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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 11

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-47

Leviticus 11:2. The beasts which ye shall eat. The Talmud calls this chapter the Thirteenth class of Prohibitions. From the beginning of the world there was a distinction between clean and unclean beasts, as was intimated to Noah, when he received into the ark seven of the clean for one of the unclean. The reasons for this distinction are in the first place such as regard health. Cattle which feed on grass and chew the cud, are allowed to be the most salubrious for food. Dr. Buchan says that scrophulous diseases are mostly predominant in large towns, where children live very much on greasy ailments. Vegetables are supposed to grow to the same perfection as in the first ages after the creation: to live therefore on fruits and vegetables must have a tendency to perfect the stature and vigour of man, while in large cities it is too apparent that the population diminish both in muscular strength and in character. In the distinction which the scriptures make on the subject of meats, there is also a spiritual designation. The Lord had a right to appoint the animals that should be offered on the altar, and to say, amidst the cattle on a thousand hills, which would be best for the food of his people. The Israelites being at that time especially a rude uncultivated people, these distinctions would keep them apart from the idolatrous feasts of the gentiles, and so render them a peculiar people. It must however be confessed that several of the birds and beasts here mentioned, afford much exercise for critics, as to the distinction of the several species. Vide Poli Synop. The ancient fathers at the same time amuse us with moral improvements, on unclean birds and beasts. By the hawk they designate those who prey on their weaker neighbours; by the vulture, those who delight in war; by the raven, unnatural parents; by the ostrich, the specious hypocrite; by the owl, the solitary works of darkness.

Leviticus 11:5. The coney; so all the versions read. But Dr. Shaw, who spent a considerable time in oriental travels, thinks that the shaphan, or saphan, as an animal of mount Libanus, and common in Syria. It burrows like the rabbit, and takes refuge in the cliffs and rocks. Hence he thinks that the saphan is not the jerboa, as some have thought, because it burrows in a stiff loamy soil.

Leviticus 11:6. The hare, or arnebeth, he thinks, is the Daman-Israel, because it is a harmless creature of the same size as the rabbit, and with the like incurvated posture of the foreteeth. But it is of a browner colour, with smaller eyes, and a head more pointed, like the marmot. Whatever doubts may be entertained of the species, the whole genus or class was undoubtedly forbidden.

Leviticus 11:7. The swine; that is, every species of the hog was forbidden. The Egyptians would not eat of it, from a notion that it occasioned disease.

Leviticus 11:8. Their carcase shall ye not touch, after they are dead: any creature unclean to eat might be touched while alive, as horses, dogs, &c. The carcase of a clean beast did not defile, unless it died of itself. Most of the birds and beasts here forbidden, often fed on putrid prey; to eat them must then be as injurious to health, as the idea is revolting to the mind.


Moses having settled the priesthood, proceeds next to guide the priest in judging of persons and things that were clean and unclean; as houses, garments, and marriages, as well as of beasts, birds, and fishes. When God reviewed the creation, every creature he pronounced good; but since the fall, many of the beasts and birds live by rapine and blood. Hence to teach temperance and purity, he made a selection of the creatures acceptable in sacrifice, and best for food. He also had in view to preserve his people from all impurity of body and mind, and to separate them from the heathen who indulged in lascivious feasts. They would spiritually understand, that they must avoid the filth and luxury of the hog; and while they contemplated the innocence of lambs, and the laborious tractableness of the ox, they would endeavour to acquire those virtues. No man should resemble the hog, which seems to live only for his belly, and for the sake of sleeping and wallowing in the mire. On the contrary, the clean beasts are of the greatest utility to man. Some of them clothe us with their wool, others feed us with their milk, and are useful in various ways. In the distinction between creatures clean and unclean, is spiritually set before us the nature of vice and of virtue; and it evidently appears that St. Paul alluded to this, when he said, “Touch not, taste not the unclean thing.”

Although the distinction between creatures clean and unclean was known to Adam, and of course miraculously regarded in drawing them into the ark; and although the Egyptians and others partially regarded these laws, yet we have an express exemption in the christian scriptures. “Let no man judge you in respect of meats and drinks; and what God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” But let not our liberty be an occasion of sin; rather let us understand it as a figure, that all nations, on embracing the gospel, become one fold and family in the Lord.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Leviticus 11". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/leviticus-11.html. 1835.
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