“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” (Deuteronomy 14:21b)
I mean to demonstrate the truthfulness of Paul’s claim, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work,” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). He likewise wrote, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope,” (Romans 15:4). Therefore Deuteronomy 14:21b, a prohibition against the seething of a young goat in its mother’s milk, is given by God for our righteousness and hope in these latter days.
Whether intentionally or not, many pastors and teachers treat the Old Testament as second-hand revelation. One prominent pastor has recently labeled it “non-essential.” To this notion Paul would say, “By no means.” God inspired the Old Testament for the church to read, believe, and treasure.
An Initial Evaluation
This law is recorded twice in Exodus (23:19; 34:26) and once in Deuteronomy. In all three occasions, there is no preliminary or proceeding discourse on the issue of boiling young goats. This law simply comes and goes, with no further explanation. That being said, in all three instances it resides in a section pertaining to dietary laws. God labels certain foods clean/holy and certain others unclean/unholy. Boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk is considered by God an unclean/unholy meal.
Several scholars have supposed that the law has to do with Canaanite fertility cults. The theory is that Canaanites at that time practiced witchcraft rituals which involved boiling young goats in milk. So the law here in Deuteronomy 14:21b may be God’s way of directing His people away from these fertility cults. However, there is no historical or Biblical evidence for such practices in Canaanite fertility cults. So this consideration must be rejected.
A second option comes from the rabbinic tradition. The halakha is a rabbinic law which prohibits meat and milk being cooked and eaten together. It is largely agreed upon that the halakha developed from Deuteronomy 14:21b. However, utilizing this verse as a proof-text for the halakha is hardly defensible. First, the text is too particular to support this position. Second, the halakha was not formalized until 200 years after Christ’s birth, and for two millennia after Deuteronomy 14:21b was dictated it was not considered law. Unless we believe that Scripture changes over time, this consideration use also be rejected.
An Interpretive Example
There is a third option for determining the significance of this text. This option examines how New Testament authors interpreted Old Testament Laws such as this one. I posit 1 Corinthians 9 as a case study. Notice how Paul interprets Deuteronomy 25:4, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.”
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we not have a right to eat and drink? Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:1-14)
Paul draws a principle from the particular command of Deuteronomy 25:4. Don’t bar someone from the fruits of his labor. He interprets this passage for Timothy also and says, “The laborer is worthy of his wages,” (1 Timothy 5:17-21). Notice Paul’s reasoning for interpreting Deuteronomy 25:4 in this way: “God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written,” (1 Corinthians 9:9-10). Paul says that when God gave the law against muzzling oxen, He did it with people in mind. God wanted the Israelites to learn something from the law, that they could then apply to how they relate to other people.
So the law is literal and specific, but it teaches us a moral principle to live by. This is not spiritualizing or unearthing codified meanings in the text. This is literal, actual, straight-forward Bible interpretation. A command dealing with the threshing ox can teach us something about the ministering preacher (1 Corinthians 9).
An Invariable Exegesis
If Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, utilizes a particular method of exegesis when examining and applying Old Testament Law, then that method demands our attention. So I suggest the same means of interpretation be utilized in Deuteronomy 14:21b, “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” God is not concerned with goats, is He? Is there not a moral law to be gleaned from this prohibition?
It concerns the boiling of young goats, which specifies the age of a goat when boiled. The law concerns only young goats. Secondly, notice what kind of liquid may not be used to cook the young goat: milk. So presumably water or wine would be fine, just not milk. Yet thirdly, only one type of milk is prohibited: its mother’s milk. The law concerns a very specific situation in which one milks a mother goat, brings the milk to boil, and cooks that mother goat’s kid in the boiling milk.
This is a perverted act. You could seethe the kid in water or any other types of milk, but you decide to use it’s mother’s milk instead. This is sick, because in this you are taking something God designed to bring life and using it as an instrument for death. This is not natural. God did not design mother goats to produce milk to kill their children. So when you boil a kid in its mother’s milk, you are twisting God’s design into something He never intended. Consider similar conclusions the following commentators came to on the significance of this law:
- The Lord’s people must carefully avoid everything contrary to nature, and it is manifestly contrary to nature that what was intended for a creature’s nourishment should be used to seethe it. (C.H. Mackintosh)
- This is an affront to God’s creative design: young goats should be given life by drinking their mother’s milk, not be cooked in it. (Paul Barker)
- It was considered particularly cruel to use the life-giving milk of the mother to kill its young. (Stephen Dempster)
- This violates the natural order because the mother’s milk sustains the life of its offspring. (Paul Williamson)
- This is a gross violation of the natural order: the young goat should drink its mother’s milk and gain life from it, not be cooked in it. (Kenneth Harris)
God did not design mother goats to produce milk to kill their children. So when you boil a kid in its mother’s milk, you are twisting God’s design into something He never intended.Tweet
Having seen the law itself and the moral principle it espouses, consider with me three burdens dealing with this text. The first two are evident. For the third, we will advance to a later portion of Deuteronomy.
A Perfect Design
This law assumes that there is a certain way things are. There is a natural use of milk and an unnatural. Feeding a young goat its mother’s milk is natural. Boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk is unnatural. So the way God has made goats makes it a sick thing to seethe kids in milk.
This proves true on a universal stage. Meaning: God has designed everything. Nature itself testifies:
But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, let them tell you. Or speak to the earth, let it teach you; and let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all these things does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind? (Job 12:7-10)
God has designed all things in particular ways for particular reasons. We must first recognize the reality of God’s design. As a creature, you are by nature programmed and written-down. You are not sovereign, in capabilities or prerogatives. You don’t get to decide out-right what your life will be, God does. “Or does not the potter have a right over the clay,” (Romans 9:21a).
However, with the reality of His design in mind, we should also recognize the goodness of God’s design. “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good,” (Genesis 1:31a). The way in which God has designed things is healthiest and happiest for us. It will always result in our god and God’s glory. We should believe that this is a good thing and rejoice in it. This means you don’t need an extra-biblical reason to trust God’s prescriptions. If God says something should or shouldn’t be done, you should trust it is for holy and happy purposes.
Second, notice the distortion. Our problem arises when we doubt the goodness of God’s design. The serpent did this very thing to Eve in the Garden: he got her to doubt that God’s design for fruit and mankind was good. When we doubt the goodness of God’s design, it will not be long before we doubt the reality of God’s design – and this soon becomes practical atheism. Consider with me some ways in which we do this.
A Perverted Distortion
We notice therefore that there is intentionality behind the milk of a mother goat. It is designed and good. Secondly, we notice clearly a distortion of God’s design. The milk intended to be a means of life is now twisted into an instrument of death. The kid once nourished by the milk is now seethed in it.
The path for perverting the designs of God is the same for every sinner, though each sinner may have his own particular, twisted vice. The path of perversion is first stepped upon by rejecting the goodness of God’s design. The serpent approached Eve with this in mind, for Eve soon believed “that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise,” (Genesis 3:6a). Sin sprouts from the soil of doubting that God’s design is best. Is sin more delicious, more happy, more benefitting, more glorious than what God has prescribed? If so, then what God has prescribed must not be best, or even good. Sin has a hedonistic potency, deriving its strength in an appeal to pleasure. To those who are not sipping daily upon the sweet mead of Christ, the sour milk of carnality becomes desirable.
Sin sprouts from the soil of doubting that God’s design is best.Tweet
After doubting the goodness of God’s design, the next step upon the path of perversion is rejecting the reality of God’s design. Whatever part of God’s blueprint has been scrutinized, it is now here dismissed. This ultimately means a rejection of the reliability and authority of Scripture, which is a special, clear revelation of God’s designs. Paul warned Timothy against this: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths,” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). The worm will writhe in the light until it has buried itself in the dark earth. Likewise, those who have come to love perverted designs will squirm at sound exegesis until either the Bible is shut or maimed.
Think seriously upon this rejection of design and the third step of perversion’s path manifests itself. A rejection of design in a particular facet of creation is in essence practical atheism. One may gladly pay homage to God, but to look at something He has designed and reject His blueprint and intentions therein is to bar God from that sphere of the universe. This is creating a context in which we are sovereign creator and into which God’s will is not permitted to be manifest. Therefore, the logical third step is rejecting the Designer Himself. “There is no fear of God before their eyes,” (Romans 3:18). To praise the Creator and yet live as if He has not created is to abide in contradiction. It is to live without sleeping, to fast at a banquet, to marry without intimacy, and to twist the pegs of a violin round and around. Eventually, there will come slumber, the plate will be emptied, the marriage will be consummated, and the string will snap. Eventually, you will reject God altogether.
With the route of distortion in mind, consider these three examples of how God’s design is distorted today.
Transgender Ideology: Distorting Humanity
In transgender ideology, the male/female dichotomy of mankind is rejected outright and labeled oppressive. The goodness of God’s gender design is doubted, because my inner-self is in friction with what my body looks like. How could this be agood thing? Thus, if the design is not good, then perhaps it is not real. Gender may just be a social construct, a vestige of religious tyranny over non-binary peoples. And so if there is no design, then there is no Designer Who meant for me to be a man or woman.
Yet God’s design is plain (ex. Genesis 1:27). There are only two genders. The design is evident and natural. We can slice ourselves up to distort God’s binary blueprint, but this makes the idea no less insane. Those who profess Christ yet cling to the transgender movement are bound by two mules, one going east and the other west.
Feminism: Distorting Gender
In feminism, the Biblical gender binary may be accepted but the significance of it is smeared and flattened-out. The goodness of God’s design for femininity/masculinity is doubted, because isn’t it demeaning to women that they are depicted as the ‘nurturers’ of the home, as the bearers of children, and as having generally less to do with political affairs than men? If they are equally human, why would God only want a man as the head of a home, the elder of a church, or enlisted for a combat role? How can God’s design for femininity/masculinity be a good thing? Thus, if the design is not good, then perhaps it is not real. It may be that the church has been interpreting Scripture incorrectly all this time, or that the texts which highlight such distinctions between men and women are not as authoritative as others. And so if there is no distinct design for men and women, perhaps there is no Designer Who meant for me to embrace my particular gender.
Yet God’s design is plain (ex. 1 Peter 3:7). There is distinctiveness between females and males which manifests noticeably and practically. Based upon these differences, and by His own right to say so, God calls men and women to different roles. Many are the same, but several are distinct. The design is evident and natural. We may blame the patriarchy for our hardships, but our ranting will only undignify us. A feminist attempting to embrace God’s Word is like a boy who loves eating house insulation. There’s no telling which will come first: internal bleeding or external repentance.
A feminist attempting to embrace God’s Word is like a boy who loves eating house insulation. There’s no telling which will come first: internal bleeding or external repentance.Tweet
Abortion: Distorting Pregnancy
In abortion, the natural process of pregnancy is interrupted. The goodness of God’s design for a mother’s womb is doubted, because carrying life for nine months and bearing it in birth is a tremendous hindrance to a mother’s freedom and convenience. What about a woman’s right to choose? How can forcing women to carry pregnancy to term be a goodthing? Thus, if the design is not good, then perhaps it is not real. Abortion may be a human right – a woman’s discretion for whether or not she wants the responsibility of child-bearing. Surely she is not designed to complete the pregnancy every time – what if the baby is defective, what if the mother is poor? And so if there is no design, then there is no Designer Who meant for me to carry my baby through birth and childhood.
Yet God’s design is plain (ex. Psalm 22:9-10). Abortion is murder and pregnancy is God’s intended means of nurturing infants to maturity, not killing them prematurely. The design is evident and natural. We can hide the execution of our babies with fanfare and medical terminology, but this makes the idea no less insane. Abortion is a sick fantasy where we lay our babies in felt caskets, slap Mozart on the record player, pour a glass of wine, and break the sixth commandment – in the name of human rights, of course. A Christian who is glad for abortion is perhaps the most perplexing thing of all – pretty bummed-out that Mary never had the option of aborting Christ.
There are many other recipes mankind has cooked-up in distorting God’s designs. We are a very creative race. Deuteronomy 14:21b calls us to recognize the pervertedness of such creativity. The thought of distorting God’s intentions should make us sick. Sin itself should be repulsive. Lord, may we be repulsed by sin as You are!
Unfortunately, the taste buds for sin can be found universally. In fact, Scripture says that all men have distorted God’s designs and have had a jolly good time doing it (Romans 1:18-3:18). Sin is repulsive, yes, but it is also universal. It’s insane and everyone’s into it. It’s sickening and no one can seem to get enough of it. We are Israelites gathered around the wilderness campfire, laughing gleefully as we hold a kid over the boiling milk that came from its mother’s breast. We love a good ole, twisted fantasy.
A Powerful Deliverance
My third and closing point is drawn from a bit further on in Deuteronomy: “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” (30:6)
We all boil goats in their mother’s milk. We have lived sick and perverted lives before God. The good news is that God does not leave His people in the insanity. Upon the grounds of Christ’s death and resurrection, He delivers us from our slights against His sovereign will.
A New Delight
He delivers us by means of the Holy Spirit’s work in us. Sin has power over men (Romans 3:9) by means of the affections (8:6-8), so the Spirit looks upon the fountain of our souls and purifies the spring. He circumcises our hearts, cutting away our love for sin and creating a new heart that loves Him (“The Lord your God will circumcise your heart” [Deuteronomy 30:6a]). From this heart comes a righteousness that loves the whole and root of His law (“to love the Lord your God…” [30:6b]).
The designs of God which once were splinters in the tongue suddenly become cool water on the lip. The perversions of God’s will which once tickled our sick fantasies now sicken our stomachs. We become altogether new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). As new creatures, we hate the sin we once adored and treasure the Christ we once abhorred.
A New Destination
Not only does His will delight us, it vitalizes us. From the circumcision of our hearts comes life (“so that you may live” [Deuteronomy 30:6c]). We taste differently as new creatures and therefore we live differently: in the context of loving Christ and hating sin. Our new, unperverted hearts lead us to repent unto salvation (Mark 1:15; cf. Acts 11:18), pursuing the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14b). We long for the day when we shall truly be “saved to sin no more” (“There is a Fountain,” William Cowper). In this way, God’s circumcision of our hearts allows us to live. It completely alters our life trajectory and changes our eternal destination.
In so many creative ways, we’ve all boiled the goat. For His glory, God loves us by delivering us out of our perverted lifestyles. Therefore, cast yourself upon God and cry for mercy. He is willing, if you will but humble yourself. “Lord, Your will is sovereign, not my own. I have perverted Your holy designs. O Great Creator, have mercy upon me for such foolishness.”