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Clean and Unclean (Leviticus 11:1 to Leviticus 15:33 ).
The priesthood having been informed of their responsibility to discern between what was ritually clean and what was ritually unclean (Leviticus 10:10), five chapters now deal with the question in order to provide them with guidance (compare Ezekiel 22:26 for their later failure to do this). The question of clean and unclean brings out Israel’s world view, and stresses the difference between walking with God, and enjoying life and enjoying what is pure, in other words what is ‘clean’, and grovelling in what is ‘unclean’, with its connections with impurity and death, urging men to the former away from the latter.
In order to appreciate the significance of this we need first to recognise what precisely is involved. The purpose behind the idea of cleanness and uncleanness is not mainly hygiene or moral uncleanness. Rather it emphasises in a general way the holiness and perfection of God, and our need to escape from and avoid and rise above degradation and death. We have already seen that sacrifices and offerings are to be ‘perfect’ or ‘without blemish’. This is a pointer to the concept involved. In emphasising what is clean and unclean God seeks only what is totally ‘perfect’, what is wholly right, for Himself and for His people. What is clean is best. What is not clean is not best.
But we must not confuse holiness and ‘cleanness’. Holiness goes much further than cleanness. Things can be clean and not holy. And there are degrees of holiness within the area where all is ‘clean’. For holiness is to do with what God is, and what man’s attitude towards Him is, while cleanness has to do with what man is and with his attitude to his environment. This clearly impinges on holiness, but it is looking at it from a very different angle.
In order to be ‘holy’ enough to enter the tabernacle court men needed to be ritually ‘clean’, but being clean did not render them ‘most holy’. Yet the constant awareness of the need to avoid what was ‘unclean’ in God’s eyes did bring God’s Law very much into the daily lives of the common man. This included both its moral and its ritual requirements. It constantly made them think of what was for their good in accordance with God’s commands, what was ‘clean’, what was wholesome for those who were holy. But there can be no doubt that God also used these distinctions in order to keep them healthy, to let them see that in the uncleanness and decay of much of nature lay unknown dangers, to test their obedience, and to remind them constantly of His holiness.
There are also grounds for recognising that some of the living creatures which were unclean were seen as such because of their connections with various gods, although this may simply be because in their worship men regularly seek what is low. This would tie in with the general principle of perfection and wellbeing. While it is argued that in that case the bull ox would also have been unclean due to its prominence in the Baal religion, the answer to that might simply be that the bull ox had been recognised as clean for so long that it countered any other interpretation.
With, for example, the pig, which was revered and feared in religions elsewhere, the position was different. The black pig was taboo to worshippers of Horus in Egypt because Seth as a black pig had once blinded him. In certain Hittite rituals a pig was slaughtered in order to protect the sacrificers from evil curses. And pigs were associated with certain Syrian-Canaanite cults. This, even if not suggesting it, would certainly have helped to confirm the pig’s uncleanness. And ‘creeping things’ were undoubtedly connected with idolatry in Ezekiel 8:10. But nothing of this is even hinted at in either Leviticus or Deuteronomy so that we can only see it as of subsidiary significance.
The Law depicts Yahweh as supremely holy, that is uniquely ‘set apart’ as One Who is wholly good, wholly righteous, uniquely powerful, and then reveals grades of descent from God’s holiness and perfection into spheres of lesser and lesser holiness (‘set apartness’). This is because man could not fully cope with the full holiness of God.
On the one hand therefore the Law is very much designed to bring out God’s uniqueness and extreme holiness, together with the Priest’s and Israel’s special position before Him, but on the other it reveals intermediate levels of holiness until it comes down to where uncleanness intervenes and then goes on to the other extreme of ‘uncleanness’ which is to do with death and extreme impurity.
God is the living God, and, for Him, to be holy is to be supremely alive and pure. For man to become fully holy would be to become wholly alive and pure, and not only free from all the claims of death, but living positively to the full. For man to miss out on that, even by a fraction, would be to miss out on the very best. But man is far from that. He is weak and failing and that best is so far beyond him that it could only be a distant hope to be brought about by the grace of God. God therefore begins to lead him in ways that will enable him one day eventually, step by step, to understand that best, and this was indeed stated to be the purpose of the Law. It was that man might finally find true life (Leviticus 18:5).
This was to be revealed to him in two ways. Firstly by his coming to appreciate the full holiness of God, an awareness of God’s environment, and of His righteousness and purity (see Isaiah 57:15), and secondly by being made aware of what is wholly clean, what is best and most ‘perfect’ in man’s environment. Thus would his mind be turned towards God. With that in mind let us first consider the levels of holiness.
The Levels of Holiness.
1). There is what is supremely holy, the very ‘Holy of Holies’ (the Most Holy, the Holiest of All) itself, the throne room of the living God, remote from man in the tabernacle, inaccessible to any but the High Priest and he only once a year after complicated rituals of preparation which had made him especially holy. There God had at times revealed something of His glory.
It is the highest level attainable for those on earth, and then was only attainable by the High Priest once a year, and that only for a short while. But it is where Christ has now entered for us, and He has made a way open for us, so that we are so privileged that we may enter the Holiest in Him (Hebrews 10:19). This is the level which we should be enjoying in our fellowship with Him. It requires total commitment and full absorption in God, but for most it is only attained in its fullness at rare times. We may glibly speak of entry into the Holiest. But until we really become aware of the glory and holiness of God we have not really entered. Jesus Christ has made it possible, but like the children of Israel with Moses we ask that His face be veiled. For to see His face would take up too much of our lives.
2). Then there is the next level, what is extremely holy, the Holy Place and what is involved with it, so holy that nothing that pertains to it may remain in the camp outside the Holy Place, except temporarily. It has to be burned in a clean place outside the camp This includes the remains of the purification for sin offerings for priests and for the whole congregation, whose blood is brought into the Holy Place. Only the priests may enter or deal with such matters, and that only when they are ‘clean’ (a basic requirement), when on duty and properly attired, and having washed hands and feet with water to remove even the earthiness of the courtyard, and of things that they have touched. Any part of those offerings is extremely holy. Such extremely holy things must not remain within the Sanctuary precincts nor in the camp. What remains after making the offering must be burned with fire in a clean place outside the camp in order to go to God.
This is a slightly lower level of holiness from that of supreme holiness, enjoyed only by the priests, when they daily trimmed the lamps and offered incense on the altar of incense. But we being made priests in Christ have it opened up to us. It is enjoyed by those whose lives are genuinely fully committed, who walking before Him and in His sight trim the lamps of witness, testimony, and good works (Matthew 5:16), who offer the daily incense of praise and thanksgiving, but have not yet, or only at times, attained the higher level. But they do choose to live totally and completely as priests to God and on behalf of men, revealing it in witness, intercession, prayer, worship and thanksgiving, committing themselves to God as a living sacrifice, and seeking to be wholly acceptable to God. They live in the Holy Place.
3). Then there is what is ‘most holy’. It is not so holy that it is confined to the Holy Place, but it so holy that it must not leave the Sanctuary precincts or be touched by any but the priests. This includes all offerings and sacrifices, once offered, apart from the meat of peace/wellbeing sacrifices, but especially refers to the portions that the priests, and they alone may eat, meat from purification for sin offerings (Leviticus 6:29) and grain from grain offerings (Leviticus 2:10). If anyone apart from a priest touches them that person becomes ‘holy’ and thus subject to the restrictions of priests without actually attaining office (Leviticus 6:18; Leviticus 6:27).
In these days this lower level is attained by those who are set apart in Christ in holiness, who truly serve Him, but who have not yet reached the level of faith of living always in the presence of God. Their faith and dedication needs an upward lift.
4). Then there is what is ‘holy’, but is not so holy that it is not allowed to leave the Sanctuary precincts, for the camp also is holy, although not always fully clean. These holy things may be dealt with in a clean place within the camp. They include the priests’ portions of peace sacrifices, and the flesh of the peace sacrifices returned to the offerer, which must be eaten in a clean place and not by anyone while unclean. They are therefore more holy than the camp.
This is the level of the average Christian who walks with God, seeks to avoid uncleanness and the desires of the flesh, but whose commitment and dedication is not sufficiently full to enjoy the higher blessings.
Up to this point all this holiness has been free from any taint of uncleanness, for participation has only been allowed by those who are ‘clean’. In a sense the camp is the last stage of holiness and is the place where distinctions between clean and unclean begin to impinge. For this is where God’s holy people confront what is less than wholesome, what is less than ‘perfect’, what may come short in one way or another of contributing to their wellbeing.
5). The camp of Israel is holy (Deuteronomy 23:14), but it is of an even lesser holiness than the clean places within the camp, for those who are mildly unclean may remain in it in their tents, and the part in which they are is then unclean until they themselves are clean. And in the same way the nation of Israel, and all who join it within the covenant by circumcision, are holy (Exodus 19:6), for they are God’s covenant people, and yet they may be temporarily unclean. However because they are holy they must seek not to defile themselves by disobedience and by contact with what is unclean, and take whatever precautions are necessary to deal with uncleanness and prevent it affecting the holy. While unclean they are not so holy that they can come in direct contact with the holiness of God.
This is the level of the low level Christian who is satisfied to honour Christ but is also seeking to enjoy life in general and does not want to be too restricted. He wants to be allowed his periods of ‘uncleanness’. He is an ‘also ran’.
6). Then there is outside the camp of Israel. This is not holy, but it is more complicated for it is divided into the clean and the unclean. Firstly there are (undefined) ‘clean places’ (Leviticus 4:12; Leviticus 6:11) where what is extremely holy may be burned and where the ashes from the altar of burnt offering may be deposited. Secondly there are places which cannot be unclean, for men can go there without becoming unclean, and clean animals rove there without becoming unclean. But as with the camp unclean things impinge there. Thirdly there are places which are unclean because unclean people, non-Israelites, live there who do not observe the rules of cleanness and uncleanness. Fourthly there are places which are unclean because they are the haunts of what is unclean. There there is much which is unclean, with which even indirect contact must be avoided. And fifthly there are unclean and defiled places (Leviticus 14:40-3.14.41; Leviticus 14:45) where death and uncleannesses must be put and must remain. Man’s excrement, for example, must be put in a designated special place outside the camp (Deuteronomy 23:13-5.23.14 compare Leviticus 5:3) and must be buried there, as must the building materials of buildings condemned for certain fungi and rotting (Leviticus 14:40; Leviticus 14:45). We are not given details of these places, only their function. It may be that they were simply designated areas for refuse.
On the whole the inhabited world outside ‘the camp’ and outside later ‘Israel’, was probably seen as unholy, and as largely ‘unclean’, except possibly for the land suitable for grazing, arable land and pasture in the wilderness (not, of course, too strictly defined), for even in generally unclean lands, these were presumably seen as mildly clean, otherwise clean wild animals would become unclean.
But the ground was cursed in Genesis 3:17, and the snake was cursed ‘above all cattle and above every beast of the field’, and sentenced to grovel in the dirt, to ‘eat the dust’ (Genesis 3:14), a phrase which at a minimum indicated something totally low, ignominious and unpleasant. And this ground would only yield man his food after great and laborious effort. He would have to restore it to usefulness. It had become his adversary. And the dust was what man would return to (Genesis 3:19), it was the dust of lifelessness and death above which man had been raised, but only for a time. He would return to it in death. Thus what lived in the dust of the ground was unclean.
This ties in with chapter 11 here for a separation was made in Genesis 1-3 along similar lines to here, between animals both wild and domestic, and the other land creatures, and creeping things which grovelled in the dust, which thus became unclean, together with the birds of the air and the fish of the sea (Genesis 1:20-1.1.21; Genesis 1:24-1.1.25; Genesis 1:29-1.1.30). The intention was that all would eat vegetation or ‘green herbs’ (Genesis 1:30). It would seem that that was seen as the ideal and that those that began to subsist on other things become ‘unclean’, although later man’s right to eat of animals is confirmed (Genesis 9:3), but he would be expected to use discernment.
In Genesis 2:19-1.2.20 it is only the cattle, the wild beasts and the birds which are seen as within man’s domain, and in Genesis 3:14 we come across ‘cattle’, ‘beasts of the countryside’ and a reptile, the latter despatched to lurk in the dust as a punishment. It should not therefore surprise us if animals which nuzzle in the dust, and reptiles and creatures that live in the dust and never rise above it are seen as especially unclean, and even more ‘creeping things’, for the dust is what man who dies will return to. It is the dust of death (Psalms 22:15; Psalms 22:29; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Daniel 12:2). To ‘cleave to the dust’ was considered to be the same as dying (Psalms 119:25). It was a world of death. And while the curse was partly relieved by God’s covenant with Noah as far as man was concerned (Genesis 9:21), which might explain why grazing land and arable land could be seen as ‘clean’, it certainly did not remove the whole curse. Thorns and thistles are still man’s bain. The earth is still man’s adversary and seeks ever to return to the wild or to desert. And all this was closely linked with death (Genesis 3:19; Genesis 5:5), which was the final sentence.
The same distinctions are mainly found in the story of the flood (Genesis 7:8; Genesis 7:14; Genesis 7:21; Genesis 7:23; Genesis 8:19), but there we are introduced to clean and unclean animals and birds, only the clean of which can be sacrificed (Leviticus 7:2; Leviticus 8:20).
It is possible that the ‘clean places’ as in Leviticus 4:12; Leviticus 6:11 are those where it is considered that death does not usually take place and where man’s and animal’s uncleanness would not have reached, thus remote almost inaccessible spots, but they are never defined specifically, and it may be that they were places especially set aside and cleansed, (although if this is so it is never mentioned). But the fact that there could be these ‘clean places’ suggests that the created world was originally seen as fundamentally clean, (God saw that it was good), but as having been largely defiled by death and uncleanness, that which is related to opposition to God.
But in terms of living things only Israel, and those who worship Yahweh, are now holy and that because cleansed by God, while certain animal, birds and fish are ‘clean’, and can therefore be eaten, but they are not spoken of as holy. To be holy is to be in a relationship with God, or to be God’s special possession.
We could see ‘outside the camp’ as largely signifying the level of those who are not in Christ. Some are relatively ‘cleaner’ than others, but none are in the camp and holy to God.
Connected with these degrees of holiness that we have described therefore, and at the bottom end, we must fit in the ideas of what is ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’. These things affect holiness but are not the same thing. They are to do with man’s contact with the world through his body. Nothing of this uncleanness is ever to be brought into contact with the tabernacle. To do so deliberately would be to warrant death. If discovered as occurring unwittingly it will require guilt offerings (Leviticus 5:2-3.5.3).
And while mild uncleanness is allowed in the camp, the camp too must be kept separate from it, and the aim is always to be rid of any such uncleanness as quickly as feasible. Meanwhile it must be contained within the tent, and by avoiding contact with others.
It should be noted that something can be clean but not holy. But it cannot be unclean and holy. This is especially so with regard to food. Food that is unclean must be abhorred by Israel. It will defile the holiness of any of the people involved with it. It will make them less whole and pure. Thus it is necessary to distinguish between clean and unclean foods. But certain animals are seen as ‘clean’ wherever they are, unless they have been defiled in some way. Thus to be ‘clean’ is not the same thing as to be holy. However the converse is true, what is ‘unclean’ is not holy, and at least to some extent defiles holiness.
And at the bottom end of uncleanness are things that defile the land, murder, adultery, idolatry and so on (Leviticus 18:6-3.18.27; Leviticus 20:2-3.20.22). These are the extremes of ‘uncleanness’. Those who do such things must be cut off. Their end is death, for death is the final end of uncleanness. So if their bodies are hung on a tree in order to disgrace them, they are not to stay there overnight, for it would render the land unclean because they are accursed by God. Thus they must be buried (Deuteronomy 21:23). It was for such uncleannesses that Israel would be finally expelled from the land (Leviticus 18:25).
So cleanness and uncleanness refer to men’s relationship to themselves and to the world, and how they react to the world, although they do also affect their position before God. And as will be seen there are certain basic rules regarding the cleanness of living things, and they have a certain logic to them. If fully followed out they would undoubtedly have contributed to human health, but that, at least humanly speaking, would not be seen as their main purpose, and it does not mean that all unclean things are always physically unhealthy for humans, only that they would be ill advised to partake of them because of how often they are. But the main reson why they must not eat of them is because God has not appointed them for men. Abstaining from them is a sign of being God’s men and women.
Men like Moses may well have learned certain basic medical rules from observation. But a detailed individual diet list giving individual ‘clean’ items would have been neither wise or practical, and would have been observed more in the breach than in the fulfilment, and one is not given. Nor was this the main purpose of establishing things as clean, although from a health point of view there is no doubt that avoiding unclean things would have contributed to good health.
The real significance of cleanness and uncleanness was with regard to ‘perfection’ and ‘imperfection’, to ‘wholeness’ and ‘unwholeness’, to making men ritually ‘without blemish’. The aim was to keep God’s people involved only with what was ‘perfect’, with what was pleasing to God, and this would result in their being ritually and morally clean as they lived to do His will, rising above what was most unpleasant in the world. It meant avoiding all that was unclean in any way, however seemingly desirable, and, when they fell short it, involved their going through the necessary process for the removal of that uncleanness. For what was unclean was in general harmful, and would remove them from the state of wholeness that should be theirs, so that if possible the situation had to be rectified. If it was not rectified they would be removed from the camp, for anything other than temporary uncleanness would defile the camp and make it unholy.
We have already observed the constant necessity for the removal of sin, and of all breaches of the covenant, which was a special kind of unholiness to do with ritual and moral failure. We now see the requirement also to be ‘clean’ in everything in relationship with creation.
To summarise we may consider the various levels of humanity (if we leave Moses out of account who was unique). There is first the High Priest, then the priests, then the blemished priests. The first can enter the Holy of Holies, the second the Holy Place and the third can partake of what is most holy, but cannot enter the Holy Place. These in descending order can deal with ‘most holy’ things as long as they are ‘clean’. Then come the people when clean, allowed into the tabernacle court, then the people when temporarily unclean, and not allowed,while unclean, in the tabernacle court, and then the people who are blemished who cannot enter the tabernacle court. But all these may remain in the camp. Then come the people unclean and excluded from the camp but kept within range, for whom worship can be conducted and offerings made. And then finally come outsiders not connected with the camp. All these described are as a whole split into clean and unclean. Any of these who are rendered unclean, even the High Priest, must not enter the Sanctuary precincts while unclean. None who are blemished may ever do so. Although they, and ‘strangers’, may offer sacrifices and offerings. They are not excluded from God (Numbers 15:14; Numbers 15:16). Only the High Priest and the unblemished priests may enter the Holy Place as long as they are ‘clean’. Only the ritually ‘clean’ may enter the tabernacle court. But in all cases, from highest to lowest, all approaches are only through offerings and sacrifices. To be clean was not to be sinless.
One important lesson we should learn from all this is that God is not to be approached lightly. Those who would know Him fully must recognise His purity and truth and come to Him in purity and truth, and must therefore recognise and acknowledge their need for cleansing, for atonement and forgiveness, and for cleanness of life from all that is unclean. The exclusion of the blemished (what is not perfect) is not intended as a slight on them, but as a reminder of the supremely perfect and unblemishes being of God.
As we go through the laws of uncleanness we will discover a pattern based on the first five chapters of Genesis. The tradition behind Genesis was Scripture for the people of Israel under Moses. It dealt with the roots of life, leading up to the promises given to Abraham. In Genesis 1:0 the world was created, and with it all living creatures. In Genesis 2:0 God prepared man’s dwelling place on earth, and set him over all cattle, wild beasts and birds. And he walked naked, authoritative and tall, and was not ashamed. But what crept on the ground was not said to be submissive to him. And in Genesis 3:0 this was evidenced when mankind fell into sin, deceived by the serpent, and the serpent was cursed and was sentenced to the dust, and the woman who first sinned was punished in the very thing that was dearest to her, the ability to conceive, and the ground which produced man’s food was cursed.
So we have in descending order, God, man, animals and birds, creeping things of the ground, the latter outside man’s control.
From now on man had to be clothed, and God made for him suitable clothing. Then man was sentenced to be cast from the Garden, excluded from the place where God had walked with him. He was unclean. He would no longer be ‘in the camp’, but was cast out, and the world would abundantly produce thorns and thistles to hinder his labours. This was when he was first introduced to clothing to hide his nakedness.
But then came a new beginning, when man triumphed and was restored into fellowship with God as Abel offered his ‘gifts’ to Him. Man could once more enjoy God’s blessing. But Cain slew Abel and then went away and built the first houses in his ‘city’, and his line was built up as a result of their sexual responses. Meanwhile godly man began to ‘call on the name of Yahweh’, and thus in chapter 5 we have the line of men who were born, and lived and died, again the result of sexual responses, both good and bad.
It is surely not a coincidence that the laws of uncleanness follow this pattern. Leviticus 11:0 connects with Genesis 1-3. Leviticus 12:0 connects with the punishment of the woman in Genesis 3:16. Leviticus 13:1-3.13.46 connects with the casting out of the man from the Garden in Genesis 3:17-1.3.19 with Genesis 3:23-1.3.24. Leviticus 13:47-3.13.59; Leviticus 13:47-3.13.59 connects with God’s provision of their first clothing in Genesis 3:21. Leviticus 14:1-3.14.32; Leviticus 14:1-3.14.32 connects with the restoration of fellowship and the new beginning in Genesis 4:0, and Leviticus 14:33-3.14.53 connects with ‘the building of a city’ on arrival in the land also as in Genesis 4:17. And finally Leviticus 15:0 deals with the means of reproduction and the organs of reproduction as illustrated in Genesis 4:18 and Genesis 5:1-1.5.32). We might then see Leviticus 16:0, with its emphasis on the great Day of Atonement, which gave Israel a new beginning every year, as reflected in the story of the Flood when God decided to make a new beginning, and enabled man to begin again, by sacrificing clean animals and birds on an altar. He gave them a new start, as He would now give Israel one, once a year.
So with all this in mind let us now consider this chapter, which deals with what food is clean and may therefore be freely enjoyed by the people, and will not make them unclean, and what is unclean and should be avoided for one reason or another. But one warning. The purpose of these restrictions was not in order to be a list of all harmless foods, although they certainly did prevent the eating of many harmful foods, nor was it in order to declare that what was unclean was necessarily bad in itself, it was in order to set apart His people from all others, and to lift them up from the squalor of the world and from the taint of death. It was to make them holy. It was in order to lift them above all that was degrading, and to keep them living before Him in purity, and in recognition that death and all connected with it is the very opposite of all that God is. It was to ensure their wellbeing and their wholesomeness. It was to keep them out of the dust of death (Psalms 22:15; Psalms 22:29; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Daniel 12:2).
Thus God’s aim is to keep His people from all that is unholy, that is, from all that is in general terms unlike Himself, all that was not created specifically for man’s benefit, and all that might be harmful either spiritually or physically, and it was especially to separate him from the taint of death.
In going into the world His people would inevitably occasionally become ‘unclean’, but provision was now made for the conscious removal of this uncleanness, and warnings given not to deliberately step beyond the bounds laid down. For disobedience is the ultimate uncleanness.
It will be noted in what follows that the creatures that are ‘clean’ are those that are (as seen by the Israelites) wholly grazing animals, still eaters of herbs (Genesis 1:30), and not predators (death-dealers) and blood-eaters; or are those that swim in the open water well away from the dirt and the mud; or are those that eat vegetation and leap and are not tied to crawl on the earth. Each keeps to its proper sphere. In no case therefore do they do lurk and crawl in dirt and filth, among the dust that the snake was to grovel in, and to which man, when he ceased to be man and became an empty shell with its breath withdrawn, would return. And to which the carcases of all beasts would return. That was the realm of death. This must be seen from a ‘common knowledge’ aspect, not as a naturalist. It is the basic ideas that are being conveyed.
There is an important lesson here for Christians. We too can enter the Holiest of All through the blood of Jesus. We too can gather together to worship in holiness, having a ‘rarified’ time. But we too cannot enter God’s presence until cleansed. We too have to go out into the world and must choose between what is wholesome and what is degraded, and must avoid what is degrading and choose the wholesome. This is all a warning to us to discern between what is spiritually clean and what is spiritually unclean (2 Corinthians 7:1), although not necessarily in the terms laid out in what follows. For as Jesus pointed out, it is what is in the heart of man that is really unclean (Mark 7:18-41.7.23). And for us too the depths of uncleanness is murder, adultery and idolatry.
The Clean and Unclean (Edible and Inedible) Among Living Creatures.
‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them,’
Once more we have confirmation that these are the words of Yahweh to Moses and are therefore to be treated as of the utmost importance. Here, however, Aaron is with him. This dividing statement reminds us that timewise we do not know how this section relates to the last. It may have been written down any time up to the death of Moses not long before entering the land, although if it was written down immediately it would be before the death of Aaron (Numbers 20:28-4.20.29). But in Numbers the combination of the joint names does not occur until God has confirmed Aaron’s position in Numbers 18:0, just prior to arriving at Kadesh. Thus it may have been written down towards the end of the long period of waiting in Kadesh, as they readied themselves for a further attempt to enter the land.
The Animals That May Or May Not Be Eaten (Leviticus 11:2-3.11.8 ).
“Speak to the children of Israel, saying, These are the living things which you may eat among all the beasts that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and chews the cud, among the beasts, that may you eat.”
The definition of what of animals can be eaten is simple and clear and could be followed by any Israelite. The ‘perfect’ edible animal intended by God as man’s food is the one that parts the hoof, is cloven-footed and chews the cud (or more strictly ‘masticates well’). These therefore may be eaten. This is indeed the kind that God intended to be eaten, for He created them as such (Genesis 1:24-1.1.25). They are wholesome and can fully satisfy all Israel’s need. For these attributes will determine largely what the animals themselves eat and where they tend to roam. They eat grass and vegetation, and walk and feed in places less likely to be ‘unclean’ or to be infected by parasites and death. They keep their proper place. They are probably seen as themselves generally avoiding eating ‘unclean’ things, or what had been in contact with ‘unclean’ things and especially the ‘abominations’ as described later.
Examples of such clean animals are given in Deuteronomy 14:4-5.14.6. ‘These are the beasts which you may eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat, the hart, and the gazelle, and the roebuck, and the wild goat, and the ibex, and the antelope, and the mountain sheep.’ These are still ‘eaters of herbs’ (Genesis 1:30). A special group among these are those which can be offered in sacrifice; the ox, the goat and the sheep, the cleanest of the clean. But attention is not drawn to this.
(The goat’s sometimes eating habits might be seen to contradict this, but we are to see them as they were seen by the Israelites in their camp, clean grazing animals, eaters of herbs. Their going astray from this was ignored).
But those which are cloven-footed or appear to chew the cud (masticate well), doing one but not both, are less than ‘perfect’ and should therefore not be eaten. They are thereby ‘blemished’ in one or other aspect of their way of living, and do not keep to their proper sphere. And because God’s people are holy, they should therefore eat only what is ‘perfect’.
Thus it is not in the first place a question as to whether they are bad for health, although that might necessarily arise from their lifestyle, it is because the way in which they lack brings them in contact with uncleanness in one way or another, in a way that should not be, and is not so for the clean beasts. For that reason it can be seen that they have not been created for eating purposes for a holy people. They are not ‘cattle’ but ‘beasts of the earth’ (Genesis 1:24-1.1.25).
This is not put up for debate. It is God’s demand on the basis that Israel are His people. It may be that pork is delicious and provides protein, that hares can be enjoyable, that camel milk has its own tang, but they are forbidden because they were not created with the intention of being eaten, and because their lifestyles bring them constantly in contact with what is ‘unclean’. And as we shall see, wise were those who obeyed given the circumstances of the time. But the basic purpose of the restriction was also to teach obedience. If God said it, that was what they must do.
“ Nevertheless these shall you not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that part the hoof; the camel, because he chews the cud but does not part the hoof, he is unclean to you. And the rock badger (coney), because he chews the cud but does not part the hoof, he is unclean to you. And the hare, because she chews the cud but does not part the hoof, she is unclean to you. And the pig, because he parts the hoof, and is clovenfooted, but does not chew the cud, he is unclean to you. Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you.”
Thus they are not to eat the flesh of, or touch the dead carcasses of, the camel, the rock badger, the hare, and the pig. These are all ‘unclean’. They are lacking in one way or the other. They are blemished. And their very adaptation results in their going into unclean places, partaking of unclean things, scrabbling in the dust of death, and thus being generally unclean. They must therefore be avoided.
And as it happens medically the pig, the rock badger and the hare can all commonly contribute to unpleasant diseases of one kind or another through parasitic infection, precisely as a result of their lifestyles, and while making them far safer, even modern methods of treatment can fail to remove totally these parasitic infections. Eating them would not necessarily result in such an infection, but there was a good likelihood that it would be so, far more so than with the clean animals. (We should also note that while the pig and the camel can be identified we are not absolutely certain as to the identity of the shaphan and the ’arnebeth which may be extinct).
As for the camel, as a result of not being cloven-footed it goes into the desert, and all knew that that was a place of death and uncleanness, witness the constant discovery of dry bones there, a place of barrenness. It was a place of wild beasts (Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14) and ghosts (Isaiah 34:14), and thus a land of death and darkness.
The camel can also render better service to man by being alive, for it is a vital means of transport where other creatures find it more difficult to go. Thus it is useful, but not in order to be eaten. It can be used for Israel’s benefit, but it must not be partaken of. Furthermore, its milk is best avoided by those who are not inured to it, (it has devastating effects on the digestion), and its meat is tough and unpleasant to those not used to it. Not being widely eaten its health effects have not been fully analysed, but it is not the most desirable of food to most. The lesson to be learned from the ban, however, was to distinguish between what God had provided for food, and what He had not, and the wisdom of considering the environment from which these things came. They were forbidden because such was God’s appointment, and because they did not remain in the sphere appointed by God for things that might be eaten. Any other benefits were secondary. Bedouin may eat camels. They were not a holy people. But Israelites may not. They were forbidden because of their regular contact with ‘uncleanness’ and unclean spheres which made them continually ‘unclean’.
These then are ‘unclean’. God was undoubtedly concerned to maintain the health and wellbeing of his people by enabling them to avoid contact, not only with ‘death’ (their carcasses you shall not touch), but also with the dirt and dust of unclean places, and with any resulting diseases. But the main point is that each of these animals is lacking in one or other of the essential virtues for an edible animal, virtues that tended to cleanness, and therefore they are ‘blemished’ and not true ‘cattle’, and eat and wander in places which are unclean. Their adaptation has therefore rendered them unfit for food for God’s holy people. They are not of a ‘perfection’ suitable for the people of God. Compare Deuteronomy 14:7-5.14.8.
There can be no question that those who observed these instructions would definitely on the whole have had better health, (and would also be wealthier by keeping their camels, which at that time were quite rare), than those who did not, especially in primitive conditions. It would seem that people did not think of eating asses as they are not mentioned. They were too valuable and useful for other purposes. They were to treat their camels as the same.
The pig was in fact bred for food in the Ancient Near East for centuries before the time of Moses, and was known to have at times been a sacrificial animal (see above). It had the advantage in some people’s eyes in that it rooted around for food and thus broke up the earth, and in the fact that it would eat what other domestic animals would not eat, providing an easy source of meat. But Israel was warned against it precisely for this reason. It was not in the pattern of ‘perfect’ edible animals. It nuzzled in the dust, sharing the serpent’s fate, and was more in danger of touching and digesting, by its scrabbling, what was ‘unclean’, and incidentally passing on parasites precisely because of its eating habits. And there is no doubt that medically speaking the decision was on the whole wise.
Christians are not called on to avoid these unclean foods, although there might be wisdom in considering it, but we should learn from this that if we too would be clean we must ensure that we abstain from all that God has forbidden us morally, and that we feed our minds properly and walk in clean paths. We should walk in our proper sphere. For those who do otherwise tend to uncleanness.
Sea Life That May Or May Not Be Eaten (Leviticus 11:9-3.11.12 ).
“These may you eat of all that are in the waters. Whatever has fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, that may you eat.”
Once again the principle is the same. Fish intended to be eaten have fins and scales. This is seen as the ‘perfect’ edible fish. They swim and eat in the clear waters, in parts that are ‘clean’, in their proper sphere, not wallowing in the mud. They are solely of the sea or river. Anything less than that is a ‘sea creature’, especially those that cling to the bottom or to rocks, and not an edible fish. For those with fins and scales are again less likely to have absorbed anything parasitic or harmful. They were created to be eaten. Compare Deuteronomy 14:9. And their way is not in the mud (wet dust). We should look at, and have dealings with, what is good, not at what delves in the dirt and dust and mud. That is a sound principle of life.
“And all that do not have fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of all the living creatures that are in the waters, they are an abomination to you, and they shall be an abomination to you. You shall not eat of their flesh, and their carcasses you shall have in abomination. Whatever has no fins nor scales in the waters, that is an abomination to you.”
On the other hand all other sea and river creatures are not to be eaten. They are to be seen as blemished for they do not have the attributes of the ‘perfect’ fish. They lack scales or they lack fins. They are not designed for the pure waters. They take their food where they find it, among what is ‘unclean’.
This would include all shellfish which tend to eat decaying matter. Indeed these are all ‘an abomination’, that is, especially unclean and to be avoided. Once again there is no doubt that by observing these rules they would avoid much disease, for shellfish for example are notorious for causing physical ailments and food poisoning, although that is not to say that some were not perfectly edible. Compare Deuteronomy 14:10. But they were forbidden by God. Note how the deciding factor is very simple. No one could genuinely make a mistake.
So God is again and again emphasising to Israel that they must keep to their proper sphere. When they fail to do so they connect with dirt, and degradation, and dust, and death and become unclean.
If we would serve Christ fully, we too must swim in clear waters, and not be constantly delving in the mud. The principle still applies that what God has created for man’s good lives and eats cleanly, and is thus ‘perfect’ and without blemish and does not render unclean. These sources of food are not forbidden to us, (as long as we are careful), but being like them is.
Birds And Flying Creatures That May Not Be Eaten (Leviticus 11:13-3.11.23 ).
“And these you shall have in abomination among the birds, they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination; the griffon vulture, and the bearded vulture, and the osprey, and the kite, and the falcon after its kind, every raven after its kind, and the ostrich, and the night-hawk, and the sea-mew, and the hawk after its kind, and the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl, and the horned owl, and the pelican, and the black vulture, and the stork, the heron after its kind, and the hoopoe, and the bat.”
In the case of birds it is the negative that is emphasised, the ones to be especially avoided. On the whole the ones mentioned tend to be birds of prey. They do not keep to the proper sphere of birds by flying in the air and eating what is in the air, and seeds. They are mainly death-dealers. They descend into the dust and eat carrion. They descend to the sphere of, and eat, beasts and creeping things. The thought may also be that they eat flesh with the blood like wild beasts. Thus those who take life in this way and who eat in this way must be unclean, for death is unclean and decaying flesh is unclean, and rodents are unclean. It is contrary to what they should be, and contrary to what Yahweh is as the living God.
Others of these unclean birds mentioned are clearly noted fish eaters and swamp dwellers, and are seen to delve their beaks into the mud for food. In all cases they appeared to feed on what was outside their sphere and were not over-particular to avoid what was ‘unclean’. It was their practise that must be avoided.
All these examples bring out the lesson that what we are is revealed by how we behave, and we are not to follow their example. We must remain in our own sphere. And the sphere of Israel is the covenant, and obedience to the Law. The sphere of Israel is to be holiness.
On the other hand Deuteronomy 14:11; Deuteronomy 14:20 give permission to eat ‘all clean birds’ and ‘all clean fowls’. No further detail is given but it was probably a fairly wide definition. Birds and their eggs generally appear to have been seen as edible, especially turtledoves and pigeons, which could also be sacrificed.
“All winged creeping things that go on four are an abomination to you.”
Compare here Deuteronomy 14:19. Such creatures sought food in unclean places, and on dead carcases and dead matter. These are the flying things that have more than two legs. ‘On four.’ They go on more than two legs. If we translate ‘go on all fours’ we must recognise that it means rather, ‘scuttle along like a four legged animal’ in the dust, in contrast to those that ‘leap’ like those in the next verse. It means those winged creeping things that have four legs or more. It is not necessarily suggesting that they have only four legs. It is a way of distinguishing those with two feet (e.g. birds) from all others. These creatures were creatures of the dust.
“Yet these may you eat of all winged creeping things that go on all fours, those which have legs above their feet, by which to leap on the earth. Even these of them you may eat; the locust after its kind, and the bald locust after its kind, and the cricket after its kind, and the grasshopper after its kind. But all winged creeping things, which have four feet, are an abomination to you.”
There were, however, some larger insects which were exceptions and could be eaten, and they are outlined here. They are distinguished by the fact that they are ‘leapers’, not grovellers in the dust. They are also all such as appeared to eat vegetation and grain. They were therefore clean. The Bedouin are known to have eaten certain types of locust, as did John the Baptiser (Matthew 3:4), and they appear to have been a delicacy at king’s tables. It is clear from the description that the Israelites also enjoyed them.
The general idea behind these food laws would appear therefore to be to distinguish those which ate what was ‘clean’ and which went where it was relatively ‘clean’, and lived in their own spheres, and were not obviously involved in death-dealing (consider how death-dealing animals have not even been dealt with, their uncleanness is assumed - but see Leviticus 11:27) in contrast with those whose habits were such that they would continually have contact with dead and decaying and rotting and infested matter, and with what was ‘unclean’, going out of their own spheres and lurking and scrabbling in the dust. Only the ‘clean’ were fit for God’s holy people. The constant recognition of this fact would bring home to Israel God’s holiness, the holiness that was required of them, and a sense of being God’s people as witnessed by what they ate. They would be a constant reminder that they should stay within their own sphere. They certainly helped to prevent disease, and were good aids to hygiene. The rules had to be straight and simple. They were not naturalists. There was no question of arguing individual cases.
Contact With The Dead Bodies Of Unclean Animals Renders Unclean (Leviticus 11:24-3.11.28 ).
We now move on to dead carcasses. These are necessarily outside their proper sphere. They are always unclean apart from when offered when still alive, and then slain in sacrifice (when they are in their proper, God-given sphere) to God. This provision is now not a question of whether we can eat them, but of what should not even be touched and handled.
“And by these you shall become unclean. Whoever touches the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even; and whoever bears anything of their carcass shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even. Every beast which parts the hoof, and is not clovenfooted, nor chews the cud, is unclean to you. Every one who touches them shall be unclean. And whatever goes on its paws, among all beasts that go on all fours, they are unclean to you. Whoever touches their carcase shall be unclean until the even. And he who carries the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even. They are unclean to you.”
The list of unclean animals is now extended to include those with paws. All these unclean animals and birds were not only not to be eaten, all their dead carcasses were to be strictly avoided. They would bring the taint of death, and the taint of death should not be transferred to the people of God. Thus any of the people who themselves did have contact with such must immediately afterwards (until the evening) avoid the tabernacle. They would not be fit to approach God until they were clean. They must not go directly to the tabernacle while unclean. Nor must they eat of holy meat. They have temporarily gone outside their sphere, the sphere of life. The taint of death must not be brought into contact with the holy. But it was only mild uncleanness, lasting until the evening. This would enable the ‘uncleanness’ to wear off and give the opportunity to see if there were any ill effects. For avoiding the touching of carcasses was also hygienically wise. They could easily pass on disease.
It is never suggested that working with camels and asses renders men unclean, thus the emphasis here would appear to be on dead carcasses. Notice that it is only those who actually carry a carcase who also have to wash their clothes, for they will thereby have contracted defilement on their clothes which needs to be removed. Otherwise time is the cleanser. Water does not cleanse people (except for the water of purification which has been mixed with the ashes of the heifer), it merely washes from earthiness prior to cleansing. It is the passage of time that cleanses.
Included under this heading would be Samson’s lion (Judges 14:8-7.14.9). Also included would be cats and dogs. But we have no evidence of cats among the Israelites, although they were well known as pets in Egypt. And while dogs were domesticated elsewhere, all references to dogs in Scripture tend to be of wild dogs which acted furtively and savagely and banded together in packs as scavengers, especially around cities (see Exodus 22:31; Deuteronomy 23:18; 1Ki 14:11 ; 1 Kings 16:4; 1 Kings 21:19; Psalms 22:16; Psalms 59:6; Isaiah 56:10-23.56.11; Jeremiah 15:3; Revelation 22:15).
All Creeping Things Are Unclean Especially When Dead (Leviticus 11:29-3.11.31 ).
“And these are they which are unclean to you among the creeping things that creep on the earth; the weasel, and the rat, and the great lizard after its kind, and the gecko, and the land-crocodile, and the lizard, and the sand-lizard, and the chameleon. These are they which are unclean to you among all that creep. Whoever touches them when they are dead, shall be unclean until the even.”
The same principle applied to all small rodents and reptiles. They were unclean and must not be eaten, nor must their dead bodies be touched. The very fact that they are called ‘creeping things’ links them with the snake. Instead of running freely among the beasts they share their environment with the creature that brought about man’s downfall. If they were touched then the person was again unclean until the evening. They were defiled. They must not go to the tabernacle or eat of holy meat. We are not absolutely certain of the identification of each Hebrew word describing these creatures, but the general pattern is clear.
We note that there is no mention of a remedy in washing. Thus the idea is that, apart from contact with clothes, any ‘uncleanness’ will rub off during the day, with time. All these are to be seen as untouchables. They are not of the kind which should be of interest to the people of God, but should be avoided.
Once again the rules, if faithfully observed, would have saved the Israelites from much disease, and we cannot really doubt now that ideas of defilement and disease were seen together as uncleanness. They could hardly avoid noticing cases where contact with such dead creatures sometimes resulted in various forms of disease, even if they did think of it as a judgment for touching what was unclean. But from the point of view of the Israelites, by avoiding these things they were pleasing Yahweh and doing His will, and showing themselves to be His people. They were avoiding what was unseemly.
With regard to hygiene the very distinctive regulations that follow must surely have hygiene in mind, for had it been simply a matter of ritual uncleanness the distinctions would surely not be made. But it is dressed up in terms of uncleanness and to give the people a horror of the unseemly.
Containers Contaminated By Dead Animals Or Creeping Things Must Be Washed Or Destroyed (Leviticus 11:32-3.11.33 ).
“And on whatever any of them, when they are dead, falls, it shall be unclean; whether it be any vessel of wood, or raiment, or skin, or sack, whatever vessel it may be, with which any work is done, it must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the even. Then shall it be clean. And every earthen vessel, into which any of them falls, whatever is in it shall be unclean, and you shall break it.”
Contact with dead rodents and reptiles rendered containers ‘unclean’. They have left their proper use. They must therefore be ‘put in water’ or destroyed. This was especially important for earthen vessels, which must be destroyed because by their nature they could absorb things that were harmful. Whatever our view it is clear that such uncleanness was seen as having a harmful effect realistically and not just religiously, although the overall idea is undoubtedly that God’s people must separate themselves from all that is unclean, from all that comes short of God’s perfection, for it is then short of the best.
We may learn from this the necessity for cleanliness, and the necessity for properly scouring pots and pans, especially when they have been in contact with vermin. Cleanliness prevent disease. And we can also learn to avoid things that are unseemly.
Dry Foods In Those Containers Are Clean But Wet Foods Are Unclean (Leviticus 11:34-3.11.35 ).
“All food in them which may be eaten, that on which water comes, shall be unclean, and all drink that may be drunk in every such vessel shall be unclean. And every thing on which any part of their carcase falls shall be unclean; whether oven, or range for pots, it shall be broken in pieces: they are unclean, and shall be unclean to you.”
Anything to be eaten or drunk which has been affected by water and is in a container where a dead rodent or reptile has fallen becomes unclean and must not be eaten or drunk. It has left its sphere of purity. The water has clearly spread the ‘uncleanness’. Again it is emphasised that earthenware ovens and earthenware pots must be destroyed if a dead rodent or reptile falls in them. They have left their proper sphere. They are unclean. These distinctions must surely arise from a recognition of health dangers seen in terms of uncleanness, as well as emphasising the avoidance of the unseemly. The uncleanness of creeping things which creep in the dust must not be passed on to Israel in Israel’s own possessions, for they are God’s holy people and above the curse.
The Whole Of Water Sources Are Not Rendered Unclean By Dead Creeping Things, Only The Part Where They Are (Leviticus 11:36 ).
“Nevertheless a spring or a pit in which is a gathering of water shall be clean, but what touches their carcase shall be unclean.”
Uncleanness does not apply to all the water in a spring or cystern, only to what is actually known to have touched the carcase. This probably meant that they must ladle out the dead rodent or reptile with the surrounding water. It would hardly have been practical in the course of life if every cystern in which a dead rodent or reptile fell had to be treated as permanently unclean in totality until emptied and refilled. Water was too scarce. And the thought was there that the quantity of water would dilute any uncleanness. Wherever people stopped for a length of time cysterns of kinds would be built for storing and catching water (compare Genesis 37:24) and they were vital for making the best use of water. They would later be an essential for living in the hill country in Canaan.
Stored Seed For Sowing Is Not Rendered Unclean By Dead Creeping Things Unless It Has Been Wetted (Leviticus 11:37-3.11.38 ).
“And if any part of their carcase fall on any sowing seed which is to be sown, it is clean.”
However, seed set aside for sowing is not affected by dead creeping things falling on them. It does not make such ‘unclean’ or unhygienic. It will not affect what grows from it. The people would be carrying stores of grain for when they arrived in their new land, and would in fact almost certainly use it when they established themselves at Kadesh.
“But if water be put on the seed, and any part of their carcase fall on it, it is unclean to you.”
It is a different matter, however, if the seed is mixed with water at the time, presumably in order to use it for food. The water conveys uncleanness into the mixture. It is thus rendered unclean.
The Carcases of Clean Beasts Render Unclean Whoever Touches Them (Leviticus 11:39-3.11.40 ).
“And if any beast, of which you may eat, die; he who touches its carcase shall be unclean until the even. And he who eats its carcase shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even, he also who carries the carcase of it shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.”
Even the carcasses of clean animals that have died are unclean. They have then left their proper sphere. Death makes them unclean. For death is finally at the root of all uncleanness. Elsewhere the differing kinds of death are mentioned. For example when the animal had been torn in the field by a carnivorous beast (Exodus 22:31), it should be cast to the wild dogs gathered outside the camp. It was likely to be infected. But when it had died a natural death, or had been carried off by disease (Deuteronomy 14:21) it could be sold to ‘aliens’. This latter may be partly because of the prohibition against eating blood. But all death is to be avoided. And to touch it is to be made unclean until the evening. And to eat it or to carry it requires that their clothes be washed in water, (they could not eat them without the preparations involving their touching their clothes). Then all are unclean until the evening.
As the dead animal might well be dead because of disease, or may have had time to begin to decay, or may already have been attacked by scavengers and vermin, this was clearly a wise provision. But such carcasses could be sold for food to non-Israelites who were not effected by the regulations for ritual uncleanness. They were not bound by the Law. These would not like to see them being wasted and might well beg to be allowed to eat them. Eating meat was a comparatively rare treat, and they would get them on the cheap. But the stipulation clearly expects that even some Israelites will remove these dead carcasses, and eat them, although it is to be seen as not worthy of one who belongs to God. The truly pure in Israel would not do so. The penalty is a short period of uncleanness which would not concern the less devout, although if disease was there the ‘penalty’ might turn out to be greater. It is different with ‘abominations’. They are not to be touched at all.
No Creeping Thing Is To Be Eaten (Leviticus 11:41-3.11.43 ).
Having seen examples of what cannot be eaten because of contact with what is unclean we now return to what cannot be eaten. The ban on creeping things is universal. To eat such things is not only not worthy of God, it is an abomination to Him. They grovel among the dirt outside man’s sphere. That is the sphere of the snake.
“And every creeping thing which creeps on the earth is an abomination; it shall not be eaten. Whatever goes on the belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, even all creeping things that creep on the earth, them you shall not eat, for they are an abomination.”
Every creeping thing is to be an abomination as far as eating is concerned, including snakes (going on the belly) and centipedes (having many feet). The question is not whether some of them are edible, but that they eat and live among the dirt and dust. They share the snake’s environment. They are an abomination. Furthermore they are to be despised because they ‘have no ruler over them’. They are not of the regulated world, they are outside man’s orbit (Habbakuk 1:14).
The stress in all these cases is on the need to develop purity and cleanness, and to avoid what is unclean by means of connection with death, degradation, dust and dirt. By these means they would be kept from harm and contact with death and remain pure in God’s eyes. The positive side is that God’s people should ever be taken up with what is pure and true and of good report (Philippians 4:8).
“You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps, nor shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled by it.”
To partake of any of these unclean ‘creeping things that creep’ would be to make them both abominable and unclean. It would be to share their environment. It would doubly defile them. It is an absolute ban, not just something that could easily be remedied. They were not there for man to eat. The thought is abhorrent. And they were closely connected with idolatry (Ezekiel 8:10).
Note the distinction that has been maintained. Eating unclean animals, rodents and lizards is forbidden, but eating unclean sea creatures, birds, and insects is an abomination. The prohibition for the latter is thus much stronger, and may well relate to the curse on the snake, and the sphere in which they live. What is common for all these creatures are that they belong to the unclean world, and live from and lurk among either what dies or what is of the dust. They are thus not fitted for God’s holy people, because God’s people are superior to such things, and not to be connected with anything connected with death or uncleanness.
We may not be tempted to eat such things, although of course some do, but the principle behind it is the avoidance of all that is unfitting.
Now God states His purpose. It is that they might be holy as He is holy. That meant avoiding all that was looked on as unclean or loathsome, and all that was connected with dirt, dust and death. It meant seeking their true sphere, the holiness of God.
“For I am Yahweh your God. Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be you holy; for I am holy: neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing which moves on the earth.”
Let them consider with Whom they have to do. He is ‘Yahweh their God’. Compare Exodus 20:2. This is their covenant God speaking. Thus they are to sanctify themselves, to ‘make themselves holy’ by separating themselves to God. As His people they are to set themselves apart to God and His service and not be scrabbling among the unpleasant things of this world. His desire is that their thoughts may be positive and pleasant and not negative.
This is not forbidding the sensible study of such creatures, but forbidding a misuse of them by eating them without discrimination and being involved in what is low.
“For I am Yahweh 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 a clear reference to the covenant. He has brought them out of Egypt that they might be His holy people, they are therefore to be holy as He is holy, and that involves maintaining their proper sphere and shunning all that might lead to uncleanness, to degradation, to disease, or to death. It was the attitude of heart that was of the most importance. It is this that lies behind all the teaching on cleanness and uncleanness, that His people might be holy as He is holy.
But holiness goes beyond this as we shall see later. It involves positive obedience to the will of God in all things. It involves loving God, and neighbour, and alien (Leviticus 19:2; Leviticus 19:19; Leviticus 19:34). It involves being humble and contrite (Isaiah 57:15). Essentially it involves God-likeness.
Final Summary (Leviticus 11:46-3.11.47 ).
This could well be a colophon to a tablet depicting what was contained on it. It outlines what the chapter has been all about.
“This is the law of the beast, and of the bird, and of every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the living thing that may be eaten and the living thing that may not be eaten.”
The questions it dealt with were His people’s attitude towards His creation. They are to distinguish between what can rightly be eaten, and what should not be eaten, what is positive and what is negative, what is desirable and what is not desirable, what is tainting and what is not tainting, what is honouring to God before men, and what is not honouring to God, between cleanliness and uncleanliness, between life and death.
The final message that it leaves with us is the question as to what should be our attitude to life? Each of us is called to choose the way we walk and what shall be important to us, and whether we will avoid what is sinful and degrading, or not. We each have to choose our road, just as the Israelites did in the light of this teaching. We are called upon to keep to our proper sphere.
To quote loosely the words of the poet,
“To every man appeareth, a high way, and a way.
And the high souls choose the high way and the low souls choose the low,
And in between on the misty flats the rest move to and fro,
And every man decideth, which way his soul will go.”
That is the message of holiness, and lesser holiness, and unholiness, of clean and unclean, and abominable. The question is this. On what will we set our aim? Are we to set our minds on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, recognising that we and all our sin are dead, and our lives are hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-51.3.3). Are we to recognise that it is not we who live, but Christ Who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). That is our proper sphere. Or will we join the creeping things in the dirt and dust, letting them into our lives and revealing ourselves as simply like them in all our ways? Or will we just wander in the middle so that no one really knows which we are. The clean or the unclean. The choice is ours.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 11". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent