The word translated clean here means clean or pure and comes from a word meaning uncontaminated. The guidelines given here give an easy way of identifying the animals which are least likely to carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans. Exodus 15:26 promised, “…If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.”
While these guidelines would not completely eliminate disease, they would greatly reduce the people’s exposure, and God would take care of the rest if they would wholly follow his commands.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.” (Leviticus 11:1-3)
Predatory animals are exposed to all the toxins and diseases their prey come in contact with, and as they eat these things may well be concentrated in their bodies. Grazing and browsing animals are unlikely to have much exposure to disease through their diet. Because most leafy plants are not concentrated sources of energy, the cud chewers, or ruminants consume large amounts of food while they are active then chew it while they rest to break down the cell walls. Because of the design of their digestive system, they have trouble digesting more concentrated foods. Even grains can cause them problems. Their flesh is considerably different than human flesh, and as a result is not susceptible to some of the diseases that afflict humans. They were unlikely to transmit diseases to people.
Hoofed animals have a hard, wear resistant hoof that enables them to run long distances over various surfaces with little pain, but are not good for digging or gripping things. They depend on flight as their primary means of protection, and usually choose an easily escaped area to sleep, minimizing their exposure to fleas, ticks and various diseases.
“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. And the coney, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you. And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.” (Leviticus 11:4-6)
Animals which do not have hooves tend to make their homes in burrows or other enclosed spaces for protection. As a result, they are more likely to be exposed to concentrations of parasites, and various diseases, even though they are plant eaters. In general, those without divided hooves have a digestive system more similar to that of humans, and are susceptible to more of the sane diseases as humans.
“And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.” (Leviticus 11:7-8)
Animals which don’t chew the cud have digestive system much like ours, and are capable of surviving on almost any type of food are called omnivores. Their digestive systems are very similar to human systems, and often their flesh is as well. In fact the pig is so similar that certain parts of the pig can be used for human transplants. As for example the heart valves. They are susceptible to almost any disease humans are.
“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. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.” (Leviticus 11:9-12)
Most water creatures that do not have both scales and fins are either predators or scavengers. While most fish are predatory, in general the foods they eat are unlikely to be contaminated with diseases that are dangerous to humans. The scavengers, and those who are just predators are more likely to be exposed to things that are harmful to humans. Just a few months ago, a disease which killed several people was found in shellfish off the coast of Florida.
“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 osprey, And the vulture, and the kite after his kind; Every raven after his kind; Le 11:16 And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckoo, and the hawk after his kind, Le 11:17 And the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl, And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle, And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.
All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you.” (Leviticus 11:13-19)
All of the scavengers and predatory birds and flying animals were forbidden because of the risk of disease. In addition, any non flying birds were to be avoided as they are extremely susceptible to diseases that can be transmitted to humans.
“Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth; 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. But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you.” (Leviticus 11:21-23)
Many insects are scavengers or predators, and as such are likely to come in contact with harmful organisms. Grasshoppers and locusts and certain beetles are strictly plant eaters. They were unlikely to carry diseases that could be transmitted to people.
These guidelines provided a simple way of identifying which animals posed a potential threat of transmitting disease as a result of preparing and eating them. Obeying them was a token of Israel’s faith in God. Israel was obligated to keep these laws.
Romans 6:14 tells us, “…for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” As Christians, we are not obligated to keep that law. In I Timothy 4:1-5 Paul warns, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”
As Christians, we are to eat whatever God provides, thanking him for it and trusting him to make it healthful. That does not mean we deliberately eat things we know are dangerous. In I Corinthians 6:12, Paul said, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” It would be foolish to deliberately eat meat from diseased animals or use habit forming plants, even though I am not forbidden to do so.