Posted by pastorsloan on April 3, 2013 at 10:25 AM


One of the most puzzling passages in the Bible is found in Exodus 23:19 as well as other places.

“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk. (Exodus 23:19, ESV)

The issue we want to wrestle with immediately upon reading such a passage is that of meaning.  What does this crazy prohibition mean?  Why is it there?  Let's look at what John Gill says in his commentary.

Dr. Cudworth has produced a passage out of a Karaite author F9, who affirms,

``it was a custom of the Heathens at the ingathering of their fruits to take a kid and seethe it in the milk of the dam, and then, in a magical way, go about and besprinkle all their trees, fields, gardens, and orchards, thinking by this means they should make them fructify, and bring forth fruit again more abundantly the next year:''

and the Targum of Jonathan on ( Exodus 34:26 ) seems to have respect to this, where, having paraphrased the words as here quoted above, adds,

``lest I should destroy the fruit of your trees with the unripe grape, the shoots and leaves together:''

and if this may be depended upon, the law comes in here very aptly, after the feast of ingathering, and the bringing in the first fruits of the land into the Lord's house" 

Many believe that this passage is a prohibition of taking on or continuing in pagan customs.   If this passage is a related to pagan sacrifices as many suppose, then what does it mean for us?  One point of application is that we must avoid bringing the world, as well as other religion's, practices into the church.  We as the Body and Bride of Christ are to be separate, 'a holy people."  Holy people don't look like the world.  Our worship should be distinct from the world and from other religious practices.  This requires a cross-centered, Christ-centered theology of worship.  Worship is about worship.  It is not about rite and ritual.  It is not primarily about instruction, although that does take place.  Worship is not about being "seeker friendly."  Worship is about worship - the rendering of praise and thankgiving to the God of our salvation.  It is sweet fellowship with God and with His saints. 

Of course this kind of paganization can happen in the preaching of the word as much as in our worship practices.  When the preaching of the word resembles a pep rally, a self-help talk, or stand-up comedy, God is not honored.  When preaching becomes Christless, moralistic, relativistic, or politically correct, we might as well roll out the kettle full of milk and bring in the baby goat. 

Yet there is another issue we must consider, the perspecuity of Scripture.  The Westminster Confession of Faith in section 1.7 states it this way.

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all (2 Pet. 3:16); yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (Ps. 119:105, 130).

The Reformers believed that the things of salvation were clear from the Scriptures, but that did not mean that everything was equally as clear.  This passage is a prime example.  The truth is that the full meaning of some parts of Scripture are obscured to us by time, culture, or simply the lack of information supplied by the authors.  Sometimes we do not have both sides of the conversation such as 1 and 2 Corinthians where we only have Paul's letters to them and not their communications with Paul.

Regarding the situation of boiling a young goat in its mother's milk, we are blind to the pagan practices of the world surrounding the ancient Israelites.  We can trust that this prohibition made sense to the original audience, and that should be sufficient for us.  When we may not get at the original meaning with our limited understanding, yet, this should not undermine our trust in the authority or inspiration of the Word of God.  Every word is God's word.  Every prohibition of the law matters.  God's Word is trustworthy even when our understanding is not.


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