Don’t Boil Goats

A 2 month old goat kid in a field of capeweed

“Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.” Exodus 23:19b KJV. Translate to modern English: Do not boil a baby goat in its mother’s milk.

What? Why does God command this?

This command is the last phrase God gives in the moral Law–the ten commandments and its unpacking–which is still God’s instruction for our morality and ethics (the moral Law is entirely separate from the ceremonial and sacrificial law which in its attempt at atonement foretold, and finally was replaced by, Jesus’ sacrificial death).

The Jews took this command as instruction to keep dairy and meat separate, and voila we have the basis of kosher law. If it were that important to keep dairy and meat separate, I think God would have made it more explicit.

What was God communicating to the Hebrews, and now to us, with this phrase as the final proclamation of the moral Law?

What if this verse is a proverb, a saying, perhaps even common in the day? What principle does it teach? What is God saying by giving the moral Law and finishing off with this proverb?

If you boil a baby goat in his mother’s milk, what do you get? A dead baby goat. To get an adult goat the milk is applied inside the baby goat, not outside.

Was boiling in milk a cleaning method? Apply a life-substance externally with heat … you might get a very clean baby goat, but it’s still going to be dead.

What if the point is not what you get, but what you do not get? And what do we not get?

You do not get an adult goat.

You do not get a lamb.

You cannot apply life-substance and heat to a baby goat to clean it up into being a lamb. Remember Jesus’ parable of judgment day and separating the sheep from the goats–we want to be the sheep welcomed into heaven, not the goats condemned to hell.

I think this is the essence of what God is saying: “I give you My moral Law, now take it into your hearts and be changed–grow up into My character, be like Me. Application on the outside is not going to work, it must be on the inside. I want to change you from goats to sheep, and here is my moral Law to help you understand the goal. But it has to be an internal change, not an external clean-up. Take My words to heart.”

And yet we cannot do it. We are incapable. Our best efforts result in self-righteous Pharisee-ism.

So comes the rest of God’s message: “And struggle with this impossible task, for you cannot keep My Law. You cannot become like Me in your own efforts. You will fall short. And that is the point. You must see that only I can change you from being goats to being sheep. You must see your need for a Savior. So see your need, and come to Me and ask My help. For I am the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. I came into the world, kept the moral Law living perfectly, and died for your sin, thus providing the way of salvation, enabling you to be like Me. If you ask I will give you atonement and justification, impute righteousness to you and sanctify you. Come to Me, and I will give you rest.”

That’s what I’m getting out of it. How about you?

Who knew God would summarize the entire gospel message with, “Don’t boil goats in their mother’s milk”?!