You are not to boil a kid in the milk of its mother. — Exodus 23:19
On the principle that “it was written for our sake” (1 Cor. 9:10), James Jordan explains this law in his book, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (pp. 190-192):
It is sometimes thought that boiling a kid in milk was a magic ritual used by the Canaanites, and that this is why it was 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. . .
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). In 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 staffs. 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 10:10 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. 4:19ff; 5:24-27). How awful if the mother uses her own milk to destroy her own seed!
. . . 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 the daughter of my people.” The same thing happened during the siege of Samaria, as recorded in 2 Kings 6:28ff. In both passages, the mother is said to boil her child.
We are now in a better position to understand this law, 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).
There are some obvious but also subtle ways that American culture consumes its children:
Our practice of abortion is clearly consuming our children for our own benefit. We are to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of our children, not to sacrifice our children for the sake of ourselves. Abortion is cannibalism.
Mark Horne explains that “democracy with public debt is the economic system that makes it rational for adults to eat their children.”
I wonder, though, if over a century of individualistic, conversionistic tendencies in the evangelical church have helped to enable this consuming of children. God’s own covenant name, transcending covenants old and new (Ex. 34:6-7), assures us that he intends to show mercy to our children. But the evangelical church has tended to view its infants and children as fundamentally alienated from God instead of belonging to him. We have tended to view parenting more as evangelism than discipleship; we have given our children the impression that God’s forgiveness is harder to come by, and harder to be sure of, than mommy’s and daddy’s; we have withheld from them baptism’s designation of the family name “Christian,” as well as the nourishment, joy and fellowship of the family meal, in some cases until late in their teens; we have thus taught them that God requires a sufficiently sincere and intellectual faith instead of simple trust. This has produced a very modern tendency to wish one was baptized at a later age — as though salvation depended on understanding and maturity more than faith! We teach them many songs about God’s rescuing them out of rebellion, but none about his causing them to trust in him before their birth (Ps. 22, 71, etc.). The widely applauded testimony, the one seen as particularly incisive, is that they have finally come to know God on their own terms in their late teens or in college, not that they have feared God from their youth. Thus, we have taught them to despise small beginnings, confusing conversion with the very normal experience of maturing and growth. As a result, we have led them to believe not only that they are aliens and outcasts from the kingdom, but even that they must in some ways turn and become like adults in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. While perhaps well intentioned, our fear of false assurance robs them of genuine assurance; we withhold the kingdom from those to whom it belongs, starving and quenching the work of the Spirit. And although it is true that the evangelical church has largely taught the salvation of her infants who die, yet we have almost always seen this as an unusual or exceptional work of God rather than an ordinary part of the Spirit’s work in nurturing Christian children. In short, we have taught both our children and the world that infants and children are second-class citizens of God’s kingdom, if they are citizens at all.
One of the crucial ways that the church resists abortion is in how we parent.