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Clean and Unclean Foods


The L ord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them: 2Speak to the people of Israel, saying:

From among all the land animals, these are the creatures that you may eat. 3Any animal that has divided hoofs and is cleft-footed and chews the cud—such you may eat. 4But among those that chew the cud or have divided hoofs, you shall not eat the following: the camel, for even though it chews the cud, it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you. 5The rock badger, for even though it chews the cud, it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you. 6The hare, for even though it chews the cud, it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you. 7The pig, for even though it has divided hoofs and is cleft-footed, it does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. 8Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean for you.

9 These you may eat, of all that are in the waters. Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the streams—such you may eat. 10But anything in the seas or the streams that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and among all the other living creatures that are in the waters—they are detestable to you 11and detestable they shall remain. Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall regard as detestable. 12Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you.

13 These you shall regard as detestable among the birds. They shall not be eaten; they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the osprey, 14the buzzard, the kite of any kind; 15every raven of any kind; 16the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind; 17the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, 18the water hen, the desert owl, the carrion vulture, 19the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.

20 All winged insects that walk upon all fours are detestable to you. 21But among the winged insects that walk on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to leap on the ground. 22Of them you may eat: the locust according to its kind, the bald locust according to its kind, the cricket according to its kind, and the grasshopper according to its kind. 23But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you.

Unclean Animals

24 By these you shall become unclean; whoever touches the carcass of any of them shall be unclean until the evening, 25and whoever carries any part of the carcass of any of them shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening. 26Every animal that has divided hoofs but is not cleft-footed or does not chew the cud is unclean for you; everyone who touches one of them shall be unclean. 27All that walk on their paws, among the animals that walk on all fours, are unclean for you; whoever touches the carcass of any of them shall be unclean until the evening, 28and the one who carries the carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening; they are unclean for you.

29 These are unclean for you among the creatures that swarm upon the earth: the weasel, the mouse, the great lizard according to its kind, 30the gecko, the land crocodile, the lizard, the sand lizard, and the chameleon. 31These are unclean for you among all that swarm; whoever touches one of them when they are dead shall be unclean until the evening. 32And anything upon which any of them falls when they are dead shall be unclean, whether an article of wood or cloth or skin or sacking, any article that is used for any purpose; it shall be dipped into water, and it shall be unclean until the evening, and then it shall be clean. 33And if any of them falls into any earthen vessel, all that is in it shall be unclean, and you shall break the vessel. 34Any food that could be eaten shall be unclean if water from any such vessel comes upon it; and any liquid that could be drunk shall be unclean if it was in any such vessel. 35Everything on which any part of the carcass falls shall be unclean; whether an oven or stove, it shall be broken in pieces; they are unclean, and shall remain unclean for you. 36But a spring or a cistern holding water shall be clean, while whatever touches the carcass in it shall be unclean. 37If any part of their carcass falls upon any seed set aside for sowing, it is clean; 38but if water is put on the seed and any part of their carcass falls on it, it is unclean for you.

39 If an animal of which you may eat dies, anyone who touches its carcass shall be unclean until the evening. 40Those who eat of its carcass shall wash their clothes and be unclean until the evening; and those who carry the carcass shall wash their clothes and be unclean until the evening.

41 All creatures that swarm upon the earth are detestable; they shall not be eaten. 42Whatever moves on its belly, and whatever moves on all fours, or whatever has many feet, all the creatures that swarm upon the earth, you shall not eat; for they are detestable. 43You shall not make yourselves detestable with any creature that swarms; you shall not defile yourselves with them, and so become unclean. 44For I am the L ord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming creature that moves on the earth. 45For I am the L ord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy.

46 This is the law pertaining to land animal and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms upon the earth, 47to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.

2. These are the beasts which ye shall eat. The holy fathers, before the birth of Moses, knew what animals were unclean; of which fact Noah afforded a manifest proof, when, by God’s command, he took into the ark seven pairs of the clean animals, and offered of them his sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. Certainly he could not have obeyed the command of God, unless he had either been taught by secret inspiration, or unless this tradition had descended to him from his forefathers. But there is nothing absurd in the notion that God, desiring to confirm the traditional distinction, appointed certain marks of difference whereby its observation might be more scrupulously attended to, and lest any transgression of it should creep in through ignorance. For God also consecrated the Sabbath to Himself from the creation of the world, and desired it to be observed by the people before the promulgation of the Law; and yet afterwards the peculiar holiness of the day was more distinctly expressed. Besides, the clean animals are here distinguished from the unclean, by name as well as by signs. The proper names, which are recited, are of little service to us now-a-days; because many species which are common in the East, are unknown elsewhere; and it was therefore easy for Jews 3535     “Rabins Juifs.” — Fr. who were born and had lived in distant countries, to fall into error about them; whilst, on the other hand, the more bold they are in their conjectures, the less are they to be trusted. As to many of them, I acknowledge that there is no ambiguity, especially as to the tame animals, or those that are to be found everywhere, or that have plain descriptions of them given in the Bible. A positive knowledge then is only to be sought from the signs which are here laid down; viz., that the animals which have cloven hoofs, and which ruminate, are clean: and that those are unclean in which either of these two things is wanting; that either sea or river fish, which have fins and scales, are clean. No such distinction as to birds is given, but only the unclean are named, which it was sinful to eat. Lastly, mention is made of reptiles. As to details, if there be anything worthy of observation, the place to consider them will be further on; let us now remember, in general, what I have before touched upon, viz., that whilst the Gentiles might eat every kind of food, many were forbidden to the Jews, in order that they might learn in their very food to cultivate purity; and this was the object of their separation from ordinary customs. Hence it arose that they use the word חלל, chalal 3636     חול is rendered by A.V. unholy, Leviticus 10:10; common, 1 Samuel 21:5; profane, Ezekiel 22:26, and Ezekiel 42:20, in which last instance common, or public, would have been more suitable. — W both for “to make common,” and to “contaminate;” and the word, חול, chol, signifies “polluted,” because it is opposed to anything holy or set apart. It is true, indeed, that the Gentiles, by natural instinct, have regarded with the utmost horror the eating of some of the animals which are here forbidden; still, God would surround His people with barriers, which must separate them from their neighbors.

Those who imagine that God here had regard to their health, as if discharging the office of a Physician, pervert by their vain speculation the whole force and utility of this law. I allow, indeed, that the meats which God permits to be eaten are wholesome, and best adapted for food; but, both from the preface, — in which God admonished them that holiness was to be cultivated by the people whom He had chosen, — as also from the (subsequent) abolition of this law, it is sufficiently plain that this distinction of meats was a part of that elementary instruction 3737     “Pedagogiae.” — Lat. “La doctrine puerile.” — Fr. under which God kept His ancient people.

"Let no man therefore judge you (says Paul) in meat or in drink, which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17.)

By which expressions he means, that what was spiritual had been shadowed forth in the external rite of abstaining from meats. To the same effect he elsewhere says, (Romans 14:14) that he knows and is persuaded, 3838     Vide C. in loco, (Calvin Society Translation,) and Owen’s note. C. evidently does not understand the words in the sense of our translation; “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus,” — but rather as I have given them in the text, supposing the Apostle to speak of Christ, not as the author of his persuasion, but as the remover of the uncleanness referred to. The Fr. is “il sait, et est persuade qu’il n’y a rien impur a ceux, qui croyent en Jesus Christ; “he knows and is persuaded that there is nothing unclean to them that believe in Jesus Christ. that in the Lord Jesus Christ there is nothing unclean; viz., because Christ by his death has redeemed His people from slavish subjection. Hence it follows, that the prohibition of meats must be counted among the ceremonies, which were exercises in the worship of God. But here a question arises, how it is reconcilable that, even from the days of Noah, certain animals were unclean, and yet that all without exception were allowed to be eaten? I cannot agree with some in thinking that the distinction originally made by God grew obsolete by degrees; for God, in excepting the eating of blood only, makes a grant of whatsoever moves upon the earth as the food of the posterity of Noah. I therefore restrict to the sacrifices that uncleanness, with the knowledge of which the hearts of the Patriarchs were then inspired, nor do I doubt but that it was as lawful for Abraham, as well as for them, to eat swine’s flesh as the flesh of oxen. Afterwards, when God imposed the yoke of the Law to repress the licentiousness of the people, He somewhat curtailed this general permission, not because He repented of His liberality; but because it was useful to compel in this way to obedience these almost rude and uncivilized people. But, since before the Law the condition of the saints was the same as our own, it must be remembered, as I said before, that, agreeably to the dictates of nature, they spontaneously avoided certain foods, just as at present no one will hunt wolves or lions for food, nor desire to eat serpents and other venomous animals. But the object of this ordinance was different, viz., lest they who were God’s sacred and peculiar people, should freely and promiscuously communicate with the Gentiles.

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