Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Leviticus 11 & 12 - Clean and Unclean Food and Childbirth

LINK: Leviticus 11 & 12


In Leviticus 11 - 15, there are many instructions for the Israelite people. There were rules for handling food, disease, and sex.

The key verses for all of these chapters are found in Leviticus 11:44-45:

For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. . . 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 in the "between" time in the wilderness where God had taken them out of idolatrous Egypt and was going to bring them to the land of Canaan with its pagan practices. This time in the wilderness was the time for learning to be holy in their actions and worship of a holy God.

Leviticus 11 involves a detailed list of all the foods that were clean and unclean. See current practices here. There were several reasons for their restricted diet:
1) To ensure the health of the people because the forbidden foods were usually scavenging animals that fed on dead animals that could transmit disease.
2) To distinguish them from the surrounding nations. For example, the pig was a common sacrifice in pagan religions.
3) To avoid objectionable associations. For example, many of the forbidden foods were creatures that moved on the ground and were reminiscent of serpents which often symbolized sin.
Leviticus 12 covers instructions for purity in matters of childbirth.

"Unclean" did not mean sinful or dirty. God commanded the people to "be fruitful and multiply." So there was nothing sinful about having sex or having a baby, but God wanted to make a distinction between His worship and that of the worship of fertility gods and goddess common in pagan culture. Canaanite religions practiced prostitution and immoral ceremonies as their adherents pleaded for fruitful crops, herds, and wombs. So, these were to remain separate from God's sanctuary.

At the end of Leviticus 12, a burnt offering and sin offering were for ceremonial cleaning and for rededication to worship after a woman's 40 - 80 day quarantine because of the flow of blood following childbirth.


As I was meditating on Leviticus 11, my son was meditating on Acts 10 by illustrating the picture above. In Acts 10, Peter saw a sheet descending from heaven with all kinds of those forbidden animals mentioned in Leviticus 11. A voice told him to "arise, kill, and eat!" Of course, Peter said he could not because those animals were unclean! A voice said, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." Wow! What a radical shift!

The gist of what God was trying to tell Peter was what Jesus already said in Mark 7:14-23 and Matthew 15:10-20: that nothing outside the man was going to make him "unclean" but a person is defiled morally by what he thinks in his heart. He was getting at the hypocrisy of the "cleanness" of the Jews on the outside when their hearts were hard on the inside.

Through this vision, God was showing Peter that he "should not call any man impure or unclean . . . and that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right" (Acts 10:28, 34-35). Prior to this, Peter would not have even eaten with Gentiles without risking defilement. God enlightened Peter at the proper time so that he could go to the God-fearing Gentile, Cornelius. As a result, Peter would share the good news of Jesus Christ with Cornelius and his family, and they would become the first Gentiles to follow Jesus!

While God wanted to "set apart" Israel for Himself and to separate them from the pagan practices around them during the time of Leviticus, He still desired that all nations would worship Him, and He still does to this day!

A side note: I love how God orchestrated it for Michael and me to be meditating on related passages on the same day. That is such a God thing! I am also amazed that every single animal he drew on that sheet really was an unclean animal even though he has yet to read the specific unclean animals of Leviticus 11!


There is a fine balance between being holy and "set apart" from the world and reaching out to the world Jesus came to save. I have often found in my effort to reach out to non-believing friends, I have stepped over too far into the worldly "unclean" side of life where I had to reevaluate and adjust. 

I have also found the other extreme in friends who shelter themselves so much from the world that they have no meaningful impact upon the people around them.

Where are you on the continuum?

Maybe you are on one end where there are areas in which you need to consecrate to the Lord and separate from the world's ways so that the not yet followers of Jesus in your life can see that you are different in a very good way.

Maybe you are on the other end where you are so afraid of defilement from the world that you never rub shoulders with those who need Jesus.

How can you come to finding a balance between those two extremes? Talk to God about it.


Thank You for being a holy God who has set us apart to serve You and bring glory to Yourself. Help us to be a sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ to those who are perishing Lord without being polluted by the things in the world that are not pleasing to You. We ask this in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.
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