Part Two

The Concession of Meat-Eating

 (For Part One go here)

After the Flood has destroyed all of humanity and the animal creation, apart from those within the ark, Noah offers sacrifices of clean animals to God. Much has been made of the words immediately after this, namely the fact that the writer of the text affirms ‘that the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma’ of the sacrifice, and yet this text is often interpreted out of its context. Firstly, it is not automatically God himself who is describing the sacrifice as a pleasing aroma, the text merely underlines that God smelled what the writer — or perhaps Noah and his family — describe as a pleasing aroma. If I were to write ‘Marcello saw the beautiful car’ it does not necessarily mean I consider the car beautiful, only that the writer of the phrase or the general culture considers it so. Either way, there is a strong element of accommodation and symbolism here. Other parts of scripture highlight how God does not desire sacrifice but accepted them as part of the limited and fallen culture of the time, and more importantly as symbols of Christ’s future sacrifice.[1]  The trope of a ‘pleasing aroma to the Lord’ is found in other scriptures;[2] Keil and Delitzsch explain this passage, and the divine accommodation present in it, in their commentary:

He graciously accepted the feelings of the offerer which rose to Him in the odour of the sacrificial flame. In the sacrificial flame the essence of the animal was resolved into vapour; so that when man presented a sacrifice in his own stead, his inmost being, his spirit, and his heart ascended to God in the vapour, and the sacrifice brought the feeling of his heart before God. This feeling of gratitude for gracious protection, and of desire for further communications of grace, was well-pleasing to God.[3]

In the same way, Paul reinterprets this concept in terms of Christian service and Christ’s sacrifice: ‘I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God’ (Philippians 4:18).[4] God was willing to accept the expression of faith and devotion of fallen and primitive peoples for a period, in view of the true sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

I argue that while God certainly accepts Noah’s faith in his sacrifice, the words immediately afterwards are in fact a very harsh criticism of human beings and their sinfulness, and set the stage for understanding the concession of meat-eating in the next verses. We are told very clearly: ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease’ (Gen. 8:21-22, ESV). The NIV places a variant reading with ‘even though’: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood’ (Gen. 8:21 NIV). In either translation it indicates that God has seen the degree of humankind’s sinfulness and hard-heartedness and is forced to compromise, at least temporarily until its condition had improved, in order to continue with his creation and not end it definitively. Most commentators seem to ignore the link between the violence of Gen. 6:12, ‘the earth was filled with violence’, with the concessions to, and regulation of violence, of Genesis 9. The concession to eat meat in this sense appears here as a reluctant concession of God who sees that in order to allow creation to continue he must lower his standards temporarily;[5] this makes sense in the light of Paul’s statement that where there is no law there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15, 5:13). Of course the law of conscience remained as the basic benchmark for human behaviour, but conscience can also be shaped by culture and as time progressed God’s original ideal would be lost and meat-eating would become part of the normal landscape of human life. Despite this, the echoes of this ideal can be heard throughout cultures across the globe.

The language used to describe God’s giving of animals to the post-diluvian generation appears to be concessional and based on the very low spiritual and moral condition humanity had sunken to. Richard Bauckham underlines how:

The account has to be read against the background of the way Genesis 1 portrays humans and animals as originally vegetarian. God gave them only plants for food (Gen. 1:29-30). In view of the change that is recognised after the Flood (Gen. 9:2-3,5-6), we are probably to understand that the violence that led to the Flood included killing for food.[6]

Again, Richard Bauckham describes Genesis 9 as a sort of ‘holding operation’ until humanity had regained a greater spiritual condition:

Finally, we should notice that the renewal of the creation mandate to humanity in Genesis 9.1-7 not only indicates a kind of fresh start to creation after the Flood, re-establishing God’s creative will for humanity on earth in relation to the animals, but also expresses this creative will in terms conditioned by the violence which is now a feature of human life. Since God now pledges himself to the survival of human and animal life in spite of this violence, the creation mandate is reformulated to take account of it. Violence must be contained so it does not endanger human survival. A limited degree of violence now enters the notion of human dominion over the animals (9:2-5), but only in the interests of human survival. Similarly, the violence of man against man is to be restrained by God’s permission for limited retaliation (9:6), so that murder should not lead to the unlimited violence of blood-feud, which always in ancient society threatened to go on forever. Thus God now permits such limited violence as will enable humanity to multiply and populate the earth (9:1,7) in the face of both animal and internecine violence. With biblical hindsight, of course, we can recognize in this a kind of holding operation, with a view to God’s redemptive strategy for the transformation of human hearts.[7]

We can see how the violence denounced by God in Genesis 6 is then regulated to a certain degree in Genesis 9:1-6:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

 “Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.

In these verses God seeks to regulate and restrain human violence; meat is given only with the caveat of not eating blood, whereas the murder of humans would now be punished with the death of the perpetrator, thus limiting the possibility of endless feuds of retaliation and discouraging lawlessness. We see the beginning of this kind of cyclical violence in Genesis 4:23-24 where God’s mercy towards Cain and his promise to protect him from retaliation is expanded almost indefinitely by Lamech — the first man recorded to have married two women — into a law of endless blood-feud. The severity of the death penalty for murder should make us reflect on how greatly the situation had degenerated and may have been a form of ‘martial law’ implemented to restore order. This does not appear to be God’s desired way of dealing with human beings, but more like God being compelled to take radical measures in order to put back together a situation which had spiralled out of control. For now God is forced to let humankind have its way and can only limit and contain man’s evil and violence if he is to continue walking with it: ‘Hence God after the Flood (8:21) observes that the inclination of the human heart is evil, just as he had done before the Flood (6:5), but whereas before the Flood this was the ground for destroying humanity, after the Flood it is a situation that God tolerates. In spite of human evil, God resolves never again to destroy humanity (8:21)’.[8]

The Noahic covenant that follows is one of pure grace and mercy, God’s promise to not destroy the earth again is based entirely on his incredible patience and benevolence.[9] But the Noahic covenant is not only with human beings but also with all creatures to whom God promises that he will never again flood the earth and of which the rainbow is a sign: ‘And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth’ (Gen. 9:12-13).[10] This is repeated various times at the beginning of the chapter (Gen. 9:10, 12, 15, 16), as in verse 15: ‘So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth”’. God is clearly concerned with the entire created order not only human beings.

God’s prohibition on not consuming blood in this context can be seen as a form of respect towards these creatures and to himself, their Creator, and in particular underlines the truth that their lives in fact belong to God. Not consuming blood also highlights the fact that humans should be deriving their life from God and not from the flesh of animals, which was an idea often present in various forms of animism, where the ‘life-force’ of creatures is sometimes thought to be assimilated by the ingestion of the animal’s body.[11] According to Jewish tradition a further explanation may be warranted and that is that one of the sins of the antediluvian generation was their extreme cruelty towards animals, which consisted not only in eating them without God’s permission but also in eating the body parts of living animals.[12] According to this understanding of the text the wicked people of the pre-Flood era began amputating the limbs of animals while keeping them alive as a way of keeping the rest of the meat fresh. Eating meat without blood meant that the animal had to be killed and its blood drained before it could be eaten, and the ghoulish cruelty of the antediluvians would be stopped.[13] This is reflected in the so-called Noahide laws within Jewish tradition, which teach that in order for gentiles to be considered righteous seven laws must be adhered to; these include refraining from idolatry, sexual immorality, murder, robbery, blasphemy, the necessity of creating a system of laws, and finally not eating flesh from a living animal.[14]


Thank you for reading our work and following our blog; we appreciate you very much!  We hope you are blessed by this article and will share it with others.  Please stay tuned for next weeks publication of Part Three of Noah, Meat Eating, And The Flood –Violence and Shalom.  Many Blessings ~ Marcello

For those who would like to read the entire article:  Noah, Meat-Eating, And The Flood.


[1] Psa. 40:6-8, Heb. 10:1-14, Psa. 51:16, Isa. 1:11, Jer. 7:22-23, 1 Sam. 15:22.
[2] See Num. 15:3; Lev. 1:9.
[3] Biblehub.com. “Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary, Genesis 8,” accessed 16 October, 2018,
https://biblehub.com/commentaries/kad/genesis/8.htm, 8:20,
[4] See Eph. 5:2: ‘And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’; See also 2 Cor. 2:15.
[5] See also Abraham Isaac Kook’s rabbinical Jewish perspective on this passage: “D. Cohen, ed., Rabbi Abraham Kook: A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace,” accessed 17 October, 2018, https://www.jewishveg.org/AVisionofVegetarianismandPeace.pdf.
[6] Richard Bauckham, Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (Exeter: Dartmon, Longman and Todd Ltd, 2010), 23.
[7] Richard Bauckham, The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically, 2nd ed. (London: SPCK, 2010), 134-136.
[8] Bauckham, The Bible in Politics, 135.
[9] Bauckham, The Bible in Politics, 135.
[10] Bauckham, The Bible in Politics, 136.
[11] For example in the cult of Mithra and other mystery religions, but also in various primitive hunter-gatherer cultures.
[12] Biblehub.com, “Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary, Genesis 9,” accessed 16 October, 2018, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/kad/genesis/9.htm, 9:3.
[13] Biblestudytools.com, “Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Genesis 9,” accessed 16 October, 2018, https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/jamieson-fausset-brown/genesis/genesis-9.html.
[14] Myjewishlearning.com, “The Noahide Laws,” accessed 25 October, 2018, https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-noahide-laws/.

 

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