Leviticus 11 Devotional
by Pastor Lawrence
Clean and unclean animals were one way to distinguish between holy and unholy people in Old Testament Israel. In this chapter, we see the beginning of a very strict diet code that was imposed upon the Israelites to set them apart from the surrounding nations and to help the Israelites themselves to see that they were in constant need of cleansing in a fallen world. Every creature living on the earth, in the sea, or in the air was characterized as clean or unclean for God’s people to eat.
Anything that was unclean for the people to eat was to be regarded as detestable for the Israelites. And if they themselves ate of the detested things, they too became detestable in the sight of God for they had defiled themselves by eating the unclean creatures, becoming unclean themselves. In most cases, if an Israelite ate from one of the unclean animals, he or she would be unclean until the evening merely needing to purify himself before returning to the temple. However, if one ate an unclean animal and then handled the holy things of God, he could be cut off from the nation of Israel altogether; thus, it was a very serious matter to disregard the ceremonial law of God.
Notice that the reasons given for such dietary distinctions is not for the sake of the Israelites’ physical health and well-being, but, rather, for the spiritual fellowship between them and God. The exact reason given for this dietary code can be found in v.44, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” This is the first time this exhortation and command is given in the book of Leviticus and it is certainly not the last. It will be repeated by the Lord over and over again throughout the book. Again, the point is that God is always holy and clean, yet, it seems, the Israelites never were. Numerous washings would need to take place on a regular basis to restore their fellowship with a holy God.
Later on, in the New Testament in Mark 7:14ff, Jesus shows plainly the negative implications of the dietary laws suggesting that it’s not merely what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out of his mouth and dwells in his heart—his sinful thoughts and intentions that reveal just how sinful he really is. So, although we don’t have to follow anymore the ritual cleansings of the Old Testament, we still look to consecrate ourselves to God on a daily basis by confessing our sins, for God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins in Christ and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The reason we are only baptized once is to show that Christ’s cleansing is both perfect and effective even for unclean Gentiles to come boldly into the presence of the Lord.