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Feb 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 16, 2020


This is the law about beast and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms on the ground, to 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. Leviticus 11:46-47

Intro: This paragraph summarizes the contents of chapter 11

We will skim through the details of this chapter,
– but first, we want to mark the key words: “to make a distinction”
• our ability to distinguish one thing from another is serious business
◦ in the extreme, it can be difference between life and death
◦ for instance, when picking berries for a pie, it’s best to know which ones are wholesome and which ones are poison
• chapter 11 has to do with making distinctions

A brief outline of the chapter

It may be a mixed blessing that,
– we come to this chapter during a critical stage in the Coronavirus
• we understand why it is important to regard it with serious caution
◦ this chapter is about contamination,
◦ its contagion, prevention, and decontamination
• the nature of contamination in Leviticus was like a virus,
◦ but it was not a virus in the clinical way we understand the term

“Unclean” animals that were not to be eaten:
– first, those that were clean and unclean among land animals (vv. 3-8)
• the criteria for the clean: cloven-footed and chews the cud
• “unclean” applies to any others that did not fit the in first category
– secondly, the clean and unclean water animals (vv. 9-12)
• criteria for clean: everything that has fins and scales
• “unclean” were any others that did not fit the first category
– third, the clean and unclean “things that fly” (vv. 13-10)
• no criteria is given
• instead, what is given is a list of the birds that were taboo
– fourth, insects (vv. 20-23)
• all insects were unclean, with one exception
◦ those that matched the criteria for locusts, grasshoppers and crickets

The carcasses and any remains of dead animals were unclean
– verses 24-28, the carcasses of unclean animals could be touched
• it was only dead animals that transmitted uncleanness
◦ otherwise camels could be ridden and donkeys could pull carts
• the carcasses of clean animals were unclean if they died naturally

Swarming things – that is, those that “crawl” or “proliferate”
– verses 29-32, rodents and reptiles

Instructions for decontamination (vv. 33-45)
– objects: anything made of wood, cloth, hide, or animal hair
• could be cleansed by immersing in water
• earthenware pots and so on, had to be broken
– people: the contamination only lasts until evening
• in some cases, person would have to bathe themselves
• then they would become clean at sundown

The motive behind these dietary and contact instructions
Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy (vv. 44-45)
– their destiny was to belong to God
• to realize that destiny, they had to be like him
• notice that the animals that were acceptable for sacrifice,
◦ were the same that were acceptable for consumption
◦ it was like God’s people shared his diet
Everett Fox, “After ten chapters devoted mainly to [sacrificial] rules, we move from the priestly altar to everyone’s table.”
Mary Douglas, “The animal taken into the body by eating corresponds to that which is offered on the altar by fire; what is disallowed for the one is disallowed for the other; what harms the one harms the other.”

Certain ideas and concepts in this chapter are challenging for us

Why would God create animals he detested?
– short answer: he didn’t
• Gen. 1:20-25 details creation of all these animals and insects
◦ and uses many of the same words: swarm, creeps, proliferates
◦ and in each instance, God saw that it was good
• “detest” does not refer to an attitude or a feeling
◦ it was how animals were to be treated in specific contexts

As far as something placed on God’s altar or their dining room tables, unclean animals were to be considered as grossly out of place. The familiar idiom, “pig in the parlor” captures this idea well. When most every home had a parlor, it was reserved for hosting dignified or important guests. Pigs belonged in muddy pig pens, not the parlor.
Think about it, if you were an animal in Israel, would you rather be in the clean category or unclean? Those in the clean were eligible to be either sacrificed or eaten. Those in the unclean category could not be touched and their carcasses could not be used for anything.
Mary Douglas, “The rule of not touching the corpse makes the skins useless for fur coats or fur blankets, no leather waistcoats or bags, no shoe leather or wine-skins. Their bones and teeth cannot be carved for combs, buttons, containers, dice, jewelry, utensils. Their gut cannot be used for stringed instruments nor their stomachs or bladders for bags, or their sinews for sewing. . . . To be classified unclean ought to be an advantage for the survival of the species.”

The most difficult challenge for us:
– comprehending the terms “clean” and “unclean”
• nothing is said here about the health benefits of this diet
◦ it may be we know something of its benefits today,
◦ but what we know now, was of no value to them then
• we can also cross off the list any thought of hygiene
◦ they knew nothing of bacteria or germs
– Moses never explains the meaning of clean and unclean
• so we must assume his audience understood
◦ it had to do with their worldview
◦ how they understood the natural overlapped with the supernatural
• perhaps it is most helpful if we think of clean and unclean as metaphors
◦ they represent something that is both physical and metaphysical
◦ unclean is a condition of contamination that is contagious
– there is no mention of sacrifice in this chapter
• no sin has been committed
◦ the unclean condition is only a problem if the person has contact with something holy
. . . the person who eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of the LORD’s peace offerings while an uncleanness is on him, that person shall be cut off from his people (Lev. 7:20)
• take note:
purification removes something from a person (uncleanness or iniquity)
sanctification adds something to a person (holiness)

Conclusion: Yesterday I spent several hours with a small group of Christian psychiatrists
(No, it wasn’t so they could figure out what’s wrong with me)

We are fortunate to have people like these brilliant men and women in our corner
– the majority of them were young
• maybe half of those present work with children and adolescents
◦ they said many of their clients have no sense of identity
◦ even those who were intelligent and successful
• Leviticus chapter 11 has something to say about this
◦ in verses 44-45, God tells Israel who they are,
that they are his people and they are to be like him
◦ and to help them remember, he establishes boundaries
– that is why I say the primary theme of this chapter is making a distinction
• this message occurs all through Leviticus (see for instance, Lev. 20:24-26)

You cannot know who you are without boundaries
– borders define identity
(our skin, for example, is a border that defines the space our bodies occupy, separating and distinguishing ourselves from others)
• borders indicate clearly who is inside the circle and who is outside
◦ in Israel, a line was drawn between those in covenant with God, and everyone else
• this boundary extended to animal kingdom,
◦ what they presented to God on his altar and consumed themselves
– personal boundaries are mostly invisible
• making them visible is like putting up a fence along a property line
◦ my boundaries remind me where I belong and don’t belong
◦ boundaries remind me who I am
• when God says, You shall not make yourself detestable,
◦ he is reminding Israel of who they are not
◦ if you know who you are, you know your boundaries

People who don’t know who they are tend to travel in one of two directions
1. nowhere, because they have no sense of belonging anywhere or of being safe anywhere
2. everywhere, they are “all over the place” and do anything, because they do not know what’s appropriate to them as unique persons

Making distinctions–separating light from dark, the seas from the dry land–is how God turned the original chaos into an ordered universe (Gen. 1:3-10)
• and it is how he organizes the lives of his people
For God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33)
• only now, God works from the inside out rather than outside in
◦ not so much by shaping us through rules and restrictions
◦ but by transforming us into the persons he wants us to be
– verse 43, goes beyond the uncleanness of animals — God says,
You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them
• you see, if we do not know who we are,
◦ we do not know what is off limits
• and when we do what is off limits, we defile ourselves
◦ we make ourselves something we’re not suppose to be
◦ we betray ourselves — the true self, made in God’s image

The message that comes to us from Leviticus 11 is this:
know God
know yourself
know your sport
know which team you’re on
and know what position you play
then follow the rules of the game

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