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Print Version Main Index : Commentaries : JFB Commentary : Leviticus Index : Chapter 11

Leviticus, Chapter 11
Chapter 10 | Chapter 12
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Bible Version
Cross Reference
Matthew Henry
JFB Commentary
Wesley's Notes
Geneva Study Bible
View Leviticus 11 in the note window.


      1, 2. the Lord spake unto Moses and to Aaron--These laws, being addressed to both the civil and ecclesiastical rulers in Israel, may serve to indicate the twofold view that is to be taken of them. Undoubtedly the first and strongest reason for instituting a distinction among meats was to discourage the Israelites from spreading into other countries, and from general intercourse with the world--to prevent them acquiring familiarity with the inhabitants of the countries bordering on Canaan, so as to fall into their idolatries or be contaminated with their vices: in short, to keep them a distinct and peculiar people. To this purpose, no difference of creed, no system of polity, no diversity of language or manner, was so subservient as a distinction of meats founded on religion; and hence the Jews, who were taught by education to abhor many articles of food freely partaken of by other people, never, even during periods of great degeneracy, could amalgamate with the nations among which they were dispersed. But although this was the principal foundation of these laws, dietetic reasons also had weight; for there is no doubt that the flesh of many of the animals here ranked as unclean, is everywhere, but especially in warm climates, less wholesome and adapted for food than those which were allowed to be eaten. These laws, therefore, being subservient to sanitary as well as religious ends, were addressed both to Moses and Aaron.

      3-7. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud--Ruminating animals by the peculiar structure of their stomachs digest their food more fully than others. It is found that in the act of chewing the cud, a large portion of the poisonous properties of noxious plants eaten by them, passes off by the salivary glands. This power of secreting the poisonous effects of vegetables, is said to be particularly remarkable in cows and goats, whose mouths are often sore, and sometimes bleed, in consequence. Their flesh is therefore in a better state for food, as it contains more of the nutritious juices, is more easily digested in the human stomach, and is consequently more easily assimilated. Animals which do not chew the cud, convert their food less perfectly; their flesh is therefore unwholesome, from the gross animal juices with which they abound, and is apt to produce scorbutic and scrofulous disorders. But the animals that may be eaten are those which "part the hoof as well as chew the cud," and this is another means of freeing the flesh of the animal from noxious substances. "In the case of animals with parted hoofs, when feeding in unfavorable situations a prodigious amount of foetid matter is discharged, and passes off between the toes; while animals with undivided hoofs, feeding on the same ground, become severely affected in the legs, from the poisonous plants among the pasture" [WHITLAW, Code of Health]. All experience attests this, and accordingly the use of ruminating animals (that is, those which both chew the cud and part the hoof) has always obtained in most countries though it was observed most carefully by the people who were favored with the promulgation of God's law.

      4. the camel--It does to a certain extent divide the hoof, for the foot consists of two large parts, but the division is not complete; the toes rest upon an elastic pad on which the animal goes; as a beast of burden its flesh is tough. An additional reason for its prohibition might be to keep the Israelites apart from the descendants of Ishmael.

      5. the coney--not the rabbit, for it is not found in Palestine or Arabia, but the hyrax, a little animal of the size and general shape of the rabbit, but differing from it in several essential features. It has no tail, singular, long hairs bristling like thorns among the fur on its back; its feet are bare, its nails flat and round, except those on each inner toe of the hind feet, which are sharp and project like an awl. It does not burrow in the ground but frequents the clefts of rocks.

      6. the hare--Two species of hare must have been pointed at: the Sinai hare, the hare of the desert, small and generally brown; the other, the hare of Palestine and Syria, about the size and appearance of that known in our own country. Neither the hare nor the coney are really ruminating. They only appear to be so from working the jaws on the grasses they live on. They are not cloven-footed; and besides, it is said that from the great quantity of down upon them, they are very much subject to vermin--that in order to expel these, they eat poisonous plants, and if used as food while in that state, they are most deleterious [WHITLAW].

      7. the swine--It is a filthy, foul-feeding animal, and it lacks one of the natural provisions for purifying the system, "it cheweth not the cud"; in hot climates indulgence in swine's flesh is particularly liable to produce leprosy, scurvy, and various cutaneous eruptions. It was therefore strictly avoided by the Israelites. Its prohibition was further necessary to prevent their adopting many of the grossest idolatries practised by neighboring nations.

      9. These shall ye eat . . . whatsoever hath fins and scales--"The fins and scales are the means by which the excrescences of fish are carried off, the same as in animals by perspiration. I have never known an instance of disease produced by eating such fish; but those that have no fins and scales cause, in hot climates, the most malignant disorders when eaten; in many cases they prove a mortal poison" [WHITLAW].

      12. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales, &c.--Under this classification frogs, eels, shellfish of all descriptions, were included as unclean; "many of the latter (shellfish) enjoy a reputation they do not deserve, and have, when plentifully partaken of, produced effects which have led to a suspicion of their containing something of a poisonous nature."

      13-19. these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls--All birds of prey are particularly ranked in the class unclean; all those which feed on flesh and carrion. No less than twenty species of birds, all probably then known, are mentioned under this category, and the inference follows that all which are not mentioned were allowed; that is, fowls which subsist on vegetable substances. From our imperfect knowledge of the natural history of Palestine, Arabia, and the contiguous countries at that time, it is not easy to determine exactly what some of the prohibited birds were; although they must have been all well known among the people to whom these laws were given.
      the ossifrage--Hebrew, "bone-breaker," rendered in the Septuagint "griffon," supposed to be the Gypætos barbatus, the Lammer Geyer of the Swiss--a bird of the eagle or vulture species, inhabiting the highest mountain ranges in Western Asia as well as Europe. It pursues as its prey the chamois, ibex, or marmot, among rugged cliffs, till it drives them over a precipice--thus obtaining the name of "bone-breaker."
      the ospray--the black eagle, among the smallest, but swiftest and strongest of its kind.

      14. the vulture--The word so rendered in our version means more probably "the kite" or "glede" and describes a varying but majestic flight, exactly that of the kite, which now darts forward with the rapidity of an arrow, now rests motionless on its expanded wings in the air. It feeds on small birds, insects, and fish.
      the kite--the vulture. In Egypt and perhaps in the adjoining countries also, the kite and vulture are often seen together flying in company, or busily pursuing their foul but important office of devouring the carrion and relics of putrefying flesh, which might otherwise pollute the atmosphere.
      after his kind--that is, the prohibition against eating it extended to the whole species.

      15. the raven--including the crow, the pie.

      16. the owl--It is generally supposed the ostrich is denoted by the original word.
      the nighthawk--a very small bird, with which, from its nocturnal habits, many superstitious ideas were associated.
      the cuckoo--Evidently some other bird is meant by the original term, from its being ranged among rapacious birds. DR. SHAW thinks it is the safsaf; but that, being a graminivorous and gregarious bird, is equally objectionable. Others think that the sea mew, or some of the small sea fowl, is intended.
      the hawk--The Hebrew word includes every variety of the falcon family--as the goshawk, the jerhawk, the sparrow hawk, &c. Several species of hawks are found in Western Asia and Egypt, where they find inexhaustible prey in the immense numbers of pigeons and turtledoves that abound in those quarters. The hawk was held pre-eminently sacred among the Egyptians; and this, besides its rapacious disposition and gross habits, might have been a strong reason for its prohibition as an article of food to the Israelites.

      17. the little owl--or horned owl, as some render it. The common barn owl, which is well known in the East. It is the only bird of its kind here referred to, although the word is thrice mentioned in our version.
      cormorant--supposed to be the gull. [See on De 14:17.]
      the great owl--according to some, the Ibis of the Egyptians. It was well known to the Israelites, and so rendered by the Septuagint (De 14:16 Isa 34:11): according to PARKHURST, the bittern, but not determined.

      18. the swan--found in great numbers in all the countries of the Levant. It frequents marshy places--the vicinity of rivers and lakes. It was held sacred by the Egyptians, and kept tame within the precincts of heathen temples. It was probably on this account chiefly that its use as food was prohibited. MICHAELIS considers it the goose.
      the pelican--remarkable for the bag or pouch under its lower jaw which serves not only as a net to catch, but also as a receptacle of food. It is solitary in its habits and, like other large aquatic birds, often flies to a great distance from its favorite haunts.
      the gier eagle--Being here associated with waterfowl, it has been questioned whether any species of eagle is referred to. Some think, as the original name racham denotes "tenderness," "affection," the halcyon or kingfisher is intended [CALMET]. Others think that it is the bird now called the rachami, a kind of Egyptian vulture, abundant in the streets of Cairo and popularly called "Pharaoh's fowl." It is white in color, in size like a raven, and feeds on carrion; it is one of the foulest and filthiest birds in the world. [See on De 14:17.]

      19. the stork--a bird of benevolent temper and held in the highest estimation in all Eastern countries; it was declared unclean, probably, from its feeding on serpents and other venomous reptiles, as well as rearing its young on the same food.
      the heron--The word so translated only occurs in the prohibited list of food and has been variously rendered--the crane, the plover, the woodcock, the parrot. In this great diversity of opinion nothing certain can be affirmed regarding it. Judging from the group with which it is classified, it must be an aquatic bird that is meant. It may as well be the heron as any other bird, the more especially as herons abound in Egypt and in the Hauran of Palestine.
      the lapwing--or boopoe; found in warm regions, a very pretty but filthy species of bird. It was considered unclean, probably from its feeding on insects, worms, and snails.
      the bat--the great or Ternat bat, known in the East, noted for its voracity and filthiness.

      20. All fowls that creep, &c.--By "fowls" here are to be understood all creatures with wings and "going upon all fours," not a restriction to animals which have exactly four feet, because many "creeping things" have more than that number. The prohibition is regarded generally as extending to insects, reptiles, and worms.

      21, 22. Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet--Nothing short of a scientific description could convey more accurately the nature "of the locust after its kind." They were allowed as lawful food to the Israelites, and they are eaten by the Arabs, who fry them in olive oil. When sprinkled with salt, dried, smoked, and fried, they are said to taste not unlike red herrings.

      26. every beast . . . not cloven-footed--The prohibited animals under this description include not only the beasts which have a single hoof, as horses and asses, but those also which divided the foot into paws, as lions, tigers, &c.

      29. the weasel--rather, the mole.
      the mouse--From its diminutive size it is placed among the reptiles instead of the quadrupeds.
      the tortoise--a lizard, resembling very nearly in shape, and in the hard pointed scales of the tail, the shaketail.

      30. the ferret--the Hebrew word is thought by some to signify the newt or chameleon, by others the frog.
      the chameleon--called by the Arabs the warral, a green lizard.
      the snail--a lizard which lives in the sand, and is called by the Arabs chulca, of an azure color.
      the mole--Another species of lizard is meant, probably the chameleon.

      31-35. whosoever doth touch them, when . . . dead, shall be unclean until the even--These regulations must have often caused annoyance by suddenly requiring the exclusion of people from society, as well as the ordinances of religion. Nevertheless they were extremely useful and salutary, especially as enforcing attention to cleanliness. This is a matter of essential importance in the East, where venomous reptiles often creep into houses and are found lurking in boxes, vessels, or holes in the wall; and the carcass of one of them, or a dead mouse, mole, lizard, or other unclean animal, might be inadvertently touched by the hand, or fall on clothes, skin bottles, or any article of common domestic use. By connecting, therefore, the touch of such creatures with ceremonial defilement, which required immediately to be removed, an effectual means was taken to prevent the bad effects of venom and all unclean or noxious matter.

      47. make a difference between the unclean and the clean--that is, between animals used and not used for food. It is probable that the laws contained in this chapter were not entirely new, but only gave the sanction of divine enactment to ancient usages. Some of the prohibited animals have, on physiological grounds, been everywhere rejected by the general sense or experience of mankind; while others may have been declared unclean from their unwholesomeness in warm countries of from some reasons, which are now imperfectly known, connected with contemporary idolatry.

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