Leviticus 11 - Clean or Unclean

The Numerical Bible

Volume I, Genesis - Deuteronomy, Pages 315-320
Leviticus 11
What we eat we are.

SUBDIVISION 2. (Chapter xi-xv)
Putting a difference.

WE come now to look at the other side of our associations. We have seen how God has in grace associated us with His dear Son. Thus belonging to the priestly family, and brought near to God, fellowship with Him must mean dissociation from all that is contrary to His mind and will. Linked with God upon the one side, we cannot upon the other link Him with what would dishonour Him. Our associations become in this way a matter of the most vital importance to our highest interests here. Innocence is gone from us; the knowledge of evil is that from which we can no longer escape; and God in His wondrous way has turned this into a means of holiness, and of fellowship with Himself: "the man has become as one of Us, to know good and evil;" and we are of those "who by reason of use" are to "have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. v. 14).

Even when born again, and our hearts turned to God, it has not pleased Him to deliver us at once from that indwelling sin, which if any man saith he hath not, he deceiveth himself (1 Jno. i. 8). Nay, it is then we are brought face to face with it, not surely to fulfill its lusts, but to realize it in its abominable character, and to learn in the light with Him His own hatred of it.

In the world around too we find it in ten thousand shapes, many gross, many alluring, and in beings like ourselves connected with us in various ways, and exercising various influences upon us. From these we cannot withdraw ourselves: the prayer of our High Priest was, "not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst deliver them from the evil" (Jno. xvii. 15.) We have thus to conquer, not to flee,- to conquer where we stand; separated from that in the midst of which we are, "in the world, not of it," and to carry out this separtion while alive to all the infinite claims upon us of those who are with ourselves of Adam's fallen race,- yea, in sympathy with the tears of Him who wept over His rejectors.

Here on every side is evil ready to defile us, and in those in whom we have to distinguish its various workings, for their sakes and our own learning to "make a difference:" of some having compassion; others saving with fear (Jude 22, 23); others only able to withdraw from utterly with horror. Such things we come to look at now in the fruitful types in which God once taught to a people just emerged from association with the heathen around, His holiness. Of this man, fallen from his place, had in himself so little knowledge, that God must take up the beast below him, to teach it to him. In truth, nature is one great parable, and God, in drawing out such lessons from it, but uses it for what it is.

Section 1. (xi.) What we eat we are.
1. First, then, we have to learn here as to food, what is clean and what is unclean. The German materialist's bald sophism we are taught to realize in another sense as a most important truth, "man ist was er iszt," - "what we eat we are." Spiritually, our food declares our character, as it also forms it. He that eateth Christ shall not only live by Him, but His life will be practically assimilated to His also. Thus, in what is here permitted to be the food of the people of God, we find depicted the spiritual life of the people of God. That wholesomeness as diet should go with this would not be wonderful in view of this very symbolism which is in all things round us. That which is fullest in meaning is also truest in fact, as there need be no doubt. Nevertheless, the matter of health is never brought forward: it is not of what is wholesome or unholesome, but of what is clean or unclean that the law treats.

Subsection 1. (vs. 1-8) Harmony of faith and conduct.
AND Jehovah spake to Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the animals that ye shall eat of all the beasts that are upon the face of the earth. Whatever divideth the hoof, even completely cleaving the hoof, and bringeth up the cud among the beasts, that shall ye eat. Nevertheless of these shall ye not eat, of those that bring up the cud and of those that divide the hoof: the camel, because he bringeth up the cud but divideth not the hoof, he is unclean to you; and the hyrax, because it bringeth up the cud but divideth not the hoof, it is unclean to you; and the hare, because it bringeth up the cud but divideth not the hoof, it is unclean to you; and the swine, because it divideth the hoof, completely cleaving the hoof, but bringeth not up the cud, it is unclean to you. Ye shall not eat of thier flesh, nor touch their carcasses: they are unclean to you.

(1.) Of clean beasts - mammals, as they are best distinguished - there is but one class, those that ruminate, or chew the cud; but among these also those are excluded who have not a hoof entirely divided. There must be the union of these two characters, the power of rumination and the divided hoof, to constitute the animal clean for the Israelite. It is not hard to realize the spiritual meaning of rumination: we are well accustomed to the use of it for "meditation," quiet reflection: and it would seem almost needless to insist upon the necessity of this for proper apprehension of the truth. The cloven foot, besides its suitability for a light, firm tread, and so for speed, prevents miring in soft ground. These opposed hoofs, uniting to give stabilty in this way, may perhaps intimate to us how the truths of the Word that seem most opposed to one another, in fact only give balance and firm tread to him that rests on them, while they certainly prevent being mired in the very place of pasture. The speed for which the foot is, above all, made surely reminds us that where spiritual digestion is found in the believer, faith that looks at what is unseen makes the Christian course a race. Altogether the type here is a bright and suggestive one: may it speak to our souls with all the power the Spirit of God can give it!

But now look at the exceptions: of the really ruminating animals only one - the camel. It is plain he is no racer: two and a half to three miles is his pace, and he travels it with a burden. Made for the desert, not for the pasture-lands, ungainly, irritable, not like the rest of his class, - may he not remind us of how many Christians, while ever learning, as one would think, the things of God, go yet heavily burdened through the world, as if the desert was their all? The camel-Christian may be indeed a real one, as his representative is a ruminant, and yet what a poor bungled copy does he seem! Cares of this world burden him. He is earthly-heavenly: according to the Word of God "unclean."

The other animals named here are not ruminants at all, and many have wondered that the hare and the coney - the hyrax - should be put among them. But it has been well urged, that these are practical directions for simple people, and not studies in natural history; and to people ordinarily the hare and the coney, though merely grinding their teeth, appear to be ruminating. They are professors of rumination without reality, taken here as God takes men according to their profession: but it cannot make them clean.

The last animal here is a very different one from the rest, and the very type of uncleanness. In the swine there was no pretense of rumination, but there was the cloven foot; if one looked only at that, the swine would seem clean. Surely they are the type of such as, openly slighting faith and the Word of God, plead their good conduct. "He can't be wrong whose life is in the right." In fact, the life is not right: loving the mire, and rooting up the ground, the swine is a typical destroyer. God judgeth not as man judgeth, but His judgment alone is true.

Subsection 2. (vs. 9-12.) Armed for conflict.
These shall ye eat, of all that are in the waters: whatever hath fins and scales in the waters - in seas and in rivers - these shall ye eat; but of all that have not fins and scales, in seas and in rivers, of all that swarm in the waters, even of every living soul that is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you, even they shall be an abomination unto you: yea, their flesh ye shall not eat and their carcasses shall be an abomination unto you; whatever in the waters hath not fins and scales shall be an abomination unto you.

(ii.) We now come to the inhabitants of the water, and here that which was clean had fins and scales, means of movement and defence; but the opposition of a denser element than before - the water - seems to make movement itself here a conflict in which the "fin" is the offensive, and the "scale" is the defensive weapon. So we are reminded there that the life of faith is a warfare also, and one from which we cannot be excused: we cannot be non-combatants and clean; to be unarmed is to be overcome; every step of progress must be a victory.

Subsection 3. (vs. 13-19.) The unclean bird.
And these shall ye have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they shall be an abomination: the griffon, and the ossifrage, and the osprey, and the buzzard, and the kite after its kind, every crow after its kind, and the ostrich, and the barn owl, and the gull, and the hawk after its kind, and the little owl, and the cormorant, and the eagle owl, and the gallinule, and the pelican, and the vulture, and the stork, the heron after its kind, and the hoopoe, and the bat.

(iii.) The birds speak to us of that heavenly character which as Christians surely belongs to us; yet here also in what assumes to be that, there may come in that which is unclean, and then we have proportionatly what is worse. In the parables of Matt. xiii. the birds of the heavens carry off the good seed, and are devils.

Here there is no rule given for distinguishing the clean, in general to belong to this class was to be so: individual exceptions are named, without any specified characters to distinguish those either. Certainly each one of them has meaning, and the name alone is given, probably the name is enough, as in Bunyan's allegories, but I can attempt nothing as to this. It has been remarked that the list consists almost exclusively of birds which feed on flesh in whole or in part; under which come necessarily also the omnivorous; while in the bat we have an illustration of those flying things that go upon all fours mentioned just afterward, although, of course, a much larger class. "We can trace," says [C. H.] Mackintosh, "in the habits of the above three classes the just ground of their being pronounced unclean; but we can also see in them the striking exhibition of that in nature, which is to be strenuously guarded against by every true Christian. Such an one is called upon to refuse every thing of a carnal nature. Moreover, he cannot feed promiscuously upon every thing that comes before him. He must 'try the things that differ.' He must 'take heed what he hears.' He must exsercise a discerning mind, a spiritual judgment, a heavenly taste. Finally, he must use his wings: he must rise on the pinions of faith and find his place in the celestial sphere to which he belongs. In short, there must be nothing groveling, nothing promiscuous, nothing unclean, for the Christian." - (Notes on Leviticus.)

Subsection 4. (vs. 20-28.) The taint of the earth.
Every flying creeping thing, that goeth upon all four, shall be an abomination to you. Yet these ye may eat of all flying creeping things that go upon all four, those which have legs above their feet, to leap with upon the earth. Of these may ye eat: the locust after its kind, and the bald locust after its kind, and the cricket after its kind, and the grasshopper after its kind. But all flying creeping things which have four feet shall be an abomination to you. And for these ye shall be unclean: every one who toucheth their carcasses shall be unclean until the even; and every one that carrieth aught of their carcasses shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even. [The carcass of] every beast that divideth the hoof, but doth not completely cleave it, or doth not bring up the cud, it is unclean to you, every one who toucheth these shall be unclean. And what ever goeth upon its paws, of all animals that go on all four, these are unclean to you, whoever toucheth their carcasses shall be unclean until the even; and he that beareth their carcasses shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the even: they are unclean to you.

(iv.) The "flying ceeping things"would seem to be unclean as belonging to two spheres at once, from which those whose mode of progression was a leap were excepted, the leap being perhaps a repulsion the earth(?). The earth-taint here in question accounts for the introduction of legislation as to death, the touch even of the carcasses of the unclean defiling. Here too, naturally from this point of view, are mentioned as unclean the beasts that go upon their "hands," - i.e., whose feet are unprotected by hoofs. The classfication in this way shows clearly how a moral symbolism governs it: there is otherwise no order apparent.

Subsection 5. (vs. 29-43.) What and how they affect.
These also are unclean to you of the creeping things that creep upon the earth: the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise, after its kind; and the gecko, and the monitor, and the lizard, and the sand-lizard, and the chameleon. These are unclean to you among those that creep: he who toucheth them when dead shall be uclean until the even. And on whatever any of them when dead shall fall, it shall be unclean; all vessels of wood, or garment, or skin, or sack, every thing wherein any work is done, it shall be put into water, and be unclean until the even, - then shall it be clean. And every earthen vessel whereinto any of them falleth, whatever is in it shall be unclean, and ye shall break it. All food that is eaten, upon which water cometh, shall be unclean; and all drink that is drunk shall be unclean in every [such]vessel. And every thing upon which any part of their carcass falleth shall be uclean, - oven and covered pan shall be broken: they are unclean, and shall be unclean unto you. Nevertheless a spring or well, with plenty of water, shall be clean, but that which toucheth their carcass shall be unclean. And if any of their carcass fall upon any sowing-seed that is to be sown, it shall be clean; but if water be put upon the seed, and any part of their carcass fall theron, it shall be unclean to you. And if any beast which is yours for food die, he who toucheth the carcass of it shall be unclean until the even. And whosoever eateth of the carcass thereof shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even; and he that beareth the carcass of it shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the even. And every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth is an abomination, it shall not be eaten. Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath many feet, of all creeping things that creep upon the earth, these ye shall not eat, for they are an abomination. Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, nor shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye be defiled thereby. For I am Jehovah your God, and ye shall sanctify yourselves, that ye may be holy; for I am holy: and ye shall not defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creepeth on the earth. For I am Jehovah, who am bringing you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: and ye shall be holy, because I am holy. This is the law of the beast, and of the fowl, and of every living soul that moveth in the waters, and of every soul that creepeth in the earth; to divide between the uclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten, and the animal that may not be eaten.

(v.) The reptiles follow, but along with these also the weasel and the mouse, - showing the same absence as before of any merely natural classification. Nor indeed does there seem at first a reason for the specification of certain species here when the whole class of creeping things is presently declared unclean (v. 41). Commentators seem only able to say that these are mentioned as being of those from whom there was special danger of defilement in the way immediately particularized as dropping into vessels, etc., being generally found in houses or in the abodes of men. But we see also how differently they affect what they come into contact with - the comparative receptivity of defilement. Thus every vessel of wood, or garment or skin or sack, upon which they fell when dead, was to put into water and would be clean at even; but the earthen vessel could only be broken. The fountain or well could not be defiled; nor seed intended to be sown, but if it had been moistened with water, to be used for food, then it would be defiled. That which died of itself also, though otherwise clean, became unclean, - death in this way being the type of that which had come in through sin. Whether we can read these things or not, it is plain that they imply a different susceptibility as to evil, and a difference in the treatment of that which was defiled, which should be to us suggestive and important.