God has wisdom for every subject imaginable: dating, marriage, sex, money, servant leadership. This makes me wonder: why did God designate some animals clean and others unclean? Did He just flip a coin to determine which would be which? Are the Leviticus 11 commands arbitrary? Or have we overlooked some kind of hidden wisdom in the dietary laws?
Many traditional interpretations—both Christian and Jewish—claim that there is no rhyme or reason for God’s classification system. This view implies that God pulled names out of a hat when deciding how to categorize His creatures. I don’t buy it. Let’s look at some differences between cows and pigs as one example for why the clean/unclean designation is probably not random.
Think back to grade school science class: do you remember the difference between omnivores and herbivores? Herbivores do not eat meat; they eat plant-based foods. Omnivores, however, eat everything—both plants and animals, including animals God calls unclean, like rats, spiders and cockroaches. Would you rather eat an herbivore or an omnivore?
Interestingly, clean mammals—like cows—are designed to be herbivores. God hard-wired them to eat plant-based foods—the same ones He gave to man in Genesis 1:29 as his main food source. Because cows do not eat the flesh of other animals, they avoid many diseases, parasites and worms other animals carry. This makes herbivores healthier to eat than omnivores. (Mad Cow Disease is caused, in part, by cattle being fed ground-up cattle brains and other remains—one of the consequences of circumventing God’s plan for bovine vegetarianism.)
Clean animals (outlined in Leviticus 11) must “chew the cud,” which is a complex digestion process. Known as ruminants, these animals essentially regurgitate their food for another pass at chewing. Once I can get beyond this part of their design, I am fascinated. God gave ruminants a unique, multi-stomach digestive system that removes toxins from their food before it is absorbed into their flesh.
The herbivores’ natural instincts would lead them to a diet of grass and other vegetation. As one of the clean animals listed in Leviticus 11, it seems like cows are designed to be eaten by people, since their meat—in its God-given state—would be free from contaminants.
The Other Side of the Coin—Unclean Animals
Omnivores, on the other hand, do not chew the cud. They are designed differently than herbivores. Pigs, for example, have a simpler, shorter digestive system that does not detoxify their food before it reaches their flesh. Considering pigs as food is troublesome. Why? Because on their own, pigs will eat everything, including mice, dead animals and feces.
God designed unclean animals intelligently—as environmental cleaners, not as food sources. Scavengers were created with a purpose. They were created to clean up dead carcasses and garbage, but they were not created to be eaten. Dr. Rex Russell provides an interesting example of this intelligent design:
“Pigs have eaten Philadelphia’s garbage and sewage for more than 100 years, saving the city $3 million a year in landfill costs. This is a wise use of hogs. They are designed to clean our environment.”(Rex Russell, What the Bible Says about Healthy Living, Regal, 1996)
Can present-day farmers and scientists raise pigs that do not consume such foul food? Probably. But I am captivated by God’s careful design for the animal kingdom. Erring on the side of caution, I avoid eating those intended to clean the environment, regardless of the “advances” man has made.
Scientific studies support the apparent wisdom of the biblical food laws. A Johns Hopkins University study illustrates how pigs and other unclean mammals, birds, fish and insects have much higher toxicity levels than clean ones, like cows. Another study, in which medical students were fed organic, trichinosis-free pork revealed serious changes in the subjects’ blood chemistry after the pork was eaten. The longer-term study could not be completed, since the subjects stopped eating pork after the initial testing.
Our Master Creator
Elmer Josephson affirms the wisdom of God’s Word: “There is no portion of the commandments of God in general, or of the Mosaic code in particular, that is not based on a scientific understanding of
fundamental law.” (God’s Key to Health and Happiness, Revell, 1976)
Ultimately, however, our choice to obey God’s Word should flow not out of our desire to benefit ourselves, but out of our love for and trust in Him.
Adapted from Holy Cow! Does God Care about What We Eat?