Study Notes

Leviticus 11:1-12:8


Remember that the first 7 chapters of Leviticus covered the five offerings that man was called to worship God with. Then, in chapters 8 and 9, we read about the priests being prepared for the work of the ministry. Last week, in chapter 10, we saw pride in the priesthood - when priests Nadab and Abihu were toasted for taking matters into their own hands and offering in a way that God had not commanded.

Now, in the next few chapters, we'll be hearing about things clean and unclean.

But first, what does it mean for a person to be "unclean?" What causes "uncleanness?" What are the consequences of being unclean? We'll be looking at several chapters over the next three weeks that detail what makes a person unclean, so that question will be answered gradually.

As for what it means, a person that is unclean is in a certain state of sin - either knowingly or unknowingly outside of God's commandments. Being unclean makes a person guilty before God.

One consequence of being unclean was listed in Leviticus 5 - the unclean person had to offer a sin offering for their uncleanness. Another, more serious, consequence is in Leviticus 7:

Lev. 7:20-21 But the person who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings which belong to the LORD, in his uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from his people. And when anyone touches anything unclean, whether human uncleanness, or an unclean animal, or any unclean detestable thing, and eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings which belong to the LORD, that person shall be cut off from his people.

Remember that the peace offering was the offering of fellowship - where you sat down and fellowshipped and ate with God. So if a person is unclean and eats the peace offering, they are to be executed or banished. It would seem that being unclean is something you'd definitely want to avoid!

11:1-31 Clean And Unclean Animals

Here God spends an entire chapter explaining what animals were clean to eat, and which were unclean. Apparently, man knew this at one time. In chapter 7, when God told Noah to build the ark, He told him,

Gen. 7:2 "You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female"

Noah knew what God was talking about. So he took seven of every clean animal, and two of every unclean animal. So much for the Sunday School story claiming he only took two of each!

But after all those years in Egypt, they had forgotten these things. God is making sure that they know clean and unclean: Whatever had a split hoof and chewed its cud was clean to eat. From the sea, only things with fins and scales were to be eaten. He specified certain birds that should not be eaten, as well as forbidding all insects except the locust, cricket, and grasshopper. They were not to even touch their carcasses, or else they'd be made unclean until evening. Notice that in verse 4, the Lord mentions that camels are unclean to eat. Down in verse 20, we see that all winged insects were unclean. Remember in Matthew 23, when Jesus was rebuking the Scribes and Pharisees, He said,

Matt. 23:24 "You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

Those ultra-religious hypocrites, if a gnat flew into their mouth, would stick their finger down their throats, causing themselves to vomit, so as not to have ingested anything unclean. But Jesus was pointing out that they paid attention to the smallest, minutest details of the Law, while neglecting the most major and important principles of it - like love and mercy. So in effect, they would strain at a gnat, yet swallow a camel - one of the largest unclean animals.

11:32-38 Contact With Unclean Animals

It wasn't just the people that were made unclean. If an unclean animal's body touched any article of clothing or wood, it had to be soaked in water until evening. Pottery had to be broken, food and drink had to be trashed, even stoves and ovens had to be smashed. Springs and cisterns could be touched, as could seed (unless it had been watered).

11:39-40 If It Died, Don't Eat It!

Even the clean animals which could be eaten, shouldn't be eaten if they died before they were butchered. If you touched its carcass, you'd be unclean until evening.

11:41-47 The Purpose Of The Distinctions

So God has given them a very detailed description of what they are to eat and not to eat. But why? Why does He tell them that they are not to eat or touch their carcasses? That these things are unclean and will make them unclean? He uses some incredibly strong language here, too: They are detestable things to you, they shall be abhorrent to you, their carcasses you shall detest.

Why does He tell them this? Because...

Lev. 11:45 '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.'"

They were to be holy. Remember what the word "holy" means "set apart." They were to be different than the other peoples of the world. While the other civilizations would eat pigs and snakes, God told His people to be set apart, to be different, not to be conformed to the world's practices. He wanted every part of their lives to be set apart - even down to what they ate.

Is The Church Under These Dietary Restrictions?

Like so many other things, there are always those who will fight, argue, and contend that we must obey these things. Should we? The New Testament teaches us that we too are to be set apart, to be holy for He is holy. Not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed. But should that include these dietary restrictions?

Jesus taught his disciples,

Mark 7:18-19 ..."Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.)

Under the new covenant, all foods are declared clean! In the book of Acts, the Lord gave an even more plain teaching of this principle. In Acts 10, Peter was up on the roof garden of a house and was praying. He was hoping they'd hurry up with lunch, because He was starving. But before lunch was ready, he had a supernatural vision. He saw the sky open up and something like a sheet being lowered down by its four corners (think magic carpet).

Acts 10:12-16 and there were in it all {kinds of} four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, "Arise, Peter, kill and eat!" But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." And again a voice {came} to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no {longer} consider unholy." And this happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.

The point and the purpose of this was to let us know that God has made all of these animals clean. Not because they're safe to eat, but because our holiness is through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, not by what we eat.

That is why we read Paul writing,

1Cor. 8:8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.

A Call To Holiness

Now, even though we're not obligated to obey these dietary laws, they do remind us that we are called to be holy, set apart, not conformed to the ways of the world. As a matter of fact, this verse in Leviticus 11 is quoted by Peter for the express purpose of reminding us to live holy lives.

1Pet. 1:14-16 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts {which were yours} in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all {your} behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."

We are called by the Lord to be holy.

2Cor. 6:17-18 "...COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord. AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty.

It is a separation from the ways and walk of the world.

Walking In Holiness

Okay, so it's one thing to say that we're called to be holy. But what is holiness? And how can you make sure that you're living a holy life? The answer to both of those questions is given to us in the very next verse...

2Cor. 7:1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

To be holy is to cleanse yourself and your life from defilement of sin and the world. How can we manage to do this? With a list of do's and don'ts? No, we perfect holiness in the fear of God.

The Bible tells us that...

Prov. 8:13 The fear of the LORD is to hate evil...

If you fear God, you will keep away from evil, thereby living a holy life. Don't concentrate on holiness per se. Concentrate on having a fear of the Lord, and holiness will be perfected in your life.

12:1-2 Uncleanness After Birth

A woman was considered unclean after bearing a child. Why? Because she's just brought a sinner into the world. Sure, it's popular to look at a newborn baby and think, "How innocent! How pure!" But in reality, we're born sinners. David wrote,

Ps. 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.

David knew he was a sinner even before he was born, because he was a descendant of Adam, just like all of us. We're all sinners, because...

Rom. 5:12 ...Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned

So you and I and every other person ever born was born in sin. This made the woman who birthed the newly-born sinner unclean.

12:3 Eighth Day Circumcision

The male child born to the woman was to be circumcised on the eighth day.

God made the covenant of circumcision with Abraham back in Genesis 17...

Gen. 17:10-12 "This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations..."

Why was the circumcision to be performed on the eighth day? Newborn children have a lack of vitamin K during the first few days of life. Vitamin K is vital for its blood-clotting abilities, and is not present in the system until the 5th to 7th day of life. Prothrombin, another blood clotting agent, is at its highest levels in infants on precisely the eighth day of life. Babies have a "peculiar susceptibility to bleeding between the second and fifth days of life" (Holt Pediatrics) Man didn't know this until this century, but God told Moses this 3,500 years ago!

12:4-5 Boys Vs. Girls

Note that the period of uncleanness was twice as long with a female child as with a male child. And the time she'd spend in the blood of her purification was also twice as long. Why is that? Is God saying that little girls are twice the sinners that little boys are? No, but it seems that through circumcision, the boy's sinfulness seems to partially be covered by his own sacrifice of flesh.

12:6-8 If She Can't Afford A Lamb

We see this entire chapter in action after the birth of Jesus Christ. Luke tells us,

Luke 2:21-24 And when eight days were completed before His circumcision, His name was {then} called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "EVERY {FIRST-BORN} MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD"), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES, OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS."

Notice that Mary brought as her sacrifice the two birds. This tells us that Mary and Joseph were poor people - they couldn't afford a lamb. The Lord didn't choose to be born into an aristocratic, royal, wealthy family. He was born to poor parents.

Some might say, "Hey, wait a second! The wise men came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Mary and Joseph certainly could have bought a lamb after receiving those baby shower gifts!" Yes, they could have, but a careful study of the New Testament will reveal that they didn't show up until at least a year later. Remember that when Herod found out the wise men had given him the slip, we read,

Matt. 2:16 ...When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, FROM TWO YEARS OLD AND UNDER, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi.

Two years and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the Magi. So the Magi didn't show up that first night. Matthew also tells us that they didn't even get to Jerusalem until after Jesus had been born.

Matt. 2:1 Now AFTER Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem...

By the time they finally did reach Jesus, He was a young child in a house, not a babe in a stable. When Luke speaks of the Baby in the manger, it is the Greek word, "brephos," meaning "newborn baby". But Matthew says,

Matt. 2:11 And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

The word "child" there is the Greek word "paidion," meaning "young child".

So Mary brought her sacrifice of two birds after the days of her purification because they were broke.

This is just one more illustration to us that we cannot completely understand the New Testament unless we're studying the Old Testament. Sure, some of these things might make for dry reading sometimes, but there are so many mysteries just waiting to be uncovered in them.

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