“Why are unclean meats unclean?”
“God said so.”
“Well why did He say so?”
“Because He knows something we don’t.”
“DUH! Is that the best you can do?”
“Well … maybe it’s because they’re unhealthy…”
You know, that’s the best answer I’ve ever heard on this subject. And yet this is one of the major things that sets a true Christian apart from the rest of the world. Didn’t you ever want a better answer? I did. So… why are unclean meats unclean?
Genesis 1:29-30 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
Back in the garden of Eden, just after creating man God laid down dietary laws for him. God instructed him that he could eat all plants and all fruits freely. God told Man, in effect, that these were “clean” for him. (Of course, the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was excepted from that. It by inference was unclean).
At this time God also set down dietary laws for animals as well; just how He enforced them is at the moment beyond me, but He clearly said that EVERY beast of the earth, and EVERY bird was to eat every green herb. We can back this up in a rather unusual way because we know that in the future God will restore the Earth to the paradise-like state it was in then, and in that time…
Isaiah 65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.
When this day comes the wolf will be eating the same thing as the lamb – grass and herbs – and the lion will be eating the same thing as the ox – grass and herbs. So however God makes this possible, it seems that the entire Earth both was and will be again, vegetarians. So God told man that every green herb was clean, and we can infer from that that every animal was unclean, and not to be eaten! And up until the fall of Adam no sin was in the Earth, and therefore there was no death in the world:
Romans 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
While this is specifically talking about men, we know that until the fall of Adam the animals were herbivores, so it would seem to apply to all creatures. Now, without the sin of Adam in the world, there was nothing for them to be ashamed of – physically or spiritually.
Genesis 2:25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
Adam and Eve had done nothing to offend God, they KNEW they had done nothing to offend God, and so there was no reason for them not to be able to “go boldly before the throne of Grace” as it says in Hebrews 4:16. But then came the fall! And suddenly they KNEW they were naked.
Genesis 3:7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
Once they had sinned, they were spiritually naked; and that made them self-conscious, which made them aware of their physical nakedness as well. This spiritual shame that they had was a direct result of their sin.
Revelation 16:15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
Ephesians 6:13-17 warns Christians of the time spoken of in Revelation and cautions them to put on the armor of God – among other things, to “gird their loins with truth” and to put on the “breastplate of righteousness”. (See also 2 Corinthians 5:2-3). When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost that “breastplate of righteousness”, and the “pants of truth”, since God’s word IS truth. They were under the penalty of the law, death. The only way they could recover from that even temporarily was to put on a sacrifice. They tried to sew fig leaves on to cover their physical nakedness, but God wasn’t satisfied with this; God knew that without blood there could be no remission of sins and no nakedness could be covered. So before casting them out of the garden…
Genesis 3:21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
God made them coats of skins. In order to get those skins however, animals had to die. We don’t know which ones died here. But we know that now, for the first time on earth, blood was shed. Probably by Melchizedek himself in his first act as high priest. This blood paid for the sins of Adam and Eve symbolically and allowed them to live out the remainder of their natural lives on Earth as physical beings. The reason I explained all of that so thoroughly is that that is the reason why unclean animals are unclean. Actually, I should say that it is why CLEAN animals are CLEAN. Because remember, all animals were unclean up until Adam fell.
The next reference to clean animals in the Bible is when we find Abel offering a sacrifice of a lamb perhaps 100 years later. By reading Genesis 4, we can see that Abel knew that a lamb was an acceptable sacrifice (as did Cain, who just refused to do it properly), and also that God reserved the fat for himself.
By the time the flood came around in Genesis 7, we know for certain that the clean and unclean animals were well known because God simply categorizes them as such by telling Noah to take on the ark 7 (probably 7 pairs) of clean, and 2 (pairs) of unclean animals. Immediately after the flood we have the first writing telling us that the blood is reserved for God.
Genesis 9:2-4 And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
And here is the first time we are explicitly told that flesh is clean as well as herbs. Although since Abel was a “keeper of the flocks”, and before this verse we know that clean and unclean animals were known, it seems more likely that God was just formalizing rules which already existed in his covenant with Noah’s sons.
It’s time to summarize what we have so far; in the beginning all animals were unclean and not to be eaten, period. Then when Adam fell, a sacrifice had to be made; since unclean animals cannot be sacrificed, God had to “cleanse” some of them (for reasons to be explained later) to be a sacrifice to cover their spiritual nakedness even as their skins covered their physical nakedness.
God at this time told Adam and Eve, who later told their children, which animals He had cleansed and why; they passed this information down throughout all the righteous children of Adam, Seth, Enoch, etc, down to Noah. Noah brought this information to this side of the flood with him, where God formalized a covenant with him and his sons.
Ok; so that explains why certain animals had to be cleansed, but leaves several questions unanswered; why did God choose certain animals to be cleaned and not others? It surely wasn’t an arbitrary decision. And what does the whole thing picture, when it’s all said and done? And now it gets fun!
To start with, we fast-forward 4000 years to the gospel being opened to the Gentiles. Peter recounts the story thus:
Acts 11:5-9 … in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me: Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth. But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
This was said three times. And this story tells us several different things. Of course primarily it was meant to tell Peter the following:
Acts 10:28 And he said unto them [Cornelius and his house], Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call ANY MAN common or unclean.
God was making a point, that “in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Acts 10:35). But there is a lot more in this story than just that. We know for one thing that God “cleansed” the gentiles, which were unclean. Just as God “cleansed” certain animals which were all unclean in the garden. But more importantly, we know that God here has used as a Bible symbol an unclean animal to represent a gentile. This is of monumental importance to the question at hand.
If an unclean animal represents a gentile, then we have a lot of scriptures to work with to make sense out of this. We know that the division between gentiles and Jews, for instance, is not that of blood or birth, but of righteousness.
Romans 2:28-29 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
So an unclean animal represents a spiritual gentile, and a clean one represents a spiritual Jew; in other words, a member of the true church of God; someone who has and obeys the spirit of God. Someone who will be in the first resurrection. To use a common Bible term, the clean animals represent the firstfruits.
Revelation 14:4 These [the 144,000] are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
Firstfruits and firstborn are used synonymously throughout the Bible to represent, in type, those who will be born again in a resurrection as the Kings and Priests who will live and reign with Christ as the firstborn elder children in the family of God. And this leads me back to Israel…
Exodus 4:22 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:
Exodus 19:6 And ye [all of Israel] shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. …
The entire nation of Israel was supposed to be God’s firstborn. It depicted, in type, the salvation of the righteous. And they were intended to be His priests, through whom He would communicate and lead the entire world. Ideally speaking. Of course, they didn’t work out and so He tried to use Levi instead; that didn’t work either and so He gave the task to the church; of course, each church inevitably became corrupt and so finally, since physical men are unable to fulfill the job of the firstborn on any long-term basis, God will at last turn to the resurrected saints to finally do it right.
Exodus 13:12-13 … thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD’S. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.
Now consider this; if an unclean animal was born, it had to be either killed, or paid for with a clean animal. Remember that Adam and Eve first became unclean when they sinned; then, in order for them (or the unclean animal in this verse) to continue to live at all, a clean animal – a lamb – had to be killed and offered to “cover their nakedness”. Otherwise the wages for their uncleanness was death.
So then our conclusion thus far is that the clean animals represent the firstfruits; primarily Jesus Christ, and by extension His priesthood – which all of us are if we help to bring His sacrifice to the world to cover their nakedness!
1 Peter 2:5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
It’s time to summarize again. God cleansed the clean animals in the garden after the fall of Adam, so that their death would cover the sins of those who were spiritually naked; this pictured the firstborn priesthood, led by “the first of the firstfruits”, Jesus Christ, and shown in a shadow by the priesthood of Levi.
The other animals which He left unclean represented the spiritual gentiles. The unclean animals vastly outnumber the clean animals, just as the spiritual Jews are far fewer in number than the spiritual gentiles. In order for the spiritual gentiles to find God they must first be called and then given the spirit of God, “cleansed” through repentance and by girding themselves with truth and righteousness, and then by washing their robes in the blood of the clean animals – in particular the lamb, representing the blood of Christ!
But I still haven’t answered the most tricky question; why did God choose to leave rabbits, woodchucks, elephants, snails, squirrels, aardvarks, sharks, horses, hawks, otters, alligators and whales unclean while selecting goats, sheep, cows, buffalo, deer, chickens, geese, salmon, bass and grasshoppers to cleanse?
I have heard all of the arguments about cleanliness; that shrimps and catfish are bottom feeders, who eat the sludge and sewage off of the bottom of the rivers – but so do carp, and they are clean. And yes, jackals and vultures are scavengers, but have you ever watched what a chicken will eat? By these standards, rabbits are much more “clean” and eat grass and avoid toxicity and are healthier than say, a chicken. And I hear they even taste the same!
And then when you consider that vast portions of the world live almost entirely on unclean foods – including almost every sea village on earth, most of southern Europe, most of southeast Asia and all of the islands, the Eskimo which live off the blood and fat of whales and seals, which is unclean in several ways, and they all live longer than we do! And have done so for countless generations!
So while I continue to be open to ideas on the subject, I’ve never heard anything that makes sense out of those objections. But I do have a different idea…
If, as I’ve indicated, the clean animals represent the members of the true body of Christ, the church of God, then they must have attributes in common. Something that God saw in the clean animals that reminded him of the people He was going to save as firstfruits, which prompted him to select certain species to be cleansed. And there are three categories that I’ve found they have in common:
1. They need God.
One difference between the rabbit and the clean animals is that the rabbit breeds like… well… a rabbit. I’ve heard that in 3 years under ideal circumstances 2 rabbits can become several million rabbits. In 1859 an English settler, hoping to provide a “touch of home and a spot of hunting” introduced 24 rabbits into Australia, which had no indigenous population. In 10 years they had so multiplied that two million were shot and trapped annually without having a noticeable effect on the population.
The point is, the rabbit doesn’t NEED God. It is able to reproduce and thrive in spite of being low on the food chain. The goat on the other hand produces one or two offspring per year. This makes the ability of the species to bounce back from famine and too many predators relatively quite low. The cow produces only one calf a year. This is something that all clean mammals seem to have in common.
The exception is of course, grasshoppers and fish. Fish also are susceptible to over predation because of the way they spawn; millions of eggs may be laid but they can all be swallowed in a few gulps of a whale shark. Grasshoppers, while they may seem to multiply a thousandfold in a year, most die over the winter.
All of these animals need God. To compare that to those in the true Church of God, there was a running joke in the ministry in the old days of the Church. When ministry went to make a visit to a prospective member, they would follow the directions to a bad neighborhood, continue to a worse one, and then finally when they found the mobile home with the car up on blocks in the front yard, they knew they’d found the house of the person God had called.
While that is probably an exaggeration, nonetheless God calls those who need Him. Let’s face it, if life is going great for us, we’re happy with our spiritual life and are rich and have all we could want, why would we look for a better answer? Why rock the boat?
1 Corinthians 1:26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
In this, the clean animals and the church of God have a lot in common; in a sense, to paraphrase the inscription at the statue of liberty; clean animals and newly called church members tend to be “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” and this leads me directly in the second point;
2. They are the least of the creatures.
No predator or carnivore is clean. A few omnivores (chickens, fish), but no sharks, hawks, lions and bears. The animals you find on the world’s flags – the bald eagle who mounts up on high, and looks God in the eye – he is proud. Not only does he not need God, as point 1 said, but he is a mighty creature. What point would there be in God saving him?
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.
God chose things that are at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak, so that when he saved them and delivered them from trouble, that they couldn’t roar with the lion “my own right arm (paw?) has saved me!”. I won’t take the space to expound upon that in the Christian sense – you already know it anyway. But I will cite a few examples;
David was the youngest, smallest, and wimpiest. (How do YOU feel about teenage boys who compose poetry? They didn’t feel much differently 3000 years ago!) He had 7 older brothers, each of whom in turn Samuel was sure that God would choose to be the next king of Israel. They were tall, strong, mighty men. But God chose David, that no flesh should glory in his presence. God chose the deer and not the leopard for the same reason.
Ancient Israel was led out of Egypt, in a type of what happens to all of us in being led out of bondage to sin, and God informed them why it was that He chose them instead of, say, Assyria:
Deuteronomy 7:6-7 For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people:
God didn’t choose Israel because they were strong! Because they were the weakest of the nations! To show that it was HIS power, and not theirs, which led them out of Egypt!
And then there is Esau and and Jacob. Esau was a man’s man. He liked to hunt, rough it out in the forest, he had hairy strong arms and was basically everything a father could want in a son. Isaac thought so, anyway. Jacob on the other hand was a wimp. He liked to live in tents, and in cities. He liked civilization. And besides that, he was deceitful. But yet God said…
Romans 9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
But Jacob, David, and Israel – along with everyone else who ever made it into the Kingdom of God, I would imagine – and every clean animal, for that matter – all have one thing in common. Stubbornness. Which leads me to my third and final point.
3. They are stubborn and bullheaded
As Jacob (the wimp) had been wrestling with what was called an angel (but in light of subsequent statements was probably the Being who later became Christ), the angel said:
Genesis 32:26 … Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
This man was not a mighty hunter. He wasn’t a great powerful leader. He wasn’t a strong man. But he had one thing in his favor; like Solomon advised and David did, whatever he set his hand to do, he DID with everything he had and didn’t give up until he had won – whatever the cost. He had just been given an injury to his hip which caused him to limp the rest of his life. And yet STILL he held on to Christ, refusing to give up.
Genesis 32:27-28 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
Israel means, figuratively, “He who prevailed with God”. This man wrestled with God and won. I think God may have let him win, but that wasn’t the point; Jacob was going to hold on to Christ no matter what; and Christ admired that. That was the thing that He saw in Jacob before he was even born, that made him love him – in spite of his other, negative character traits – and hate Esau. Because Esau was a butterfly. Which is also unclean. Because Esau saw something, and because of his strength and his pride he did it. And then he lost interest and did something else. And then he was hungry and sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. He was unstable and couldn’t be trusted to stick with something. But Jacob on the other hand…
If God could take Jacob and put him in a situation where he NEEDED God (point one) and since he was already the least of the creatures (point 2) in that Jacob was a wimp, a liar and a con man; then the fact that he was stubborn once he set his mind to something (point 3) he had a solid shot at making it to the first resurrection, and being “cleansed”.
And God knew that He could mold that character of Jacob and make it into someone who COULD lead his younger brothers and sisters (spiritually speaking) into the kingdom of God. And that Jacob couldn’t “glory in his presence” as the stallion could; and that he was a creature who could be cleansed and like the literal clean animals could be used to offer sacrifices for his unclean animal brothers; sacrifices which ultimately pointed at Aaron, the high priest, and the lamb of God, who came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ.
And God knew that Jacob – now called Israel – could be used to bring people into the kingdom of God, and be used to bring people to the sacrifice of Christ.
Romans 11:31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.
And God knew that even though these other “unclean” spiritual gentiles don’t believe now – that through the mercy of the “clean” animals, those people could obtain mercy. That through God’s mercy on us, we, the deer, sheep, chickens and salmon could lead the billions of others into righteousness – all of those tigers, catfish and shrimp who have lived and died in this world since that very first animal died to pay for the sins of Adam, will one day have their shot at salvation – all through the mercy that God has showed to the firstfruits today.
Romans 11:32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
For now, God has the rest of the world safely protected in a cocoon of ignorance, so that after saving the firstfruits he can use them to save the rest of the world. And that is the REAL meaning of Acts 10; Remember all of those unclean animals, who weren’t called in this time, that were on that sheet lowered down to earth? God told Peter that the men He had cleansed were not to be called unclean. God said that three times (Acts 11:10). And that wasn’t an arbitrary number any more than God choosing a chicken over a rabbit.
This was all part of a picture so enormous that it’s only now unfolding to us. You see, the gentiles were cleansed three times. Adam and Eve, the first spiritual gentiles were covered by the sacrifice of the first clean animals. The physical gentiles, who were alienated from the promise of the covenant of Israel and were without hope in the world were “cleansed” when the gospel was opened up to them in Acts 10.
And finally, all of those spiritual gentiles whom today God has not called will be cleansed when the spirit of God covers the earth as the waters cover the sea; and so shall all Israel and indeed, the whole world have their shot at salvation; and have their chance at being a lamb… instead of a dog.