Troublesome Topic: Why Were the Animals that Move along the Ground Highlighted?

Lesson 8 of 12

Leviticus 11:29

Translation

And this one

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shall be unclean to you in the entire class

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of swarming things that swarm

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on the earth – the animal that glides swiftly along,

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and the one that nibbles on things, and the one that is close to the ground and carries a canopy wherever it goes,

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after its kind,

Paraphrase

Add these to the list of animals that you should isolate yourselves from because they move along the ground in a large, wriggling mass – the animal that glides swiftly along (you know which one I’m talking about), and the one that nibbles on things (you know which one that is), and the one that is close to the ground and carries a canopy wherever it goes (you know what I mean), each one of these according to its kind,

Leviticus 11:30

Translation

the animal that makes a shrieking sound, the strong and capable animal, the animal that likes to hide, and the animal which always lies low.

Paraphrase

and the animal that makes a shrieking sound (you know which one I mean), the strong and capable animal (you know which one that is), the animal that likes to hide (you know which one I’m talking about), and the animal which always lies low (you know the one), [all of which move along the ground.]

Do We Know Which Animal Was Meant by Each Description?

No, we don’t.

Because ancient names of animals and plants are simply descriptions of how they act or what they look like, scholars have to guess at most of them. Sometimes the context and the description work together to create a fairly clear picture and scholars are fairly confident about their conclusion; a good example is the animal that is close to the ground and carries a canopy over it wherever it goes. That sounds like a turtle or tortoise, right? In most other cases one is left with so many possible options that he must guess without much confidence of being right. For that reason I have chosen to give you the description just like they did, rather than trying to guess at the animal in view for each description.

Leviticus 11:31

Translation

These shall be unclean to you in the entire class of swarming [animals]; anyone who touches them when they are dead will be unclean until evening.

Paraphrase

These you should isolate yourselves from along with the entire category of small, active creatures that move quickly along the ground as an organized mass. If anyone touches one of these that is dead, he must isolate himself until evening.

Leviticus 11:42

Translation

For all the swarming things that swarm on the earth, everything that moves along

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on its belly and everything that goes on four [legs] or everything that has many feet, you shall not eat for they are unclean.

Paraphrase

For all the active, wriggling animals that move as a large mass along the ground, every animal that moves on its belly and every animal that moves on four legs [close to the ground] and every animal that has many legs [and moves close to the ground] you are not allowed to eat because you are to isolate yourselves from them.

Why Were the Animals that Move along the Ground Highlighted?

These verses seem strange to us because they keep mentioning a category of animals (those that swarm along the ground, i.e. they do not fly) and yet all the animals mentioned specifically do not fit that category. So what’s going on?

Some translators choose to alter the meaning of the word describing the category of animals by using the word “creep,” but that is not the meaning of this word. The fact that the animals listed don’t fit the category of things that swarm along the ground has convinced me that this is intended to point to a spiritual truth.

All of these would have been unclean without being put on this list because they do not have split hooves or ruminate, but this list is given to emphasize something.

The umbrella statement that guides our understanding of this list of animals is that they move along the ground. Even though the ones listed do not swarm or live in colonies, they should be added to the list because they live and move close to the ground. So there is something about the ground that we need to dig into (no pun intended).

Was the ground good or bad? What about dust? Adam was made from dust, right, so wouldn’t it be good? But here it sounds like it is considered bad.

Adam was formed by God’s hands from “the dust from the ground.” Dust was seen as useless while the dirt being referred to was valuable, tillable soil. The text of Genesis tells us that man was made from useless dust but reminds the reader that it came from valuable soil (see my comments on Genesis 2:7). For this passage in Leviticus, the point is that there is a difference between tillable soil, and useless dust. While one of them is valuable and important, the other one is useless and somewhat bad.

Take note that verses 29-31 of Leviticus 11 use the broad term “earth,” rather than “dust” or “tillable soil.” God wanted the reader to be evaluating the situation as the description unfolded. Then at the end, in verse 42, although the “earth” is still used, the idea of “dust” is referred to, although not directly. How is dust indicated without even using the word dust? Verse 42 mentions animals that move on their “belly;” this is an obvious reference to the serpent of the garden of Eden. In this way the passage is finally giving us the full answer, confirming the reader’s suspicions that the problem with all the animals that swarm along the ground and the other low-lying animals described is that they are constantly associating with the dust, i.e. useless rubbish that has no value.

These verses are making two points, first of all that the “swarming” animals that “wriggle” along the ground in large groups should obviously be “isolated.” It isn’t really explained, it is assumed that everyone knows this. Why? Because they live and move in the dust. The second point is that they should add another category alongside the one made up of those that swarm along the ground; they should add a class of animals that also move in the dust, even though they don’t swarm or move in large groups. Hence the list of animals given by name (even though the names don’t help us much). Whatever you think those descriptions might refer to, keep in mind that they have to be animals that live and move close to the ground, have short legs (or no legs), and low profiles.

Even though all of these animals would be considered “isolated” for other reasons, they are mentioned here in order to make the point that we, as followers of God, should stay as far away as possible from “rubbish, debris, rubble” and anything else “worthless or lacking in value.” Let me ask you this – Do the things you watch on TV, on the Internet, or in movies qualify as “worthless, rubbish, or lacking in value”? What about the stuff you read? Do you invest your time in things that have no value? Not only should we stay away from what is obviously evil, we should also refuse to use our time for things that have no value. All those who place a high priority on being entertained are probably living to satisfy self, which can easily get them into trouble. Seeking to be constantly entertained will cause us to use our time in ways that have no value.

Wow! This business of being “isolated” from things that live and move close to the dust pertains to us today with pinpoint accuracy. While we no longer need to follow the specific stipulation (you can eat ants if you want to), there is a principle here that we should not ignore.

The next lesson in the full series on Covenants is: Lessons from the Insects that Fly and Jump

Footnotes

1: “and this one”

I am convinced that the conjunction “and” in this case means “add to or added to.”

2

This is a combination of the preposition “in/among” and the noun “whole, entire, all.”

3

This word does indeed mean “to swarm” or to move about as a large mass of small, active creatures. It does not mean to creep. Because of this it probably refers to things like ants or any other small creature that lives in colonies. Here the stipulation that it moves along the ground rules out those that swarm and also fly through the air.

It appears that everything that moves along the ground in mass was obviously considered unclean. They were expected to know this without being told. The purpose of this verse is to add to that list other things that move close to the ground even though they don’t fit the category of those that move along the ground in large groups.

4

Its root meaning may be “something that glides swiftly along.” This word is often used to indicate how quickly our life passes by and is over; even the duration of the earth is seen as brief and gliding by quickly.

5

This word’s root meaning seems to be “carrier, something that carries something else, a canopy or something that is covered, a litter with a canopy.” It also may have referred to something that is “close to the ground.”

6

This word is often translated “walk” but it can also mean “to move or go.”