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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 11

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-47


Leviticus 11:1-47

WITH chapter 11 begins a new section of this book, extending to the end of chapter 15, of which the subject is the law concerning various bodily defilements, and the rites appointed for their removal.

The law is given under four heads, as follows:

I. Clean and Unclean Animals, and Defilement by Dead Bodies: Leviticus 11:1-47.

II. The Uncleanness of Childbirth: Leviticus 12:1-8.

III. The Uncleanness of Leprosy: Leviticus 13:1-59; Leviticus 14:1-57.

IV. The Uncleanness of Issues: Leviticus 15:1-33.

From the modern point of view this whole subject appears to many, with no little reason, to be encompassed with peculiar difficulties. We have become accustomed to think of religion as a thing so exclusively of the spirit, and so completely independent of bodily conditions, provided that these be not in their essential nature sinful, that it is a great stumbling block to many that God should be represented as having given to Israel an elaborate code of laws concerning such subjects as are treated in these five chapters of Leviticus: a legislation which, to not a few, seems puerile and unspiritual, if not worse. And yet, for the reverent believer in Christ, who remembers that our blessed Lord did repeatedly refer to this book of Leviticus as, without any exception or qualification, the Word of His Father, it should not be hard, in view of this fact, to infer that the difficulties which most of us have felt are presumably due to our very imperfect knowledge of the subject. Remembering this, we shall be able to approach this part of the law of Moses, and, in particular, this chapter, with the spirit, not of critics, but of learners, who know as yet but little of the mysteries of God’s dealings with Israel or with the human race.

Chapter 11 may be divided into two sections, together with a concluding appeal and summary (Leviticus 11:41-47). The first section treats of the law of the clean and the unclean in relation to eating (Leviticus 11:1-23). Under this head, the animals which are permitted or forbidden are classified, after a fashion not scientific, but purely empirical and practical, into

(1) the beasts which are upon the earth (Leviticus 11:2-8);

(2) things that are in the waters (Leviticus 11:9-12);

(3) flying things, -comprising, first, birds and flying animals like the bat (Leviticus 11:13-19); and, secondly, insects, "winged creeping things that go upon all four" (Leviticus 11:20-23).

The second section treats of defilement by contact with the dead bodies of these, whether unclean (Leviticus 11:24-38), or clean (Leviticus 11:39-40).

Of the living things among the beasts that are upon the earth (Leviticus 11:2-8), those are permitted for food which both chew the cud and divide the hoof; every animal in which either of these marks is wanting is forbidden. Of the things which live in the waters, those only are allowed for food which have both fins and scales; those which lack either of these marks, such as, for example, eels, oysters, and all the mollusca and crustacea, are forbidden (Leviticus 11:9-12). Of flying things (Leviticus 11:13-19) which may be eaten, no special mark is given; though it is to be noted that nearly all of those which are by name forbidden are birds of prey, or birds reputed to be unclean in their habits. All insects, "winged creeping things that go upon all four" (Leviticus 11:20), or "whatsoever hath many feet," or "goeth upon the belly," as worms, snakes, etc., are prohibited (Leviticus 11:42). Of insects, a single class, described as those "which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth," is excepted (Leviticus 11:21-22): these are known to us as the order Saltatoria, including, as typical examples, the cricket, the grasshopper, and the migratory locust; all of which, it may be noted, are clean feeders, living upon vegetable products only. It is worthy of notice that the law of the clean and the unclean in food is not extended, as it was in Egypt, to the vegetable kingdom.

The second section of the chapter (Leviticus 11:24-40) comprises a number of laws relating chiefly to defilement by contact with the dead bodies of animals. In these regulations, it is to be observed that the dead body, even of a clean animal, except when killed in accordance with the law, so that its blood is all drained out (Leviticus 17:10-16), is regarded as defiling him who touches it; while, on the other hand, even an unclean animal is not held capable of imparting defilement by mere contact, so long as it is living. Very minute charges are given (Leviticus 11:29-38) concerning eight species of unclean animals, of which six (Leviticus 11:20, Leviticus 11:30, R.V) appear to be different varieties of the lizard family. Regarding these, it is ordered that not only shall the person be held unclean who touches the dead body of one of them (Leviticus 11:31), but also anything becomes unclean on which such a dead body may fall, whether household utensil, or food, or drink (Leviticus 11:32-35). The exception only is made (Leviticus 11:36-38), that fountains, or wells of water, or dry seed for sowing, shall not be held to be by such defiled.

That which has been made unclean must be put into water and be unclean until the even (Leviticus 11:32); with the exception that nothing which is made of earthenware, whether a vessel, or an oven, or a range, could be thus cleansed; for the obvious reason that the water could not adequately reach the interior of its porous material. It must therefore be broken in pieces (Leviticus 11:33-34). If a person be defiled by any of these, he remained unclean until the even (Leviticus 11:31). No washing is prescribed, but, from analogy, is probably to be taken for granted.

Such is a brief summary of the law of the clean and the unclean as contained in this chapter. To preclude adding needless difficulty to a difficult subject, the remark made above should be specially noted, -that so far as general marks are given by which the clean is to be distinguished from the unclean, these marks are evidently selected simply from a practical point of view, as of easy recognition by the common people, for whom a more exact and scientific mode of distinction would have been useless. We are not therefore for a moment to think of cleanness or uncleanness as causally determined, for instance, by the presence or absence of fins or scales, or by the habit of chewing the cud, and the dividing of the hoof, or the absence of these marks, as if they were themselves the ground of the cleanness or uncleanness, in any instance. For such a fancy as this, which has diverted some interpreters from the right line of investigation of the subject, there is no warrant whatever in the words of the law, either here or elsewhere.

Than this law concerning things clean and unclean nothing will seem to many, at first, more alien to modern thought, or more inconsistent with any intelligent view of the world and of man’s relation to the things by which he is surrounded. And, especially, that the strict observance of this law should be connected with religion, and that, upon what professes to be the authority of God, it should be urged on Israel on the ground of their call to be a holy people to a holy God, -this, to the great majority of Bible readers, certainly appears, to say the least, most extraordinary and unaccountable. And yet the law is here, and its observance is enforced by this very consideration: for we read (Leviticus 11:43-44): "Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby. For I am the Lord your God: sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy; for I am holy." And, in any case, explain the matter as we may, many will ask, How, since the New Testament formally declares this law concerning clean and unclean beasts to be no longer binding, {; Colossians 2:16; Colossians 2:20-23} is it possible to imagine that there should now remain anything in this most perplexing law which should be of spiritual profit still to a New Testament believer? To the consideration of these questions, which so naturally arise, we now address ourselves.

First of all, in approaching this subject it is well to recall to mind the undeniable fact, that a distinction in foods as clean and unclean, that is, fit and unfit for man’s use, has a very deep and apparently irremovable foundation in man’s nature. Even we ourselves, who stumble at this law, recognise a distinction of this kind, and regulate our diet accordingly; and also, in like manner, feel, more or less, an instinctive repugnance to dead bodies. As regards diet, it is true that when the secondary question arises as to what particular animals shall be reckoned clean or unclean, fit or unfit for food, nations and tribes differ among themselves, as also from the law of Moses, in a greater or less degree; nevertheless, this does not alter the fact that such a distinction is recognised among all nations of culture; and that, on the other hand, in those who recognise it not, and who eat, as some do, without discrimination, whatever chances to come to hand, -insects, reptiles, carrion, and so on, - this revolting indifference in the matter of food is always associated with gross intellectual and moral degradation. Certainly these indisputable facts should suffice to dispose of the charge of puerility, as sometimes made against the laws of this chapter.

And not only this, but more is true. For while even among nations of the highest culture and Christian enlightenment many animals are eaten, as, e.g., the oyster, the turtle, the flesh of the horse and the hog, which the law of Moses prohibits; on the other hand, it remains true that, with the sole exception of creatures of the locust tribe, the animals which are allowed for food by the Mosaic code are reckoned suitable for food by almost the entire human family. A notable exception to the fact is indeed furnished in the case of the Hindoos, and also the Buddhists (who follow an Indian religion), who, as a rule, reject all animal food, and especially, in the case of the former, the flesh of the cow, as not to be eaten. But this exception is quite explicable by considerations into which we cannot here enter at length, but which do not affect the significance of the general fact.

And, again, on the other hand, it may also be said that, as a general rule, the appetite of the great majority of enlightened and cultivated nations revolts against using as food the greater part of the animals which this code prohibits. Birds of prey, for instance, and the carnivora generally, animals having paws, and reptiles, for the most part, by a kind of universal instinct among cultivated peoples, are judged unfit for human food.

The bearing of these facts upon our exposition is plain. They certainly suggest, at least, that this law of Leviticus 11:1-47 may, after all, very possibly have a deep foundation both in the nature of man and that of the things permitted or forbidden; and they also raise the question as to how far exceptions and divergencies from this law, among peoples of culture, may possibly be due to a diversity in external physical and climatic conditions, because of which that which may be wholesome and suitable food in one place-the wilderness of Sinai, or Palestine, for instance-may not be wholesome and suitable in other lands, under different physical conditions. We do not yet enter into this question, but barely call attention to it, as adapted to check the hasty judgment of many, that such a law as this is necessarily puerile and unworthy of God.

But while it is of no small consequence to note this agreement in the fundamental ideas of this law with widely extended instincts and habits of mankind, on the other hand, it is also of importance to emphasise the contrast which it exhibits with similar codes of law among other peoples. For while, as has just been remarked, there are many most suggestive points of agreement between the Mosaic distinctions of clean and unclean and those of other nations, on the other hand, remarkable contrasts appear, even in the ease of those people with whom, like the Egyptians, the Hebrews had been most intimately associated. In the Egyptian system of dietary law, for instance, the distinction of clean and unclean in food was made to apply, not only in the animal, but also in the vegetable world; and, again, while all fishes having fins and scales are permitted as food in the Mosaic law, no fishes whatever are permitted by the Egyptian code. But more significant than such difference in details is the difference in the religious conception upon which such distinctions are based. In Egypt, for example, animals were reckoned clean or unclean according as they were supposed to have more predominant the character of the good Osiris or of the evil Typhon. Among the ancient Persians, those were reckoned clean which were supposed to be the creation of Ormazd, the good Spirit, and those unclean whose origin was attributed to Ahriman, the evil Spirit. In India, the prohibition of flesh as food rests on pantheistic assumptions. Not to multiply examples, it is easy to see that, without anticipating anything here with regard to the principle which determined the Hebrew distinctions, it is certain that of such dualistic or pantheistic principles as are manifested in these and other instances which might be named, there is not a trace in the Mosaic law. How significant and profoundly instructive is the contrast here, will only fully appear when we see what in fact appears to have been the determining principle in the Mosaic legislation.

But when we now seek to ascertain upon what principle certain animals were permitted and others forbidden as food, it must be confessed that we have before us a very difficult question, and one to which, accordingly, very diverse answers have been given. In general, indeed, we are expressly told that the object of this legislation, as of all else in this book of laws, was moral and spiritual. Thus, we are told in so many words (Leviticus 11:43-45) that Israel was to abstain from eating or touching the unclean, on the ground that they were to be holy, because the Lord their God was holy. But to most this only increases the difficulty. What possible connection could there be between eating, or abstinence from eating, animals which do not chew the cud, or fishes which have not scales, and holiness of life?

In answer to this question, some have supposed a mystical connection between the soul and the body, such that the former is defiled by the food which is received and assimilated by the latter. In support of this theory, appeal has been made to verse 44 of this chapter (Leviticus 11:44), which, in the Septuagint translation, is rendered literally: "Ye shall not defile your souls." But, as often in Hebrew, the original expression here is simply equivalent to our compound pronoun "yourselves," and is therefore so translated both in the Authorised and the Revised Versions. As for any other proof of such a mystical evil influence of the various kinds of food prohibited in this chapter, there is simply none at all.

Others, again, have sought the explication of these facts in the undoubted Divine purpose of keeping Israel separate from other nations; to secure which separation this special dietetic code, with other laws regarding the clean and the unclean, was given them. That these laws have practically helped to keep the children of Israel separate from other nations, will not be denied; and we may therefore readily admit, that inasmuch as the food of the Hebrews has differed from that of the nations among whom they have dwelt, this separation of the nation may therefore have been included in the purpose of God in these regulations. However, it is to be observed that in the law itself the separation of Israel from other nations is represented, not as the end to be attained by the observance of these food laws, but instead, as a fact already existing, which is given as a reason why they should keep these laws. {Leviticus 20:24-25} Moreover, it will be found impossible, by reference to this principle alone, to account for the details of the laws before us. For the question is not merely why there should have been food laws, but also why these laws should have been such as they are? The latter question is not adequately explained by reference to God’s purpose of keeping Israel separate from the nations.

Some, again, have held that the explanation of these laws was to be found simply in the design of God, by these restrictions, to give Israel a profitable moral discipline in self-restraint and control of the bodily appetites; or to impose, in this way, certain conditions and limitations upon their approach to Him. which should have the effect of deepening in them the sense of awe and reverence for the Divine majesty of God, as their King. Of this theory it may be said, as of the last-named, that there can be no doubt that in fact these laws did tend to secure these ends; but that yet, on the other hand, the explanation is still inadequate, inasmuch as it only would show why restrictions of some kind should have been ordered, and not, in the least, why the restrictions should have been such, in detail, as we have here.

Quite different from any of these attempted explanations is that of many who have sought to explain the law allegorically. We are told by such that Israel was forbidden the flesh of certain animals, because they were regarded as typifying by their character certain sins and vices, as, on the other hand, those which were permitted as food were regarded as typifying certain moral virtues. Hence, it is supposed by such that the law tended to the holiness of Israel, in that it was, so to speak, a continual object lesson, a perpetually acted allegory, which should continually remind them of the duty of abstaining from the typified sins and of practising the typified virtues. But, assuredly, this theory cannot be carried out. Animals are in this law prohibited as food whose symbolic meaning elsewhere in Scripture is not always bad, but sometimes good. The lion, for example, as having paws, is prohibited as food; and yet it is the symbol of our blessed Lord, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." Nor is there the slightest evidence that the Hebrews ever attached any such allegorical significance to the various prescriptions of this chapter as the theory would require. Other expositors allegorise in a different but no more satisfactory manner. Thus a popular, and, it must be added, most spiritual and devout expositor, sets forth the spiritual meaning of the required conjunction of the two marks in clean animals of the chewing of the cud and the dividing of the hoof in this wise: "The two things were inseparable in the case of every clean animal. And as to the spiritual application, it is of the very last importance in a practical point of view A man may profess to love and feed upon, to study and ruminate over, the Word of God-the pasture of the soul; but if his footprints along the pathway of life are not such as the Word requires, he is not clean."

But it should be evident that such allegorising interpretation as this can carry with it no authority, and sets the door wide open to the most extravagant fancy in the exposition of Scripture.

Others, again, find the only principle which has determined the laws concerning defilement by the dead, and the clean and unclean meats, to be the presence in that which was reckoned unclean, of something which is naturally repulsive to men; whether in odour, or in the food of a creature, or its other habits of life. But while it is true that such marks distinguish many of the creatures reckoned unclean, they are wanting in others, and are also found in a few animals which are nevertheless permitted. If this had been the determining principle, surely, for example, the law which permitted for food the he-goat and forbade the horse, would have been exactly the opposite; while, as regards fishes and insects permitted and forbidden, it is hard to see any evidence whatever of the influence of this principle.

Much more plausible, at first sight, and indeed much more nearly approaching the truth, than any of the theories above criticised, is one which has been elaborated with no little learning and ingenuity by Sommer, according to which the laws concerning the clean and the unclean, whether in regard to food or anything else, are all grounded in the antithesis of death and life. Death, everywhere in Holy Scripture, is set in the closest ethical and symbolical connection with sin. Bodily death is the wages of sin; and inasmuch as it is the outward physical expression and result of the inner fact that sin, in its very nature, is spiritual death, therefore the dead is always held to be unclean; and the various laws enforcing this thought are all intended to keep before the mind the fact that death is the visible representation and evidence of the presence of sin, and the consequent curse of God. Hence, also, it will follow that the selection of foods must be governed by a reference to this principle. The carnivora, on this principle, must be forbidden, -as they are, -because they live by taking the life of other animals; hence, also, is explained the exclusion of the multitudinous varieties of the insect world, as feeding on that which is dead and corrupt. On the other hand, the animals which chew the cud and divide the hoof are counted clean; inasmuch as the sheep and the cattle, the chief representatives of this class, were by everyone recognised as at the furthest possible remove from any such connection with death and corruption in their mode of life; and hence the familiar marks which distinguish them, as a matter merely of practical convenience, were taken as those which must distinguish every animal lawful for food.

But while this view has been elaborated with great ability and skill, it yet fails to account for all the facts. It is quite overlooked that if the reason of the prohibition of carnivorous birds and quadrupeds is to be found in the fact that they live by the destruction of life, the same reason should have led to the prohibition of all fishes without exception, as in Egypt; inasmuch as those which have fins and scales, no less than others, live by preying on other living creatures. On the other hand, by the same principle, all insects which derive their sustenance from the vegetable world should have been permitted as food, instead of one order only of these.

Where so much learning and profound thought has been expended in vain, one might well hesitate to venture anything in exposition of so difficult a subject, and rest content, as some have, with declaring that the whole subject is utterly inexplicable. And yet the world advances in knowledge, and we are therefore able to approach the subject with some advantage in this respect over earlier generations. And in the light of the most recent investigations, we believe it highly probable that the chief principle determining the laws of this chapter will be found in the region of hygiene and sanitation, as relating, in this instance, to diet, and to the treatment of that which is dead. And this in view of the following considerations.

It is of much significance to note, in the first place, that a large part of the animals which are forbidden as food are unclean feeders. It is a well-ascertained fact that even the cleanest animal, if its food be unclean, becomes dangerous to health if its flesh be eaten. The flesh of a cow which has drunk water contaminated with. typhoid germs, if eaten, especially if insufficiently cooked, may communicate typhoid fever to him who eats it. It is true, indeed, that not all animals that are prohibited are unclean in their food; but the fact remains that, on the other hand, among those which are allowed is to be found no animal whose ordinary habits of life, especially in respect of food, are unclean.

But, in the second place, an animal which is not unclean in its habits may yet be dangerous for food, if it be, for any reason, specially liable to disease. One of the greatest discoveries of modern science is the fact that a large number of diseases to which animals are liable are due to the presence of low forms of parasitic life. To such diseases those which are unclean in their feeding will be especially exposed, while none will perhaps be found wholly exempt.

Another discovery of recent times which has a no less important bearing on the question raised by this chapter is the now ascertained fact that many of these parasitic diseases are common to both animals and men, and may be communicated from the former to the latter. All are familiar with the fact that the smallpox, in a modified and mild form, is a disease of cattle as well as of men, and we avail ourselves of this fact in the practice of vaccination. Scarcely less familiar is the communication of the parasitic trichinae, which often infest the flesh of swine, to those who eat such meat. And research is constantly extending the number of such diseases. Turkeys, we are now told, have the diphtheria, and may communicate it to men; men also sometimes take from horses the loathsome disease known as the glanders. Now in the light of such facts as these, it is plain that an ideal dietary law would, as far as possible, exclude from human food all animals which, under given conditions, might be especially liable to these parasitic diseases, and which, if their flesh should be eaten, might thus become a frequent medium of communicating them to men.

Now it is a most remarkable and significant fact that the tendency of the most recent investigations of this subject has been to show that the prohibitions and permissions of the Mosaic law concerning food, as we have them in this chapter, become apparently explicable in view of the above facts. Not to refer to other authorities, among the latest competent testimonies on this subject is that of Dr. Noel Gueneau de Mussy, in a paper presented to the Paris Academy of Medicine in 1885, in which he is quoted as saying:

"There is so close a connection between the thinking being and the living organism in man, so intimate a solidarity between moral and material interests, and the useful is so constantly and so necessarily in harmony with the good, that these two elements cannot be separated in hygiene It is this combination which has exercised so great an influence on the preservation of the Israelites, despite the very unfavourable external circumstances in which they have been placed The idea of parasitic and infectious maladies, which has conquered so great a position in modern pathology, appears to have greatly occupied the mind of Moses, and to have dominated all his hygienic rules. He excludes from Hebrew dietary animals particulary liable to parasites; and as it is in the blood that the germs or spores of infectious disease circulate, he orders that they must be drained of their blood before serving for food."

If this professional testimony, which is accepted and endorsed by Dr. Behrends, of London, in his remarkable paper on "Diseases caught from Butcher’s Meat," be admitted, it is evident that we need look no further for the explanation of the minute prescriptions of these dietary laws which we find here and elsewhere in the Pentateuch.

And, it may be added, that upon this principle we may also easily explain, in a rational way, the very minute prescriptions of the law with regard to defilement by dead bodies. For immediately upon death begins a process of corruption which produces compounds not only obnoxious to the senses, but actively poisonous in character; and what is of still more consequence to observe, in the case of all parasitic and infectious diseases, the energy of the infection is specially intensified when the infected person or animal dies. Hence the careful regulations as to cleansing of those persons or things which had been thus defiled by the dead; either by water, where practicable; or where the thing could not be thus thoroughly cleansed, then by burning the article with fire, the most certain of all disinfectants.

But if this be indeed the principle which underlies this law of the clean and the unclean as here given, it will then be urged that since the Hebrews have observed this law with strictness for centuries, they ought to show the evidence of this in a marked immunity from sickness, as compared with other nations, and especially from diseases of an infectious character; and a consequent longevity superior to that of the Gentiles who pay no attention to these laws. Now it is the fact, and one which evidently furnishes another powerful argument for this interpretation of these laws, that this is exactly what we see. In this matter we are not left to guessing; the facts are before the world, and are undisputed. Even so long ago as the days when the plague was desolating Europe, the Jews so universally escaped infection that, by this their exemption, the popular suspicion was excited into fury, and they were accused of causing the fearful mortality among their Gentile neighbours by poisoning the wells and springs. In our own day, in the recent cholera epidemic in Italy, a correspondent of the Jewish Chronicle testifies that the Jews enjoyed almost absolute immunity, at least from fatal attack.

Professor Hosmer says:

"Throughout the entire history of Israel, the wisdom of the ancient lawgivers in these respects has been remarkably shown. In times of pestilence the Jews have suffered far less than others; as regards longevity and general health, they have in every age been noteworthy, and, at the present day, in the life-insurance offices, the life of a Jew is said to be worth much more than that of men of other stock."

Of the facts in the modern world which sustain these statements, Dr. Behrends gives abundant illustration in the article referred to, such as the following:

"In Prussia, the mean duration of Jewish life averages five years more than that of the general population. In Furth, the average duration of Jewish life is 37, and of Christians 26 years. In Hungary, an exhaustive study of the facts shows that the average duration of life with the Croats is 20.2, of the Germans 26.7, but of the Jews 46.5 years, and that although the latter generally are poor, and live under much more unfavourable sanitary conditions than their Gentile neighbours."

In the light of such well-certified facts, the conclusion seems certainly to be warranted, that at least one chief consideration which, in the Divine wisdom, determined the allowance or prohibition, as the food of Israel, of the animals named in this chapter, has been their fitness or unfitness as diet from a hygienic point of view, especially regarding their greater or less liability to have, and to communicate to man, infectious, parasitic diseases.

From this position, if it be justified, we can now perceive a secondary reference in these laws to the deeper ethical truth which, with much reason, Sommer has so emphasised; namely, the moral significance of the great antithesis of death to life; the former being ever contrasted in Holy Scripture with the latter, as the visible manifestation of the presence of sin in the world, and of the consequent curse of God. For whatever tends to weakness or disease, by that fact tends to death, -to that death which, according to the Scriptures, is, for man, the penal consequence of sin. But Israel was called to be a people redeemed from the power of death to life, a life of full consecration to God. Hence, because redeemed from death, it was evidently fitting that the Israelite should, so far as possible in the flesh, keep apart from death, and all that in its nature tended, or might specially tend, to disease and death.

It is very strange that it should have been objected to this view, that since the law declares the reason for these regulations to have been religious, therefore any supposed reference herein to the principles of hygiene is by that fact excluded. For surely the obligation so to live as to conserve and promote the highest bodily health must be regarded, both from a natural, and a Biblical and Christian point of view, as being no less really a religious obligation than truthfulness or honesty. If there appear sufficient reason for believing that the details of these laws are to be explained by reference to hygienic considerations, surely this, so far from contradicting the reason which is given for their observance, helps us rather the more clearly to see how, just because Israel was called to be the holy people of a holy God, they must needs keep this law. For the central idea of the Levitical holiness was consecration unto God, as the Creator and Redeemer of Israel, -consecration in the most unreserved, fullest possible sense, for the most perfect possible service. But the obligation to such a consecration, as the essence of a holy character, surely carried with it by necessary consequence, then, as now, the obligation to maintain all the powers of mind and body also in the highest possible perfection.

That, as regards the body, and, in no small degree, the mind as well, this involves the duty of the preservation of health so far as in our power; and that this, again, is conditioned by the use of a proper diet, as one factor of prime importance, will be denied by no one. If, then, sufficient reason can be shown for recognising the determining influence of hygienic considerations in the laws of this chapter concerning the clean and the unclean, this fact will only be in the fullest harmony with all that is said in this connection, and elsewhere in the law, as to the relation of their observance to Israel’s holiness as a consecrated nation.

It may very possibly be asked, by way of further objection to this interpretation of these laws: Upon this understanding of the immediate purpose of these laws, how can we account for the selection of such test marks of the clean and the unclean as the chewing of the cud, and the dividing of the hoof, or having scales and fins? What can the presence or absence of these peculiarities have to do with the greater or less, freedom from parasitic disease of the animals included or excluded in the several classes? To which question the answer may fairly be given, that the object of the law was not to give accurately distributed categories of animals, scientifically arranged, according to hygienic principles, but was purely practical; namely, to secure, so far as possible, the observance by the whole people of such a dietary as in the land of Palestine would, on the whole, best tend to secure perfect bodily health. It is not affirmed that every individual animal which by these tests may be excluded from permitted food is therefore to be held specially liable to disease; but only that the limitation of the diet by these test marks, as a practical measure, would, on the whole, secure the greatest degree of immunity from disease to those who kept the law.

It may be objected, again, by some who have looked into this question, that, according to recent researches, it appears that cattle, which occupy the foremost place in the permitted diet of the Hebrews, are found to be especially liable to tubercular disease, and capable, apparently, under certain conditions, of communicating it to those who feed upon their flesh. And it has been even urged that to this source is due a large part of the consumption which is responsible for so large part of our mortality. To which objection two answers may be given. First, and most important, is the observation that we have as yet no statistics as to the prevalence of disease of this kind among cattle in Palestine and that, presumably, if we may argue from the climatic conditions of its prevalence among men, it would be found far less frequently there among cattle than in Europe and America. Further, it must be remembered that, in the case even of clean cattle, the law very strictly provides elsewhere that the clean animal which is slain for food shall be absolutely free from disease; so that still we see here, no less than elsewhere, the hygienic principles ruling the dietary law.

It will be perhaps objected, again, that if all this be true, then, since abstinence from unwholesome food is a moral duty, the law concerning clean and unclean meats should be of universal and perpetual obligation; whereas, in fact, it is explicitly abrogated in the New Testament, and is not held to be now binding on anyone. But the abrogation of the law of Moses touching clean and unclean food can be easily explained, in perfect accord with all that has been said as to its nature and intent. In the first place, it is to be remembered that it is a fundamental characteristic of the New Testament law as contrasted with that of the Old, that on all points it leaves much more to the liberty of the individual, allowing him to act according to the exercise of an enlightened judgment, under the law of supreme love to the Lord, in many matters which, in the Old Testament day, were made a subject of specific regulation. This is true, for instance, regarding all that relates to the public worship of God, and also many things in the government and administration of the Church, not to speak of other examples. This does not indeed mean that it is of no consequence what a man or a Church may do in matters of this kind; but it is intended thus to give the individual and the whole Church a discipline of a higher order than is possible under a system which prescribes a large part of the details of human action. Subjection to these "rudiments" of the law, according to the Apostle, belongs to a condition of religious minority, {Galatians 4:1-3} and passes away when the individual, or the Church, so to speak, attains majority. Precisely so it is in the case of these dietary and other laws, which, indeed, are selected by the Apostle Paul {; Colossians 2:20-22} in illustration of this characteristic of the new dispensation. That such matters of detail should no longer be made matter of specific command is only what we should expect according to the analogy of the whole system of Christian law. This is not, indeed, saying that it is of no consequence in a religious point of view what a man eats; whether, for instance, he eat carrion or not, though this, which was forbidden in the Old Testament, is nowhere expressly prohibited in the New. But still, as supplying a training of higher order, the New Testament uniformly refrains from giving detailed commandments in matters of this kind.

But, aside from considerations of this kind, there is a specific reason why these laws of Moses concerning diet and defilement by dead bodies, if hygienic in character, should not have been made, in the New Testament, of universal obligation, however excellent they might be. For it is to be remembered that these laws were delivered for a people few in number, living in a small country, under certain definite climatic conditions. But it is well known that what is unwholesome for food in one part of the world may be, and often, is, necessary to the maintenance of health elsewhere. A class of animals which under the climatic conditions of Palestine may be specially liable to certain forms of parasitic disease, under different climatic conditions may be comparatively free from them. Abstinence from fat is commanded in the law of Moses, {Leviticus 3:17} and great moderation in this matter is necessary to health in hot climates; but, on the contrary, to eat fat largely is necessary to life in the polar regions. From such facts as these it would follow, of necessity, that when the Church of God, as under the new dispensation, was now to become a worldwide organisation, still to have insisted on a dietetic law perfectly adapted only to Palestine would have been to defeat the physical object, and by consequence the moral end for which that law was given. Under these conditions, except a special law were to be given for each land and climate, there was and could be, if we have before us the true conception of the ground of these regulations, no alternative but to abrogate the law.

This exposition has been much prolonged; but not until we have before us a definite conception as to the principle underlying these regulations, and the relation of their observance to the holiness of Israel, are we in a position to see and appreciate the moral and spiritual lessons which they may still have for us. As it is, if the conclusions to which our exposition has conducted be accepted, such lessons lie clearly before us. While we have here a law which, as to the letter, is confessedly abrogated, and which is supposed by the most to be utterly removed from any present day use for practical instruction, it is now evident that, annulled as to the letter, it is yet, as to the spirit and intention of it, in full force and vital consequence to holiness of life in all ages.

In the first place, this exposition being granted, it follows, as a present day lesson of great moment, that the holiness which God requires has to do with the body as well as the soul, even with such commonplace matters as our eating and drinking. This is so, because the body is the instrument and organ of the soul, with which it must do all its work on earth for God, and because, as such, the body, no less than the soul, has been redeemed unto God by the blood of His Son. There is, therefore, no religion in neglecting the body, and ignoring the requirements for its health, as ascetics have in all ages imagined. Neither is there religion in pampering, and thus abusing, the body, after the manner of the sensual in all ages. The principle which inspires this chapter is that which is expressed in the New Testament by the words: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God". {1 Corinthians 10:31} If, therefore, a man needlessly eats such things, or in such a manner, as may be injurious to health, he sins, and has come short of the law of perfect holiness. It is therefore not merely a matter of earthly prudence to observe the laws of health in food and drink and recreation, in a word, in all that has to do with the appetite and desires of the body, but it is essential to holiness. We are in all these things to seek to glorify God, not only in our souls, but also in our bodies.

The momentous importance of this thought will the more clearly appear when we recall to mind that, according to the law of Moses, {Leviticus 5:2} if a man was defiled by any unclean thing, and neglected the cleansing ordered by this law, even though it were through ignorance or forgetfulness, he was held to have incurred guilt before God. For it was therein declared that when a man defiled by contact with the dead, or any unclean thing, should for any reason have omitted the cleansing ordered, his covenant relation with God could only be reestablished on his presentation of a sin offering. By parity of reasoning it follows that the case is the same now; and, that God will hold no man guiltless who violates any of those laws which He has established in nature as the conditions of bodily health. He who does this is guilty of a sin which requires the application of the great atonement.

How needful it is even in our day to remind men of all this, could not be better illustrated than by the already mentioned argument of many expositors, that hygienic principles cannot have dominated and determined the details of these laws, because the law declares that they are grounded, not in hygiene, but in religion, and have to do with holiness. As if these two were exclusive, one of the other, and as if it made no difference in respect to holiness of character whether a man took care to have a sound body or not!

No less needful is the lesson of this law to many who are at the opposite extreme. For as there are those who are so taken up with the soul and its health, that they ignore its relation to the body, and the bearing of bodily conditions upon character; so there are others who are so preoccupied with questions of bodily health, sanitation, and hygiene, regarded merely as prudential measures, from an earthly point of view, that they forget that man has a soul as well as a body, and that such questions of sanitation and hygiene only find their proper place when it is recognised that health and perfection of the body are not to be sought merely that man may become a more perfect animal, but in order that thus, with a sound mind in a sound body, he may the more perfectly serve the Lord in the life of holiness to which we are called. Thus it appears that this forgotten law of the clean and the unclean in food, so far from being, at the beast, puerile, and for us now certainly quite useless, still teaches us the very important lesson that a due regard to wholeness and health of body is essential to the right and symmetrical development of holiness of character. In every dispensation, the taw of God combines the bodily and the spiritual in a sacred synthesis. If in the New Testament we are directed to glorify God in our spirits, we are no less explicitly commanded to glorify God in our bodies. {1 Corinthians 6:20} And thus is given to the laws of health the high sanction of the Divine obligation of the moral law, as summed up in the closing words of this chapter: "Be ye holy; for I am holy."

This law concerning things unclean, and clean and unclean animals, as thus expounded, is also an apologetic of no small value. It has a direct and evident hearing on the question of the Divine origin and authority of this part of the law. For the question will at once come up in every reflecting mind: Whence came this law? Could it have been merely an invention of crafty Jewish priests? Or is it possible to account for it as the product merely of the mind of Moses? It appears to have been ordered with respect to certain facts, especially regarding various invisible forms of noxious parasitic life, in their bearing on the causation and propagation of disease, - facts which, even now, are but just appearing within the horizon of modern science. Is it probable that Moses knew about these things three thousand years ago? Certainly, the more we study the matter, the more we must feel that this is not to be supposed.

It is common, indeed, to explain much that seems very wise in the law of Moses by referring to the fact that he was a highly educated man, "instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." But it is just this fact of his Egyptian education that makes it in the last degree improbable that he should have derived the ideas of this law from Egypt. Could he have taken his ideas with regard, for instance, to defilement by the dead, from a system of education which taught the contrary, and which, so far from regarding those who had to do with the dead as unclean, held them especially sacred? And so with regard to the dietetic laws: these are not the laws of Egypt; nor have we any evidence that those were determined, like these Hebrew laws, by such scientific facts as those to which we have referred. In this day, when, at last, men of all schools, and those with most scientific knowledge, most of all, are joining to extol the exact wisdom of this ancient law, a wisdom which has no parallel in like laws among other nations, is it not in place to press this question? Whence had this man this unique wisdom, three thousand years in advance of his times? There are many who will feel compelled to answer, even as Holy Scripture answers; even as Moses, according to the record, answers. The secret of this wisdom will be found, not in the court of Pharaoh, but in the holy tent of meeting; it is all explained if we but assume that what is written in the first verse of this chapter is true: "The Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron."

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Leviticus 11". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/leviticus-11.html.
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