Deuteronomy 14: 21b – You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
This is a commandment repeated three times in the Torah, twice in Exodus and in our passage today. What does it mean?
Obviously, there’s a respect for animals implied here. Proverbs 12:10 – Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast/ but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.
So this commandment speaks to respect for animals, even after they’ve died. But let’s drill down further. More specifically, the inhumane thing the Israelites were not to do with the dead young goat was to boil it in its mother’s milk. Don’t take what was intended for life and use it in the process of death and consumption.
Don’t take what was intended for life and flourishing and use that very thing for the process of destruction.
Now that’s a principle that can be applied not just to what we’ll do with our goats, but much more widely. There’s something especially abhorrent, cruel even, in that which is intended to help becoming the very thing that causes harm.
What would that look like in real life? Education (to draw out [from darkness]) is good, right, like mother’s milk.? Imagine a young impressionable man leaving high school and entering college to study literature. Well, he goes off to a college where his religious background is sneered at, or at least is the object of condescension. Some of his professors – much more learned and mature than he – either kindly or saucily slowly dismantle the various components of beliefs. Almost all the students he encounters the view that sleeping around is no big deal, almost a type of recreation.
So, what often happens? The good of education becomes the very thing that ruins young people, cuts their moorings, sets them adrift after which they might never reach terra firmaagain.
You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. We have a responsibility to do all that we can to ensure that things good in themselves remain actually for the good.
You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. Examples of violating this principle abound. Let’s raise just one more. Youth. Youth is a good. Childhood, youth, are meant to be times of robust thriving. Various phrases in Scripture capture this expectation:
- Proverbs 20:29a – The glory of young men is their strength.
- I John 2: 14b: I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
- Ecclesiastes 11: 9 – Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes – there’s an appropriate carefree-ness of youth, a time to pursue interests… but not without qualification – But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.
But what if the good of childhood, youth – in that it’s intended to be relatively carefree, a time to be strong, a time to enjoy, a time to pursue interests, to joyfully and confidently grow into a mature human being…
…what if all that extra time and relative serenity, lack of heavy responsibility etc become the very conditions in which you become a blob – snapchatting, Tik-toking, losing interest in anything that doesn’t have to do with being entertained or being noticed, listless, turned in upon yourself, constantly imagining something’s wrong with you, constantly feeling down or afraid or weak. And imagine that some of that sense of weakness would be legitimate because you have actually become weak – in focus, in ability, in being able to decide.
Imagine youth, this great good, becoming the very thing that wrecks your future. This will take some tending to be sure it doesn’t happen. Don’t let the good thing become the bad thing. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
When you really start to think about this commandment, you appreciate how applicable it is. And how many times its violated. It highlights an aspect of sin, this falling short of the way things are meant to be, how God created them to be. Sin is squandering. Missed opportunities. Misallocation. Wasting. Perverting the good into the bad. As a title of a great book on sin has it: Not the way it’s supposed to be.
In fact, this principle of boiling the goat is violated so universally that it’s gotten away from our control. It’s developed a life of its own. What I mean is, even without our willing to violate it, the violation of this commandment is baked into us.
Perhaps an example will clarify what I mean: our bodies are this great gift intended for our flourishing. Our bodies correspond to the mother’s milk in this verse, the good thing. Through our bodies we live, thrive: we taste steak, we hear sounds of music, in our synapses we remember fondly old scenes and recall a poem, we trudge through the forest, we see a moose or a beautiful person, we smell cedar or something else that transports us back to our childhood. Also with our bodies we read letters and translate them into words and they’re words about God and so spurred on by our bodies our whole self turns to God and He turns to us and it’s all great – life! How great our bodies are!
But… our bodies are also the setting of our death. Memory lapses. The noises start to jumble together and things gets confusing. Cancer cells grow undetected. Plaque forms where it shouldn’t.
To state an obvious truth: our bodies are where and how we die. The place where we experience life becomes the very means by which we’re taken away from life. We can’t rely on the goodness of our bodies to not become the very instrument of death.
So that’s what I mean: Don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk is a commandment we can and should obey, but more profoundly it points to a sad fact of our existence: in the end everything – even the good things – turn against us.
We’ve gotten used to this fact and thus carry around a vague feeling of unease. We realize there’s something about us, at our center, that destroys. To quote the Imagine Dragons lyrics: I’mma hold my cards close; I’mma wreck what I love most; I’m a first-class let-down; I’mma “shut up, sit down”
The young goat will be boiled in its mother’s milk.
Enter Jesus Christ into this gloomy reality. From what we read about Him in Holy Scripture, He’s the opposite of a squanderer, a misallocator, a missing-the-point type – rather, He’s a Savior. What I mean by that, He keeps good things good, He rescues good things from becoming bad, He reverses things gone wrong and returns them to the good they’re meant to be. He uses things for good, and doesn’t let anything be wasted.
Please don’t hear me just vaguely claiming that Jesus is a great guy. I’m trying to say something specific and not necessarily spiritual about Jesus: He did everything well. He did not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk but always, in every moment, stood for and enacted and maintained life and flourishing and deep appropriateness.
Read the gospels with this commandment in mind: Don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. Don’t use good things for that which destroys. And reflect on how true Jesus was to that commandment and how thoroughly He fulfilled it. Just tossing out a few examples:
- His childhood and youth were just as they ought to be, as youth should be: And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52).
- John 2: He attends the wedding in Cana – the good thing a la mother’s milk – and by his power prevents it from becoming a social disgrace – no goat going to be boiled today!
- He stands on the boat and to those life-threatening waves He utters the command of quiet – the good things gone bad he restores to good.
- He feeds the 5000, not from nothing, but from the things at hand. Five loaves and two fishes, right? What do you have? And no matter how trivial they seem, his eyes gleam: I think we can put these to good use…
He knows the good of things. He finds a way to use them. As opposed to boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk, He finds a way to turn everything into that which causes flourishing.
Paul says to Him, Lord, take away this thorn in my flesh. And the Savior says, even the uncomfortable and painful and embarrassing things are useful to me. Not only do I not let good things turn bad, by my adroitness and authority the bad things become fruitful and nourishing. No, Paul, my grace is sufficient for you, my strength is perfected in weakness.
And so it goes even until today with the Spirit of Christ. We say, I can’t take this trial any longer. I’m through being married to this unreliable person. I can’t stand living so close to total debt. My health is upsetting everything.
And Christ’s Spirit says: in my hands it’s all productive. Stay still and stay calm, let patience perfect you. Let the fires refine you. I am a Redeemer and I won’t let them consume you.
What I’m attempting to explain is that Jesus’ nature stands at the opposite pole of the violation of do not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. At heart He’s a Savior, and not a destroyer.
Nowhere is this deep saving nature of Jesus more apparent than at his death. In his death he not just obeys but fills up to overflowing this principle of don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
Have you ever considered that the powers arrayed against Jesus and that took him to the grave were all manifestations of our goat/milk commandment being violated? The powers against Jesus weren’t simply bad; they were each good things gone bad.
- Those in covenant with God use their proximity to arrange for God to be killed.
- The great legal system of Rome becomes the setting for the greatest miscarriage of justice ever.
- The disciples who abandoned him could only abandon him after a previous camaraderie.
- The betrayer could only betray from a position of trust.
- The good technology of nails becomes the fastener to the cross.
- The great good thing of trees – trees a good a symbol of life as mother’s milk! – become the place of death.
And what does Jesus say in the face of all these instances of our commandment being violated; this squandering, mis-application, miscarriage, perversion, not-the-way-things-are-supposed-to-be?
He says to God, His Father, “A body you have prepared for me” (Hebrews 10:5).
Jesus, in the end does evil triumph? Must good things all go bad? Does the young goat have to be boiled in its mother’s milk? Jesus says, No.
What do you have to deal with all this upside-down-ness, Jesus? And Jesus thinks for a moment and replies, I have a body.
And so equipped, He takes onto that body this great upside-down evil that had collected and trained its force onto Jesus. And those powers took Jesus down, all the way down to the grave.
So even Jesus eventually must succumb to this dark principle: all that’s good must become part of the problem.?
No, here’s the thing: that Man Jesus is special, is always a Savior! Unlike everyone else, His body will not succumb to an inevitable corruption. But in His body the great forces of corruption are transfigured into something good – the death to the powers becomes an atonement for humanity, the means by which we are forgiven, freed from our guilt, indeed, lifted out of a vicious, ultimate reality of “you shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
My friends, our hope is in the good will and capability of a Savior who, ultimately won’t let the goat be boiled in its mother’s milk. Who… just. won’t. let. our corruption overpower us. Who is by nature a Savior. Who has determined that, no matter how high our sins – squandering, misallocation, perversion, mismanagement – piled up, his grace rises up even higher.
Sin will have no dominion over you, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6: 14)
I’m not a big catechism guy, nor do I consider myself Reformed, but I do love the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, because it is beautifully stated and compresses a lot of truth.
Question: What is your only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.
In our seats, let’s take a few quiet moments to eucharisteo – to thank God for this great salvation from ultimate corruption and decline. To get back into the mindset of rejoicing in Christ who takes the greatest calamities and turns them into the means of flourishing. To confess our own mismanagement and lack of vigilance in allowing the good things to become destructive. But mostly, to believe in and be comforted by this great Savior who uses His body to free us from corruption.
Leave a Reply