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Mark Rooker: The purity laws cannot be isolated from previous laws concerning instruction for bringing sacrifices (1:1 – 6:7), instruction for the priests in carrying out the sacrifices (6:8 – 9:24), and the inauguration of the priesthood (Lev 8–10). The ritual laws assume knowledge of the sacrificial system in that the sacrifices play a vital role in making a ritually unclean Israelite able to enter the camp and to have fellowship with other members of the covenant community. . .

Being in a state of uncleanness was not necessarily due to sin, but it did prohibit an Israelite’s contact with the tabernacle (and later the temple) and the cultic (sacrificial) system.

Richard Hess: The structure of Leviticus 11 focuses on unclean animals more than on clean ones. It begins with land animals, i.e., those animals closest to the Israelites (vv. 1–7). It proceeds to discuss water animals (vv. 9–12) and birds (vv. 13–23). It then returns to land animals and further details unclean ones (vv. 26–30, 41–45). But the major thrust of the second half of the chapter concerns how the uncleanness of the carcasses of both unclean (vv. 24–25, 31–38) and clean animals (vv. 39–40) affects what and who touches them. A conclusion recapitulates the concerns of cleanness in dealing with animals and associates it with God’s holiness (vv. 44–47).

MacArthur: Their dietary laws served as a barrier to easy socialization with idolatrous peoples. Dietary and hygienic benefits were real, but only secondary to the divine purposes of obedience and separation.

Allen Ross: The purification laws, then, warned against actions, conditions, or contacts that render a person ṭāmēʾ—unclean. The faithful Israelite strove toward the standard of the holiness of God; anything leading in the other direction—toward sin, disease, illness, defilement, or contamination—was supposed to be avoided, especially in anticipation of going to the sanctuary. But through the natural course of life, defilement and disease were frequent, almost daily. So the law made provision for these: isolation or quarantine to control contagion that might make others ritually unclean, purification through cleansing ritual, and sanctification through sacrificial ritual. The LORD made the provision for the people to return to his holiness; but the people had to show their faith by complying with his laws and performing the prescribed ritual. . .

Because the holy God redeemed Israel, the Israelites reflected his holiness daily by eating only those creatures that God designated as clean and by avoiding all contact with unclean carcasses that defiled them and required God’s purification.

Wenham: Douglas has showed that there is a connection in biblical thinking between wholeness, holiness, and integrity. God demands integrity of character and wholeness of physical form in his worshippers. These rules were symbols of a moral order. Only the normal members of each sphere of creation, e.g., fishes with fins, counted as clean. This definition, which identified “perfect” members of the animal kingdom with purity, was a reminder that God looked for moral perfection in his people. Carrion-eating birds and carnivorous animals were unclean because they also typified a man’s sinful, destructive, and murderous instincts. In a real sense, then, Jesus was drawing out the meaning of the symbolism of the Levitical laws in insisting that it was what comes out of man that defiles him, “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, etc.” These rules in Leviticus served not only as reminders of redemption but of moral values. With the law of God written on his heart by the Spirit, the Christian ought not to need such tangible reminders of God’s will and character. He also has ready access to the Bible, which holds up a mirror to his conduct. Let us follow James’ advice to look into that perfect law, the law of liberty, and act (Jas. 1:25).

(:1-2a) PRELUDE

“The LORD spoke again to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them,

‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying,’”


A. (:2b-8) Larger Land Animals

“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 rock badger, 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.”

Mark Rooker: In the first section of Leviticus 11 the land animals that could be consumed by the Israelites were limited to those that had a split hoof and chewed the cud (11:3). The animals possessing these qualities may further be described as tame (or domesticated) and herbivorous.

B. (:9-12) Sea Creatures

“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. 10 But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers, that do 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.”

Mark Rooker: The categories for creatures from the aquatic world that may be eaten are restricted to those animals that have both fins and scales (11:9).

Perry Yoder: These may be saltwater or freshwater creatures.

Kenneth Mathews: Moreover, sea creatures that crawled rather than swam appeared out of place as inhabitants of the sea and thus were inappropriate for consumption.

C. (:13-23) Sky Creatures

1. (:13-19) Birds

“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.”

Mark Rooker: the prohibited birds could be classified as birds of prey.

2. (:20-23) Winged Insects

“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.”

Mark Rooker: Flying insects were also detestable and hence could not be a food source for the Israelite (11:20). Exceptions to the rule were insects that had jointed legs for hopping. These included the locust, katydid, cricket, and grasshopper (11:21–22). The reasons for this distinction are not clear, and it may be remembered that locusts were the diet of John the Baptist in the wilderness (Matt 3:4; Mark 1:6).

Perry Yoder: The permitted insects must have knees, or legs with a joint so that they can hop about. The permitted insects in this category are listed. All insects not mentioned as permitted are detestable.


A. (:24-28) Contact with Four-Footed Carcasses of Forbidden Creatures

“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. 26 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.”

Perry Yoder: Two levels of contamination are mentioned: touching the carcass and carrying it (vv. 24-25). If a person only touches the carcass, the person is impure until evening. Time allows the impurity to dissipate. However, if they have carried the carcass of such an animal, they must first launder their clothes and then wait until evening. Carrying makes garments impure.

Kenneth Mathews: There is one more important aspect to the treatment of creatures that makes for holy living. Sandwiched between the listings of the food laws are the directions pertaining to the handling of dead bodies, human and animal. Since God was the God of the living who delivered his people, it was offensive to God that the dead were in his presence. Special steps were needed to remove the offense of a corpse from the sanctuary and from the camp. We remember that the Lord dramatically struck down Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, for unlawful practices in the sanctuary. The removal of their scorched bodies from the sanctuary required Aaron’s Levite cousins. As priests who approached God in behalf of the people, Aaron and his two surviving sons could not attend to their dead bodies or even attend their funeral (Leviticus 10:1–7). Holy living meant ridding the camp of anything that pertained to death and disease, the natural imperfections of all creatures. The main point of Moses’ instructions was for the people to avoid touching corpses when possible because dead bodies conveyed ritual contagion through contact. This made the person or thing unfit to remain in the camp. Only after the proper ritual cleansing was the person or item reintegrated into the life of the community. Coming into contact with a creature’s remains would be inevitable, of course, but the Lord’s gift provided a remedy for uncleanness that reunited the offender to the holy camp. The passage addresses three categories of the dead: the four-footed animals forbidden for consumption (vv. 24–28), the swarming creatures on the ground (vv. 29–38), and carcasses of the creatures approved for consumption (vv. 39, 40).

B. (:29-38) Contact with Carcasses of Swarming Creatures on the Ground

1. (:29-31) List of Unclean Swarming Creatures on the Ground

“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. 31 These are to you the unclean among all the swarming things; whoever touches them when they are dead becomes unclean until evening.”

Richard Hess: Verses 31–38 provide the most detailed discussion in Leviticus regarding the carcass of an unclean animal and what it means to touch or be touched by it. There are three general areas this section considers:

– containers (vv.32–33),

– food and water prepared for eating and drinking (vv.34–35),

– and food and water before it is prepared (vv.36–38).

2. (:32-36) Things Potentially Contaminated by Their Carcasses

“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. 33 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. 36 Nevertheless a spring or a cistern collecting water shall be clean, though the one who touches their carcass shall be unclean.”

Perry Yoder: If a person touches or carries the carcass of a forbidden animal, that person becomes unclean. What happens if such a carcass or part of it falls on something? This passive or inadvertent contamination affects different kinds of objects differently. If the object is made of wood or leather or cloth (v. 32), it requires immersion in water. The item then becomes ritually clean at evening time.

However, if the carcass should fall into a pot made of clay, the vessel and its contents become impure. The ceramic vessel must be broken. Verse 34 seems redundant, since verse 33 declared the contents of a contaminated vessel impure. Perhaps we should understand verse 34 as applying to wetting food with water coming from a contaminated vessel. The same rule applies to ovens or stoves made of clay, which must be smashed (v. 35).

Unlike water in a container, fresh natural water does not contract corpse contamination. Such water remains ritually pure even when a carcass falls into it. However, the person who removes the carcass from the well or cistern does become ritually impure from touching the carcass.

3. (:37-38) Seeds Coming into Contact with Such Carcasses

a. (:37) If the Seed Remains Dry — Clean

“And if a part of their carcass falls on any seed for sowing which is to be sown, it is clean.”

b. (:38) If the Seed is Wet — Unclean

“Though if water is put on the seed, and a part of their carcass falls on it, it is unclean to you.”

Mark Rooker: Seeds that came into contact with a carcass remained clean unless they already had been watered, in which case they became unclean (11:38).

Kenneth Mathews: These creatures, such as insects, conveyed contagion through two means: direct contact (v. 31) or indirectly through secondary contact (vv. 33–38). This latter category reminds us today of tobacco’s secondary smoke that is a health risk for bystanders and children in the home. The passage gives everyday scenarios of how this could happen and how to get rid of the uncleanness. Items made of common material, such as wood and cloth, had to be submerged in water until evening (v. 32). Also, generally speaking, any item made of material that absorbed liquid required an extreme response since the corruption could not be removed. A clay pot that was defiled by insects, for example, absorbed polluted water; it had to be smashed since the water could not be completely purged (also Leviticus 6:28; 15:12). Food or beverages touched by contaminated water was likewise unclean (vv. 33, 34). Cooking fixtures, such as a stove, had to be busted into pieces (v. 35). If, however, the carcass was in a spring or reservoir, the water was not unclean; it was a permanent body of water surrounded by the ground and was not portable (v. 36). Another exception was seed contacted by an insect. If the seed was dry, it remained clean; contact with seed already wet, however, made it unfit. This was because the seed would absorb the contaminated water (vv. 37, 38).

C. (:39-40) Contact with Carcasses of Creatures Approved for Consumption

“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.”


“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. 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. 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.”

Kenneth Mathews: These are creatures that were the least favorable because of their mode of locomotion and their lowly position in deference to humans who stand erect. They have unbroken contact with the ground: “swarming things that swarm on the ground” (vv. 29, 41, 42). None of these varmints were accepted for consumption. Snakes, rodents, and creeping things were among these.

R. K. Harrison: The rationale of these laws concerning cleanness and uncleanness is now made explicit. The Israelites are instructed not to have any dealings with anything that would make them impure. Instead, they were to concentrate upon a positive approach to living, the principal feature of which was a conscious attempt to imitate the holiness of the covenant God. In a characteristically propositional manner the Lord informs his people of his high moral and ethical character, and demands that they consecrate themselves accordingly to his service. He also reminds them of the great deliverance which he achieved for them at the time of the exodus, and makes it clear that the Israelites are to be a distinctive spiritual body, of which he is the undisputed head. Holiness must therefore be the watchword of personal and national life alike.


A. (:46) Four Categories Targeted in the Instructions

1. Larger Land Animals (cf. :2b-8)

“This is the law regarding the animal,”

2. Sea Creatures (cf. :9-12)

“and the bird,”

3. Sky Creatures (cf. :13-23)

“and every living thing that moves in the waters,”

4. Swarming Ground Creatures (cf. :41-45)

“and everything that swarms on the earth,”

B. (:47) Purpose of the Instructions

“to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean,

and between the edible creature and the creature which is not to be eaten.”

Roy Gane: Apparently because all land swarmers are prohibited without exception, this class in general is reserved for the end of Leviticus 11 as a potent contrast to holiness (vv. 41–45). The conclusion in verses 43–45 emphasizes the most important point of the chapter: Observing the Lord’s dietary regulations has the purpose of emulating the Lord’s holiness, which is antithetical to impurity. If God’s people make themselves odious by what they eat, they misrepresent him. So living according to the dietary distinctions outlined in chapter 11 is vital for maintaining the health of the divine-human relationship.