Bible Study with Jairus – Leviticus 11
The Spiritual Significance of The Law of Clean and Unclean Food
Leviticus 11 talks about God’s instructions for clean and unclean foods. God told the Israelites they were allowed to eat clean animals that had a divided hoof and that chewed the cud. Pigs have divided hooves but don’t chew the cud, so they are unclean. Camels chew the cud but don’t have divided hooves, so they’re also unclean.
We’ve been taught that a divided hoof represents a Christian’s ability to discern between good and evil, and that chewing the cud represents Christians chewing on and pondering the Lord’s Word. This is certainly a good spiritual explanation. But when the Lord told this to the Israelites, was He really thinking about how Christians would live and read the Bible thousands of years later? Perhaps we can make this current-day application, but I believe the instructions were primarily addressed to the Israelites at the time.
Christians also disagree as to why the Lord gave the Israelites these dietary laws. Some think that it was for hygiene and health considerations, while others focus on spiritual interpretations, such as the one given above. We certainly do not deny that God’s words in the Bible can have spiritual interpretations, but it’s also important to consider these words in context.
What was the context of God’s instructions about clean and unclean food? For one thing, these instructions come on the heels of an important statement about holiness. When Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were judged by God, he told Aaron that he must be sanctified among those who came near to Him, and He must be glorified before all the people (Leviticus 10:3). In other words, God wanted those who were near Him to break free from the mundane and to live in holiness. In this context, God’s instructions about clean and unclean foods were given for the purpose of creating and maintaining holiness. Chapter 12 then deals with cleanliness after childbirth; chapters 13-14 discuss the cleanliness of a leper; and chapter 15 deals with cleanliness related to bodily discharges. God is dealing with the cleanliness of His chosen people step by step. The laws regarding clean and unclean foods were very important to helping the Israelites maintain holiness before God. God gave instructions about clean and unclean foods in hopes that the Israelites, who were near God, could be sanctified before Him.
Why Are There Clean and Unclean Animals?
Some say that unclean animals are scavengers who help clean up the environment, so they are not suitable for eating. For example, many fish without scales eat decaying animals at the bottom of the ocean to help clean up the ecosystem. This is beneficial to the ecological cycle. While this observation is generally true, it doesn’t apply in all cases. For example, camels and rabbits are unclean, but they eat grass. Perhaps we need to look deeper to understand the reasons God forbade the eating of certain animals.
After the fall of Adam, everything was defiled and affected by sin, even the animals. In the eyes of God, these unclean animals may have been defiled by their rebellion. But animals are not the source of uncleanness. Rather, after humanity rebelled against God, the whole earth was polluted; the animals were only one part of this pollution. The book of Hebrews says that even the heavens and the heavenly tabernacle needed to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:23). Satan’s rebellion polluted even the heavens and the heavenly sanctuary. Such pollution is reflected on earth, defiling the animals along with humankind.
Some angels have fallen, while others have not. We know that at least two-thirds of the angels were kept from rebelling alongside Satan. We also know that Satan can tempt people to sin. Our question is, can Satan tempt animals to sin? Some speculate that originally, animals could speak and could converse with Adam. This speculation says that after Satan’s rebellion, God may have removed animals’ ability to speak so they would not learn from man’s rebellion and curse God alongside Adam. If this speculation is correct, is it possible that some animals became unclean after Satan’s rebellion? In Genesis 1, God saw everything that He made and said, “Very good” (1:31). So, does this mean that there is a possibility that God created all animals to be clean animals? And that some animals were tempted to become unclean after Satan’s rebellion? We have no way of knowing because the Bible does not record it. But it’s a reasonable guess.
Clean Animals Become Sacrifices to Redeem Unclean Animals
The first time God mentioned clean and unclean animals in the Bible was in Genesis 7. The Lord instructed Noah to take seven pairs of clean animals and one pair of unclean animals (a pair being a male and a female) onto the ark. After the flood receded, Noah took all kinds of clean animals and birds and offered them as burnt offerings on the altar he built. When God smelled the pleasing aroma of the sacrifice, He said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done, and the four seasons shall not cease.” These verses are very interesting. We see that because of man’s sin, the earth was cursed and all living creatures began to suffer alongside humankind. But then we see an interesting phenomenon. As Noah sacrificed the clean animals, God was satisfied and the curse was removed.
God allowed seven pairs of clean animals to be on the ark because he knew they would be needed as a sacrifice for redemption. Through his compassion and grace, he also allowed a pair of unclean animals to live on the ark. The clean animals were sacrificed to save the unclean animals.
It’s important to understand that it was not the burnt offering that pleased God, but the faith and obedience of Noah. Years later, when the Israelites rebelled against God and worshipped idols, the Lord clearly said, “I am not pleased with the sacrifices of the Israelites.” David also said in Psalm 51 that burnt offerings do not please God, but a broken spirit and a contrite heart do. The Lord Jesus explained that it’s not what goes into a person’s stomach that defiles a person, but the envy and strife that come out of one’s heart. Therefore, true cleansing comes when our hearts are right with God. When our hearts are cleansed, it leads to the sanctification of our souls and the hope of the eventual redemption of our bodies. A clean heart and spirit become a sacrifice so that our soul and body can in turn be saved.
So why did God give rules about clean and unclean animals? In addition to health considerations, I believe that God wanted to point to the meaning of sacrifice. Just as clean animals would become a clean sacrifice for unclean animals, God’s Perfect Lamb was offered on behalf of unclean people (Gentiles). Jesus was an unblemished sacrifice that took away sins forever. He was descended from Israel. He was born to redeem all unclean humans and animals. After the Lord Jesus was crucified and resurrected, He not only purified the heavens, but also mankind and all of the universe. That’s why God told Peter in a vision that all animals had been made clean. “What God has made clean, do not regard as common,” God said. Why? Because God’s work of cleansing through Christ had already been accomplished on the cross.
The Relationship Between Sacrifice and Redemption
God wanted the Israelites to eat holy food in order for them to become holy. God separated them from the common Gentiles and made them clean so they could become an unblemished sacrifice, the channel through which Christ was born. Just as God allowed clean and unclean animals to live side by side on the ark, He allowed the Gentiles a chance to live alongside the Israelites. The Bible says that God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Mark 5:45). God’s special elective grace to Israel made them the first ones to be cleansed, but God’s common grace allowed the Gentiles to survive as well. Eventually, the Gentiles would be completely cleansed because of Israel’s descendant, Christ.
But the Israelites did not understand this relationship. They exalted God’s elective grace too much, while ignoring His common grace to the rest of mankind. They became so exclusive that when Paul mentioned that God had turned his grace to the Gentiles (Acts 22:22), the Jews were so angry that they wanted to kill Paul.
This principle is reflected not only in the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, but also in the church. Some Christians are like the Old Testament first fruits. They mature quickly, overcome evil, join the Bride of Christ, and turn into outstanding Christians. Yes, we should celebrate these “clean Christians.” But we must also realize that there are many Christians who mature later. These are also an important part of God’s kingdom.
Contrary to many Christians’ beliefs, heaven is not the end of a Christian’s growth toward spiritual maturity. I believe it is another beginning. Our life on earth is part of the process by which we pursue spiritual maturity, and we should cherish this process. But this does not mean that after arriving in heaven, those who are spiritually immature have no chance to continue to grow. This is a common error in thinking. On the contrary, many people’s testimonies of heaven mention that in heaven, everyone is still reading the Bible. They still have the opportunity to learn and grow.
Of course, God cares about our quick maturity. But He also provides opportunities for those who mature late. Just like the clean animals on Noah’s Ark and the Israelites in the Old Testament, the first believers who were cleansed in the New Testament will become a sacrifice for the latecomers, allowing all things to be redeemed. Paul mentions in the book of Romans, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (ESV, Romans 8:19-22). What is the pain of childbirth? The Israelites in the Old Testament experienced these labor pains. After thousands of years of training, they finally gave birth to Jesus Christ, who became the redeeming sacrifice of mankind. In the New Testament, the church also went through the pain of childbirth, giving birth to many other sons of God through Jesus Christ.
A Lesson from the Hoopoe
The hoopoe bird can teach us an important principle. It is the national bird of Israel. This bird is very beautiful, but it is very sloppy and dirty. In Chinese, the hoopoe bird is called “Smelly Aunt.” Despite its beauty, this bird does not pay attention to hygiene and thus is very smelly.
Perhaps the unclean birds and animals in the Bible represent man’s rebellion and fallen condition, and that’s why the Israelites are prohibited from eating them. On the one hand, they are beautiful, but on the other hand, they are dirty.
Perhaps this is also a picture of the human condition. We are created in the image of God, so we are beautiful. But humans have also defiled themselves through their rebellion, becoming unclean like the Hoopoe. Perhaps every unclean animal represents an aspect of man’s uncleanness. Therefore, we need to cleanse ourselves. When we are willing to cleanse ourselves through trusting in Christ, we become a part of spiritual Israel, able to give birth to Christ who can redeem us.
Ignoring our physical diet leads to health problems like obesity. But ignoring our spiritual diet has even more serious consequences. If Christians do not pay attention to their spiritual cleansing, separating themselves from common, fleshly, and sinful pleasure and entertainment, they will be like the hoopoe bird. But when we pay attention to the cleanliness of our spiritual diet, we gradually become a clean sacrifice that can be used by God to help unclean people around us. Not only that, but we can also become the sons of God, revealing His glory and setting all things free. Perhaps the hoopoe is not in bondage by choice; like all of creation, it is in bondage because it was subjected to futility by the fall of mankind (Romans 8:20). I hope that in heaven or in the resurrection, the hoopoe will be absolutely beautiful and will no longer be sloppy and dirty.
I believe that the hoopoe is a picture of the spiritual life of many Christians. On the one hand, they are beautiful because they are saved by Christ. But on the other hand, they’re not focusing on holiness. They are as sloppy and dirty as the hoopoe.
May We All Cleanse Ourselves and Be a Blessing to Others So That God is Pleased
When we Christians cleanse ourselves from sin and focus on sanctification, it pleases God as he smells the aroma of our sacrifice. At the same time, our sacrifice can be used by God to be a blessing to others. By choosing the right spiritual food and breaking free from unclean things, we can become a clean sacrifice that pleases both God and man. If we are willing to cleanse ourselves and be put on the altar, God will send fire from heaven to bless our sacrifice greatly. And we will be a blessing to many.