The Bible says a lot of odd things. I have been fascinated by these odd things ever since I was a child. Partly for my own edification, partly out of curiosity, and partly out of humor I am going to post a short series of entries exploring some strange things that the Bible says. I will use the following format in all posts:
- SAY WHAT?!? – the odd thing that the Bible says and where it says it.
- What? – Ideas for what it means and how it has been interpreted
- Now What? – What might we do with this passage as believers today?
I pray this little experiment in humor and holy scripture is a blessing to you. May you laugh and love more because of it. Amen.
The choicest of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. (Exodus 23:19 NRSV)
The best of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. (Exodus 34:26 NRSV)
You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to aliens residing in your towns for them to eat, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. (Deuteronomy 14:21 NRSV)
These verses have been confusing for many over time. They are a favorite of junior high kids in youth group discovering funny things in the Bible when they are bored with the sermon. There are a variety of opinions about how we should interpret this verse:
- It means literally that the Israelites should not boil a baby goat in its mother’s milk. The reasoning is either that it was some sort of cult worship practice that Israel was tempted to participate in or a cruel cultural magical practice to try and make the land more fruitful.
- Because this was a different cultural practice of some kind(an extravagant or Egyptian practice?) that we do not know about elsewhere and God is saying it is unnecessarily cruel to kill a baby goat in the very thing which once nourished it.
- It could be a symbolic way to profane the Feast of Ingathering.
- Our Jewish friends have traditionally interpreted this passage as pertaining to dietary restriction. Specifically, the idea is that meat and dairy products should not be consumed in the same meal [So no Cheeseburgers!!!!].
- Another option [This is the one I tend to think] is that the phrase “do not boil a baby goat in its mother’s milk” is some sort of idiom from the ancient world that has been lost to us over time. It is similar to how people from other cultures many years from now may be disturbed by our cultural idiom, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!” The idiom then may have something to do with giving from your first fruits since this command shows up directly before or after each time this odd passage does.
No one of these suggestions is the definitive answer. Thankfully, most of us do not feel much temptation to boil a baby goat in its mother’s milk (at least not literally!!). I offer the following tentative reflections:
- If this was a cultural practice of some sort that was known in other religions or cultures the Israelites had exposure to, we should be reminded that just because others in the world do something does not make it an acceptable thing. To boil a baby goat in the milk it once drank is incredibly cruel no matter what the potential benefit is. Maybe as believers we need to be cautious to accept a practice from the world just because of some perceived or potential benefit. I think of animal cruelty in testing and commercial raising. We should stand firmly against cruelty to God’s creatures in any capacity! Maybe this odd passage can serve as a reminder!
- If this practice is a dietary restriction, as our Jewish friends suggest, then we should be more thoughtful about the things we put into our body. I grew up hearing that since our bodies are temples of God we should abstain from risky sexual practices or alcohol/drug usage. I never heard it in reference to the food we ate. There is a time to enjoy rich and delicious foods, but perhaps we also need to remember that if our bodies are temples of the living God then we need to be thoughtful about the processed, super-sugar loaded, calorie high foods we tend to consume regularly. Maybe this passage is a reminder that we should honor God by the foods we eat (or don’t eat).
- If this command is really a long lost idiom to convey the importance of giving from our first fruits, then we need to remember to give from our first fruits. All good things are from God, so let us give him a choice offering from the best we have. For us, it is probably not a goat, sheep, wheat, barley, etc. It is probably just income from a job we have. May we give to God from the choice of our first fruits. In other words, tithe from your income and do it intentionally from each paycheck.
Since we don’t know for certain which one of these options is “the one,” maybe we can just be encouraged by any of them depending on what the Holy Spirit leads us to be convicted by. Regardless, make sure you don’t boil a baby goat in its mother’s milk anytime soon!!!
- Here is a Great article I found online about these verses.