Leviticus ch. 11 is all about clean and unclean animals and what the Israelites in Old Testament times could and couldn’t eat.
Therefore, every time someone hunted, ate a meal, went to a petting zoo, or came across roadkill, they had to ask themselves, “Is this clean or unclean?”
Land animals. Sea animals. Insects. Clean or unclean?
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. For I am the Lord your God. 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.” (Leviticus 11:43-45)
Ch. 12 is all about childbirth and how that made one unclean.
Ch. 13 is all about skin diseases and mould on clothes and how that made one unclean.
Ch. 14 is all about skin diseases and mildew in houses and how that made one unclean.
Ch. 15 is all about different bodily discharges and how that made one unclean.
What was the point of all these rules?
The point of the rules was not personal hygiene, but a picture or symbol of sin.
God wanted to teach the Israelites (and us) that every part of their lives was affected by sin.
It’s so easy to become unclean. It’s so easy to become unfit for a holy God.
The rules were visible reminders of what sin is like.
Sin makes us unclean.
Sin makes us unfit for God
Sin is everywhere, including in me.
Sin and God don’t mix.
Chapter 15:31 is a key verse:
“Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.”
The Israelites should have kept themselves separate from the things that made them unclean so that they would not die in their uncleanness by polluting God’s Holy Place, where God dwells in the tabernacle.
God himself was dwelling in their midst and if anyone brought their uncleanness to the tabernacle they would die.
God and sin don’t mix.
For Israel, there were 96 ways to be made unclean, including:
- Touching a carcass
- Giving birth
- Using an article touched by a dead animal
- Eating something unclean
- Contracting an infectious disease
- Entering a house containing mould
- Discharging blood other than menstruating
- Touching a menstruating women
- Discharging semen
It was difficult not to be unclean.
However, the clean and unclean rules also reminded the Israelites of the grace of God.
In Chapters 11-15, we see that God made a way for unclean Israelites to be made clean.
Sometimes there was a ceremonial washing to be made clean, other times it was a sacrifice.
God, through the priest, made a way for unclean people to be declared clean.
How does this apply to us?
According to the New Testament, Jesus is our great High Priest who offered himself as a sacrifice so our uncleanness may be removed and we be made clean before a holy God. E.g. Hebrews 10:11-14
Matthew ch. 8 contains a remarkable account of an unclean man’s encounter with Jesus.
When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)
Strictly speaking, Jesus should have become unclean when the leper touched him.
But Jesus came into the world to make the unclean, clean.
I’m not sure what sin and guilt you may have in your life and on your conscience? I do know that Jesus can make you clean and fit for a holy God.
In Mark ch. 7, the religious leaders had a problem with Jesus’ disciples not washing their hands before eating.
And Jesus called the people to him again and said to them,
“Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
…Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23)
In Mark 7:19 Jesus declared all food clean.
The problem, according to Jesus, is not whether you eat pork or not, or whether you wash your hands or not, but your heart.
In other words, food cannot help or hinder your spiritual well-being or your relationship with God.
The heart is and has always been the problem.
The unclean and unclean rules in Leviticus were just symbols to remind Israel that the problem was sin in the heart.
What we need is not kosher food, but a cleansed heart.
What we need is not kashrut (dietary law), but a cross.