Leviticus 11-13
(Rules for Cleanliness)
January 31st

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron:

Speak to the Israelites and tell them: Of all land animals these are the ones you may eat:

Any animal that has hoofs you may eat, provided it is cloven-footed and chews the cud.

- Leviticus 11:1-3 (NAB)

Summary of Chapters

In these chapters God gave instructions regarding clean and unclean animals and how to purify oneself for worship.

Chapter 11 provides a relatively detailed, although not totally exhaustive, list of which species are considered clean food and which are unclean. The LORD begins with land animals, then aquatic creatures, birds, and insects. Most of these species are recognizable, but the some are not easily identifiable for the modern reader because of translation difficulties, regional differences, or perhaps extinction.

The hoopoe, for example, is found on the unclean list. It is a bird found in Africa, Europe, and Asia, but not North America; therefore it might not be familiar to many of us. Its diet includes some of the reptiles and insects that are on the unclean list. At least one of its sub-species is considered to be extinct (1). Nevertheless, the general pattern is relatively straight-forward. The unclean list comprises animals that eat other dead animals, are bottom feeders, and/or are known to carry disease. One insect that is on the clean list is locusts (Leviticus 11:20-22 - NIV), which became a key part of the diet of John the Baptist, as reported in the Gospel of Matthew: "John's clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4 - NIV)."

Chapter 12 is a very brief description of purification after childbirth, including the requirement to circumcise sons on the eighth day. This ceremony had spiritual as well as practical considerations, as there are many verified health benefits of conducting this procedure at this specific time in the life of a newborn.

Chapter 13 deals with leprosy, other skin diseases, mold, and mildew. The LORD appointed the priests as the official inspectors to determine which people are clean and not clean and the steps that should be taken to protect the greater population.

    “Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp."

    - Leviticus 13:45-46 (NKJV)

Reflection and Application

All of the rules for cleanliness have benefits for the body and spirit. God's people demonstrated their obedience to God by following these rules and thereby distinguished themselves from the pagan nations. In addition, these rules helped to keep the Hebrew nation healthy. This topic is a good reminder that God's knowledge is infinitely superior to ours. For example, he has always known of the microscopic diseases that lurk in these animals, such as the trichinella spirilis found in raw pork, which causes trichinosis. Man did not identify the genus trichinella until the 19th century, A.D., but we had received fair warning long before that from the Creator of the animals in which this disease is found.

God cares for our spiritual and physical health. He does not protect us from every possible accident, disease, or conflict, but he does provide a lot of guidance to help us avoid all three and provides comfort when needed. The Rev. DeWitt Stevens emphasized this point in one of his enthusiastic sermons: "You can't escape trouble...but you can have Jesus standing by you when you are in trouble (2)."

Orthodox Jews continue to respect the laws for cleanliness found in Leviticus. For this reason, you won’t find pork, lobster, or hoopoe on the menu at a purely kosher deli. Although you will find pastrami and corned beef. These deli meats are an interesting substitute that approximates the taste of pork and are very tasty with mustard on rye bread! Christians have been released from these types of laws, and modern cooking technology allows us to minimize the dangers of certain microscopic organisms. Nevertheless, we are still expected to keep our bodies clean and pure so that we can do the LORD's work.

The laws for dealing with leprosy will be referenced often throughout the Bible. For example, in the Gospel of Luke, we will read how Jesus miraculously cleansed ten lepers and sent them to the priests for verification, according to the rules of Leviticus 14 that we will read tomorrow (Luke 17:12-19). Jesus did not run away from them to avoid becoming unclean, but instead demonstrated his compassion.

"Cleanse Me," performed by the Vocal Brothers from Fiji

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is your favorite food?
    2. What can we do to keep our bodies pure?
    3. How do we show Christian love to the lepers of our day?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to keep our minds and bodies pure

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    People with long-term chronic diseases


    (1) "Hoopoe" article on Wikipedia
    (2) Stevens, the Rev. DeWitt, Sermon on Isaiah 6 at the Macedonia Church, Norwalk, CT, 1/30/11

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Leviticus 14-15 (Additional Rules for Cleanliness)

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