Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Leviticus 11:1-47


Many people have not given much thought to the "dietary laws" found in Leviticus. Often, the response can be quite troubling. Some have a crisis of faith, assuming this is a portion of Scripture we simply ignore, thus leading them to question what other portions of Scripture "no longer apply." Others, read the dietary laws and attempt to apply them. They seek to show their devotion to the Lord by eliminating pork or lobster. So which is it? Are we still bound by the dietary laws, or are there passages of Scripture that have no application today?


The LORD begins to teach between the clean and unclean animals. Both Moses and Aaron receive this instruction from the LORD.

The nation of Israel may eat of any land animal that has a split hoof and chews cud. This is not a reference to the gestational process of the cow, but merely to the constant appearance of chewing (such as a rabbit). However, the LORD makes it clear that a rabbit is not clean, for it does not have split hoof. The requirements for cleanliness are not either/or, but the animal must have both a split hoof and must chew the cud.

Not only is the person to avoid eating these animals, but the LORD also instructs that they should not make contact with their carcasses. To touch the carcass of an unclean animal will make the person unclean as well.

Likewise, and Israelite may eat of any sea animal with fins and scales and remain clean. However, those sea creatures which do not have scales or do not have fins are to be regarded as unclean. This applies to all water animals, whether in the sea or in a river. They are to avoid consumption and are not to touch their carcasses.

The text makes it very clear that the LORD expects the Israelites to keep themselves distanced from these things. They are to abhor these creates and detest them. They are not to make any form of compromise.

The LORD next lists birds which are to be considered unclean. With birds, he does not list features that make the bird clean or unclean, but merely lists off different birds that are unclean. Though a bat is technically not considered to be a bird, it makes sense on this list since it has wings and flies, and is considered unclean.

Any winged insect that walks on all fours is unclean, unless they have jointed legs with which to hop. The grasshopper and the locust may be eaten, but other winged four-footed insects are forbidden.

The LORD reminds us that contact with an unclean animal carcass will make the person unclean. In fact, if he must move the animal (carry it), he becomes unclean until evening and must also wash his clothes. This is a deliberate "ritual" since they did not naturally wash clothing after one wearing (as we do today). These unclean carcasses could come from any of the afore mentioned unclean animals, as well as any animal with four paws.

The LORD also instructs Moses and Aaron that reptiles, rodents and other "swarming things" are considered unclean and detestable.

The LORD also instructs that the contact of an unclean animal with something will make that object unclean.

If an unclean animal dies on a fabric or clothing, the person is to wash the garment and it remains unclean until evening.

If an unclean animal dies in contact with an earthenware vessel, and oven or a stove, they are to be smashed. They remain unclean.

If an animal dies in contact with water or food or any other form of beverage, they are considered unclean. Since the LORD gives no parameters to them becoming clean again (He does not say "until evening"), it is assumed that they remain unclean and should be discarded.

However, if an unclean animals dies in contact with a cistern or well, the water remains clean, although the person who removes the animal becomes unclean.

If an unclean carcass falls upon a pile of seed, the seed is still considered clean. However, if the seed has had water applied to it, thus beginning the germination process, the seed is to be considered unclean.

The LORD also instructs that the carcass of a clean animal can also make a person unclean. If an animal used for food (a clean animal) dies, then a person who contacts the carcass or eats from it will be considered unclean until evening. Now surely, every clean animal that they ate was dead, but this speaks to the manner of the death. If they animal died without being killed for the purpose of butchering and eating, then it was unclean. However, if they killed the animal to eat it, this would not mean they are unclean. Otherwise, every form of meat would make one unclean, and even a peace offering would make one unclean.

The LORD "recaps" the unclean animals on the land that are not allowed. If it crawls on its belly, walks on four feet or has many legs, it is to be considered unclean and will make the person unclean. The Israelites response was that he was to detest such things.

The LORD explains that the motivation for pursuing cleanliness should be the holiness of God. Since God is holy and set apart, so the Israelites should seek to make a distinction between the clean and the unclean. God has called Israel out of the land of Egypt, therefore, they should act like a people who have been called out and are separate. This pursuit of holiness is motivated out of the work God has done on their behalf.


While the LORD gets very specific in listing the clean and the unclean animals, He does not reveal to us the purpose in labeling some things clean and others unclean. This has led many to speculate. Why are some animals clean and others are not. There are a number of theories:

    Safety--Some speculate that God kept certain animals from the Israelites because they were unhealthy. Some scientific reports claim that pork, for instance, can be quite easily contaminated with disease. This view says that God is graciously saving them from a poor diet. However, this view should be viewed with caution, for it's basic premise relies on science to tell us what is healthy and what is not. (Has the scientific community even come to a consensus about eggs yet?) Also, some of science's findings are in contradiction with this view. (For instance, ostrich is considered a healthier alternative to beef.)
    Symmetry--Others suggest that God condemns some animals as unclean because they are abnormal. They argue that an animal that splits the hoof and chews the cud is normal, while other forms are abnormal. However, what makes this the standard, but all animals with four paws are to be considered unclean? Again, the list seems to be arbitrary.
    Proximity to Death--Since the text lays out that carcasses (even from a clean animal) can make one unclean, some speculate that the distinction between clean and unclean becomes an issue regarding death. Those animals which kill other animals, eat from dead animals or are similarly related to death become unclean. While many of the birds listed do eat carrion, camels and rabbits do not, making this list difficult to affirm.
    Pagan Practice--Others assume that the LORD's desire for the Israelites to remain separate is a call to their worship practices. Since they are surrounded by pagan worship, God is calling them to abstain from practices that could be misunderstood as pagan participation. Therefore, animals (ie. pigs) which were central in pagan worship practices are forbidden. However, cattle were central in pagan worship (especially Egypt, which the LORD directly references), yet they are considered clean.
While we can become distracted chasing possible purposes (I encountered one scholar who suggests that chewing the cud is meant to symbolize meditating on God's Word?), we can miss God's great calling in this.

This is not simply an issue of time or detail, that God doesn't consider it important, so neither should we. In actuality, God considers this quite important, for He calls the people to detest and abhor that which is unclean. He fails to give us the specific detail as a grace. Knowing our fleshly tendencies, we would create greater law around the "dietary laws" if we knew the purpose of the separation. For instance, if the purpose was health, wouldn't we be tempted to create a new "super clean" category that was proper healthy preparation of clean animals? Wouldn't we now declare that free-range cattle are even cleaner than the previous standard. We would not be freed from the Law, but would find ourselves under a greater yoke to it.

But there is a reason why we can eat a double bacon cheeseburger and still be strong believer:
On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all {kinds of} four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, "Get up, Peter, kill and eat!" But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." Again a voice {came} to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no {longer} consider unholy." This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon's house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself." Peter went down to the men and said, "Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?" They said, "Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was {divinely} directed by a holy angel to send for you {to come} to his house and hear a message from you." So he invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him.--Acts 10:9-23
It is interesting to note that God does not say, "Don't call it unclean anymore!" or "Quit thinking of it as unclean." The LORD says, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." It is more than a semantic change. God has actually made the animals clean. But what has been accomplished? Peter should have known that the animals were clean, for Jesus said it Himself:
After He called the crowd to Him again, He {began} saying to them, "Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. ["If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."] When he had left the crowd {and} entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He *said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" ({Thus He} declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting {and} wickedness, {as well} {as} deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride {and} foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."--Mark 7:14-23
The Pharisees are outraged that the disciples have not ceremonially cleansed their hands before eating. Without declaring their hands consecrated, aren't they taking uncleanness into themselves? Jesus addresses this issue by saying that what goes into a man's mouth is not what makes him unclean. But how can Jesus say this, and how can He declare all foods clean, when Scripture says He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it? Isn't He destroying the Law?

Not if the proper purpose of the dietary laws were understood. No person, despite how closely they followed these laws, should have allowed himself to think he was achieving personal holiness. As designed, a person should go through the day, careful to avoid all that is unclean, and yet realize that his heart is still impure before the LORD. The laws were meant to point people to the need of a Savior, for a simply change in diet could do nothing to change the condition of the heart.

But to a heart not surrendered to the LORD, we do just the opposite. We would be tempted to declare to the LORD, "LORD, I didn't eat pork or lobster or even a rock badger today. I thank you that I am not like the pagan unclean people all around me." Such self-righteousness is an offense to the LORD. It does not reveal a heart set apart for God, but instead reveals a mind still conformed to the image of this world.

Jesus fulfilled the Law by obeying it at all times, but also by revealing it's real purpose. The dietary laws were never intended to create holiness in a person, for what enters the stomach and passes through the body cannot make a person holy. The dietary laws were intended to reveal to us that holiness can only be given by God, to us, through the righteous work of Jesus Christ.


Peter would understand the principles of the dietary laws better than anyone else. When presented with unclean animals to eat, Peter exclaimed, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." He had understood the dietary laws, studied them and ordered his life around them. However, God rebuked him by stating, "What God has cleansed, no {longer} consider unholy." Peter had also heard Jesus declare that all foods were clean. As Peter begins to process this from Acts 10, he also realizes the impact is evangelistic. Simply calling a people to look different from the exterior will not produce holiness, nor will it draw other to the gospel. The proper function of these dietary laws is to reveal their incompletion.

But this does not mean the pursuit of holiness is futile:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober {in spirit,} fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts {which were yours} in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all {your} behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."--1 Peter 1:13-16
Peter calls believers to pursue holiness. However, notice how he roots this. First, we keep our hope fixed on the grace of God through Jesus Christ. We then seek to avoid conforming to the world and pursue holy behavior...for He has called us. He makes us holy. He provides the holiness for us. We then seek to live it out.

This kind of holiness, produced from a heart transformation and working its way outward (not developed from exterior rules to try to change the nature of the person) is the true kind of holiness God desires and is that which really sets us apart from the world. It is not God's desire that we return to the dietary laws, but that we see the purpose of the dietary laws, and call upon the Lord to produce holiness. He offers to truly make us different and set us apart from the world.

It doesn't come from food. It doesn't come from rules. It comes from the LORD.


Anonymous said...


I have a question for the webmaster/admin here at cariboucommentary.blogspot.com.

May I use part of the information from this blog post right above if I provide a link back to this site?


danny2 said...