The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD said, “Moses and Aaron, 2tell the Israelites they may eat any land animal 3that has cleft feet and chews the cud. 4But these you may not eat: the camel; it chews the cud but is not cleft-footed. It is forbidden to you. 5The badger is forbidden for the same reason. 6Likewise, the rabbit. 7And pigs are forbidden because they have a split hoof but do not chew the cud. 8You must not eat these or touch their dead bodies. It is forbidden you.
9“Regarding creatures that live in lakes and streams and oceans, you may eat any that have fins and scales. 10But any of the creatures that live in the seas and streams that do not have fins and scales you may not eat whether they gather in schools or not. They are despicable, 11and you may not eat them or even touch them. 12Stay away from anything in the water that does not have fins and scales.
13You are forbidden from eating these birds, for they are disgusting: the eagle, the vulture, the osprey, 13the buzzard, any variety of kite, 14any variety of raven, 16the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, any kind of hawk, 17the small owl, the cormorant, the large owl, 18the white owl, the pelican, the vulture, 19the stork, any kind of heron, and the bat.
20“Insects that have wings and walk on the ground are despicable, 21except for those that have legs with joints which enable them to jump. 22Of them you may eat locusts, katydids, crickets, and grasshoppers. 23All the others are unacceptable.
24“Here is a list of animals that, if you touch them, will make you unacceptable to me until the sun goes down, 25and anyone who picks up any part of their dead bodies must wash his clothes and will be unacceptable to me until the evening.
26“Every animal that has a hoof only partially divided, or does not chew the cud, is unacceptable. If you touch one, you will be unacceptable as well. 27Any four-footed animal that walks on its paws is unacceptable to you, and anyone who comes into contact with any of them will be unacceptable until sundown; 28and anyone who carries a dead body of such an animal must wash their clothes and be unacceptable to me until evening.
29“Among the animals that crawl on the ground, these are unacceptable: the weasel, the rodent, large lizards, 30monitor lizards, small climbing lizards, skinks, and chameleons. 31They are all unacceptable to you, and whoever touches one of them that is dead will be unacceptable until the sun goes down. 32If any one of them that is dead falls on something, whether it is wood, cloth, skin, or sack, or any other item that is used for any purpose, you must soak it in water. It will be unacceptable until the sun goes down, and then it will be acceptable again.
33If any of these creatures falls into a clay pot, anything in the pot will be unacceptable and the pot must be shattered. 34If water from such a container touches food the food will be unacceptable, and any liquid in the container will also be unacceptable. 35Anything that is touched by any part of a dead body will be unacceptable. If it is an oven or cooking pot it must be shattered; it is useless to you. 36A spring or a cistern of water will be acceptable but whatever comes into contact with the dead body in it will not be. 37If any part of its carcass touches seed that is intended for planting, the seed will be acceptable. 38But if the seed becomes wet and touches the carcass it will be unacceptable for your use.
39“If one of the animals you are allowed to eat dies, anyone who touches it is unacceptable until after the sun goes down. 40Anyone who eats any of it or carries the dead body must wash their clothes and be unacceptable until the evening.
41Creatures that crawl on the ground are inedible to you. They are gross. Don’t eat them. 42Anything that crawls on its belly or creeps on four feet or more, you must not eat because they are despicable. 43Don’t become despicable yourselves by eating any such creature. If you do you will be unacceptable. 44I am the LORD your God. Be acceptable and holy, as I am. Don’t corrupt yourselves with those things that creep about on the ground, 45for I am the LORD who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. You must set yourselves apart, for I am holy.
46“These are the regulations regarding animals, birds, marine creatures, and crawling things, 47so that you will distinguish between what is available as food and what is not.”
1-8: The list of “clean” and “unclean” animals seems to have no rhyme or reason other than as a way to make God’s people different from everybody else. Camels, badgers, rabbits and pigs are unclean. Go figure.
9-12: Likewise, fish with fins and scales are “clean,” but every other aquatic creature is “unclean.”
13-19: The list of “unclean” birds is extensive, but no rules are laid out to explain why. The birds on the list don’t seem to have any characteristics in common other than some of them.
20-23: Grasshoppers and their kin are the only insects they are permitted to eat, although why anyone would want to eat a locust is beyond me. Insects, of course, have six legs rather than four according to modern taxonomy, but the two forelegs of grasshoppers are small and ineffectual for jumping.
24-28: Anyone who happens to come into contact with the carcass of an “unclean” animal is just as “unclean” as the animal, but only until sundown.
29-38: The list of “unclean” creatures that crawl is given. I can’t imagine eating any of them anyway. There follows a complicated and curious set of rules about what to do with objects touched by the carcass of an unclean creature. However, the idea that some things can contaminate others is basic to our modern understanding of diseases, isn’t it?
39-40: Now here’s a curious thing. If you touch the carcass of a “clean” animal you’re still unclean until sunset. You can eat it, though! But if you eat it you have to wash your clothes and be “unclean” until sunset. However, if you kill the beast and cook it and eat it, you apparently aren’t considered “unclean.” Still, while these rules seem artificial to us I suppose it is necessary to have some way of knowing what to do in various situations so that you don’t violate the covenant.
41-45: You can’t eat snakes or houseflies. That’s okay with me.
46-47: So, God’s people are given instructions about the diet they are to follow, and in that way they are set apart from other people in the world and are readily identified as people of the covenant.
Once God’s purpose for humanity extends beyond Israel to all nations, these dietary restrictions are removed, as we shall find when we get to the book of Acts and beyond.