Leviticus 11 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Leviticus 11)

Verse 1

[1] And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them,

From the laws concerning the priests, he now comes to those which belong to all the people. God spake to both of them, because the cognizance of the following matters belonged to both: the priest was to direct the people about the things forbidden or allowed, where any doubt or difficulty arose; and the magistrate was to see the direction followed.

Verse 2

[2] Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.

These are the beasts — Though every creature of God be good and pure in itself, yet it pleased God to make a difference between clean and unclean, which he did in part before the flood, Genesis 7:2, but more fully here for many reasons; as, 1. To assert his own sovereignty over man, and all the creatures which men may not use but with God's leave. 2. To keep up the wall of partition between the Jews and other nations, which was very necessary for many great and wise purposes. 3. That by bridling their appetite in things in themselves lawful, and some of them very desirable, they might be better prepared and enabled to deny themselves in things simply and grossly sinful. 4. For the preservation of their health, some of the creatures forbidden being, though used by the neighbouring nations, of unwholesome nourishment, especially to the Jews, who were very obnoxious to leprosies. To teach them to abhor that filthiness, and all those ill qualities for which some of these creatures are noted.

Verse 3

[3] Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.

Cloven-footed — That is, divided into two parts only: This clause is added to explain and limit the former, as appears from Leviticus 11:26, for the feet of dogs, cats etc. are parted or cloven into many parts.

And cheweth the cud — Heb. and bringeth up the cud, that is, the meat once chewed, out of the stomach in the mouth again, that it may be chewed a second time for better concoction. And this branch is to be joined with the former, both properties being necessary for the allowed beasts. But the reason hereof must be resolved into the will of the law-giver; though interpreters guess that God would hereby signify their duties, by the first, that of discerning between good and evil; and by the latter, that duty of recalling God's word to our minds and meditating upon it.

Verse 4

[4] Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.

The camel — An usual food in Arabia, but yielding bad nourishment.

Divideth not the hoof — So as to have his foot cloven in two, which being expressed, Leviticus 11:3, is here to be understood. Otherwise the camel's hoof is divided, but it is but a small and imperfect division.

Verse 5

[5] And the coney, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.

As for the names of the following creatures, seeing the Jews themselves are uncertain and divided about them, it seems improper to trouble the unlearned readers with disputes about them.

Verse 8

[8] Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.

Ye shall not touch — Not in order to eating, as may be gathered by comparing this with Genesis 3:3. But since the fat and skins of some of the forbidden creatures were useful, for medicinal and other good purposes, and were used by good men, it is not probable that God would have them cast away. Thus God forbad the making of images, Exodus 20:4, not universally, but in order to the worshipping them, as Christian interpreters agree.

Verse 9

[9] These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.

Fins and scales — Both of them; such fishes being more cleanly, and more wholesome food than others. The names of them are not particularly mentioned, partly because most of them wanted names, the fish not being brought to Adam and named by him as other creatures were; and partly because the land of Canaan had not many rivers, nor great store of fish.

Verse 11

[11] They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.

Unto you — This clause is added to shew that they were neither abominable in their own nature, nor for the food of other nations; and consequently when the partition-wall between Jews and Gentiles was taken away, these distinctions of meat were to cease.

Verse 13

[13] And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray,

Among the fowls — The true signification of the following Hebrew words is now lost, as the Jews at this day confess; which not falling out without God's singular providence may intimate the cessation of this law, the exact observation whereof since Christ came is become impossible. In general, this may be observed, that the fowls forbidden in diet, are all either ravenous and cruel, or such as delight in the night and darkness, or such as feed upon impure things; and so the signification of these prohibitions is manifest, to teach men to abominate all cruelty or oppression, and all works of darkness and filthiness.

The ossifrage and the osprey — Two peculiar kinds of eagles, distinct from that which being the chief of its kind, is called by the name of the whole kind.

Verse 15

[15] Every raven after his kind;

After his kind — According to the several kinds, known by this general name, which includes, besides ravens properly so called, crows, rooks, pyes, and others.

Verse 20

[20] All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you.

All fowls — Flying things that crawl or creep upon the earth, and so degenerate from their proper nature, and are of a mongrel kind, which may intimate that apostates and mongrels in religion are abominable in the sight of God.

Upon all four — Upon four legs, or upon more than four, which is all one to the present purpose.

Verse 22

[22] Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.

The locust — Locusts, though unusual in our food, were commonly eaten by the Ethiopians, Lybians, Parthians, and other eastern people bordering upon the Jews. And as it is certain the eastern locusts were much larger than ours, so it is probable they were of different qualities, and yielding better nourishment.

Verse 23

[23] But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you.

All other — That is, which have not those legs above and besides their feet mentioned, Leviticus 11:21.

Verse 24

[24] And for these ye shall be unclean: whosoever toucheth the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even.

Unclean — And such were excluded both from the court of God's house, and from free conversation with other men.

Verse 25

[25] And whosoever beareth ought of the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.

Beareth — Or, taketh away, out of the place where it may lie, by which others may be either offended, or polluted.

Verse 27

[27] And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean unto you: whoso toucheth their carcase shall be unclean until the even.

Upon his paws — Heb. upon his hands, that is, which hath feet divided into several parts like fingers, as dogs, cats, apes, and bears.

Verse 34

[34] Of all meat which may be eaten, that on which such water cometh shall be unclean: and all drink that may be drunk in every such vessel shall be unclean.

That on which such water cometh — That flesh or herbs or other food which is dressed in water, in a vessel so polluted, shall be unclean; not so, if it be food which is eaten dry, as bread, or fruits; the reason of which difference seems to be this, that the water did sooner receive the pollution in itself, and convey it to the food so dressed.

Verse 36

[36] Nevertheless a fountain or pit, wherein there is plenty of water, shall be clean: but that which toucheth their carcase shall be unclean.

Of this no reason can be given, but the will of the law-giver and his merciful condescension to men's necessities, water being scarce in those countries; and for the same reason God would have the ceremonial law of sacrifices, give place to the law of mercy.

Verse 37

[37] And if any part of their carcase fall upon any sowing seed which is to be sown, it shall be clean.

Seed — Partly because this was necessary provision for man; and partly because such seed would not be used for man's food till it had received many alterations in the earth whereby such pollution was taken away.

Verse 38

[38] But if any water be put upon the seed, and any part of their carcase fall thereon, it shall be unclean unto you.

If any water — The reason of the difference is, because wet seed doth sooner receive, and longer retain any pollution and partly because such seed was not fit to be sown presently, and therefore that necessity which justified the use of the dry seed, could not be pretended in this case.

Verse 39

[39] And if any beast, of which ye may eat, die; he that toucheth the carcase thereof shall be unclean until the even.

If any beast die — Either of itself, or being killed by some wild beast, in which cases the blood was not poured forth, as it was when they were killed by men either for food or sacrifice.

Verse 40

[40] And he that eateth of the carcase of it shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: he also that beareth the carcase of it shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.

He that eateth — Unwittingly, for if he did it knowingly, it was a presumptuous sin against an express law, Deuteronomy 14:21, and therefore punished with cutting off.

Verse 41

[41] And every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth shall be an abomination; it shall not be eaten.

Every creeping thing — Except those expressly excepted, Leviticus 11:29,30.

Verse 42

[42] Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination.

Upon the belly — As worms and snakes, Upon all four - As toads and divers serpents.

Verse 44

[44] For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Ye shall be holy — By this he gives them to understand, that all these cautions about eating or touching these creatures was not for any real uncleanness in them, but only that by diligent observation of these rules they might learn with greater care to avoid all moral pollutions, and to keep themselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and from all familiar and intimate converse with notorious sinners.

Verse 45

[45] For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

That bringeth you up out of Egypt — This was a reason why they should chearfully submit to distinguishing laws, who had been so honoured with distinguishing favours.

Verse 46

[46] This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth:

This is the law — It was so, as long the Mosaic dispensation lasted. But under the gospel we find it expressly repealed by a voice from heaven, Acts 10:15. Let us therefore bless God, that to us every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused.