"You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk." —Exodus 23:14-19
Silence! Repeatedly, God's people have been taught always to be ready to give an answer regarding our beliefs (I Peter 3:15). But when I was put on the spot, all I could come up with was a long, embarrassing silence!
This happened at Strathcona Provincial Park on northern Vancouver Island where I was spending a few days helping to supervise my daughter's Grade 7 class on their school trip. I had just returned to our breakfast table in the lodge cafeteria after a low-key (or so I thought) visit to the kitchen to ask the chef whether the tasty-looking omelets contained any ham. As I sat down, my daughter's teacher—Mrs. Schreiber, a very pleasant, polite, and knowledgeable lady—first asked me if our church kept the "Jewish" dietary laws, a common question that is often asked of God's people.
This was nothing new. I knew what to answer. All was well.
Then came question number two: "But you don't have any problem eating meat and drinking milk together, as the Jews do?"
I knew that we did not have any doctrine or teaching against consuming meat and milk products together, so out came an automatic, "No." But I felt a need to expand on my answer. Without some brief explanation from me, Mrs. Schreiber and the others at the table would be left with the opinion that my church arbitrarily picks and chooses which parts of the Bible it will obey and which parts it will not. I searched my memory:
» Why do we keep the one but not the other? I did not know.
» Was there a real connection between the two? I did not know.
» Was the milk and meat command part of the sacrificial law and therefore done away? I did not know.
» What were the scriptures concerning this subject? I did not know!
The pregnant silence reigned for what seemed like an eternity until, mercifully, one of the other dads at the table changed the subject with another of his hunting or fishing stories.
What about you? Would you have been ready with an answer on this subject? Does God expect His children to be ready with answers on such seemingly minor topics? Is this, in fact, a minor topic? If not, what importance does it hold?
Let us examine how and why the church teaching on this subject—of whether or not to consume meat and milk products together—differs from the Jewish teaching.
What are the origins of the Jewish teaching? This doctrine of not eating meat and milk together is one of the main Jewish dietary laws determining if a food is kosher. Where did they get it? Is it found in the Old Testament?
I checked in a couple of different textbooks on Judaism, and they all agreed with The Jewish Encyclopedia, which says this in its article on "Dietary Laws":
Prohibition of Eating Milk and Meat Together. The prohibition of eating meat and milk, or foods derived from them, is first mentioned in the Talmud (Hul. 8:1), but is traced back by the rabbis to the Biblical commandment: "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk" (Ex. 23:19). It applies, however, to the flesh of poultry as well as to that of mammals. Foods derived from the meat of mammals or poultry are known as fleishig; those derived from milk, such as cheese, rennet and pastry made with milk, are known as milchig. All other foods are neutral (minnig or parve), including fish, eggs, and all vegetables and fruits; accordingly, they may be eaten together with both milk and meat dishes. The latter, however, can be eaten only six hours apart. Scrupulous individuals are careful to have two sets of dishes, cooking vessels and table utensils, in order to remove any possibility of the contact of the tiniest part of one of the two kinds of food with the other.
Note that this doctrine was "first mentioned in the Talmud." However, what is the Talmud and what authority does it hold? Is it, like the Bible, God's inspired Word? No. It is a kind of "encyclopedia" of Jewish civil and religious law, and it includes a set of man-made commentaries and interpretations of Old Testament scriptures. These commentaries date from the third to the sixth centuries after Christ, and about two millennia after God had given His laws to Israel at Mount Sinai.
The Jewish Encyclopedia says that it is the rabbis who trace their milk and meat doctrine back to Exodus 23:19. Did the rabbis trace it accurately? Let us examine this scripture:
The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil [seethe, KJV] a young goat in its mother's milk.
The scriptures are clear with regard to clean and unclean meats, but does this verse actually say that meat and milk should not be eaten together? No, it does not. Then what does it say? It says that God's people should not seethe a kid in its mother's milk. "Seethe" is an old English word for "boil" or "stew."
Why Would They Do It?
Why would anyone ever consider cooking a young goat in its mother's milk? Why did God bring this to the Israelites' attention? Why would they even think of doing such a thing? Even if they did, what would be wrong with it?
According to various Bible commentaries, the pagans of that era and of that area had a fertility rite, which involved boiling a kid in its mother's milk and sprinkling the broth as a magic charm on their gardens and fields. They did this in the hope of increasing the yield of their crops. Here is what The Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge says about Exodus 23:19:
The true sense of this passage seems to be that assigned by Dr. Cudworth, from a MS. comment of a Karaite Jew. "It was a custom with the ancient heathens, when they had gathered in all their fruits, to take a kid, and boil it in the dam's milk; and then in a magical way, to go about and sprinkle all their trees, and fields, and gardens, and orchards with it, thinking by these means, that they should make them fruitful, and bring forth more abundantly in the following year. Wherefore, God forbad his people, at the time of their in-gathering, to use any such superstitious or idolatrous rite.
God was warning His people against following this heathen custom. It actually had nothing to do with the dietary laws.
Can any importance be attached to this seemingly outdated command? Does it have any significance today? How many of God's people today even keep goats?
The late Herbert Armstrong taught that if a command is repeated in the Holy Bible, then that command is doubly important. Believe it or not, this command is repeated twice—so we might consider it to be trebly important! For this reason, we should take a look at the appropriate scriptures and their context. Before we leave Exodus 23, notice the context of verse 19:
Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, in the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out from Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering, which is at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God. You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; nor shall the fat of My sacrifice remain until morning. The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk. (Exodus 23:14-19)
In this passage, including verse 19, God is giving instructions concerning what to do and what not to do on His feast days. The first repetition of this command is in Exodus 34:26, and again, the context is dealing with the proper keeping of God's feasts:
The Feast of Unleavened Bread you shall keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, in the appointed time of the month of Abib; for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt. All that open the womb are Mine, and every male firstling among your livestock, whether ox or sheep. But the firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb. And if you will not redeem him, then you shall break his neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed.
Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year's end. Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the Lord God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.
You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leaven, nor shall the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover be left until morning. The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk. (Exodus 34:18-26)
The third and final occurrence of this command is in Deuteronomy 14:21. As we have seen, the context is second tithe and the proper preparation for, and observance of, God's feasts:
You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to the alien who is within your gates, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner; for you are a holy people to the Lord your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk.
You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstlings of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you. (Deuteronomy 14:21-27)
Through these commands, God is telling His Old Testament church to keep His holy days in the ways He tells them to, not in the ways that the Canaanites and Egyptians commonly kept their days.
We can apply the principles of these commands to God's New Testament church today—not misinterpreting them as the Jewish rabbis have done. God's people today should keep His annual holy days as He commands us to, not by trying to duplicate the methods and trappings of the world's ancient heathen observances: Christmas, New Year, Valentine's Day, Lent, Easter, and Halloween.
We can also apply the principle to God's weekly feast day, the Sabbath, by keeping it in the way that God commands us to—not by trying to duplicate Satan's counterfeit day of worship, Sunday.
Still in Force?
If we were so inclined, would it be permissible for us to boil a kid in its mother's milk? It is not likely that we would want to, but if we did, we would be "tempting" God (Deuteronomy 6:16; Malachi 3:15) and breaking one of His laws, one that is just as binding today as those regarding the holy days and tithing.
Finally, is it permissible to eat meat and milk products together? Yes, of course! In fact, God has always allowed it. Our Elder Brother—our example in righteousness—Jesus Christ, mixed the two in a meal prepared for Him by Abraham and Sarah, hundreds of years before Moses:
Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. . . . So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate. (Genesis 18:1, 8)
Is it likely that Jesus Christ would have broken one of His own laws in the presence of His human servants?
It is amazing what God will reveal to us if we try to dig a little deeper into His Word. Let us get to know God's Word better and better by studying it every day. Then, if and when we are asked, we will be better able to give effective answers about our beliefs.