Leviticus 11 is dealing with the subject of cleanness and uncleanness, specifically, with the subject of clean and unclean foods. The word “clean”has a lot of different meanings today depending upon the context in which it is used. For one thing, the expression clean and its counterpoint unclean is one of the prominent themes of Leviticus. Unclean and its cognates occurs 132 times in the Old Testament; over half of these are in Leviticus. So the sense of uncleanness is a predominate theme, and the word clean, along with its related terms, occurs 74 times in Leviticus, which is over one-third of the uses found in the Old Testament.
When we come to chapter 11, it is stated that cleanness and uncleanness has to do principally with food. It deals secondarily with cleanness or uncleanness that is the result of contact with a dead animal, but it seems the reason the dead animal is called unclean is because we couldn’t eat it. Even a clean animal, a bull or a sheep, could not be eaten if it were not killed in a sacrificially prescribed way. So it has to do with food or that which is touched when dead. We find first the land creatures, the animals that roam about through the earth (vv. 1-8); then we find in verses 9-12 the water creatures, those that live under water or in the water, and finally we have the flying creatures.
First, there are the land animals. There are two basic stipulations which must be met before an animal that dwells on the land can be considered clean and therefore can be eaten by the Israelite. It must be split-hoofed, and it must be a cud-chewer. It cannot be just one of those; it must be both of those. So a non-cud chewing split-hoofer isn’t good enough. It has to be both, and the text makes it very clear. A rabbit, for example, is called a cud-chewer (I think you and I understand that rabbits do not chew their cud like a cow does). But if we watched a rabbit eat, we would observe that as the rabbit ate his food, he chewed it up very carefully. We have two dogs and they are not cud-chewers. We throw a piece of food on the floor, and they don’t chew AT ALL! One animal is so fearful that the other animal is going to get it that they just inhale the food. They don’t chew their cud. But when we look at a rabbit, we see that a rabbit sort of works on that food, and works on it, just like mothers tell their children they ought to chew up their meat and other things. So a cud-chewer does not technically have to be cow-like in having multiple stomachs, but one that chews its food well. I think we could say it is that which chews its non-meat food well. So cud-chewers are vegetarians. It is to be split-hoofed and cud-chewing if it is clean, and therefore the Israelites may partake of it.
Second, the sea creatures. When we come to the creatures that dwell in the sea, they must meet two qualifications as well_they must have fins and scales. Now that is certainly the norm. Those of us who are fishermen and hope to catch something when we throw our lines in expect that it will have fins and scales. It must have both of those in order to qualify. That would mean that creatures that live in the sea, like shrimp, lobster, and those kinds of creatures, would not fit. Only those that have fins and scales_only those that are fishy_would be clean.
Third, those creatures that are in the air. It seems as though, essentially, no qualifications are given. That is, it doesn’t have to have two wings, but rather it seems as though those creatures in the air are creatures that are non-vulture like. That is, they are not sitting around waiting for something to die so they can go pick it up and eat it. It doesn’t look as though these are meat eaters or those that feed off of the dead carcasses of other creatures. Then we have flying insects that are described. Here all flying insects are called unclean, with the exception of those that have a set of jumper legs which propel them so they can leap through the air and thus propel themselves through the air. Jumping, flying insects are edible; all the rest are not.
Fourth, there is the category of dead animals which are unclean. Essentially, any dead animal other than an animal which has been killed through the sacrificial process in the front of the door of the tent of meeting is unclean. There are unclean animals that will defile in their death, and
there are clean animals that will defile man in their death, if their death is not a sacrificial death. The carcasses are that which can contaminate, therefore if a person eats a cow which has just been killed by a wolf, that person would be ceremonially unclean even though he could eat the meat if it were sacrificed to God.
Fifth, swarming animals. These are a bit of a puzzle, but this category includes things like mice, lizards, and most all of those things that I can readily pass up, so I can easily and readily identify them. Mice, apparently, are called swarming because they go about together in groups, and they seem to have an erratic, unpredictable manner of movement.
Why did God call the pig unclean and a cow clean? God never explains this, and by looking at research, we find that nobody has figured it out either. It may be that there isn’t any reason at all other than that God said “clean” or “unclean.” God never tells Israel why something is clean or unclean. He never gives a reason for the definition of clean or unclean. For centuries, men have tried to give reasons for these definitions of clean and unclean.