Exodus 23:19—Why is boiling a kid in its mother’s milk prohibited?
Problem: This verse commands: “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” What does this mean and why were the Israelites commanded not to do this?
Solution: There are two distinct questions here, and they should be separated. First of all, what does this passage mean? Second, why was God opposed to their doing this? The answer to the first question is easy. Every word in the sentence is clear. The Israelites knew exactly what to do. They were not supposed to cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk. So there was absolutely no problem in their knowing what God did not want them to do.
The real problem is why did God forbid this? There are many possible reasons given by commentators:
1. Because it was an idolatrous practice.
2. Because it was a magical (occult) practice to try to make the land more productive.
3. Because it was cruel to destroy a baby goat in the very milk which sustained it.
4. Because milk and meat are difficult to digest.
5. Because it shows contempt for the parent-child relationship.
6. Because it would symbolically profane the Feast of Ingathering.
7. Because God wanted them to cook with olive oil, not butter.
8. Because it was too luxurious or Epicurean.
The truth is that we do not know for sure why God commanded this. But it does not really matter, since the Israelites knew exactly what they were not to do, even if they did not fully understand why. So while there is a problem in understanding the purpose of this passage, there is no problem in understanding its meaning. It means exactly what it says.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.