From time to time in our reading, we come across a verse that doesn’t seem to fit and therefore it stands out to us. One such verse is the commandment: “Do not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” which we find in Exodus 23:19 Exodus 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21.

I’ve always heard, read, and been told that this is referring to an ancient Canaanite ritual in which a young goat was boiled in its mother’s milk as a way of sacrificing this goat to a pagan god. However, I’ve never been able to find a credible source for that, only sources saying they are citing a credible source. And so, this verse has always stood out to me. Further, it’s placement and context in Scripture do seem a bit jarring and odd, so I’d like to dig deeper into that with you today.

I recently read a 44 page academic paper* from a Biblical research institute detailing all of the current theories surrounding this verse and by the middle of the paper I’d found a theory that makes more sense than anything else I’ve ever come across. I continued reading, seeing if other theories held any water and what conclusion the historian’s came to. At the end of the paper, still excited about the one theory that made real sense, I was thrilled to find that the historians found the same theory to be the absolutely most plausible. Having said that, it is still a theory that I am presenting to you. This is speculation but I feel it is plausible and credible speculation and so I present it with the confidence that there is just as much a chance of it being right as there is it being wrong. Now that’s confidence, right? ?

First, let’s examine the two most common theories.

?Popular Theory 1: The most common explanation for this verse is that there was a Canaanite ritual in which a baby goat was boiled in its mother’s milk as a means of sacrifice to a pagan god. I’ve seen this in footnotes in Bibles, found it in articles online, and always accepted this idea because it was an easy way to make sense of the verse. However, try as I may, I never found proof of this. I only found sources that either speculated this was the reason, stated it as the reason with no proof, or stated it as the reason with some proof cited but not in a manner in which we could actually check up on it. This theory is still a possibility but I think the reason why it is the most widely accepted is because it’s the low hanging fruit, easy to grab and walk away with without having to dig deeper. 

It never set right with me, though. Because the sources just seemed to be backed up by more sources and rumors of sources. Add to that the odd placement of this verse each of the three times it is mentioned in scripture: 

Deuteronomy 14:21, Exodus 23:19 Exodus 34:26

?Popular Theory 2: Others make the argument that this is the Father’s way of teaching us to respect nature, as boiling a child in the milk of it’s mother, it’s very life source, is cruel and inhumane to mother and child and that the Father is making a statement about that here.

But we see time and again that the Father is very straightforward with us. Messiah spoke in parables to thwart those who had no real interest in being taught but the Father is clear, blunt, and repetitive.

?Enter Potential Theory #3: What if that sentence was a common idiom of the time that everyone understood the meaning of – but that the past several cultures have taken out of context, not realizing that it was an idiom but taking it as a literal statement instead. Let’s look at this option. 

This actually happens pretty often. Have you ever heard the phrase “flash in the pan.”?  These days it means to have great success that quickly fizzles. However, back in the day that this idiom began it was referring to a misfire from a flintlock. See how just a few generations can lose the original meaning of something? 

What if I told you that I was going to ride my hog to Walmart? In our time, we’d assume I had a motorcycle and was going to drive it to the store. But if this were written in a text and found 100 years from now, the folks would probably insist it was some ancient practice of riding actual pigs!

The secret to solving the puzzle is context. We simply have to look at these verses in context. In all three places where this sentence is mentioned in the Bible, it seems to be very disjointed, just coming at us abruptly and seemingly out of nowhere. That is because to us it has no context related to it. However, if we look at this verse from a different light, we see something different. 

Let’s read each of these verses:

“The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.

“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.

Exodus 23:19


The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

Exodus 34:26


“You shall not eat anything that has died naturally. You may give it to the sojourner who is within your towns, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.

“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.

“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year.

Deut 12:21-22

Now, we can see that the first two times it appears is directly following a mention of first fruit offerings, the best of the best. The third time, we see mention of offerings after the statement, but in reference to year by year offerings, this is key.

You see, the Israelites were accustomed to being mistreated by their landlords and overseers and so when it come to sustaining themselves, things were understandably difficult and made more so by their “superiors”. As slaves in this land they would have been forced to making offerings to these false gods which their rulers worshipped. Now with their own resources scarce and them likely not even worshipping these gods in actuality, it is highly probable to assume they had the practice of trying to shortchange on the offerings in order to keep some for themselves.

So if you had to bring the firstfruits of your wheat, you could take some of last year’s wheat from the bottom of the barrel and mix it in with the latest, better wheat, and thereby present a lower quality offering while keeping more of the better quality to feed your family with.

So the premise is that this could be a Hebrew idiom. The mother’s milk is representing a previous generation and the young goat is the latest, newest, best of a new generation. This figure of speech could mean, according to speculation, not to combine the old with the new or one generation of produce with the next.

I believe the primary support for the theory that is the most plausible to me at this point lies in the context of Exodus 23:19 and Exodus 34:26

Let’s look at those verses again with this in mind:

“The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.

“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.

Exodus 23:19

The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

Exodus 34:26

Do you see that? The context is offering your first fruits. Not your leftovers. Not food from last year, but your first fruits.

Now let’s look at the Deuteronomy appearance of this phrase:

“You shall not eat anything that has died naturally. You may give it to the sojourner who is within your towns, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.

“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.

“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year.

Deut 12:21-22

In this example, the phrase leads a commentary about first fruits, particularly, making your offerings from the seed year by year, not last years seed mixed with this years, but each year you are to make an offering from that year’s seed.

To me, finally, this sentence makes sense. IF it is a Hebrew idiom which means do not combine the old with the new or one generation of produce with the next, we finally have the sentence that agrees in context within the verses it appears in.

When I came across this theory it felt like the reason we overlooked this possibility is due to how incredibly obvious it is! However, this is merely speculation and it is surely not a salvation issue so I wanted to share what I had found with you and send you off on your own rabbit trail to test it.

I hope you have a great weekend! Bring the first fruits of your time to the Father, not your leftovers and don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk!

*The paper I am referencing was by J Webb Mealy. Currently, you can create an account at this website and download a copy of it. 
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Christy Jordan