First, we need to recognize that the laws regarding the eating of clean and unclean meats are no longer binding upon God’s people. Acts 10:9-16 and 1Timothy 4:1-5 clearly teach there has been a change in law and we are now allowed to eat all animal flesh. Furthermore, Genesis 9:3 teaches that before the law came to Israel, God had legislated that it was permissible to eat any living thing, whether plant or animal. The laws regarding the eating of clean and unclean animals were given to Israel, and were not intended to be for all men of all time. This seems to eliminate the possibility of such laws being given for health and dietary concerns. Has God not always cared for the health and well being of mankind?
The classifications of clean and unclean animals came prior to the flood, but were not given in reference to what could or could not be eaten; they were given for the sake of sacrifice. Sacrifice always required the shedding of blood and the offering of a clean animal. Though Scripture does not reveal the specific details of God’s laws regarding animal sacrifice prior to the flood, we do know Able offered his sacrifice by faith (Romans 10:17 teaches this could only be done by having God’s Word revealed), and Noah offered clean animals in sacrifice after surviving the flood (Genesis 8:20). Again, though there were designations of clean and unclean prior to the flood(Genesis 7:2-3), these designations were not for dietary purposes (Genesis 9:3), but rather sacrificial purposes (Genesis 8:20). Thus we find the designation of clean and unclean animals had spiritual significance and pointed toward Christ our perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 10:5-10).
In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 Moses is not designating certain animals as clean and unclean for the first time, but is rather clarifying the classifications and establishing new dietary laws. Did God establish these dietary laws just so He could test Israel? Or, was He making laws simply to show He had the authority and might to do whatever He wanted to as skeptics purport? No He was not; He had a purpose behind His laws and wanted Israel to learn from them.
Leviticus 11 observes three classifications of animals (land, air, and water) and establishes rules to determine which animals within each category were to be considered clean or unclean. Here are the rules:
God’s people were to be a set apart people from the nations that surrounded them. They were not to blur the lines of distinction either socially or religiously. It seems that even in the foods they ate, God wanted them to reflect on their distinctiveness. God's desire for Israel to be unique is also seen in His prohibitions against wearing clothing made of mixed materials such as wool and linen and His command against pairing a donkey and an ox together when plowing a field (Deuteronomy 22:10-11).
Besides this lesson, there seem to be three other things God wants Israel to reflect upon:
1- God wants them to reflect on the Fall, for He forbids their eating any creeping, crawling, or slithering animals which was reminiscent of the serpent in the Garden. They are also not to eat anything that is connected with death and shed blood- vultures/scavengers. Israel was to reflect solemnly on the fall when they saw death and shed blood in the natural world (something that was not part of the original creation).
2- God did not want Israel to become a predator of the helpless, but rather wanted them to provide protection for the weak and feeble (Deuteronomy 14:28-29/ 16:11-12/ Isaiah 1:17). This seems to be reflected in the explicit and implicit prohibitions against animals and birds of prey.
3- God placed emphasis on the chewing of the cud and examining the feet of land animals. Was this emphasis completely random or could there have been a purpose behind it? Could God be stressing through symbolism the need for Israel to dwell on His word (as an animal chews the cud) and consider their walk of life (as they reflect upon the feet of the animals)? No doubt these were both areas of importance when it came to being a distinct nation. As it separated the clean from the unclean, so it separated the Lord’s people from those of heathen nations.
Through their dietary laws, God wanted Israel to reflect on the fall of mankind, their responsibility to fallen man, and what it means and takes to become a peculiar people unto the Lord. Though God has since lifted these laws, may we never loose sight of the lessons Israel failed to grasp in their daily reflections. May we learn to see God in the small things in life and seek to do His will, while being ever mindful of our unworthiness.
Consider the following quote from Andrew Bonar as a closing summary:
“In Noah’s day, the distinction between clean and unclean was known; but only in its rudiments. That general rule is now branched out into particulars. By this new constitution, sin was much oftener brought before the eyes and into the thoughts of the godly men of Israel. For suppose an Israelite of “quick discernment in the fear of the Lord” going forth to his labor. As he goes forth, he meets one leading a camel along. The sight of this animal, marked as unclean in the law, stirs up his soul to reflect upon God’s having His eye on His people to see if they avoid sin and remember His revealed will; and just because this animal was one of those that it would have been difficult to determine whether it belonged to the clean or unclean,, had not express authority decided, he is reminded that it will be safe for himself to observe the Lord’s positive decision in things that have a doubtful aspect. He walks onward. As he crosses the field, a hare starts from its form, and speeds past him. Here he is reminded that there are things which God has expressly forbidden, and which he must avoid with as much fear as this timid hare hastens its escape from him. As he passes near some rocky part of his farm, the coney, or wuber, attracts his eye, and deepens the remembrance that God has made a difference between good and evil; while it teaches him to hide from the approach of the least appearance of evil, even as that coney, at the sight of a foe, betakes itself to its rocks. In the more woody and wild scenes, he sees the swine and the wild boar enjoying their retreats in savage filthiness. There he again is reminded of the law of his God; and there he reads at the same time the filth of iniquity-its impure, loathsome aspect-the swine wallowing in the mire, and the wild boar stretching his carcass at ease, or sharpening his tusks for some effort of destruction.” (DeWelt. p. 172)
Dewelt, Don, Leviticus (Joplin, College Press, 1975), 172.