Book of Leviticus Chapter
Eleven Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
The Unclean Thing
In Romans 14, Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee, that Jew of Jews who trained under Gamaliel and later became Paul the Apostle, wrote a compelling study of faith and liberty in our walk with the Lord. Two issues were used as examples: 1) The eating or not eating of certain foods, and 2) the keeping or not keeping certain holy days for the believer. An interesting observation is that one committed believer might avoid some foods while another eats everything, and Paul remarked in Romans 14:2, "Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him." He continued in Verse 5, "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind." The reason we will be with Abraham, Moses, Aaron, David, Isaiah, Mary, Peter and others like them in eternity is that a great, loving, intervening Force has come into humanity: "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:1). We are "in Christ Jesus" and led by "the Spirit" through faith in the Lord.
In Verses 1-8, we find long established dietary laws for Israel, and whether you are of that nation or not, if you are convinced they are for you, then embrace them if God's Holy Spirit has led you to do so. Here are those laws: "The Lord spoke again to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them, 2 Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'These are the creatures which you may eat from all the animals that are on the earth. 3 Whatever divides a hoof, thus making split hoofs, and chews the cud, among the animals, that you may eat. 4 Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these, among those which chew the cud, or among those which divide the hoof: the camel, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you. 5 Likewise, the shaphan, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you; 6 the rabbit also, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you; 7 and the pig, for though it divides the hoof, thus making a split hoof, it does not chew cud, it is unclean to you. 8 You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you." Look to your heart, and if camels, rabbits and pigs are not right for you, choose something else on the menu.
An exception for fish is made in Verse 9: "These you may eat, whatever is in the water: all that have fins and scales, those in the water, in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat," and the list continues in Verses 10-12: "But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers that does not have fins and scales among all the teeming life of the water, and among all the living creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you, 11 and they shall be abhorrent to you; you may not eat of their flesh, and their carcasses you shall detest. 12 Whatever in the water does not have fins and scales is abhorrent to you." Pray in relation to these verses, and if the Holy Spirit is in you, He will lead you in the way you should and should not go. In Romans 6:14-15, it's clear that "you are not under law but under grace," but then the question is asked, "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?" And the answer is: "Certainly not," and always remember Romans 14:23, which teaches the basis of our walk, with and in the Holy Spirit: "...whatever is not from faith is sin."
The list now extends to certain flying creatures, in Verses 13-19: "These, moreover, you shall detest among the birds; they are abhorrent, not to be eaten: the eagle and the vulture and the buzzard, 14 and the kite and the falcon in its kind, 15 every raven in its kind, 16 and the ostrich and the owl and the sea gull and the hawk in its kind, 17 and the little owl and the cormorant and the great owl, 18 and the white owl and the pelican and the carrion vulture, 19 and the stork, the heron in its kinds, and the hoopoe, and the bat." I'm glad the "vulture" is on this forbidden list, but if my child was starving, and all I had was a vulture, I might change my mind, especially if I sought the Lord and found a "yes" from Him.
Insects are eaten in various places around the world, and if I was in a cockroach infested jail cell and had no other food, I might eat them, though I would not be happy about it, which brings us to a continuation of the list of prohibitions and allowable foods in Verses 20-23: "All the winged insects that walk on all fours are detestable to you. 21 Yet these you may eat among all the winged insects which walk on all fours: those which have above their feet jointed legs with which to jump on the earth. 22 These of them you may eat: the locust in its kinds, and the devastating locust in its kinds, and the cricket in its kinds, and the grasshopper in its kinds. 23 But all other winged insects which are four-footed are detestable to you." John the Baptist has been called the "last of the Old Testament prophets," a man who followed the Holy Spirit into the wilderness and ate as his diet, "locusts and wild honey" (Mark 1:6). He partook as the Lord led him, and we must look to the Lord also.
Verses 24-25: "By these, moreover, you will be made unclean: whoever touches their carcasses becomes unclean until evening, 25 and whoever picks up any of their carcasses shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening." Our God is all about life, not death, and yes, physical death is universal and will remain so until the end of the age, but there is a "real you" deep in the center of your being and you will last forever. You do have a choice as to whether your "forever" will be in the Presence of the Lord or not, but God does have in mind that we all will have the opportunity to know real LIFE like we never imagined or expected. Look away from the "unclean" (you know what it is), touch not the dead things of this world and let us look to the Lord in faith—He will save and lead His faithful ones.
There is something wrong with humanity, which you can discover in the Bible or through any news broadcast. Reading these verses should remind us of Adam and Eve, our first ancestors, who were given two fruit trees and were told to avoid one of them. Don't touch this! Do touch that! and you might wonder—why? A key answer is simply that we are being forced to make choices that reveal who we really are. Will we obey the Lord or not? Are we going to trust in Him, even when we don't fully understand. There are medical reasons for the "Don't Eat" provisions here, but the spiritual lessons are even more important.
Verses 26-30: "Concerning all the animals which divide the hoof but do not make a split hoof, or which do not chew cud, they are unclean to you: whoever touches them becomes unclean. 27 Also whatever walks on its paws, among all the creatures that walk on all fours, are unclean to you; whoever touches their carcasses becomes unclean until evening, 28 and the one who picks up their carcasses shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; they are unclean to you. 29 Now these are to you the unclean among the swarming things which swarm on the earth: the mole, and the mouse, and the great lizard in its kinds, 30 and the gecko, and the crocodile, and the lizard, and the sand reptile, and the chameleon." My late uncle, a man I only met once, was a taxidermist and since athiesm was in the family, I doubt that he ever read these verses, let alone washed his clothes because of them. It is hoped he said "yes" to the Lord before going into eternity.
We might think we could avoid eating a "crocodile" sandwich, but carry a "crocodile" purse under these laws, except for Verses 31-32: "These are to you the unclean among all the swarming things; whoever touches them when they are dead becomes unclean until evening. 32 Also anything on which one of them may fall when they are dead becomes unclean, including any wooden article, or clothing, or a skin, or a sack—any article of which use is made—it shall be put in the water and be unclean until evening, then it becomes clean." Even touching something unclean made those of Israel unclean, and the point was made even clearer in the verses that follow.
Many have wished that God would set up a system of rules to govern what to do and not do, making life more clear so you wouldn't have to worry so much. Well here it is, literally for the nation Israel and symbolically for all of us. Notice in Verses 33-35, that we are to avoid associations with the unclean: "As for any earthenware vessel into which one of them may fall, whatever is in it becomes unclean and you shall break the vessel. 34 Any of the food which may be eaten, on which water comes, shall become unclean, and any liquid which may be drunk in every vessel shall become unclean. 35 Everything, moreover, on which part of their carcass may fall becomes unclean; an oven or a stove shall be smashed; they are unclean and shall continue as unclean to you." It's long been recognized in most legal systems that the driver of the getaway car is just as guilty as the one who went in and robbed the store. If you even touch with your thoughts that which is wrong, the unclean nature of this world system will damage you and those around you.
Sin brings death and we are polluted by this sinful world just by being in it. The world was already terrible those decades ago when I was a small boy, but each decade seems to want to be worse than the last. Sins and sinful people are strangely popular, but that does not mean we should associate ourselves with them, a thought to be considered as we read Verses 36-40: "Nevertheless a spring or a cistern collecting water shall be clean, though the one who touches their carcass shall be unclean. 37 If a part of their carcass falls on any seed for sowing which is to be sown, it is clean. 38 Though if water is put on the seed and a part of their carcass falls on it, it is unclean to you. 39 Also if one of the animals dies which you have for food, the one who touches its carcass becomes unclean until evening. 40 He too, who eats some of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening, and the one who picks up its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening." If a mouse dies on the keyboard, can you still open your computer? You have to get God's perspective of humanity in order to sense the awfulness of sin, and the Bible doesn't pull any punches in these images, pointing out that we are unclean and need God's Perfect Sacrifice to be acceptable in His sight.
Verses 41-43: "Now every swarming thing that swarms on the earth is detestable, not to be eaten. 42 Whatever crawls on its belly, and whatever walks on all fours, whatever has many feet, in respect to every swarming thing that swarms on the earth, you shall not eat them, for they are detestable. 43 Do not render yourselves detestable through any of the swarming things that swarm; and you shall not make yourselves unclean with them so that you become unclean." Sin is like a "swarming thing" that lurks beneath the waters we call "humanity." There is something disturbingly wrong with our thoughts, words and actions, and only God can make us clean. When we trust in Him, we are not magically "perfect," but instead a process begins within us, like a seed planted in a garden, growing under the soil. He, the Master Gardener, waters us, gives us nutrients and eventually life bursts forth, seeking the Sonlight and we become beautiful to Him in the process. Our function is to cooperate with God through faith in the Lord, understanding that He is the Gardener and we are His garden.
We each personally know what the "unclean" is all about for us, and the dangerous decisions we make that are unclean in the sight of God may vary for us individually, but they all come under one or more of three categories described in 1 John 2:16—"the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and pride of life." God has allowed us great freedom, with the intention that we will discover our need of Him who makes us clean. His words are in Verse 44: "For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth." To be "holy" is to turn our backs on the "unclean" and instead look to Him who can and will return us to a state of innocence. This is not our own innocence, it's the Messiah's, who lived the holy life none of us can accomplish, and then died to save us. And our new, better decisions are not because we are great moral beings, but instead His blood washes us clean inside, and His Holy Spirit gives strength to choose what is right.
In Verse 45, "For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy." Just as Israel was brought out of the slavery of Egypt, we who are in Christ have been brought out of the slavery of sin. Our subsequent choices are like eating a meal, which can include wrong or right foods. And our God has shown us what we should do, just as surely as Israel was shown what to eat. As He said to that nation, in Verses 46-47, "This is the law regarding the animal and the bird, and every living thing that moves in the waters and everything that swarms on the earth, 47 to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the edible creature and the creature which is not to be eaten. "What "distinction" is He pointing out in YOUR life? What are you doing in relation to it?
Lord, in my life I have touched that which is unclean. Only You can restore me. I confess my sin. Please forgive me, heal me and make me clean. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit. I am Yours, Lord. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.