Swords to Plowshares

Promoting a faith-based love for all creation.

Why in Deuteronomy 12 does it say to eat as much meat as you desire?

In Deuteronomy 12:15 it says, “you may slaughter and eat meat within all your gates, whatever your heart desires.” A few verses later it repeats this idea: “When the LORD your God enlarges your border as He has promised you, and you say, ‘Let me eat meat,’ because you long to eat meat, you may eat as much meat as your heart desires” (Deuteronomy 12:20). At first glance, this may seem like incontrovertible proof that God wants us to wantanly kill and eat animals. A closer look, however, reveals that something quite different is going on.

The first thing to notice is that each of these statements is qualified with a restriction. Deuteronomy 12:15 is qualified in the very next verse saying, “Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it on the earth like water” (Deuteronomy 12:16). Verse 20 is likewise qualified with the same restriction: “Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life; you may not eat the life with the meat” (Deuteronomy 12:23). So permission to eat meat is qualified by the requirement to drain all the blood out first and to not consume any of the blood.

A rudimentary understanding of biology will reveal that it is not physically possible to drain all the blood out of a dead body. Every piece of flesh will still contain some amount of blood therein. So it is impossible to fully satisfy this qualification. Therefore one can only attempt to mostly fulfill the qualification by draining most of the blood out of the flesh before eating it. The only way to fully follow the instruction to abstain from blood is to not eat flesh at all, which happens to be exactly what God instructed from the very beginning in Genesis 1:29 before we were pulled away into sin by the desires of our flesh.

The second thing to notice is that in each passage a particular motive is mentioned in connection with eating flesh. In verse 15 it says to eat “whatever your heart desires;” in verse 20 it says, “you may eat as much meat as your heart desires;” and in verse 21 it says “you may eat within your gates as much as your heart desires.” This is an important point to consider because, unlike in Eden, these statements are not God instructing what is very good but rather connecting flesh-eating with the desires of the lustful heart. This is not the first time the Israelites craved and lusted after meat.

In Numbers 11 God provided manna for the Israelites during their exodus out of Egypt. After a while they got tired of manna and begged for meat, even to the point of regretting their decision to leave their life of slavery in Egypt to follow God into the wilderness in search of the promised land. This is what God said in response to the Israelites craving meat:

“You shall eat [meat], not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the LORD who is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we come up out of Egypt?” (Numbers 11:19-20).

God then sent quail to them, and those who craved meat began to gather the quail to eat. But things didn’t go so well for these people. It says:

“But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was aroused against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very great plague. So he called the name of that place Kibroth Hattaavah (Graves of Craving), because there they buried the people who had yielded to craving” (Numbers 11:33-34).

In this example, God was displeased with the people’s craving for meat despite telling them to go ahead and fulfill their desires to eat flesh. And the consequence of them yielding to the craving is that they died. The fact that God in Deuteronomy 12 similarly connects meat-eating with the desires of the heart suggests to me that yielding to that craving would not be wise, especially considering the impossible qualification God makes regarding draining all the blood out of the flesh prior to eating it. It would be much wiser to exhibit self-control over the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:24) and to put your faith in God’s original very good instruction to eat only fruit and vegetation (Genesis 1:29).

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