Day 14: Of clean and unclean animals.
‘‘Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat. Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that cheweth the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.’’ Lev. 11: 3 – 4
Additional reading: Deut. 14: 3 – 21; Ezek. 4:14; Dan. 1:8; Matt. 15:11; Act. 10:14; Rom. 14: 2 – 3; Heb.9:10; 13:9.
We move into another phase of our study. This time we shall be looking at prohibited foods and other things not allowed in the camp. But one thing we must not forget is this; all laws and restrictions enforced in the camp of the children of Israel were to ensure that they remained holy to God as God Himself is holy. These laws or restrictions were also put in place to ensure that Israel remained a nation different and unique from others.
It began this way with God instructing Moses: ‘‘And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.’’ (Vv. 1 – 3). God is the Creator of all things, why then would He say that certain animals should be eaten and others should not be eaten? Should all not be clean?
In the Garden of Eden, God instructed Adam on what to eat and what not to eat. This instruction now given to Israel is akin to that given to Adam years before now. Let us ask ourselves this question: what would the entire human race have become if Adam and Eve had kept to God’s instruction concerning the forbidden fruit? The fact is God gives laws, ordinances, rules or whatever you may call it to have man in obedience so that man in obedience will benefit from the blessings that come from obeying God. You need not be told what the entire human race became following the disobedience of Adam and Eve concerning the forbidden fruit. Just as it was for the good of the first man and his wife to abstain from food restricted by God, it was also for the good of Israel in this respect. Closely related to this was the health factor. Some of those animals God forbade Israel to eat were truly unhealthy — they could make them sick. So, for their good they were forbidden to eat them.
Verse 44 says this: ‘‘For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon earth.’’ This is the culmination of all. Because God is holy, Israel was to be holy by abstaining from those forbidden animals. Except this was done, there could be no fellowship between God and Israel. Israel was surrounded by idolatrous nations, which either worshipped some of those forbidden animals or used them as sacrifices to their idols. So, how could Israel be in this same league as those nations? Israel was not like other nations, they were a people distinct and separated unto God and they were to remain so even in their day – to – day diet.
What were they permitted by law to eat? ‘‘Speak to the people of Israel. Tell them: Of all the animals on Earth, these are the animals you may eat: ‘You may eat any animal that has a split hoof, divided in two, and that chews the cud…’ ’’ (MSG). Those animals included; ox, sheep, goat, deer, gazelle, roebuck, wild goat, antelope, mountain sheep, etc. (Deut. 14: 4- 5). ‘‘This is what you may eat from the water: anything that has fins and scales. You may eat any ritually clean bird.’’ (Deut. 14: 9, 11 MSG). There was also a restriction on fish — those with scales and fins were approved for their diet.
Then in Lev. 11: 4 we read: ‘‘Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that cheweth the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.’’ There were specific animals that were considered not proper for consumption probably on health grounds or that they were associated with idolatry of neighbouring nations. God said that those animals were unclean [tame … foul in a religious sense: – defiled, infamous, polluted, pollution, unclean]. From this, we can say that certain animals were defiled or polluted, therefore, were neither fit for any religious activity in Israel nor for consumption amongst God’s people.
Let us also examine Leviticus 11: 44: ‘‘For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify [qadas … a primitive root; to be (causatively make, pronounce or observe as) clean (ceremonially or morally):- appoint, bid, consecrate, dedicate, defile, hallow, be holy, keep holy… ] yourselves, and ye shall be holy [qados … sacred (ceremonially or morally); (as noun) God (by eminence), an angel, a saint, a sanctuary:- holy, holy One, Saint.] for I am holy: neither shall ye defile [tame … a primitive root; to be foul, especially in a ceremonial or moral sense (contaminated):- defile, defile self, pollute, pollute self, be unclean, make unclean, make self clean, pronounce unclean utterly.] yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon earth.’’
The English words unclean and defile are from one Hebrew root word tame, which means to be foul — especially in ceremonial or moral sense — simply contaminated, therefore unfit or polluted. Knowing that those animals were unclean — ceremonially or morally polluted, the camp of God needed to keep away from them lest they too became ceremonially and morally defiled or polluted (contaminated) in God’s sight. Therefore, they were asked to sanctify — keep themselves holy as God is holy by abstaining from the polluted animals. They were not even to touch their dead bodies or drink from any vessel that the carcass of a forbidden animal had touched.
‘‘Yes, detest them. Don’t eat their meat; detest their carcasses. When one of them dies and falls on something, that becomes unclean no matter what it’s used for, whether it’s made of wood, cloth, hide, or sackcloth. Put it in the water – it’s unclean till the evening, and then it’s clean. If one of these dead creatures falls into a clay pot, everything in the pot is unclean and you must break the pot. Any food that could be eaten but has water on it from such a pot is unclean, and any liquid that could be drunk from it is unclean. Anything that one of these carcasses falls on is unclean – an oven or cooking pot must be broken up; they’re unclean and must be treated as unclean.’’ (Lev. 11:11, 32 – 35 MSG). The law of clean and unclean animals was this serious.
Some of the forbidden animals were: camels, rabbits, eagles, owls, hawks, falcons, vultures, crows, ostriches, seagulls, bats, rats, mice, lizards, pigs, pelicans, all sea animals that did not have fins and scales. This was to preserve Israel as a holy people unto the LORD.
Interestingly, this law is no more applicable to us who are the New Testament believers as Jesus fulfilled (completed and met) all the legal requirements of the law. In this vein, Peter testifying about his encounter with God said in Acts 11:9, ‘‘The voice from heaven spoke to me again, ‘When God says that something can be used for food, don’t say it isn’t fit to eat.’’ (CEV). This was Peter’s recap of his encounter with God in a vision where he was offered food by God but because he (Peter) felt that the food was pollute and as such against the dietary laws of Israel, he rejected the offer. But God insisted that Peter was to eat the food, ‘‘The voice spoke to him again, ‘Do not consider anything unclean that God has declared clean.’ ’’ (Act. 10:15 GNB).
Paul writing in the same vein said: ‘‘So let no one make rules about what you eat or drink or about holy days or the New Moon Festival or the Sabbath. You have died with Christ and are set free from the ruling spirits of the universe. Why, then, do you live as though you belonged to this world? Why do you obey such rules as, ‘Don’t handle this,’ ‘Don’t taste that,’ ‘Don’t touch the other’ ’’? (Col. 2:16, 20 – 21 GNB).
The law permitted the eating of locusts, grasshoppers and crickets, but how many eat these animals today? It was against the law for any to eat rabbit and even catfish. How many abstain from these? Jesus made it possible.
While we are not to abstain from certain meats as required by the Laws of Moses, the New Testament believer must abstain from any defilement (pollution) by deed or by words as our bodies remain the temple of the Holy Spirit knowing that the standard of God for holiness in the camp of Israel or amongst the congregation of the called out ones (the church) remains the same irrespective of dispensation.
Meditation: Are there activities I am involved in, which I know pollute (contaminate) my body, which is the temple of God?
Prayer: Today I completely turn away from all pollution of life and dedicate my body, which is Your temple for Your use. Take me and use me; that I may bring glory to Your name.