Leviticus 11

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Read Leviticus 11

Clean and Unclean Food

11 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud.

“‘There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you. The hyrax, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.

“‘Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams you may eat any that have fins and scales. 10 But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales—whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water—you are to regard as unclean. 11 And since you are to regard them as unclean, you must not eat their meat; you must regard their carcasses as unclean. 12 Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you.

13 “‘These are the birds you are to regard as unclean and not eat because they are unclean: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, 14 the red kite, any kind of black kite, 15 any kind of raven, 16 the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, 17 the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, 18 the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, 19 the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat.

20 “‘All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be regarded as unclean by you. 21 There are, however, some flying insects that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. 22 Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. 23 But all other flying insects that have four legs you are to regard as unclean.

24 “‘You will make yourselves unclean by these; whoever touches their carcasses will be unclean till evening. 25 Whoever picks up one of their carcasses must wash their clothes, and they will be unclean till evening.

26 “‘Every animal that does not have a divided hoof or that does not chew the cud is unclean for you; whoever touches the carcass of any of them will be unclean. 27 Of all the animals that walk on all fours, those that walk on their paws are unclean for you; whoever touches their carcasses will be unclean till evening. 28 Anyone who picks up their carcasses must wash their clothes, and they will be unclean till evening. These animals are unclean for you.

29 “‘Of the animals that move along the ground, these are unclean for you: the weasel, the rat, any kind of great lizard, 30 the gecko, the monitor lizard, the wall lizard, the skink and the chameleon. 31 Of all those that move along the ground, these are unclean for you. Whoever touches them when they are dead will be unclean till evening. 32 When one of them dies and falls on something, that article, whatever its use, will be unclean, whether it is made of wood, cloth, hide or sackcloth. Put it in water; it will be unclean till evening, and then it will be clean. 33 If one of them falls into a clay pot, everything in it will be unclean, and you must break the pot. 34 Any food you are allowed to eat that has come into contact with water from any such pot is unclean, and any liquid that is drunk from such a pot is unclean. 35 Anything that one of their carcasses falls on becomes unclean; an oven or cooking pot must be broken up. They are unclean, and you are to regard them as unclean. 36 A spring, however, or a cistern for collecting water remains clean, but anyone who touches one of these carcasses is unclean. 37 If a carcass falls on any seeds that are to be planted, they remain clean. 38 But if water has been put on the seed and a carcass falls on it, it is unclean for you.

39 “‘If an animal that you are allowed to eat dies, anyone who touches its carcass will be unclean till evening. 40 Anyone who eats some of its carcass must wash their clothes, and they will be unclean till evening. Anyone who picks up the carcass must wash their clothes, and they will be unclean till evening.

41 “‘Every creature that moves along the ground is to be regarded as unclean; it is not to be eaten. 42 You are not to eat any creature that moves along the ground, whether it moves on its belly or walks on all fours or on many feet; it is unclean. 43 Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures. Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them. 44 I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. 45 I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.

46 “‘These are the regulations concerning animals, birds, every living thing that moves about in the water and every creature that moves along the ground. 47 You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.’”

Go Deeper

It is important to understand as we read through Leviticus (the law book of the Pentateuch) that studying Israel’s laws is important because the will of God can be found in them. The name Leviticus means “pertaining to the Levites”. The nation of Israel was unique in that it was a theocracy, and God was its Head. Prior to the installation of kings in Israel, the priests (or Levites) were responsible for the administration of Israel’s laws. Chapter 11 of Leviticus is famous for its dietary regulations.

Some scholars suggest that Yahweh (the formal name of God) classified some animals as unclean to protect Israel from being unduly influenced by cultures who worshiped other gods. For example, the Hittites sacrificed pigs to gods of the netherworld who were tied to demons of the dead. In general, however, many Near Eastern cultures regarded pigs (and dogs) with contempt because of their role as scavengers.

In Exodus 15:26, the Israelites were instructed to “listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.” In Deuteronomy 7:15-16, “The Lord will keep you free from every disease. He will not inflict on you the horrible diseases you knew in Egypt, but he will inflict them on all who hate you.” To summarize, the health of God’s people was a major concern to God; rules of diet, washing, and quarantine were therefore necessary to promote Israel’s health.

The Israelites were obviously unfamiliar with bacteria, parasites, and other organisms that could harm them, and hence could not have known the reasons behind these dietary restrictions. Pigs spread trichinosis and rabbits spread tularemia. Finless and scaleless fish are often bottom feeders and susceptible to parasites. The dietary and cleanliness rules prescribed by God were designed to ultimately protect them.

Like the ancient Israelites, we might not always understand the reason behind God’s laws, actions, or instructions, but we serve a God whom David described in Psalm 23 as a God of “goodness and faithfulness” who pursues us all the days of our lives.


  1. Just as the Israelites could not have understood the reasons behind the dietary laws, are there things in your life that you do not understand? 
  2. Have you trusted God with these poorly understood things? 
  3. Webster defines ‘holy’ as something being “worthy of complete devotion.” In verse 45, God reminds the Israelites that he brought them out of Egypt, “therefore be holy, because I am holy.” Are there areas of your life that need to be devoted to God?  

By the Way

Read Acts 10 for a great description of God’s revelation to Peter of things no longer considered ceremonially unclean.

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7 thoughts on “Leviticus 11”

  1. God had a reason behind every rule and specification outlined for his people. We must trust that what may seem foreign and even ridiculous to us was set forth for the well-being of the Israelites, his own peculiar people. Notice he required not only eating certain things, but prohibited even touching them. He knew it would be too great a temptation and wanted them to resist any way that might lead to compromise. What’s the takeaway for us? We, too, are called to separate ourselves from the world leading holy lives, all the while engaging the lost with the hope of the gospel. Paul says it this way, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is” (Romans 12:2).

    1. I was the writer of today’s commentary. Great thoughts. So good to hear from God’s people.. Thank you for your insights.

  2. Rules. We all need them, but don’t really always like them. As a parent, you set those rules to protect your children from harm. God set the Levit’s up and all His children, with rules or guidelines so we know what to do and not to do. Even when I think the rules are silly I am thankful for the knowledge of knowing. Even as a child when I pushed those boundaries and my parents reinforced the rules that were set for my good it was good.
    God You love us sooooo much and desire more for us than we can imagine. Thank You for the rules, guidelines, law’s that You set in place for our lives. Thank You for when we do not understand that You always have our greatest good in mind. God thank You for loving me in Jesus name amen

  3. 44 I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.
    The main reason for these laws. The other reason I see is proximity. God wanted his people more near to him-to dwell spiritually, physically, and mentally in His presence. To be ceremonially clean to enter into worship with him.
    Jennie Allen points out that God was the ultimate Dweller. Dwelling was his MO, and has been since creation. He dwelled in the garden, the tabernacle, in His promises, through Christ, and in the church. As long as God can keep proximity pure and holy, guess who has a less chance of invading and disrupting community with believers and God? The enemy.
    In this passage I see hope. Hope In the way of God’s presence —wanting to be nearer to His people—for them to not feel alone.
    Again, it’s a lesson for us to purify our lives—to be nearer to God—to hear God’s voice.

    (I love sunsets…and one interesting fact is evening, sunset, was the beginning of a new day according to Jewish calendar)

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