Leviticus 11
Benson Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them,
Leviticus 11:1. The Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron — This charge is given to them jointly; to the one, as chief governor, and to the other, as high-priest; both being greatly concerned in the execution of it. The priest was to direct the people about the things forbidden or allowed, and the magistrate was to see the direction followed.

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.
Leviticus 11:2. Speak unto the children of Israel — From the laws concerning the priests, he now comes to those which belonged to all the people; and in this chapter treats of clean and unclean meats; in the 12th, 13th, 14th, and

15th, of unclean persons, garments, and dwellings; in the 17th, of the principal sacrifices, whereby all manner of uncleanness was to be expiated; in the 18th, of unclean marriages; and after a repetition of sundry laws in the 19th, the 20th speaks of some greater uncleannesses. These are the beasts which ye shall eat — Although every creature of God be good and pure in itself, yet it pleased God to make a difference between the clean and unclean. This indeed he did, in part, before the flood, (as appears from Genesis 7:2,) and it is probable that the distinction was observed, more or less, at least among the descendants of Shem, from the time that Noah and his sons were permitted to eat animal food. God, however, was now pleased to give his peculiar people more particular directions on this subject. 1st, To assert his sovereignty over them and over all the creatures, which they might not use but with his leave. 2d, To accustom them to bridle their appetites in things in themselves lawful, and some of them very desirable, that they might be better prepared and enabled to deny themselves in things simply and grossly sinful. 3d, For the preservation of their health. Maimonides, the celebrated Jewish rabbi, was of opinion that the creatures here called unclean were all forbidden to be eaten by the Jews, because they were (for them at least) unwholesome food. “As the body is the seat of the soul,” says another of the rabbis, “God would have it a fit instrument for its companion, and therefore forbids all such meats as breed ill blood; among which, if there be some whose hurtfulness is neither manifest to us nor to physicians, wonder not at it, for the faithful Physician who forbids them is wiser than any of us.” Agreeably to this opinion, the learned author of the Medicinal Dictionary, Dr. James, in the article Alkali, after some curious observations about the nature of alkalescent aliments, and their effects upon the body, in altering the juices, so as to be productive of distempers, observes: “From what has been said, one reason, at least, will appear why it pleased God to forbid the Jews the use of many sorts of animals as food; and why they were enjoined to take away the blood from those they were allowed to eat. If we, even in our cold climate, would conform to these rules, longevity would be more frequent among us, as we should be much less subject to epidemical disorders, and acute diseases of all sorts, which carry off at least two-thirds of mankind.” Some of the animals here prohibited are apt to breed the leprosy, a disease to which the Jews were very liable. But a 4th, and still more important reason of these prohibitions was, to keep up, till the coming of the Messiah, the wall of partition between the Jews and other nations, which was very necessary, as for divers other great and wise purposes, so especially to prevent their imitating the superstitions, and being infected with the idolatry of the Gentiles, which God foresaw would be occasioned by a too great intercourse and familiarity with them. This reason of the institution is particularly mentioned, Leviticus 20:24. And it probably contributed more than any other thing to keep them thus distinct and separate; for when men cannot eat together, they have little inclination to enter into any close intercourse with one another. 5th, One reason more, however, may be given for this distinction of meats, which is also suggested in the passage referred to in chapter 20. It was intended to inculcate moral purity, and to teach them to abhor that filthiness, and all those ill qualities, for which some of those creatures, here termed unclean, are noted.

Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.
Leviticus 11:3. Whatsoever parteth the hoof — That is, divides it into two parts only; or, is cloven-footed — As is here expressed. These qualities are not assigned as reasons why such animals are proper for food, but merely as marks whereby to distinguish them. In some animals the hoofs are solid, and not divided at all, as horses, asses, and mules; in others they are divided into several parts like toes, as in lions, wolves, dogs, (of which see Leviticus 11:27;) in a third sort, they are cloven or divided into two parts, as oxen, deer, sheep, goats. These last are of two kinds; for in some the hoof is divided, but not cloven quite through, as the camel; in others it is both parted and cloven, which are those allowed by this law to be clean creatures. And cheweth the cud — Some creatures, such as oxen, sheep, and goats, for want of the upper fore-teeth, cannot chew their food perfectly at once; nor can the stomach make a perfect digestion till it be ground a second time. Therefore such animals are provided with a double stomach; an upper, into which the food goes down after the first chewing; and another, into which it is sent after the second. Such creatures as chew the cud are reckoned more wholesome, because they grind and digest what they eat better, and consequently yield a lighter and more nutritious food than others. Under the prohibition of eating beasts which do not answer this description, all beasts of prey, and those which eat flesh, are included, whose juices, Dr. James observes, are highly alkalescent, and injurious to health. All animals of the horse and ass kind are here also prohibited, and it is well known that the flesh of these is difficult to be digested, and that the juices are rank and unwholesome.

Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew 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.
Leviticus 11:4. The camel — A usual food in Arabia, but yielding bad nourishment; for though its food is only vegetables and water, the fibres of its flesh are hardened, and rendered in a great measure indigestible, and the salts highly exalted, by its habitual and great exercise. This prohibition cut off all familiar intercourse between the Jews and Arabians.

And the coney, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
Leviticus 11:5. The coney — Hebrews שׁפן, shapan. It is doubted whether we translate the word right; Bochart takes it to be a large species of rat, somewhat between a coney and a rat, which was common both in Egypt and Palestine. This animal, it appears, chews the cud, but divides not the hoof, and therefore answers to the description here given. It is also frequent in those countries, and dwells in rocky places, as the shapan is represented to do, <19A418>Psalm 104:18; Proverbs 30:26; but which the coney does not, but burrows in the ground. Nor does the coney appear to have been anciently known in Judea, but to have been peculiar to Spain.

And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
Leviticus 11:6. The hare, because (rather, though) he cheweth the cud — He has a runnet in his stomach, as those animals have which chew the cud, and therefore is said to chew it. The hare is extremely timorous, and therefore uses a great deal of exercise, by way of precaution, when it goes to seek its food, and at the approach of danger, either real or imaginary. This probably contributes to the exaltation of the salts. Hence it has a very high taste, even in our cold climate, which is an evidence that the animal flesh which gives it is strongly inclined to alkaline putrefaction.

And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
Leviticus 11:7. And the swine — This animal is remarkable for filthiness, and for feeding on all manner of ordure, even carrion if it falls in its way, and therefore a sow wallowing in the mire is set forth as an emblem of impurity, by writers sacred and profane. And Maimonides alleges its filthiness as the chief reason of its flesh being prohibited. Vossius, however, adds another, namely, that it had a tendency to breed the leprosy, a disease incident to those countries. And, according to the author of the Medicinal Dictionary, it is the only animal in the creation subject to the leprosy, and to something very like the king’s evil, called in Latin scrofula, from scrofa, a sow. The flesh, therefore, of this animal could not but be highly improper, as an aliment, for a people subject to leprosies, as the Jews appear to have been, and who were inhabitants of a warm climate, which renders every thing more inclinable to putrefaction.

Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.
Leviticus 11:8. Ye shall not touch — Not in order to eating. But the fat and skins of some of the forbidden creatures were useful, and might be used by them.

These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.
Leviticus 11:9-10. Whatsoever hath fins and scales — Both of them. Such fishes being more cleanly and more wholesome food than others. All that have not fins nor scales shall be an abomination — A late commentator, by a strange mistake, probably of the press, says here: “Fish with scales sooner incline to putrefaction than those that are without.” The fact is exactly the reverse. These are what medicinal writers call pisces molles, the soft kind of fish. And, as all sorts of fish, according to Dr. James, “are very subject to an alkaline putrefaction, so those without scales incline sooner and more to putrefaction than those furnished with them, and shell-fish most of all. And it may be laid down as a certain rule, that, of all sorts of animals, whether terrestrial or aquatic, those which putrefy soonest, incline the juices of our bodies most to putrefaction, when used as food, and so are least fit for ailment.”

And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:
They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.
Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.
And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray,
Leviticus 11:13. All such fowls and birds as are rapacious, and live upon prey, as the eagle, and its several kinds, hawks, kites, vultures, ravens, &c., are forbidden, and probably on a moral as well as a natural account, their flesh not only being not so good in itself as that of others, but not so fit to be used by a people that was consecrated to God, and professed greater innocency, justice, and purity, than the rest of the world. For, being all either ravenous and cruel, or such as delight in the night and darkness, or such as feed upon impure things, it seems evident that the prohibition of them was intended to teach men to abominate all cruelty and oppression, and all works of darkness and filthiness. The eagle — Whose flesh is hard, and whose nature is very rapacious. The ossifrage — From the Latin, ossifragus, a kind of eagle, so called from breaking the bones of its prey, which it does by carrying them up on high, and then letting them fall upon a rock. The ospray — Another kind of eagle, probably the paliætus, or sea eagle, as it is here rendered by the Seventy. Bochart, however, thinks it rather means the melanætus, or black eagle, which Homer mentions (Iliad, 21:252,) as the strongest and swiftest of birds.

And the vulture, and the kite after his kind;
Leviticus 11:14-16. The vulture and the kite — Known birds of prey. Every raven — All interpreters agree that the Hebrew word ערב, gnoreb, signifies raven, from gnereb, evening, on account of its colour. After his kind — Including crows, rooks, pyes. The owl — The original word, literally daughter of the echo, signifies a bird which inhabits desolate places, as appears from Isaiah 13:21; Jeremiah 50:32, where the same word occurs. This description agrees well to the owl. It must be observed, however, that there is great uncertainty as to the meaning of several of the Hebrew names here used, the Jews themselves acknowledging the meaning of many of them to be now lost. Add to this that the animals in the eastern countries differ greatly from those of our climate, and for want of a better knowledge of them, it is probable that in giving them the names of such animals as we are acquainted with here, we often greatly err. This consideration might convince the Jews of the absurdity of pretending still to adhere to the law of Moses; since it is evident, in many cases, they know not what is forbidden, and what is not.

Every raven after his kind;
And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind,
And the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl,
And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle,
And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.
Leviticus 11:19. The bat — Moses begins his catalogue of birds with the noblest, and ends it with the vilest, which is the bat, an animal of a dubious kind, between a bird and a mouse. It feeds on insects, as Dr. James observes, and so is improper food for the inhabitants of very warm climates.

All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you.
Leviticus 11:20-21. All fowls that creep — The original word signifies any animal or moving creature, especially of the reptile or insect kind, (Genesis 1:20; Genesis 7:21,) and ought to be rendered every winged reptile, or, every flying, creeping thing that goeth upon four, as in Leviticus 11:21, upon four legs, or upon more than four, which is all one as to the present purpose. Which have legs above their feet to leap withal — This is a description of the locusts, which, besides four smaller feet, have two larger ones, by means whereof they leap about.

Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth;
Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.
Leviticus 11:22. The locust after his kind — The Hebrew word ארבהarbeh, is sometimes a common name for all locusts, but here signifies a peculiar sort of them The name derived from רבהrabah, to multiply, imports a multitude, no animal being more prolific. The bald locust — As it is not easy to determine what species of locust this is, and as it has not any name in modern languages, it might be better, in a translation, to retain the original name סלעם solgnam, which, in the Chaldaic, signifies to consume. The beetle — As none ever eat beetles, and they are not four-footed with legs to leap withal, it is the opinion of good critics that the Hebrew word חרגל chargol is not properly translated. It is rather to be taken for another sort of locust unknown to us. The grasshopper — Another species of locust, the Hebrew name of which is derived, according to Bochart, from an Arabic word, which signifies to veil, because they fly in such swarms as sometimes to veil or darken the sun. But how to distinguish these locusts from the rest is difficult, if not impossible to us. They were, however, well known of old in the eastern countries. For locusts, though unusual food with us, were commonly eaten by the Æthiopians, Lybians, Parthians, and other eastern people bordering upon Judea. And as it is certain the eastern locusts were much larger than ours, so it is probable they were of different qualities, and yielded better nourishment.

But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you.
Leviticus 11:23-25. All other — That is, which have not those legs above and beside their feet, mentioned Leviticus 11:21. For these ye shall be unclean — If they did either eat, or so much as touch the carcasses of them, they were not, for that day, to come into the tabernacle, to eat of any holy thing, or to converse freely with their neighbours. And as a sign of this legal uncleanness, (Leviticus 11:25,) they were to bathe in water, which was the usual rite of purification in such cases. Until the even — They were to keep apart by themselves all that day: for their day began in the evening. “The uncleanness continued only till the evening,” says Henry, “to signify that all ceremonial pollutions were to come to an end by the death of Christ in the evening of this world.” And we must learn by daily renewing our repentance every night for the failings of the day, and by a fresh application to the blood of sprinkling, to cleanse ourselves from the pollutions which we contract by them, that we may not lie down in our uncleanness.

And for these ye shall be unclean: whosoever toucheth the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even.
And whosoever beareth ought of the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.
The carcases of every beast which divideth the hoof, and is not clovenfooted, nor cheweth the cud, are unclean unto you: every one that toucheth them shall be unclean.
Leviticus 11:26. The carcasses of every beast, &c., are unclean — They were prohibited from touching their dead bodies, but not their bodies when alive: for they used camels, horses, asses, &c., for necessary service, Leviticus 11:31.

And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean unto you: whoso toucheth their carcase shall be unclean until the even.
Leviticus 11:27. Upon his paws — Hebrew, upon his hands; that is, which hath feet divided into several parts, like fingers, as dogs, cats, apes, lions, bears.

And he that beareth the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: they are unclean unto you.
These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind,
And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail, and the mole.
Leviticus 11:30. And the mole — The Hebrew word is the same with that which (Leviticus 11:18) we translate swan. But it is plain, that there it signifies a sort of fowl, as, in all probability, it here does a sort of lizard. All the reptiles here mentioned, according to Dr. James, are extremely subject to putrefaction, as are reptiles of almost every kind; and the smell of these, when putrefied, is extremely offensive; from whence we must conclude that their salts are highly exalted, and their juices alkalescent to a great degree.

These are unclean to you among all that creep: whosoever doth touch them, when they be dead, shall be unclean until the even.
And upon whatsoever any of them, when they are dead, doth fall, it shall be unclean; whether it be any vessel of wood, or raiment, or skin, or sack, whatsoever vessel it be, wherein any work is done, it must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the even; so it shall be cleansed.
And every earthen vessel, whereinto any of them falleth, whatsoever is in it shall be unclean; and ye shall break it.
Of all meat which may be eaten, that on which such water cometh shall be unclean: and all drink that may be drunk in every such vessel shall be unclean.
Leviticus 11:34. That on which such water cometh — That flesh, or herbs, or other food which is dressed in water, in a vessel so polluted, shall be unclean: not so, if it be food which is eaten dry, as bread, or fruits; the reason of which difference seems to be this, that the water did sooner receive the pollution in itself, and convey it to the food so dressed. All this was intended to teach them to avoid carefully every thing that was polluted in their common actions. Not only the vessels of the sanctuary, but every pot in Jerusalem and Judah must be holiness to the Lord, Zechariah 14:20. The laws in these cases were very critical, and the observance of them would be difficult, and the exceptions also were very nice: but it was all designed to exercise them to a constant care and exactness in their obedience. And we, who by Christ are delivered from these burdensome observances, are hereby taught not to be less circumspect in the more weighty matters of the law. We ought as industriously to preserve our precious souls from the pollutions of sin, and as speedily to cleanse them when they are polluted, as they were to preserve and cleanse their bodies and household goods from these ceremonial pollutions.

And every thing whereupon any part of their carcase falleth shall be unclean; whether it be oven, or ranges for pots, they shall be broken down: for they are unclean, and shall be unclean unto you.
Nevertheless a fountain or pit, wherein there is plenty of water, shall be clean: but that which toucheth their carcase shall be unclean.
Leviticus 11:36-37. Nevertheless, a fountain or pit shall be clean — Of this no reason can be given, but the will of the Lawgiver, and his merciful condescension to men’s necessities, water being scarce in those countries; and for the same reason God would have the ceremonial law of sacrifices give place to the law of mercy. Seed — Partly because this was necessary provision for man, and partly because such seed would not be used for man’s food till it had received many alterations in the earth, whereby such pollution was taken away.

And if any part of their carcase fall upon any sowing seed which is to be sown, it shall be clean.
But if any water be put upon the seed, and any part of their carcase fall thereon, it shall be unclean unto you.
Leviticus 11:38. If any water be on the seed, &c. — Bishop Kidder observes, the meaning is, If water be put upon the seed to prepare it for food; thus distinguishing it from seed that was intended to be sown. But others have thought the reason of the difference to be, partly that wet seed sooner receives, and longer retains, any pollution than dry, and partly because such seed was not fit to be sown presently, and therefore that necessity which justified the immediate use of the dry seed, could not be pretended in this case.

And if any beast, of which ye may eat, die; he that toucheth the carcase thereof shall be unclean until the even.
Leviticus 11:39-42. If any beast die — Either of itself, or being killed by some wild beast, in which cases the blood was not poured forth, as it was when they were killed by men either for food or sacrifice. He that eateth — Unwittingly, for if he did it knowingly, it was a presumptuous sin against an express law, (Deuteronomy 14:21,) and therefore punished as such. Every creeping thing — Except those expressly excepted, Leviticus 11:29-30. Upon the belly — As worms and snakes. Upon all four — As toads and divers serpents.

And he that eateth of the carcase of it shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: he also that beareth the carcase of it shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.
And every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth shall be an abomination; it shall not be eaten.
Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination.
Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby.
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 the earth.
Leviticus 11:44. Ye shall be holy — By this he gives them to understand, that all these cautions about eating or touching these creatures was not for any real uncleanness in them, but only that by the diligent observation of these rules they might learn with greater care to avoid all moral pollutions, and to keep themselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and from all familiar and intimate converse with notorious sinners.

For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Leviticus 11:45. That bringeth you up out of Egypt — This was a reason why they should cheerfully submit to distinguishing laws, who had been so honoured with distinguishing favours.

This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth:
Leviticus 11:46. This is the law of the beasts, &c.–It was to them a statute as long as that dispensation lasted, but under the gospel we find it expressly repealed, by a voice from heaven to Peter, (Acts 10:15,) as it had before been virtually set aside by the death of Christ, with other ordinances that perished in the using, Touch not, taste not, handle not, (Colossians 2:21-22,) and now we are sure that meat commends us not to God, (1 Corinthians 8:8,) and that nothing is unclean of itself, Romans 14:14. Nor doth that defile a man which goes into his mouth, but that which comes out from the heart, Matthew 15:11. Let us therefore, 1st, Give thanks to God that we are not under this yoke, but that to us every creature of God is allowed as good, and nothing to be refused. 2d, Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and take heed of those doctrines which command to abstain from meats, and so would revive Moses again, 1 Timothy 4:3; 1 Timothy 4:3 d, Be strictly and conscientiously temperate in the use of the good creatures God has allowed us. If God’s law has given us liberty, let us lay restraints upon ourselves, and never feed ourselves without fear, lest our table be a snare. Set a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite, and be not desirous of dainties or varieties, Proverbs 23:2-3. Nature is content with a little, grace with less, but lust with nothing.

To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten.
Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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