From Leviticus 11-13
People of different countries and cultures have rules about food they can and can’t eat. For example, most western people would be horrified if asked to eat dog meat because dogs are our pets and because we may think dogs are ‘dirty.’ In either case, eating dogs would violate boundaries of social significance. Today we read about Israel’s food laws and learn what foods made people unclean. In the gospel we learn more about the food laws. Avoiding impurity is integral to holiness.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them,  “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. (Lev 11.1-2)
In the Old Testament the Israelites had a fairly narrow range of animals they could eat. There were many animals they considered unclean. The food laws fall under the larger category of cleanliness and purity laws. The laws concerning sexual uncleanliness fall under this larger category as well. The following passage breaks down the animals they can eat into categories: Land, Water and Air.
Animals of the Land.
 Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. (Lev 11.3)
‘No beast is to be eaten which belongs to a type not acceptable for sacrifice (Firmage 1990). The acceptable animals can be identified by three criteria (v. 3):
- they must have hooves (NRSV here translates incorrectly),
- their hooves must be divided in two, and
- they must chew the cud.
These tests are not arbitrary: they isolate that family of animals, the ruminants [an animal such as a cow or sheep that has more than one stomach and that swallows food and then brings it back up again to continue chewing it.], to which those actually used for sacrifice belonged;
it includes cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and gazelles.
They also exclude three common domestic animals: dogs (no hooves), donkeys (hooves not divided), and pigs (they do not chew the cud).’ (Houston, W. J. (2003). Leviticus. In J. D. G. Dunn & J. W. Rogerson (Eds.), Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (p. 112). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)
 Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these:
The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you.
 And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you.
 And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you.
 And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you.
 You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you. (Lev 11.3-8)
These are borderline cases which have one or two of the criteria but not all three.
Animals of the Water.
 “These you may eat, of all that are in the waters. Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat.
 But anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you.  You shall regard them as detestable; you shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses.  Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you. (Lev 11.9-12)
Clearly most fish of the sea can be eaten. Eels and all catfish cannot be eaten.
Animals of the Air.
 “And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture,  the kite, the falcon of any kind,  every raven of any kind,  the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind,  the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl,  the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture,  the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat. (Lev 11.13-19)
The clean birds include doves, pigeons, quail, chickens (hens), geese, duck, and sparrows. The impure birds—birds of prey or carrion eaters—are connected with death. (Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Le 11:13–17). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)
 “All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you.  Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground.  Of them you may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind.  But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you. (Lev 11.20-23)
I guess if you are in danger of starving and only have insects to eat then people will succumb to eating them. We know John the baptist ate locusts (Mt 3.4; Mk 1.6). And I know some cultures consider insects to be a delicacy. Locusts, crickets and grasshoppers are given approval.
The laws about unclean foods let the people of Israel know what they could eat and what made them unclean and defiled them. These rules are part of a larger theme associated with defilement through the Old Testament.
Defilement is the result of making oneself or someone else unclean in God’s sight.
Outward, physical defilement comes from contact with someone or something unclean, whereas sin produces inner, spiritual defilement.
In addition to the food laws the Torah, people can be made unclean by touching unclean animals, touching the dead, various skin diseases, bodily emissions and sexual immorality.
In the Old Testament, it is sin which is the most common source of defilement.
Jesus reiterates this in the gospel, where he also declares all foods clean. Overruling the law of Moses.
14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”
6 (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.
23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mk 7.14-23)
The Israelites had to avoid all these unclean animals and food because they would be defiled by them. Jesus reminds us sin defiles. Sin which comes from our own hearts. Good can come from our hearts as well.
But we are still capable of sin, and so we should be avoiding this kind of uncleanliness in our lives. Cut it out, don’t become defiled by them.
It might be helpful to run through the list above and see if you need to take some sort of action.
Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2016. All Rights Reserved.