Feb. 4 Reading: Leviticus 11-13 Commentary
“For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:45)
God anointed Aaron as high priest in Leviticus 8 and 9. Now that he holds that office, it’s his responsibility to teach God’s laws to the people. So from this point forward, we see God speaking to Moses and to Aaron sometimes when He gave instructions for the people (v. 1).
A good chunk of Leviticus is God outlining health and safety standards for the people. For example, in today’s reading we see instructions about what they can and cannot eat, laws pertaining to childbirth and how to deal with skin diseases (leprosy was a continual issue during this time). The requirements for these issues may seem boring and tedious to us. But, through it all, we see God caring about the well-being of his people.
What Can You Eat?
God permitted Israel to eat any animal that “divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud” (v. 3). The phrase “chewing the cud” refers to an animal that slowly chews their food over and over again in their mouth before swallowing it. Additionally, they eat only grasses and grains. Although specific examples are not listed in the text, animals that fit this definition would be cows, sheep, goats, and deer.
God outlined specific animals the people could not eat. These include the camel, the rock hyrax, the hare, and the swine (vv. 4-7). Not only were they forbidden to eat these animals but their dead carcasses were also unclean. They were not allowed to touch them (v. 8).
Of animals in the water, they could eat whatever had fins or scales. Animals such as crabs, lobster, oysters, clams and eels would have been unclean.
God listed an extensive group of birds considered unclean birds in verses 13-19. Notable ones listed include eagles, vultures, various owls, the ostrich and bats.
Finally, they could eat certain types of insects. These include locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers. All other insects God declared unclean to eat.
God provided another grouping of unclean animals in verses 24-47. This section lists instructions on what they were to do if a person touched a dead animal or if the carcass touched something else (like an article of clothing or wooden vessel). Either way, the carcass was considered unclean. Anyone or anything that touched it would be unclean until evening and would need to go through the purification rituals (washing – see v. 28).
The animals listed in the passage that were considered unclean include the mole, the mouse, various lizards, geckos, chameleon, (vv. 29-30) and “Whatever crawls on its belly, whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet among all creeping things that creep on the earth—these you shall not eat, for they are an abomination” (v. 42).
This would clearly include snakes (crawls on its belly), an animal that Satan indwelt to tempt Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3). If you recall, after that incident, God cursed the serpent. That may play into why God calls it “an abomination” in verse 42.
Why did all this matter? Remember the emphasis of Leviticus? It’s all about holiness before God. And Leviticus 11 provides the most direct explanation yet as to why Israel was to live as a holy nation. God said it this way, “Be holy, for I am holy” (v. 45). That’s it, end of story.
Leviticus 12 is a short chapter dealing with purification rituals after a mother gives birth to a child. Children are a blessing from the Lord (see Psalms 127:3-5). So it’s important to realize that the mother giving birth was considered unclean not because of the child, but because of the bodily fluids discharged during the birth. We will see other issues related to bodily fluids making a person unclean later in Leviticus.
In this section it’s stated that on the 8th day a male child would be circumcised (v. 3)(see Gen. 17:9-14). It appears a mother could attend this ceremony because she was considered unclean for only seven days after giving birth to a male child.
Leviticus devotes two whole chapters (13 and 14) to the subject of leprosy. Chapter 13 deals mostly with the diagnosis of the skin ailment. In each case, the priests conducted the inspections.
Again, it’s important to remember this was all about ritual purity. The priests had to make sure that the rest of the camp (and the tabernacle) was not made unclean. How would they prevent this? By making the person diagnosed with any kind of leprosy live outside the camp until the ailment had passed (v. 46).
Finally, God gave instructions for dealing with garments that contained a leprous plague (i.e. mold, fungus, or other infestation). Examinations and potential 7-day quarantine were also warranted in this situation. And it is also interesting to note that they just didn’t destroy the garment. The part of the garment that contained the infestation could be torn out so the rest of the garment could still be used (v. 56). That highlights the value of and effort needed to produce cloth in the ancient world.
Questions to Consider:
What can you point to in your life that shows God cares about your well-being? Does your life reflect the holiness of God? What keeps you from living a holy life?
What other points would you want to know about in our Leviticus 11-13 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.