Troublesome Topic: General Lessons from the Categorizing of Animals by Realm

Lesson 6 of 7

In the last few lessons I have made the point that God establishes what is normal (clean, proper) for each setting, or each realm. Now we will take a look at the various realms from which the animals they could eat came.

For the animals that live in the water God established as normative the conditions of having scales and fins (Lev. 11:9-12). Therefore, animals like shrimp or lobster were not the norm for an aquatic environment, and thus should not be eaten.  A shark would not qualify because it does not have scales.

For the land animals the criteria were if they chewed the cud and had a split hoof (Lev. 11:2-8). A land animal had to meet both criteria in order to be considered edible. The pig, which has a split hoof, did not qualify because it does not chew the cud. The camel chews the cud but does not have a split hoof, so it was not edible.

Regarding the birds of the air the line was not as clearly drawn. Instead of characteristics, a listing of unclean birds was given (Lev. 11:13-19). Although we are not sure of the identification of all of them, it appears that a vast majority of those listed as unclean are either birds of prey or scavengers that eat carrion. Birds that feed on insects and seeds were thus considered acceptable for food.

Conditions were also given to determine which insects were edible, yum (Lev. 11:20-23).

Our modern, privileged palates seem to consider God as having poor taste (pun intended). After all, hadn’t God ever eaten shrimp? Didn’t He know what a good pork chop tastes like when it’s smothered in my mom’s red sauce? What about bacon or ham?

Why did God choose the above criteria for the clean and unclean animals? The first answer is simple—He is God.

However, are there more spiritual lessons we can learn from these regulations?  Yes, there are.

While we cannot know for sure what God had in mind, there are some good lessons we can learn from these sets of animals, and therefore it seems this may have been God’s intent. It appears that God established what was normal or abnormal for each environment based primarily on two issues:

method of mobilization

and internal health.

Mobilization: For land animals one deciding factor was the type of feet they had, and for water animals the presence of fins was key.  Mobilization was also a factor regarding edible insects; they had to fly, move about horizontal to the ground which was different from the birds that walk upright on two legs (that is the best interpretation of the phrase “on four”), and have jointed legs, two of which were designed for jumping.

Internal health: This was indicated by the need for a land animal to chew its cud (ruminate). For birds the issue seems to have been focused on what they take in as food.

(I have more to say about fish and animals that move along the ground in the next two lessons.)

God’s people had to observe how the animals moved or how they digested their food. Through the use of food they would easily recall how God had instructed them repeatedly to be careful how they should “walk,” i.e. how they should live, and also how they should maintain a state of internal (spiritual) health – holiness. Our internal health directly affects our ability to “walk” correctly. For both of these major themes it is important to be careful about what we allow into our minds.

So why do so many believers still try to hold on to the pleasures of this world with one hand, and the security blanket of salvation with the other? It is time to stop playing hide-n-seek with God. It is time to begin living according to what He establishes as normative for us as His people. I don’t mean eating beef instead of pork, I mean seeking purity instead of sexual inappropriateness, honesty instead of deceit even if it will put us behind. I mean living with integrity in our marriages, and living by such a different standard that it will appear that we are from another planet. Actually, Paul wrote that we do not belong to this place, our citizenship is that of heaven. See Philippians 3:18-20 starting here Philippians 3:18.

Here is another layer of teaching from this topic. There were certain animals that could be sacrificed because they were considered common and clean, and thus they were eligible to be made holy. Only these kinds of animals (common and clean) were allowed inside the camp of the Israelites as they travelled through the desert. Now get ready for this one – for the most part, the animals that were considered clean and were able to be offered to God, were the same types of animals that God allowed the people to eat for food. In ancient times, many people thought of their sacrifices to their gods as food for their gods. The “food” they offered to God was the same as the physical food He offered to them! Isn’t that cool? These were primarily the domesticated animals that chew the cud and have split hooves. A few birds, such as doves and pigeons, were also used in sacrifices and they represented the types of birds the people could eat.

But it wasn’t about the animals; they were simply a representation of the type of life that God finds acceptable. Our lives are the offering God desires. As offerings to God, our lives need to be holy and clean. He wants to transform even the mundane, “common” parts of our lives into something holy and it is amazing to see what God can do even through mundane activities. A holy life is what God wants from us and one of the ways it was taught was through the animals they could eat.

Rich Oka, a Messianic Jew, says, “Just as it is only those men who submit to God who can become his people, only those animals that submit to man (those that can be successfully domesticated) are fit to become holy!” (Rich’s blog

Notice that none of the animals they were allowed to eat were predators (unless you consider birds that eat insects to be predators). While not all the non-predators were considered clean or edible (like the rabbit), and while other characteristics were highlighted which had nothing to do with predator or prey, there was a spiritual lesson here. I have already said that the concept of unclean was connected to abnormal, and in God’s kingdom, violence is abnormal. Therefore it is no surprise that, among the animals God allowed them to eat, no vicious predator can be found.

The next lesson for the short and medium length versions of this study is: Conclusion and Application from the Food Laws

The next lesson for the full length version is: Lessons from the Clean Land Animals

The next lesson for Why Is That in the Bible? is: Lessons from the Clean Land Animals