And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them,
Verse 1. - The Lord spake unto Moses and to Aaron. Aaron, having now been consecrated high priest, is joined with Moses as the recipient of the laws on cleanness and uncleanness in Leviticus 11:1; Leviticus 13:1; Leviticus 14:33; Leviticus 15:1. His name is not mentioned in Leviticus 12:1; Leviticus 14:1; Leviticus 17:1; Leviticus 18:1; Leviticus 19:1; Leviticus 20:1; Leviticus 21:1, 16; Leviticus 22:1, 17, 26. Probably there is no signification in these omissions.
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.
Verse 2. - These are the beasts that ye shall eat. In order that the Israelites might know how to avoid the uncleanness arising from the consumption of unclean flesh, plain rules are given them by which they may distinguish what flesh is clean and what is unclean. The first rule is that anything that dies of itself is unclean, whether it be beast, bird, or fish. The reasons of this are plain: for
(1) the flesh still retains the blood, which no Israelite might eat; and
(2) there is something loathsome in the idea of eating such flesh. Next, as to beasts, a class is marked off as edible by two plainly discernible characteristics, and instances are given to show that where there is any doubt owing to the animals possessing one of the characteristic marks only, the rule is to be construed strictly. As to fish and insects, equally plain rules, one in each case, are laid down; but as birds are not readily distinguished into large classes, the names of those that are unclean are given one by one, the remainder being all of them permissible. Thus the simple Israelite would run no risk of incurring uncleanness by inadvertently eating unclean food, whether of beast, bird, fish, or insect. The object of the regulations being to exclude all meats naturally offensive to the human taste, all carnivorous quadrupeds are shut out by the rule of chewing the cud (verse 3), with the same purpose, birds of prey and birds that eat offal are prohibited (verses 13-19), and scaleless fish on account of their repulsive appearance (verses 9-12), as well as beetles, maggots, and vermin of all sorts. In the case of beasts and fish, the rules laid down to mark off those things that are offensive, being general in their application, are such as to include in the forbidden class some few which do not appear naturally loathsome. This is owing partly to the difficulty of classification, partly to a change of feeling which experience has wrought in the sentiments of mankind with regard to such edibles as swine's flesh and shell-fish.
Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.
Verses 3, 4. - Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, should rather be translated, Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and completely divides it, The camel parts but does not wholly divide the hoof, as there is ball at the back of the foot, of the nature of a heel.
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.
And the coney, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
Verse 5. - The coney, Hebrew, shaphan; the Hyrax Syriacus, or wabr, still called in Southern Arabia tsofun, a little animal similar to but not identical with the rabbit. "They live in the natural caves and clefts of the rocks (Psalm 104:18), are very gregarious, being often seen seated in troops before the openings of their caves, and extremely timid, as they are quite defenseless (Proverbs 30:26). They are about the size of rabbits, of a brownish-gray or brownish-yellow color, but white under the belly; they have bright eyes, round ears, and no tail. The Arabs eat them, but do not place them before their guests" (Keil).
And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
Verse 6. - The hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof, There is little doubt that the same animal as our hare is meant. Neither the hare, however, nor the hyrax chews the cud in the strict sense of the words. But they have the appearance of doing so. The rule respecting chewing the cud was given to and by Moses as a legislator, not as an anatomist, to serve as a sign by which animals might be known to be clean for food. Phenomenal not scientific language is used here, as in Joshua 10:12, "as we might speak of whales and their congeners as fish, when there is no need of scientific accuracy" (Clark). "All these marks of distinction in the Levitical law are wisely and even necessarily made on the basis of popular observation and belief, not on that of anatomical exactness. Otherwise the people would have been continually liable to error. Scientifically, the camel would be said to divide the hoof, and the hare does not chew the cud. But laws for popular use must necessarily employ terms as they are popularly understood. These matters are often referred to as scientific errors; whereas they were simply descriptions, necessarily popular, for the understanding and enforcement of the law" (Gardiner).
And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
Verse 7. - The swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted. Here, again, the description is not according to anatomical analysis, but to ordinary appearance. The pig appears to be cloven-footed, and it would be misleading to give any other account of his foot in ordinary speech, but scientifically speaking, he has four toes. The prohibition of the use of swine's flesh does not arise from the fear of trichinosis or other disease, but from the disgust caused by the carnivorous and filthy habits of the Eastern pig. The repulsion originally felt for swine's flesh was natural, and, where the animal is carnivorous, is still natural, but where its habits are changed, and it has become simply graminivorous, the feeling has ceased to exist.
Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.
Verse 8. - Of their carcass shall ye not touch. This prohibition is founded upon the same feeling of disgust as the prohibition of eating their flesh. Whatever is foal must be avoided.
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.
Verses 9-12. - Whatsoever hath fins and scales. The absence of fins and scales, or their apparent absence - for phenomenal language is used, as before - gives to fish a repulsive look, on which is grounded the prohibition to eat them. Eels and shell-fish are thus forbidden, though a long course of experience has now taken away the feeling of repulsion with which they were once looked upon. The flesh of the beasts for, bidden to be eaten is only described as unclean, but that of the prohibited fish, birds, insects, and vermin, is designated as an abomination unto you.
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,
Verses 13-19. - The unclean birds are those which are gross feeders, devourers of flesh or offal, and therefore offensive to the taste, beginning with the eagle and vulture tribe. It is probable that the words translated owl (verse 16), night hawk (verse 16), cuckow (verse 16) should be rendered, ostrich, owl, gull, and perhaps for swan (verse 18), heron (verse 19), lapwing (verse 19), should be substituted ibis, great plover, hoopoe. In the case of the bat, we have again phenomenal language used. Being generally regarded as a bird, it is classed with birds.
And the vulture, and the kite after his kind;
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.
All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you.
Verses 20-23. - All fowls that creep should rather be rendered all winged creeping things, that is, all flying insects. None are allowed except the Saltatoria, or locust family. The word translated beetle signifies a sort of locust, like the other three words. That the locust was a regular article of food in Palestine is amply proved. "It is well known that locusts were eaten by many of the nations of antiquity, both in Asia and Africa, and even the ancient Greek thought the cicadas very agreeable in flavour (Arist. 'Hist. An.,' 5:30). In Arabia they are sold in the market, sometimes strung upon cords, sometimes by measure, and they are also dried and kept in bags for winter use.... They are generally cooked over hot coals, or on a plate, or in an oven, or stewed in butter, and eaten either with salt or with spice and vinegar, the head, wings, and feet being thrown away. They are also boiled in salt and water, and eaten with salt or butter. Another process is to dry them thoroughly, and then grind them into meal, and make cakes of them" (Keil). (Cf. Matthew 3:4.) The expression goeth upon all four, means groveling or going in a horizontal position, in contrast with two-legged birds, just spoken of.
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.
But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you.
And for these ye shall be unclean: whosoever toucheth the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even.
Verses 24-28. - These verses contain an expansion of the warning contained in verse 8, to the effect that the touch of the dead bodies of the forbidden animals was defiling, as well as the consumption of their flesh. A further mark of an unclean animal is added in verse 27. Whatsoever goeth upon his paws; that is, whatever has not hoofs, but goes stealthily, like beasts of prey of the eat kind. It includes also dogs.
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.
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.
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,
Verses 29, 30. - The creeping things that creep upon the earth. This class contains things that go on their belly, but have not wings, like the previous class of creeping things (verses 20-23). By the words translated tortoise, ferret, chameleon, lizard, snail, mole, different varieties of the lizard are probably meant. The mouse is joined by Isaiah with "eating swine's flesh and the abomination" (Isaiah 66:17).
And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail, and the mole.
These are unclean to you among all that creep: whosoever doth touch them, when they be dead, shall be unclean until the even.
Verses 31-38. - As the little animals just mentioned - weasels, mice, and lizards - are more likely than those of a larger size to be found dead in domestic utensils and clothes, a further warning as to their defiling character is added, with talcs for daily use. The words translated ranges for pots (verse 35) should rather be rendered covered pots, that is, pots or kettles with lids to them. Seed which is to be sown, that is, seed corn, is not defiled by contact with these dead animals, unless it has been wetted by water being put on it, in which case the moisture would convey the corruption into the seeds.
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.
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.
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.
And if any beast, of which ye may eat, die; he that toucheth the carcase thereof shall be unclean until the even.
Verses 39, 40. - The loathsomeness of the bodies of even clean animals that have died a natural death, makes them also the means of conveying defilement to any one who touches them.
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.
Verses 41-43. - The last class is that of vermin, which constitute a part of the un-winged creeping class already spoken of (verses 29, 30). Whatsoever goeth upon the belly indicates snakes, worms, maggots: whatsoever goeth upon all four, things that grovel, as moles, rats, hedgehogs; whatsoever hath more feet, or doth multiply feet, centipedes, caterpillars, spiders.
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.
Verses 44-47. - These concluding verses give a religious sanction to the previous regulations, and make them matters of sacred, not merely sanitary or political, obligation. They were to sanctify themselves, that is, to avoid uncleanness, because God is holy, and they were God's. They were thus taught that ceremonial cleanness of the body was a symbol of holiness of heart, and a means of attaining to the latter. For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt. It is possible that Egypt may be named as being the laud of animal-worship. To be your God; ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. The only way by which there can be communion between God and man is the way of holiness. Jewish industry and care has counted the number of letters in the Pentateuch, and marked by the use of the letter ו in larger type, in the word גָּחון, which occurs in verse 42, that that letter is the middle letter of the whole work from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy. It is easy to see what a protection to the text such minute and scrupulous care must be.
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.
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:
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.