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Clean and Unclean Animals

As we move further into Scripture, we find the next reference to food is in Genesis 6:21.  Here G-d instructs Noach bring along food which is edible (i.e. suitable for eating). We again see Scripture indicating that some food is suitable for eating and other food is not suitable for eating. An interesting observation is that, although Scripture never provides any detail about what is and what is not suitable at the time, Noach clearly knows which is which because he does not question G-d about it.

Thus far in Scripture, we have not been given any indication that G-d approves of any food other than the seed-bearing plants and fruits that He provided. That is about to change. In Genesis 9:3 G-d instructs Noach that "every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you". This instruction is given without additional caveat...or is it?

In Genesis 6:19-20 G-d tells Noach to bring in two of every kind of the animals, the birds, and "of every creeping thing":

"And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. (Genesis 6:19-20)


The Hebrew word for "creeping thing" in both this verse and also in Genesis 9:3 is רמשׂ (remes- Strong's #7431). This term is often used in passages referring to unclean animals. G-d provides some additional clarification in chapter 7.

"You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; also of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth. (Genesis 7:2-3)


Here G-d instructs Noach to take seven pairs of clean animals and birds "to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth". This begs the question:

Why not just take two pairs like all the other animals?

Because after the Flood Noach offers up some of the clean animals as a sacrifice to G-d (Genesis 8:20). If there had been only one pair of animals then as soon as Noach had sacrificed one or eaten one then that type of animal would have become extinct: it would have had no partner with which to mate and reproduce.


Consider the events surrounding the Flood:

  • G-d causes two of every kind of animal to come to Noah to keep them alive (Genesis 6:20)
  • Clean animals are taken by sevens, and unclean animals are taken by twos (Genesis 7:2)
  • Every person and animal outside the ark perishes in the Flood (Genesis 7:21-22)
  • The Flood subsides (Genesis 8:13), and Noah exits the ark (v 18)
  • G-d tells Noah to let the animals out of the ark so that "they may breed abundantly on the earth" (Genesis 8:17)
  • G-d tells Noah "every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you" (Genesis 9:3)


There are only two options at this point:

  1. G-d did intend Noah to eat the unclean animals
  2. G-d did not intend Noah to eat the unclean animals


Let's say G-d did intend Noah to eat the unclean animals and Noah went out, slaughtered the sow [a female pig], and made himself a nice ham sandwich, a few pork chops, and some bacon for breakfast.  At that point, pigs would cease to be able to reproduce (there were only two in the ark after all) so G-d's intention to keep the animals alive (Genesis 6:20) and breed abundantly upon the earth (Genesis 8:17) would have been thwarted. It appears that G-d did not intend Noah to eat the unclean animals because that would contradict His will and purposes for bringing the unclean animals on the ark.


Other references to food in Genesis

There are several other references to food in Genesis that provide insight into food and how we should handle it.

Genesis 14:11 is part of the record of the sacking of S'dom (Sodom) and Amorah (Gomorrah) and the capture of Avram's nephew Lot. This verse notes that the food supply was taken along with all the other goods of the towns. At that time (as it is now for armies) food is a valuable commodity.

Genesis 24:33 is found in the early part of the story of Elietzer's search for a wife for Yitzchak. Elietzer has come to the household of Lavan and seen Rivkah, placed bracelets upon her arms. Lavan hears of this, comes to Elietzer and invites him into his home. Lavan unloaded Elietzer's camels and fed them, provided water for Elietzer and the men with him to wash his feet. Food was prepared and brought before Elietzer, but he says (in verse 33) that he will not eat until he has spoken his business.

Elietzer provides an example to us in that he refused to take care of his own needs until he had spoken his master's business. So we, too, should be willing and able to set aside our personal need for sustenance until we have taken care of our Master's business.

Genesis 27 tells the story of Yitzchak's blessing upon Yaakov and Esav. Yitzchak tells Esav to go out and kill some wild game to make a savory dish. At the prompting of his mother, Yaakov tricks his father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. One traditional teaching in this passage is that Yitzchak allowed his focus on and hunger for food to distract him from properly examining Yaakov to determine if he were truly the firstborn. The lesson is that we should not allow ourselves to be distracted by food from properly investigating and settling a matter.

Genesis 28:20 records the conditions Yaakov includes in his vow to G-d to tithe to Him. Yaakov asks these things:

  • G-d to be with him
  • G-d will keep him on the journey
  • Food to eat
  • Garments to wear
  • Safe return to his father's house


A lesson we can learn from this is that we should seek these things (including food) from the Source of everything good: our heavenly Father.


Genesis 39:6 informs us that Potiphar did not concern himself with anything in his household except for his food because Yosef had charge over everything.

Genesis 40:17 relates the dream of Pharaoh's baker who dreamed about a basket on his head that was filled with all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh.

Genesis 41 tells the story of Yosef's interpretation of the dreams of Pharaoh and his rise to power to handle the years of plenty and the years of famine. Verses 35, 36, and 48 all mention food.

Genesis 42-47 tells us about Yosef's brothers coming to buy food because of the famine in the land of Kena'an (Canaan).

Exodus 21:10 provides instruction to the man who takes a second wife: he may not reduce the food, clothing, or conjugal rights of the first wife.


There are a number of things that Scripture describes as "abominations". The Hebrew word is תּועבה (toehbah - plural: toehbot). One of the things that Scripture defines as an abomination is the eating of animals that G-d has declared as unfit as food (Deuteronomy 14:3). The translators of the NASB have softened the word in this verse to be "detestable thing". However, the Hebrew word there is the same word used in Scripture to describe sexual immorality, homosexuality, and bestiality but is translated in the NASB in those instances as "an abomination".

We are left with the question: "What has G-d defined as unfit as food?"

Leviticus 11 provides the answers.


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Yom Sheni, 17 Adar I, 5784

Monday, February 26, 2024


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