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Leviticus 11: Forbidden Foods

Updated on July 6, 2011
Cows on pasture land, Isles of Scilly
Cows on pasture land, Isles of Scilly | Source
The Egyptian Ibis god
The Egyptian Ibis god | Source
C.H.Mackintosh, a great Brethren writer, wrote an exposition of the first five books of the Bible. We owe an incalculable debt to the Brethren Movement, which was started by God, in 19th century Britain.
C.H.Mackintosh, a great Brethren writer, wrote an exposition of the first five books of the Bible. We owe an incalculable debt to the Brethren Movement, which was started by God, in 19th century Britain. | Source
The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges. One of the earliest books I read as a newly born-again Christian. The Navigators are a good group.
The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges. One of the earliest books I read as a newly born-again Christian. The Navigators are a good group. | Source

Leviticus 11: The Difference between the Clean and the Unclean

Introductory Note

I put up two hubs on the dangers of tattoos. I quoted a verse from Leviticus, specifically Leviticus 19:28. The reaction I got (to put it mildly) was more than I expected. It seems to me that there is a large section of Christianity which nurses a special hatred for the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Leviticus especially arouses strong and hostile reactions. (Which only goes to prove that it is a living book, and every Christian would do well to read it upon carefully and prayerfully! It is good to read the Bible while on one's knees.)

The material for this hub is gathered from C.H. Mackintosh's exposition on the Book of Leviticus. We are deeply indebted to the Brethren writers of 19th century England. This Christian movement was strongly Bible-based, and had great men of God like JN Darby, George Muller, Hudson Taylor and C.H.M. (as he was popularly called). If you would like to read some of the Christian literature of this movement, it is available on  You can also visit the Brethren writers 'hall of fame' at but I suspect some of the writers put up there are not regular Brethren.

Part 1

The eleventh chapter of the Book of Leviticus was written to make a clear distinction between clean and unclean foods, between the edible and that which is forbidden to be eaten. On the surface, the chapter deals with dietary laws and restrictions. But one wonders: Would the Israelites have ever dreamt of eating those detestable birds and reptiles? They had just come out of Egypt, and it is possible the Egyptians (like certain tribes and peoples around the world) might have indulged in odious dietary practices; we know that the Egyptians worshipped cats, frogs, scarab beetles, the ibis, and the river Nile. But for those of us who are children of God, we know that the chapter has a deeper spiritual meaning.

No doubt most people would agree with the list of forbidden birds, Lev 11.13-14. Who would think of eating the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard, and other rapacious birds of prey? The very idea is nauseating. When you come to the insects, it is interesting to find that locusts and grasshoppers are permitted to be eaten. (Grasshoppers in general and locusts in particular are rich in protein. They are culinary delicacies in many cultures. People in Africa, China, Cambodia, the Philippines and Mexico eat these insects: stir-fried, roasted and even boiled.) But all other winged insects are detestable. Again, the swarming or creeping things are totally verboten, and these include the mole, the mouse, the crocodile and the chameleon.

Why this list of repugnant foods? What is the spiritual parallel? We may not fill our stomachs with such nauseous stuff, but our minds are polluted with what we read in books and magazines and what we see in movies, on television channels and on the Internet. Leviticus is the book of holiness, and God wants us to be holy as He is holy. 1 Pet 1:15; Lev 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7) Without holiness, we cannot see God! Heb 12:14. We have to separate ourselves from the execrable customs and practices of this wicked world, no matter how popular they are.

Part 2

Now, we would like to consider for our meditation here, the prohibitions relating to animals and fishes. Regarding animals, only those which 'divide the hoof' and 'chew the cud' are to be eaten. The chewing of the cud expresses the natural process of 'inwardly digesting' that which one eats; while the divided hoof sets forth the character of one's outward walk, i.e. a walk of separation from the world. The one who feeds upon the green pastures of the Word of God, and inwardly digests what he takes in, who combines calm meditation with prayerful study, will no doubt manifest a walk of separation.

Many read the Bible casually, as matter of routine habit. They imbibe nothing, because they do it perfunctorily, without any reverence for and delight in the Word. The cattle that browse on the green hills teach us a wholesome lesson. After gathering up the refreshing forage, they calmly lie down to chew the cud. This is a striking and beautiful picture of a Christian feeding upon and inwardly digesting the precious contents of the Word of God.

A man may meditate upon the Word of God, but if the effect is not seen in his life, in a blameless testimony and walk, it is of no use. Similarly a man may be outwardly correct in his walk, but if there is no hidden life with God he is nothing but a legalist or a Pharisee, a religious hypocrite.

When we study the prescription relating to fishes, it states that 'all that have fins and scales you may eat'. Both are required. Fins are needed to enable the fish to move through the water, and scales are needed to resist the action of the water on the fish. While moving onward, we must resist the influence of the world. We are but 'strangers and pilgrims' in this world. Our inward man must guard against every worldly and carnal influence that contaminates the spirit. We cannot feed promiscuously upon everything that comes within our purview.

We must 'try the things that differ' (Phil 1:10) - or, in other words, we must distinguish between that which is of the soul and that which is of the spirit. There are many things which appeal to our souls, i.e. to our emotions and our intellect - but which are in no way beneficial to the spirit, the innermost part or heart of man. We live in an age where that which is truly spiritual is hard to find; the knowledge of spiritual truth comes much travail, brokenness and discipline. You may be theologically sound, and yet be spiritually bankrupt. Today, we observe that 'religious chaff' (which attracts the flesh and captivates the soul) is widespread. People who are supposedly Christian are carried away by dramatic preaching and charismatic teaching. I've seen Christian bookshops selling stuff so cheap and shallow that it is better burnt. That which is highly esteemed by man is abhorrent to God. God is Spirit, and we must worship and serve Him in spirit and in truth. This comes only by giving due importance to the Word of God and to one's testimony and walk as a disciple of Christ.

We must beware of defilement to the flesh and to the spirit. God wants us to be holy, even as He is holy. Without holiness, neither you nor I, nor anyone else in this world, ever has a chance to see God. Let us not take God for granted.

© Pratonix


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    • Tamarajo profile image


      8 years ago

      I loved this study! You clarified the spiritual application of the dietary laws for me. I knew it was there I just couldnt quite get the revelation. I love how God is so gracious to use the physical things we understand to communicate the spiritual concepts He wishes for us to understand.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      8 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Mr. P.

      "The Pursuit of Holiness" is a great book for anyone wanting to follow closer. Thanks

    • Michael Adams1959 profile image

      Isaiah Michael 

      8 years ago from Wherever God leads us.

      Very well studied very good writing. My wife and I were just talking about this a couple days ago.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Well written and voted up for certain...

      Blessings and Hugs


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