LEVITICUS 11, 12 and 13
“You are what you eat” – as the saying goes! It was very important that an itinerant nation of 2 ½ million people, travelling through an inhospitable desert full of strange animals, knew what to eat. Once in the Promised Land, there would be many creatures that might constitute a meal for the Israelites – but not all were necessary healthy to eat. The kindness and compassion of the Lord therefore produced a checklist of what was good, and what was bad. If you read Leviticus 11, the general rule of thumb seems to be: “You can only eat vegetarian animals, fish and birds”. Carnivores of any type were generally not permitted – including insects (approximately). There were/are probably very good health reasons embedded in God’s list of edible vs inedible foods. Notice that all plants seemed to be generally acceptable.
Dead versions of any animal were regarded as ‘infectious’ and inedible, which reinforces the argument that these were as much health regulations as ceremonial imperatives. Nevertheless, the terms ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ do carry the added sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’; it is interesting that even as far back as Noah’s time, there was a distinction made between clean and unclean animals (Genesis 7:2), and before the Flood, no animal was to be eaten (Genesis 2:16; 3:18; 9:3). Furthermore, the concept of ‘Holiness’ is written in large letters throughout Leviticus (the word occurs 63 times) – more than any other book of the Bible. This tells us that God is awesome, powerful, and majestic – and that he is absolutely morally pure and good.
Women who bore children were ceremonially unclean since they had shed blood, just as in their monthly period. For a boy baby, they were unclean for 33 days: for a girl, 66 days. Also, the atoning sacrifice for that uncleanness was a lamb and a bird of some type. Those unable to afford this were allowed to use two birds instead; the latter combination was offered by Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:24), which may indicate that they were not financially well off.
Skin diseases like leprosy were a real danger to a nation living in cramped conditions; the various regulations read very much like a medical textbook and the diagnoses and decisions were the responsibility of the priest. The news that leprosy had been diagnosed was a chilling pronouncement on an individual – probably more so than a cancer diagnosis is today – since they had to be socially quarantined away from their families and from all other people until they died, to avoid contagion. God was nevertheless showing his kindness to the whole community by these actions. The fact that Jesus both touched lepers and healed them is a degree of good news that is slightly lost on us these days!
Materials that had the equivalent of skin diseases – i.e., moulds and funguses – were diagnosed and treated equally severely. Again – this was for the benefit of the whole community.