Sunday, May 6, 2012

"You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk."

Transcribed from here (pp. 190-192) for a friend:
The Feast of the Ingathering

Also known as Booths or Tabernacles, this eight-day feast climaxed the festival year for Israel, coming seven months after Passover. It was here that the tithe was presented. All the people were to make shelters of branches and live in them all week (Lev. 23:39-43). It also signified the ingathering of all the nations of the world (Num. 29:12-34 - 70 bulls for the 70 nations in Genesis 10).

Since the Feast of the Ingathering was a celebration of the fullness of life, prosperity, and joy, it was not to be mixed or associated with death. The prohibition on mixing life and death is the theme of Deuteronomy 14 (see Appendix B). Just as Ex 23:19a encapsulates the Feast of the Harvest (tying it with Passover), so v. 19b summarizes the meaning of the Feast of the Ingathering. It is sometimes thought that boiling a kid in milk was a magic ritual used by the Canaanites, and that this is why it is forbidden. The text, however, does not forbid boiling a kid in milk, but in its own mother's milk. The reason is that life and death must not be mixed. That milk which had been a source of life to the kid may not be used in its death. Any other milk might be used, but not its mother's.

This law is thrice stated in the Torah (Ex. 23:19; 34:26; Dt. 14:21). It is obviously quite important, yet its significance eludes us. There are many laws which prohibit the mixing of life and death, yet we wish to know the precise nuance of each. There is no good example of the breaking of this law in Scripture, unless we go to a metaphorical application, seeing the kid as a symbol for a human child.

We notice that the kid is a young goat, a child. The word only occurs 16 times in the Old Testament. In Genesis 27:9. 16. Rebekah put the skins of a kid upon Jacob when she sent him to masquerade as Esau before Isaac. Here the mother helps her child (though Jacob was in his 70s at the time). Genesis 38:17, 20, 23, Judah pledged to send a kid to Tamar as payment for her services as a prostitute. In the providence of God, this was symbolic because Judah had in fact failed to provide Tamar the kid to which she was entitled: Judah's son Shelah. Judah gave his seal and cord, and his staff, as pledges that the kid would be sent, but Tamar departed, and never received the kid. When she was found pregnant, she produced the seal and cord and the staff, as evidence that Judah was the father. The children that she bore became her kids, given her by Judah in exchange for the return of his cord and seal and his staff.* Finally, when Samson visited his wife, he took her a kid, signifying his intentions (Jud. 15:1).

These passages seem to indicate a symbolic connection between the kid and a human child, the son of a mother. (Indeed, Job 1:10 compares the process of embryonic development to the coagulation of milk.) The kid is still nursing, still taking in its mother's milk in some sense, Jacob and Rebekah being an example of this. The mother is the protectress of the child, of the seed. This is the whole point of the theology of Judges 4 and 5, the war of the two mothers, Deborah and the mother of Sisera. Indeed, the passage calls attention to milk. The milk of the righteous woman was a tool used to crush the head of the serpent's seed (Jud. 4:19f; 5:24-27). How awful if the mother uses her own milk to destroy her own seed!

Victor P. Hamilton has written that "in the husbandry of Israel a young male kid was the most expendable of the animals, less valuable than, say, a young lamb. The young males were used for meat; the females kept for breeding. Thus, a kid served admirably for a meat dish: Gen. 27:9, 16; Jud. 6:19; 13:15; 15:1; 1 Sam. 10:3; 16:20. . . ."** Accordingly, one of the most horrible things imaginable is for a mother to boil and eat her own child. This is precisely what happened during the siege of Jerusalem, as Jeremiah describes it in Lamentations 4:10, "The hands of compassionate women boiled their own children; they became food for them because of the destruction of my people." The same thing happened during the siege of Samaria, as recorded in 2 Kings 6:28f. In both passages, the mother is said to boil her child.

We are now in a better position to understand this la, and its placement in passages having to do with offerings to God. The bride offers children to her husband. She bears them, rears them on her milk, and presents them to her lord as her gift to him.*** Similarly, Israel is to present the fruits of her hands, including her children, to her Divine Husband. She is not to consume her children, her offerings, or her tithes, but present them to God. The command not to boil the kid in its own mother's milk is a negative command; the positive injunction it implies is that we are to present our children and the works of our hands to God.

Jerusalem is the mother of the seed (Ps. 87:5; Gal. 4:26ff.). When Jerusalem crucified Jesus Christ, her Seed, she was boiling her kid in her own milk. In Revelation 17, the apostate Jerusalem has been devouring her faithful children: "And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus." Her punishment, under the Law of Equivalence, is to be devoured by the gentile kings who supported her (v. 17).****

* Even in English, the term "kid" is used for children.
** Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), p. 150.
*** Notice that Abraham gave a feast the day Isaac was weaned from his mother's milk, and that it was on this occasion that Isaac, now weaned, had to confront the threat of Ishmael. Sarah, presenting her child to Abraham, took measures to protect him.
**** On this passage in Revelation, see David Chilton's forthcoming Exposition of the Book of Revelation. [source]