Genesis 9:3-4 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.
Hooray for carnivores!
We live in an age where we have vegans, vegetarians, and many other dietary lifestyles, requirements, and preferences. From religious piety to healthy life choices, we have had our reasons for why we eat or drink certain foods and avoid certain ingredients and preparation methods.
In today's post, we will explore and reflect on the first time God allowed us to eat meat in Genesis. Indeed, this passage has its own share of difficulty in understanding and connecting with the rest of Scripture. A usual pattern of the difficulty some encounter with this verse follows this argument:
The first food instruction in Genesis 1:29 suggested a vegetarian diet (no meat) for Adam and Eve
New instruction in Genesis 9:3 opens Noah and the coming generations to a diet that allows all meat consumption with the emphasis of not consuming the blood in the meat.
The Law revealed through Moses limits the consumption of meat to certain clean animals identified in Leviticus. (See Leviticus 11)
In the New Testament, we find that there's yet a new command that teaches that it is not what goes in a person but what comes out of a person that makes a person defiled/unclean; this being understood by the early church as the allowance to eat meat from all animals. (See Mark 7:18-19, Acts 10:14-15)
The question: why does it seem that God is changing the standards for food consumption over time? If God Himself never changes, then what is going on?
This is not the easiest question to answer, and I've taken some time to read different views and approaches to understand how this is viewed by various Christian groups.
A quick read of the commentaries of Genesis 9:3 can be found here: (Genesis 9:3 Commentaries: "Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. (biblehub.com)) Thank you Biblehub!
Among the many different views found, many would cite that the reason God had allowed the consumption of more types of food than just the herbs/vegetables/fruits instructed in Genesis 1 stems from the scarce situation that Noah had found himself in. The floods have just receded, so alternative food was needed lest Noah starve (Benson Commentary, Pulpit Commentary, Matthew Poole). Variations of this view include an understanding that the fruits and vegetables prior to the flood were far better for nourishment than those post-flood, and that man post-flood had need of meat which could provide the nutrition needed.
Quite a few theologians (Justin Martyr, Calvin, Willet, Bush, Macdonald, Lange, Quarry) also understood this verse with the assumption that eating meat was already allowed before the fall, making this verse as a 'renewal' of the earlier allowance granted to Adam and Eve. The wording in Genesis 1:29 does not say it is forbidden to eat animal food explicitly.
However, Genesis 9 does include the phrase: "just as I had given you the green plants, I now give you everything." A plain reading of Genesis 9 suggests that this is the first time God authorized and allowed the consumption of animals for food. (Keil and Delitzsch)
Whichever the view, a few things can be observed: 1. Animal sacrifice was done pre-flood (Genesis 4:4)
2. Clean and Unclean Animals were also instructions given to Noah pre-flood, without the explanation what is clean and unclean. (Genesis 7:2-3)
3. The animals that Noah had sacrificed after coming out of the ark clearly used the clean animals (Genesis 8:20)
Although the mention of "clean animals only for food' is strangely absent in God's instructions, it can be argued that Noah understood this instruction to be only for clean animals - consistent to the animal sacrifices given to God. I think Noah need not be told that only clean animals were to be eaten as he had already understood it. The Law in Leviticus later was necessarily more explicit to teach the Israelites what was clean and unclean as they had lost all of the standards in the years of slavery.
In whichever sense we may understand Genesis 9:3, we must acknowledge that this isn't because God's mind/nature is changing, but more because man's situation and needs have also changed. Adam and Eve could enjoy the fullness of the garden, so they were instructed to eat of its goodness. Noah, with the change in the world after the flood, was given permission to also eat of the meat from living creatures. The Israelites, with the need to be set apart for holiness after years of losing the right way in Egypt, were reminded with clearer guidelines what was clean and unclean food. Christians, having attained righteousness not from the law but through the finished work of Christ, are given the freedom to eat what was received with thanksgiving. This shows a pattern of God's consistent love, in bringing us closer to holiness and to a living relationship with him. Another thing of worthy note is the emphasis found in Genesis 9:4. It is the focus of what God wanted to ensure Noah and his family must remember.
But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.
The emphasis in the verse is restriction of eating meat that has its lifeblood in it. The Jerusalem council in Acts 15:29 also echoes this. Life was to be treated with sacredness and respect. The Jews had understood this as the strict draining of the lifeblood from meat that was prepared and also the humane treatment and slaughtering of the animals that were used for food. (See the food bonus section below).
With all these things in mind, what then can we say about God? We can understand that the unchanging God has been consistently gracious to us in our changing situations. God has been patient with humanity through different periods of our history. When we fell into sin, God gave his own concessions in various areas of our frailty and need: the concession of eating meat in food, in our fallenness with relationships Moses also gave the concession of divorce. We must remember though that God's permission does not necessarily mean God's desire. As we enjoy God's grace, we must not fail to seek God's face, lest we rob ourselves of the fullness of life in Christ. As 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 says:
"Everything is permissible for me"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"--but I will not be mastered by anything. "Food for the stomach and the stomach for food"--but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
God is like this parent who knows what is good for us, and through revealing the law, he showed us what was right and wrong. As we walk closer with Him, God reveals deeper truths, and grants us the freedom as we exercise spiritual discipline and maturity. Remember, we cannot eat our way to holiness, but only through the finished work of Christ. Let us then choose to live wisely as we thank God for His concessions for us, and seek to live a life holy and pleasing unto Him!
In the way we eat and prepare our food - do we give respect to the life that had to be given up for us to have nourishment?
In what ways are we enjoying the freedom God gives us? In what ways are we abusing it? How can we honor God in the freedom He gives us?
Dear God, thank You for knowing all of our needs and limitations. By your grace we can indeed be sustained with every word that comes from You. Grant us to live a life of wisdom in seeking your will and glorifying Your Name! In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.
Food Bonus Section
Now before I go on, I must declare that I am not a experienced butcher, or a knowledgeable rabbi, I am just a hungry chaplain. If I do not characterize some butchering/Kosher processes well, do help me and all of the readers by highlighting it in the comments!
The Jews have come up with a method of ensuring this in their meat to ensure it is 'kosher'. Here's an excerpt from Grow and Behold's blog (Making Kosher Meat - Grow & Behold (growandbehold.com)):
Jewish law prohibits the consumption of the lifeblood of the animal. All kosher meat and poultry must undergo a special process to remove it. The meat or poultry is soaked in clean water for thirty minutes, then removed to drip dry. After a few minutes of dripping, the meat is salted and left to hang for sixty minutes to further draw out any remaining blood. After sixty minutes of salting, the meat is washed three times in cold, clean water to remove any remaining salt. The result: clean, fresh, and kosher meat. After the final washing, the meat is dried, further butchered into retail cuts, and packaged and sealed for safety and kashrut.
I remember my cousin sharing with me once about his own experience following some of the Kosher methods of preparing beef. He claims that by preparing the cuts of meat this way it made the meat tastier and more intense with flavor!
Now, I've only tried kosher meat twice in my life, and as much as we can google whether Kosher meat is healthier, I am embarking on a Kosher meat experiment that will help ask: Is Kosher meat indeed tastier than non-Kosher meat? This is to help understand to see if God was on to something with this instruction.
Of course, we must not fail to acknowledge that in Genesis 9, the draining of blood is more because of the spiritual significance of life rather than for the pleasure of our taste buds. Still, it would be interesting to find out. So stay tuned as Hungry Chaplain will eat his way to the truth!
Do help Hungry Chaplain! If you know of any good Kosher restaurants or stores in Singapore, share it with all of us in the comments below! The coming weeks will be quite busy for Hungry Chaplain as he is undergoing a change in portfolio in ministry.