After Noah and his family depart from the Ark and set out to replenish the population of the Earth, God sets down a few key changes in the covenant He makes with them. The first of these is that man is now permitted to eat meat in addition to plants and vegetables.
Apparently, before the Flood, God had not sanctioned the eating of meat. Whether or not this rule was followed, we do not really know. It is unlikely that – given the grave depravity that mankind had fallen into prior to the Flood – people had much respect for this prohibition of God since they had showed no deference to the Lord in anything else. The Lord mentions in verse 5 the sanctity of the lifeblood of the animals which would seem to suggest the flagrant disregard for it that had likely been shown toward all life (animal and human) in the past.
The respect for and value of life, in fact, is the commonality between the two major changes that are laid down here in the “Noahic Covenant” (the other concerns “capital punishment” which, Lord willing, I plan to talk about next time). At first glance, it might seem a little ironic that the Lord, Who has just annihilated every living thing on the planet apart from those in the Ark of Noah, would now be talking about the great value of life. But that is precisely what He is doing. Why? Because in all truthfulness, God alone retains the right and discretion to choose when life, any life, should be terminated. Although Cain, Lamech, and countless unnamed others had failed to understand that God alone holds the prerogative to decide when a life can be ended, Noah did. This is why God explains to him now under what circumstances man is delegated this authority.
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” (Leviticus 17:11)
Blood, representing the life of the animal, is what is required for atonement under the Law of Moses. Ultimately, it points toward the Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ which was spilled for the covering of the sins of the world. But not only is prohibition made here against the eating of an animal’s blood, it is also an inference made toward the humane slaughter of livestock in preparation for consumption. Man is not given carte blanche to barbarously devour any game or livestock in any manner he sees fit. No, care is to be taken to humanely slaughter the animal and then prepare the meat to be eaten in a wholesome, sanitary way.
“One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.” (Romans 14:2-3 ESV)
Some have made the abstinence from eating meat a spiritual or religious issue. Even certain denominations that name the name of Christ preach that the Bible endorses a strictly vegetarian diet. For many non-Christians, this practice (sometimes referred to as “vegan”: which carries vegetarianism to a moral or religious level rather than strictly a dietary preference or physical health issue) is really nothing more than a neo-paganism that exalts animals to an equal, or even superior, level with mankind. For Christians, it is strictly a personal matter between each of us and the Lord. There is no Biblical basis for preaching that other Christians should refrain from eating meat for spiritual reasons. Foregoing the eating of meat for health reasons, or reasons of conscience (such as the justified objection toward the inhumane practices of many in the agricultural industry, which clearly violate God’s instructions for proper animal husbandry, as cited by the author of the article, “Vegetarian and Christianity“) is perfectly acceptable, but we are in no way at liberty to be dogmatic to other believers about their own dietary habits.
Having said this, however, there is another extreme that many people, even some believers, go to and that is to totally disregard the sanctity of animal life. Animals are not created in the image of God as man is, but they are still creatures of God. The Lord has delivered them into our hand for food, but that in no way gives us the right to mistreat or abuse them. Mankind is to exercise a dominion over them that precludes the wholesale extermination of entire species to the point of extinction and the indiscriminate encroachment into and destruction of their habitats. We are to be good stewards of the resources that God has provided, and that includes livestock and wildlife.