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No. 50: A Note on Exodus 22:31

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 50
June, 1993
Copyright 1993, Biblical Horizons

Biblical Horizons No. 8 included an essay by Peter Leithart entitled "Prey in My House." Leithart pointed out that tearing flesh is a sign of kingly rule and dominion, and that God is portrayed as the Lion-King who tears flesh. The tithe brought to God’s house provides the money for the torn flesh of the sacrifices offered to Him. The one who supervises the food is the one who has dominion, for it is he who "tears flesh."

Exodus 22:18-31 is the section of the Book of the Covenant dealing with spiritual adultery, corresponding to the Sixth Word. The last command in this section reads:

This dietary law says that the Israelites as a nation, as God’s bride, were not to eat anything not killed by a human being, an image of God. Deuteronomy 14:21 states that they were not to eat anything that died by itself, but might sell it to Gentiles (dogs). Leviticus 7:24 prohibits both torn flesh and carrion, as do Leviticus 17:15 & 22:8. See also Leviticus 11:39-40.

We are authorized to ask this question: Why does Exodus 22:31 only mention torn flesh and not also carrion? And why does Deuteronomy 14:21 only mention carrion? What accounts for the diffierence?

I believe the diffierence arises from the concerns of these two passages. Deuteronomy 14:1-21a concerns the Third Word, and the opposition of death and life. Thus, it is the animal that dies by itself that is mentioned.

Exodus 22:18-31 concerns God’s marriage to Israel. Adam was supposed to supervise Eve’s eating. He was to provide her food, in that sense. He told her which food to eat and which food to avoid (the Tree of Knowledge; remember, Eve had not been created when God forbad that tree, so Adam had to instruct her). Adam, however, refused to supervise Eve’s eating. Instead, he allowed her to receive food from an animal.

Now God’s bride, Israel, is given the same restriction. They are not to eat food provided by animals; that is, flesh torn by beasts and left in the field. They are not to receive their food from the lower animal kingdom, thereby treating animals as food-providers, and thus as gods and husbands. Rather, they are to receive their food from Yahweh, the true Food-provider, God, and Husband of Israel. Yahweh will supervise their eating, taking the place of Adam, and pointing to the New Adam who does the same for us in the Lord’s Supper.

Yahweh’s holy marriage to Israel is preserved when she receives her food from the hands of the images of God, other people. Only animals slaughtered by men may be eaten by God’s holy nation of priests. To receive food from animals is to repeat the sin of Adam and Eve and commit spiritual bestiality.

The gentiles, however, were not under this law because they were not as close to God. They were not members of the holy nation. Whether unconverted "dogs" or converted, God-fearing sojourners, they were free to eat any meat, provided they did not drink blood. We today are under that broader rule, but we should never forget the lesson of Exodus 22:31.