Prawns, shrimp, lobster and crab; as a long-time underwater diving enthusiast, I’ve seen them all in their natural habitat and they give me the shudders. Even while wearing rubber gloves I’ve never liked handling them. From once living in Africa, I remember the huge Goliath beetle—not at all fondly. I know children who keep large hairy tarantula spiders as pets and enjoy grossing out their parents’ guests. Count me in that latter group. If cicadas ever invade my neighborhood, I’d probably emigrate. I don’t care for bugs.
Psychiatrists claim to be able to treat something they call entomophobia, the fear of bugs, but none actually understand it. There are numerous theories; I know most of them. Some of these attempted explanations are insightful while others are fanciful. But whatever explains it, I am not the only person disturbed by creepy-crawlies. It’s actually most of us.
Perhaps some of the near universal revulsion of creepy-crawlies might stem from the Bible’s explicit denunciation of bugs as food. Bear with me as I walk you through more verses on this topic than you might have expected. And they are all from the same single chapter in Leviticus.
But anything in the seas or in the streams that has no fins and scales, all the crawling things of the water…are an abomination for you.
These shall be tameh for you…things that swarm and crawl on the earth…
All things that swarm and crawl upon the earth are an abomination; they shall not be eaten.
You shall not eat anything that swarms upon the earth or that crawls…or anything that has many legs; for they are an abomination.
For I the Lord who elevated you up from the land of Egypt to be your God: you shall be holy, for I am holy
I must draw your attention to two Hebrew words. One is SheReTZ which best translates as both swarm and crawl and appears repeatedly in the above verses. The second word is Ma’ALeH meaning elevated and appears uniquely in the final verse I quoted.
Almost always, God speaks of having ‘taken you out of the land of Egypt’ as in the opening of the Ten Commandments: I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. (Exodus 20:2) Why only in Leviticus 11:45 do we find God saying elevated you from the Land of Egypt?
To understand that unusual usage we need to return to SHeReTZ, that word that connotes loathsome creepy-crawlies. It is used only one time in connection with the Israelites.
And the Israelites were fruitful and they swarmed and crawled; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them.
The King James translation treats that word SHeReTZ somewhat poetically if inaccurately and redundantly:
And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that much of verse 7 in Exodus 1 speaks of quantity, describing how rapidly the Hebrew population increased. However, the word SHeReTZ in that verse is not about quantity but about quality. It lets us know that while their numbers increased, they also drifted from the ways of their fathers and their behavior deteriorated.
Today, in ‘polite company’ it has been made unacceptable to blame the victim in any way. Yet, in many circumstances it is easy to see that the victim is largely to blame for his predicament. It is manifestly absurd to insist that the victim is NEVER complicit in his own misfortune. Thus it was that, at least to some extent, the anti-Israelite policies imposed by the Egyptians in the verses following Exodus 1:7 were influenced by Israelite conduct. Hebrew misbehavior made the Egyptians shudder in revulsion just as so many do when confronted by creepy-crawly bugs. That is why the word SHeReTZ is used in describing the demographic changes occurring to Israel in Egypt.
This is why God, at the conclusion of his prohibition of all creepy-crawlies as food, refers to Himself as having elevated Israel out of Egypt rather than merely as having taken them out. He compassionately focused on what they were doing right rather than judging them on what they were doing wrong. In order to take them out from Egypt, he elevated them above the “creepy” level to which they had sadly fallen.