Clean & Unclean Animals - Noah vs Moses

Question: Noah divided animals as “clean” and “unclean“ by which we generally understand the “hunting” animals to be unclean and the “hunted” to be clean. But Moses divides clean and unclean very specifically: “You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud” (Deut 14:6). “There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them. (Lev 11:4). Why the difference between Noah and Moses?

Answer: There’s general agreement that the first domesticated animals appeared in Mesopotamia, which is where Noah lived. 

Livestock animals were used for meat, milk, and hides. And they were probably much the same kind of animals that are used by farmers nowadays, except for oxen and donkeys (beasts of burden) because we have tractors now. Goats were domesticated, so were sheep and chickens. Herbivores that graze such as cows were domesticated in those early days of the Neolithic revolution. 

So there would have been a good understanding of which animals were clean for humans to farm and which were not. 

Unclean animals were the predators, that, generally-speaking, humans don’t eat. 

So that seems to be the picture when Noah gathered the animals for the ark. One pair of unclean and seven pairs of clean. Therefore the natural balance of fauna would be continued after the flood waters subsided in the Mesopotamian wild. 

The picture for Moses was different: The Lord set the children of Israel apart from the surrounding nations. “I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations. You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those that I have set apart as unclean for you” (Lev 24–25). 

These were dietary laws chosen by God for the Israelites, “that I have set apart as unclean for you”. They were not laws for all men throughout all time. Jesus made it plain: “’Are you so dull?’ he asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)” (Mark 7:18–19). 

Christians understand the symbolism of God setting apart a “people” for himself. 

So a sign of this meant being distinct by what the children of Israel ate. (There were other signs too). 

“You are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession. Do not eat any detestable thing. These are the animals you may eat... You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud” (Deut 14:2–6). 

We who are in Christ, the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16), see meaning in the imagery of the Old Testament, for we are to be distinct from the world. “But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself” (Ps 4:3). “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim 2:21). 

Animals that "chew the cud" and have a "split hoof" were considered “clean” in the Mosaic law. Christians also have to be careful what we consume, what we take into our hearts; for that is where the defilement takes place, as Jesus pointed out. We consume God’s Word, we think about it, we chew the cud, by meditating upon it. We get the best out of it. We feed upon it. It is good wholesome food for us. There are many “unclean” foods for us, so we watch what we take into our hearts. We feed on “every word that comes from the mouth of God” that’s our daily bread and we meditate upon it. 

The "split hoof" permits animals such as mountain goats or the ibex to have an amazing climbing ability. Nature programs on TV reveal how agile these animals are, and the cloven hoof provides the friction they need on smooth rock enabling them to move freely without falling or stumbling. The Lord provides for us feet that do not stumble: “He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights” (Ps 18:33). We are able, through Christ, to traverse all sorts of terrain that life’s journey yields. And, in Christ, we are able to do so without stumbling or falling. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Ps 23:4). He gives us feet that stand strong in faith and climb the hights of holiness to the Lord. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news” (Isa 52:7). 

So we are careful to consume clean food that the Holy Spirit prescribes for us and we reject the polluted food of this world. We are distinct—a people set apart for God. So we take note, “There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them. (Lev 11:4). The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof. The pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud. So, for an animal to be clean for the children of Israel to eat, it must fulfil the correct criteria and have both the split hoof and chew the cud. If it had only one of the conditions stipulated it was rendered unacceptable.

Some people attend religious organisations of various sorts, and some may have the Word and chew it over, analyse it but they do not have the split hoof, they do not walk in the way of holiness. They do not follow Christ in their hearts but only have the letter of the law. James phrases this principle quite succinctly: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only. Otherwise, you are deceiving yourselves” (Jam 1:22). The message to Moses and the children of Israel was that the distinctive foods they ate would separate them from other nations as a people holy to the Lord. For the Lord had personally designated what animals they could consume. “You are a people holy to the LORD your God” (Deut 14:2). We are also marked out for God’s use: “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:15–16). Both the chewing of the cud and the split hoof were necessary for those “holy to the Lord”. 

This principle is taught to us in a number of ways: ”For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom 2:13). “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). 

Those who have the Word need to be aware, for there is a subtle danger of being blind, and yet exclaiming “We see.” The Pharisees had the sacred writings but did not walk with humility. They chewed the cud but did not have a split hoof. “Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ Jesus said, ‘… you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (John 9:40:41).

We remain unclean if we hear but do not obey, if we preach well but have no love it profits us nothing, if we claim we see but do not walk in the Spirit we will stumble and fall: “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it” (Isa 35:8).

May the Lord help us to be both hearers and doers of his good Word. “The firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness’" (2 Tim 2:19).