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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Leviticus 11



Of clean and unclean beasts, fishes, birds, and reptiles.

Before Christ 1490.

Verse 1

Leviticus 11:1. And the Lord spake unto Moses—saying The use of wine having been forbidden the priests, that they might be able, at all times, to distinguish between clean and unclean, ch. Leviticus 10:10 a more particular account of such distinctions is given in the following chapters. In this chapter the sacred writer treats of unclean meats: in the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th, of unclean persons, garments, and dwellings; in the 17th of the principal sacrifice, whereby all manner of uncleanness was to be expiated: and then, having mentioned some general laws, he resumes the same subject at the end of the 17th chapter; the 18th treats of unclean marriages: and after a repetition of sundry laws in the 19th, the 20th treats of some greater uncleannesses; the 21st, of priests who were unclean; and the 22nd, of sacrifices not fit to be offered.

Verse 2

Leviticus 11:2. These are the beasts which ye shall eat It is extraordinary, that any objections should have been raised against the Jewish law and its divine Author, from that careful distinction made in it between meats clean and unclean; since this distinction is evidently founded on nature and reason, and, most probably, prevailed from the beginning of the world: at least, we find it was observed in the time of Noah; see note on Genesis 7:8. Whence we may reasonably conclude (as no mention is there made of this being then a novel distinction) that it was received from the beginning of the creation: an opinion the more probable, as this distinction, we have observed, is founded in nature and reason; it being undeniable, that same creatures are as improper for food as others are proper; and accordingly we find that this has prevailed more or less at all times, and among all people; who have as universally agreed to feed upon some, as to abstain from others of the animal creation. It is true, this matter has varied a little in different nations, same of which have fed upon creatures which others have refused; but this difference has never been material, nor can in any degree affect the main argument. The God who created the animals, &c. is certainly the properest judge which of them is best adapted to the support of the human frame in different climates. A late ingenious and able physician has endeavoured with great shew of reason to prove, that God consulted in a particular manner the health of the Hebrews, by prohibiting them the use of such creatures, as, he avers, are unwholesome to the animal frame in so warm a climate as that of Judea. Though we cannot help being, in a great measure, of this opinion, (for a full account of which we refer the reader to Dr. James's Medicinal Dictionary, under the word Alkali,) yet we apprehend that there were other substantial reasons for this distinction, besides the health of the people: in particular, we conclude with Bishop Warburton, that another great end was to keep up the separation of the Hebrews. "Would objectors to this distinction between clean and unclean reflect," says the learned Bishop, "that the purpose of separating one people front the contagion of universal idolatry, and this in order to facilitate a still greater good, was a design not unworthy the Governor of the universe, they would see this part of the Jewish ritual in a different light: they would see the brightest marks of Divine wisdom in an injunction, which took away the very grounds of all commerce with foreign nations: for those who can neither eat nor drink together, are never likely to become intimate. This will open to us the admirable method of Divine Providence in Peter's vision. The time was now come, that the apostle should be instructed in God's purpose of calling the Gentiles into the church: at the hour of repast, therefore, he had a scenical representation of all kinds of meats, clean and unclean; of which he was bid to take and eat indifferently, and without discrimination, Acts 10:10; Acts 10:48. The primary design of this vision, as appears by the context, was to inform him that the partition-wall was now broken down, and that Gentiles were to be received into the church of CHRIST. But besides its figurative meaning, it had a literal; and signified, that the distinction of meats, as well as of men, was now to be abolished." It appears from ch. Lev 20:24-26 that this was the true reason of the distinction, which was intended not only to preserve the Hebrews a separate people from the idolatrous nations, but also to remind them of that moral purity and separation from all uncleanness, which, as such a holy people, they were expected to preserve: which too is particularly specified at the end of this chapter; see note on Leviticus 11:44.

Verse 3

Leviticus 11:3. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, &c.— It is very evident, that a parted and cloven hoof are the same; and accordingly, upon refering to the original, we find no such distinction as that made in ours, and in several other translations; and which seems to have come originally from the LXX. The Hebrew, though peculiar in its phrase, may with great propriety be rendered, every animal having a hoof, and dividing it into two parts. The Chaldee paraphrast has given this true sense; and so also has the Arabic version, which the Vulgate has very properly followed: omne quod habet divisam ungulam. Houbigant renders it, omne quod ungulam protrudit, eamque habet divisam, every thing which puts forth the hoof, and has it divided. Respecting rumination or chewing the cud; see Derham's Physico Theology, p. 200 edit. 12 or Scheuchzer's Physic. Sacre. tom. 3: p. 67. These marks are not assigned as reasons why such and such animals are proper for food, but only as marks whereby to distinguish them. Dr. James observes, that under this prohibition of beasts which do not divide the hoof and chew the cud, are included all beasts of prey, and those which eat flesh, whose juices are highly alkalescent, and consequently injurious to the health of the human frame: all animals of the horse and ass-kind are likewise here prohibited; and, in proof of the wisdom of this prohibition, we find, that the flesh of all these is difficult to be digested and assimilated by the vital powers; and that the juices are rank and alkalescent: perhaps, because they are frequently heated by the habitual exercise they are obliged to use for the service of man; or rather, we may add, from the original constitution of their nature.

Verses 4-8

Leviticus 11:4-8. These shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, &c.— Some few creatures (which were deficient in one or other of the marks above given, either not having, or not dividing the hoof, or not chewing the cud; see Houbigant's note) are excepted in these following verses from those allowed by the general rule in the 3rd verse; and of which, as other nations have commonly eaten, it may seem probable that they are forbidden only to mark the separation of the Jewish people: which is the more likely, as the camel, the first of those prohibited, was then and is still eaten by the Arabians; with whom and the Hebrews, by means of this prohibition, all familiar intercourse was cut off. However, it is observed, that though the food of this animal is only vegetables and water, yet the fibres are hardened, or rendered in a great measure indigestible, and the salts are highly exalted by its habitual exercise. The Arabian writers themselves acknowledge, as Mr. Sale tells us in his Preliminary Discourse to the Koran, that the Arabians have a natural disposition to war, bloodshed, and cruelty, being so much addicted to bear malice, that they scarcely ever forgive; which vindictive temper, some physicians say, is exceedingly increased and indulged, by their frequent feeding on camel's flesh.

Verse 5

Leviticus 11:5. The coney Heb. שׁפן shapan; some kind of animal, so called from hiding itself by burrowing in the ground: a rabbit, or rather a large kind of mouse, according to Bochart, who maintains this latter interpretation by the following reasons; 1st, Because the rabbit does not ruminate as the שׁפן shapan is said to do in this verse: 2nd, Because rabbits do not dwell in rocks, as the שׁפנים shepanim are said to do, Psa 104:18 but in earthy or sandy soils, where they may easily burrow: 3rdly, Because rabbits formerly were not known in Judea, but were peculiar to Spain. However, from the resemblance between these שׁפנים shepanim or large mice, and the rabbits with which Spain abounded, Bochart thinks, the Phoenicians called that country שׂפניה, Spenie, whence are derived its Greek, Latin, and more modern names. (See Bochart, vol. 1: p. 631 vol. 2: p. 1002, & seq.) But Dr. Shaw imagines, with great probability, that another animal of Mount Libanus, well known in those parts, and very like a rabbit, whose modern name is Daman Israel, is meant in this place; see Travels, p. 176.

See commentary on Lev 11:4

Verse 6

Leviticus 11:6. And the hare, because he cheweth the cud Because, in this and the former verse, should be read though, as it is in the verse following. The original word ארנבת arne-beth, from ארן aren, to crop, and ניב nib, the produce of the ground, is properly rendered a hare; these animals being remarkable for destroying the fruits of the earth; see Bochart and Parkhurst on the word. It is said to chew the cud, because, as Aristotle has observed, it has a kind of runnet in its stomach, as those animals have which chew the cud. We learn from Plutarch and Clemens Alexandrinus, that the Jews abstained from eating the hare; from which, it is remarkable, the ancient Britons also abstained religiously. "The hare," Dr. James observes, "is remarkable for being extremely timorous: this makes it use a great deal of exercise by way of precaution when it goes to seek its food, and at the approach of any danger; and this habitual exercise probably contributes to the exaltation of the salts. We find, in effect, that the hare has a very high taste, even in our cold climates; and this high taste universally is an evidence, that the animal flesh which gives it, is strongly inclined to alkaline putrefaction."

See commentary on Lev 11:4

Verses 7-8

Leviticus 11:7. And the swine The aversion of the Jews to this animal, is universally known; it is generally considered as an emblem of impurity, but was most probably forbidden chiefly on account of its tendency to breed the leprosy: hence the Jews had a proverb, that of ten measures of leprosy which descended into the world, the swine took nine to themselves. The swine, says Dr. James, is the only animal in the creation subject to the leprosy, and also something very like what we call the king's evil, called in Latin scrophula, from scropha, a sow: as this disease is in Greek called χοιρας, from χοιρος, a swine. The measles is another contagious disease with which this animal is often infected; insomuch that it has passed into a proverb, as we learn from Juvenal, who calls it porrigo: in this distemper all the fleshly parts are full of innumerable small, round, white, hard substances, somewhat like hailstones. Hence, it must be plain to every reasonable observer, that the flesh of this animal, as an aliment, must be highly improper for a people so subject to leprosies as the Jews appear to have been, and who were inhabitants of a warm climate, which renders every thing more inclinable to putrefaction. It was, no doubt, for these reasons, that various other nations, inhabiting warm climates, had the same aversion to swine's flesh with the Jews. The Egyptians, we are informed, had it in great abhorrence, (see Genesis 46:34.) and the Arabians, Pliny tells us, carried their aversion to swine so far, that they would not suffer them to live among them; an antipathy, which subsists to this day among the Arabs, Moors, Tartars, and others; and which, as we lean from Dampier's Voyages, chap. 12 is propagated by the Mahometans into distant countries, particularly one of the Philippine Islands, where, if any person do but touch one of these creatures, he is not permitted to come into any body's house for several days after. See Spencer de Legibus Heb. lib. i. c. vii. sect. iv.

Note; 1. God's people must always be separated from the world. Though these ceremonial distinctions have ceased, yet the table of the godly man and the profane will afford as great a difference still; not only in the temperance of the one and the luxury of the other, but also in the prayer which consecrates the one, and the impious neglect of it which profanes the other. 2. From the beasts which answered but half the description, being still unclean, we may observe, that those who with some marks of the children of God, carry evident proofs of the want of others, are only almost-christians, and will as surely perish, unless altogether such, as they who make no pretences to religion.

See commentary on Lev 11:4

Verse 10

Leviticus 11:10. All that have not fins nor scales These, according to Dr. James, are what medicinal writers call pisces molles, the soft kind of fish: and, as all kinds of fish are very subject to alkaline putrefaction, so those without scales incline sooner and more to putrefaction, than those furnished with scales; and shell-fish most of all. The Egyptian priests abstained from fish of all sorts; as did also some of the worshippers of the Syrian goddess: and Calmet observes, that among the ancient Romans it was not lawful to use fish without scales in the feasts of the gods.

Note; Though Christians enjoy perfect liberty in the moderate choice of all the good creatures of God, yet God's Israel will still deny themselves many things in which others indulge themselves.

Verse 13

Leviticus 11:13. These are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls All rapacious birds, and such as live upon prey, are forbidden: and we read of no nations that have ever used them as food; for which, doubtless, the God of nature never designed them: accordingly Dr. James observes, that all these fowls are highly alkalescent, and therefore strongly inclined to putrefaction, both as they are birds of prey, and as their habitual exercise is great. It should be observed, that the animals in the eastern countries differing greatly from those of our climate, it is not to be expected that our knowledge of them should be perfect; especially when it depends chiefly upon the etymology of their names in Hebrew. It may be presumed, says Dr. Shaw, that every translator, for want of being acquainted with the animals peculiar to these eastern countries, would accommodate the Hebrew names, as well as he could, to those of his own; see Travels, p. 419. The Jews themselves acknowledge the signification of many of these names to be now lost, which should convince them of the absurdity of pretending still to adhere to the law of Moses; because, in many cases, they know not so much as what is forbidden, or what is not; and, agreeably to this, they had a tradition, that "in the days of the Messiah it should not be unlawful to eat swine's flesh:" the difference of meats then ceasing, one principal cause of that difference would then also cease. The ossifrage is a kind of eagle; so called from breaking the bones of its prey, which it does by carrying them up on high, and then letting them fall down upon a rock: the ospray is another kind of eagle, whose name in the Hebrew signifies strength, and is therefore thought by Bochart to express the black eagle; which Homer mentions as the strongest and swiftest of birds.

Verse 16

Leviticus 11:16. And the cuckow The didapper, or seamew. Bochart after the LXX and Vulgate.

Verse 17

Leviticus 11:17. And the little owl The bittern. Bochart and Le Clerc.

Verse 18

Leviticus 11:18. And the swan It is very difficult to determine the true meaning of the word תנשׁמת tinshamet, here rendered swan, as in the 30th verse it is applied to reptiles, and rendered mole. Parkhurst, thinking that it is derived from נשׁם neshem, to breathe, says, that it here signifies a species of owl, so called from their breathing in a strong and audible manner, as if snoring: and that in Lev 11:30 it signifies the camelion, an animal of the lizard kind, furnished with lungs remarkably large, and so observable from its manner of breathing, or perpetually gasping, as it were, for breath, that the ancients reigned it to live only from the air; see Bochart, vol. 2: Some, however, suppose, that it here means the bat, between which and the mole there is an affinity. The gier-eagle, in this verse, signifies the vulture-eagle; for gier, in old English, is the vulture.

Verse 19

Leviticus 11:19. The lapwing The word rendered lapwing, says Parkhurst, דוכיפת dukipat, is the upupa or houp, a most unclean and filthy bird. So the LXX εποψ, and the Vulgate upupa. See Bochart, vol. 3: p. 343-9.

Note: God's people must not be rapacious, nor allow themselves in any deeds of impurity or darkness: such are still forbidden things.

Verses 20-22

Leviticus 11:20-22. All fowls that creep, going upon all four Or, All flying things that creep, &c. Houbigant renders it, every winged reptile. Dr. Shaw observes, that " ףּהעו שׁרצ sheretz ha-oph, which we render fowls that creep, may be more properly translated breeding fowls, or fowls that multiply, from the infinitely greater number of eggs that are produced by insects, than by volatiles of any other kind. It may be farther observed, says he, that insects do not properly walk upon four, but six feet. Neither is there any adequate description, peculiar to this tribe, conveyed to us, by their being said to have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth: (ver.

21.) because they have this only in common with birds, frogs, and several other creatures. The original expression, therefore, לנתר לרגליו ממעל כרעים לו אשׁר, (asher lo keraaim memmaal leragelav lenattar, &c.) may probably bear this construction; viz. which have knees upon or above their hinder legs, to leap withal upon the earth. For, to apply this description to the locust or ארבה, (arbeh, the only one we know of the four, which are mentioned in Leviticus 11:22.) this insect has the two hinder-most of its legs or feet much stronger, larger, and longer, than any of the foremost. In them the knee, or the articulation of the leg and thigh, is distinguished by a remarkable bending or curvature; whereby it is able, whenever prepared to jump, to raise itself and spring with great activity and force. As the principal distinction therefore between the clean and unclean insects, seems to have depended on this particular shape and structure of the hinder feet; the action which is ascribed to the clean insects, of going upon four, (viz. the foremost feet,) and leaping upon the (two) hindermost, is a characteristic as expressive of the original text, as it is of the animals to whom it appertains." Travels, p. 420. As it is not easy to determine the species of locusts, Lev 11:22 it might be most proper to retain the original names; and, as beetles were never eaten, nor are four-footed, with legs to leap withal, the verse should be read thus, the arbeh locust, the solan locust, the chargol locust, and the chagab locust. Some writers have attempted to distinguish these locusts; but with little success. The curious, however, are referred to Derham's notes on Albin's history of English insects. John the Baptist fed upon locusts; and Bochart has undeniably proved, that they were a common food both in the Eastern and Southern parts of the world. Dr. Shaw tells us, that he ate of them in Barbary fried and salted, and that they came very near to cray-fish in taste. See his Travels, p. 188.

Verse 27

Leviticus 11:27. Whatsoever goeth upon his paws In the Hebrew, whatsoever goeth upon his hands; by which is meant feet in some measure resembling hands, so far at least as being divided into distinct parts; such as are those of apes, bears, lions, dogs, cats, &c.

Verses 29-30

Leviticus 11:29-30. These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things, &c.— Dr. Shaw well observes, that this expression, creeping things that creep, or which bring forth abundantly upon the earth, (see Genesis 1:0.) being descriptive of reptiles, with what propriety can we place among them the weasel, the mouse, the ferret, or the mole, which are no greater breeders than a variety of others of the less viviparous quadrupeds? for the tortoise, the camelion, the lizard, and the snail, (the slug rather, or the lymax,) are animals of a quite different nature, habit, and complexion, having all of them smooth skins, and are likewise oviparous; whereas the others partake altogether of such actions and characteristics as are peculiar to the hairy,—viviparous,—unclean quadrupeds, which have paws for fingers, and would of course be included among them. Instead, therefore, of the weasel, &c. may we not with propriety join to this class the toad, the snail, or cochlea terrestris, the skink, (or κροκοδειλος ο χερσαιος LXX.) and the crocodile, or some other oviparous animals of the like nature and quality? See Travels, p. 421. Dr. James takes what we render ferret, for the frog, and with this the name agrees; for it literally signifies, the cryer, alluding to the croaking of this reptile. He understands the four following words of different kinds of lizards, and observes, that all these reptiles are extremely subject to putrefaction, as are reptiles of almost every kind. The smell of these, when putrified, is extremely offensive; and hence we must conclude their salts to be highly exalted, and their juices alkalescent to a great degree.

Verse 35

Leviticus 11:35. Ranges for pots The scarcity of fewel occasions a particular management among the Eastern people, of which Rauwolff gives us the following account: "They make in their tents or houses a hole about a foot and a half deep, wherein they put their earthen pipkins or pots, with the meat in them, closed up, so that they are in the half above the middle: three fourth parts thereof they lay about with stones, and the other fourth part is left open, through which they fling in their dried dung, and also some small twigs and straws, when they can have them, which burn immediately, and give so great a heat, that the pot groweth as hot as if it stood in the middle of a lighted coal-heap; so that they boil their meat with a little fire quicker than we do ours with a great one on our hearths." Poole, in his Synopsis on the place, supposes the word translated ranges for pots, to signify an earthen pot to boil meat in, with a lid; and another commentator apprehends it to have had feet; but such vessels come under the direction given in the 33rd verse: nor does the original word, which requires its destruction, agree with these explications; for it does not signify to destroy by breaking to pieces as a vessel is broken, but by breaking down, as altars, houses, walls of cities, &c. are broken down; and perfectly suits with Rauwolff's description of the Eastern apparatus for boiling a pot, which, though not expressed in the happiest manner by his translation, yet is thus far sufficiently clear. "Three fourth parts thereof," says he, "they lay about with stones;" which little building this law required to be broken down. How clear is this! What idea our English translator of Leviticus designed to convey by the term ranges for pots, I do not well know; but something distinct from a pot was evidently designed: and though it might be thought strange that any thing of building should be used by those who lived such a flitting kind of life as the Israelites in the wilderness for the boiling of their pots, yet we find by Rauwolff, that the wandering Arabs at present make use of such an apparatus, and he gives us some description of it. See Observations, &c.

Verse 38

Leviticus 11:38. But if any water be put upon the seed, &c.— Bishop Kidder is of opinion that the meaning is, if water be put upon it, to prepare it for food; and so it is distinguished from seed to be sown, Leviticus 11:37.

Verse 41

Leviticus 11:41. And every creeping thing, that creepeth upon the earth, &c.— All creeping things, the reptile tribe in general, are here forbidden; in opposition to the Phrygians, as Le Clerc thinks, who frequently ate a kind of worm, found in the bark of trees or in rotten wood: but the prohibition seems rather to be founded in nature.

Note; In all these things God's Israel must learn the necessity of a holy walk and conversation. We ought, at least, to be as careful of moral defilement as they were of ceremonial.

Verse 44

Leviticus 11:44. Ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves Here the moral reason of this separation between clean and unclean meats is given; it was to remind the Israelites of the internal purity required from them, in consequence of their separation to the service of a holy God. So the apostle: as he who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy: 1 Peter 1:15-16. So that the plain meaning of the passage is, that the Jews, being a people peculiarly devoted to God, were to be distinguished by a peculiarity of diet; which, by reminding them of their immediate relation to God, served emblematically to figure, and, as a sign, to put them in mind of their obligation to study moral purity. Agreeably whereto, Maimonides thus concludes his treatise of unclean meats: "The purity of the body leadeth one unto the purity of the soul, and the purity of the soul is a means to make us like unto God; as it is written, Ye shall sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy, for I am holy." Which may be thus paraphrased: "Infinitely exalted by the excellence of my nature and the greatness of my perfections, above all those pretended gods whom the pagans worship, it is but reasonable I should have votaries, distinguished in their sight by a mode of living, which may remove from all commerce or familiarity with them. This is the design of my laws: I would have them serve as a barrier to prevent my people from ever inclining to those customs which might lead them to idolatry; I would have them contribute, even in the smallest matters, to display an image of my holiness,

The soul does not contract any pollution by the touch of any animal whatsoever: but to refrain from eating or touching an animal because I forbid it, is such a proof of obedience, as will testify hearts sanctified by that love and respect which they owe to me."

Verse 45

Leviticus 11:45. For I am the Lord that bringeth, &c.— "After the signal deliverance wherewith I have favoured you, by drawing you from the slavery under which you groaned in Egypt, I have every title to your obedience; and you would be the most ungrateful of human creatures should you either wilfully or negligently fail in the observation of my laws. As much as your redeeming God is different from idols, so much it becomes you to shew yourselves estranged from the rites of idolaters, and to be adorned, even in the inward man, with a purity superior to that of all other nations," &c.

Verses 46-47

Leviticus 11:46-47. This is the law of the beasts, &c.— These two last verses are a kind of recapitulation of the laws contained in the whole chapter, respecting the distinction of animals into clean and unclean. Let Christians bless their God, that all these distinctions are now put an end to, by the publication of the law of liberty! (Colossians 2:20-23.) Let them thankfully enjoy this liberty, procured to them by Jesus Christ, without being seduced to those doctrines, which commanded them to abstain from meals, created by God to be received with thanksgiving of them who believe and know the truth! 1Ti 4:3 but so as never to abuse this liberty to the desiring of dainties, agreeable to the emphatical expression of the wise man; (Proverbs 23:3.) not giving themselves up to luxury, gluttony, and feasting, which are the ruin of individuals, and the destruction of states.

REFLECTIONS.—The great result of all the above injunctions, we evidently see, is "Be ye holy, for I am holy." God designs in all his ordinances to sanctify his people for himself; and he, who had separated them by bringing them forth from Egypt, might well enjoin them thus to separate themselves from the heathen around them. Note; 1. They who are God's people desire conformity to him in holiness. 2. For this end they carefully observe all his institutions, that, in the means of grace, they may grow in grace. 3. We need be thankful that all these ceremonies are abolished, and that now nothing is unclean of itself. When their forbidden meat comes on our tables, it should excite fresh gratitude. 4. Let us beware only of making that unholy, by intemperance or forgetfulness of God, which in itself is good, when sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Leviticus 11". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.