eating hawk.

Vulture, daah, a hawk-like carrion bird.

Kite, ayyah, the falcon.

Little owl, kos, a nocturnal bird of prey, feeding on rodents; quite common in Palestine.

Cormorant, shalak, a swimmer and diver commonly feeding on fish.

Great owl, yanshuph, the ibis, a large nocturnal bird of prey, similar to the American great-horned owl.

Swan, tinshemeth, also translated "water hen," and "little owl." Its inclusion in this list implies it was the meat-eating owl.

Pelican, qaath, a fish-eating bird.

Gier-eagle, racham, a parti-colored vulture.

Stork, chasidah, white goshawk, or heron which feeds in marshes.

Heron, anaphah, a long-legged, march-inhabiting wading bird.

Lapwing, dukiphath, woodcock, a long-billed bird which lives on worms and other insects.

The bat, atalleph, is in reality a mammal, but because it flies, it is here classified with the fowl.

Verses 20-23

Verses 20-23:

"All fowl that creep" can also be translated "all winged insects." All flying insects are forbidden for food, as unclean, except those of the Salatoria or locust family.

"Goeth upon all four" means groveling, or going in a horizontal position, in contrast to the birds just mentioned.

Four varieties of the locust family were considered clean:

I. Locust, arbeh, a winged leaping insect, see Ex 10:4, 12-14.

2. Bald locust, solam, a winged leaper, and a voracious eater.

3. Beetle, chargol, or cricket.

4. Grasshopper, chagab, "coverer," listed also in Nu 13:33; Ec 12:5; Isa 40:22.

These insects were a common food in the East, and are eaten today by the poor. The heads, wings and legs are removed, and the insects are boiled, stewed, or roasted. Sometimes they are dressed in butter. Other times they are dried, and then ground into a powder and used in cooking. Locusts were a part of the diet of John the Baptist, Mr 1:6.

Verses 24-28

Verses 24-28:

This is an extension of the warning given in verse 8. The touch of the carcass of any unclean creature, as well as the eating of it, was defiling.

"Whatsoever goeth upon his paws" adds another class of unclean creatures. This includes all felines, as well as canines.

Any person being defiled by any unclean creature in any way must wash his clothing, and be considered unclean until the evening.

Verses 29-40

Verses 29-40:

This list of unclean creatures includes those who go on their belly but have no wings:

Weasel, choled, also translated "mole."

Mouse, akbar, equated with swine’s flesh, Isa 66:17.

Tortoise, tsab, a species of lizard.

Ferret, anaqah, the hedgehog.

Chameleon, koach, a large lizard, Varanus niloticus. Lizard, letach, the most common varity, Agama stellio.

Snail, chomet, another variety of lizard.

Mole, tinshemeth, likely the "blind rat" or "mole rat."

This variety of small, unclean creatures is likely to be found dead in utensils and on clothing. Hence, the warning against defilement by contact with them, and the rules for cleansing.

"Ranges for pots" is literally "covered pots."

"Seed to be sown," seed-grain, was not defiled by contact with the unclean creatures, unless it had been wetted by water made unclean by them.

The strict rules regarding defilement by contact with unclean creatures typify the importance of holy living today, and the need to keep oneself "unspotted from the world," see Jas 1:27; 1Ti 5:22; Jude 1:23.

Verses 41-47

Verses 41-47:

The class of unclean creatures listed in this text includes vermin, part of the unwinged creepers previously mentioned, verses 29, 30. These are all creatures "Whatsoever...

"Goeth upon the belly," as snakes, grubs, worms, etc;

"Goeth all fours," or which grovel, as moles, rats, etc; "Hath more feet," as centipedes, spiders, caterpillars, etc.

It seems unthinkable that one would eat such loathsome creatures. However, some of these are a part of the diet of primitive people even in today’s world.

Verses 44-47 confirm that the primary purpose of the dietary regulations regarding clean and unclean were not solely for hygienic or sanitary purposes. They pictured that ceremonial cleanness symbolizes spiritual holiness.

There are no Scriptural sanctions against eating any of these creatures designated as "unclean" in the Law, for God’s people today, Ac 10:9-15. However, it is suggested that it would be helpful to observe these restrictions, from a health standpoint, see Ro 15:4.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Leviticus 11". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/leviticus-11.html. 1985.
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