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David Guzik's Commentaries
on the Bible

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Leviticus 11 - Clean and Unclean Animals

A. Animals of land, sea, and air.

1. (1-8) Mammals.

a. The rule was simple: If an animal had a divided hoof (not a single hoof as a horse has), and chewed its cud, it could be eaten.

b. For example, the camel, the rock hyrax, and the hare all chew the cud, but do not have divided hooves - instead, they have paws - they are considered unkosher.

c. Additionally, the swine has a divided hoof, but does not chew the cud - so it is considered unkosher.

i. "It is now known that the pig is the intermediate host for several parasitic organisms, some of which can result in tapeworm infestation. One of these worms, the Taenia solium, grows to about 2.5 m in length, and is found in poorly cooked pork." (Harrison)

d. If an animal was considered unclean, one obviously could not eat it; additionally, you could not touch the animal either, whether living or dead.

e. God was not making up new rules for Israel; Noah knew about clean and unclean animals (Genesis 7:2, 8:20). God is codifying what was already in the traditions of Israel.

2. (9-12) Water animals.

a. The rule again was simple: Any water creature having both fins and scales was kosher and could be eaten.

b. Therefore, most fishes were considered clean - except a fish like the catfish, which has no scales. Shellfish would be unclean, because clams, crabs, oysters, and lobster all do not have fins and scales.

3. (13-19) Birds.

a. There is no rule given to determine if a bird is clean or unclean; only specific birds (twenty in all) are mentioned as being unclean.

b. The common thread through most of these birds is that they are either predators or scavengers; these were considered unclean.

4. (20-23) Insects.

a. Among insects, any "creeping" insect was unkosher (such as ants or grubs); yet if there was a flying insect with legs jointed above their feet, these could be eaten.

b. Good examples of kosher insects include the locust, the cricket, and the grasshopper.

c. On all fours: Did Moses think insects have only four legs? "This phrase can hardly describe insects as having four legs, since the Insectae as a class normally have six legs. The reference is evidently to their movements, which resemble the creeping or running of the four-footed animal." (Harrison)

B. More on clean and unclean animals.

1. (24-28) Disposal of the carcasses of unclean animals.

a. Unclean animals, when dead, couldn't just be left in the community to rot; they had to be disposed of. But the people who disposed of the unclean animals had to remedy their uncleanness by washing and a brief (until evening) quarantine.

i. This means that if a dead rat was found in an Israelite village, it would be carefully and promptly disposed of, and the one disposing of it would wash afterward. This would help prevent disease in a significant way; after all, the black death - bubonic plague - killed one quarter of Europe's population around 1350, but Jewish communities were largely spared because they followed these hygienic regulations. Sadly, because they were often largely preserved, they were often accused and punished for being "masterminds" behind the plague.

b. This shows us that ceremonial uncleanness was not the same as being in a state of sin; no sacrifice was required to remedy it. It was a state of ceremonial impurity that needed to be addressed.

2. (29-30) More unclean animals: Creeping things.

3. (31-38) What becomes unclean when an unclean animal touches it.

a. From a hygienic standpoint, these laws are very important; requiring (for example) that if a rodent crawled inside a bowl, the bowl had to be broken - and any disease the rodent carried (such as bubonic plague) could not be passed on to the one who would use the bowl.

b. These laws would also promote a general state of cleanliness inside the Hebrew home, which no doubt promoted the health and the welfare of the family.

4. (39-40) Carcasses of clean animals.

a. Seemingly, these laws apply to the natural death of clean animals, not to their butchering for food or death for sacrifice. Those handling such carcasses were ceremonially unclean and needed to be cleansed by washing and a brief quarantine.

5. (41-43) Creeping animals considered unclean.

6. (44-47) The purpose for God's dietary laws.

a. For I am the Lord your God: Our Creator, our Lord, has the right to tell us what to eat and what not to eat!

b. You shall therefore sanctify yourselves: One great purpose of the dietary laws of Israel was to sanctify - to set them apart - from other nations. It made fellowship with those who did not serve God far more difficult!

i. We see this sanctifying effect in Daniel 1, where Daniel and his friends refuse to eat the unkosher food at the king of Babylon's table - and God blesses them for being set apart for His righteousness.

c. Neither shall you defile yourselves: Not only did unclean animals defile one spiritually, but there was also a hygienic defilement, and Israel was spared many diseases and plagues because of their kosher diet.

i. Among the animals, most considered unclean fell into one of three categories: Predators (unclean because they ate both the flesh and the blood of animals), scavengers (unclean because they were carriers of disease, and they regularly contacted dead bodies), or potentially poisonous or dangerous foods such as shellfish and the like. Eliminating these from the diet of Israel no doubt had a healthy effect!

ii. "In general it can be said that the laws protected Israel from bad diet, dangerous vermin, and communicable diseases." (Harris)

d. For I am the Lord who brings you up out of Egypt - if God had a claim on Israel obedience because He created them, how much more because He has redeemed them!

7. Are we under obligation to observe a kosher diet today?

a. This issue was settled once and for all at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15; where it was determined that obedience to Mosaic rituals was not required of the followers of Jesus.

b. Paul points out that we have the full liberty to eat whatever we want to: Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrine of demons . . . commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1, 3-5)

i. Some are under subjugation to food, or to certain foods, and that is sin (1 Corinthians 6:12: All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any).

ii. Many would no doubt benefit from the attitude of self-denial and bodily discipline Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

iii. Yet, apart from these considerations, Christians are free to eat or not eat whatever they please - and no one should think themselves more right with God because they eat or don't eat certain things

Copyright Statement
David Guzik's Commentaries on the Bible are reproduced by permission of David Guzik, Siegen, Germany. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Guzik, David. "Commentary on Leviticus 11". "David Guzik's Commentaries
on the Bible". <>. 1997-2003.  


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