You shall not eat of anything that dies of itself: you shall give it to the stranger that is in your gates, that he may eat it…
This precept, several times repeated in the Law (Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:25), may be connected with magical superstitions, but it is equally probable that the act was condemned as an outrage on the connection naturally subsisting between parent and offspring. It is thus related to the commands forbidding the killing of a cow and a calf on the same day (Leviticus 22:28), or the taking a bird with its young (Deuteronomy 22:6), and to the precepts enjoining a scrupulous regard for natural distinctions - not sowing a field with mingled seed, etc. (Leviticus 19:19). It suggests -
I. THE DUTY OF CHERISHING THE FINER INSTINCTS OF OUR NATURE. The act here forbidden could hardly be called cruelty, the kid being dead, but it was unnatural. It argued a blunted state of the sympathies. A finer instinct, alive to the tenderness of the relation between parent and offspring, would have disallowed it. It is beautiful to see the ancient Law inculcating this rare and delicate fineness of feeling - this considerateness and sympathy even for dead animals. The lesson is that everything is to be avoided which would tend to blunt our moral sensibilities. The act has its analogue in higher relations. Not infrequently has the affection of a parent been used by the ingenuity of cruelty to inflict keener tortures on a child; or, conversely, a child has been betrayed into disclosures afterwards used to injure the parent.
II. THE DUTY OF CONSIDERATION IN DEALING WITH IRRATIONAL CREATURES.
1. It is right that irrational creatures should be treated kindly. And if the Law required that this delicate consideration should be shown towards dead animals, how much more does it require of us kindly treatment of them while living!
2. Our behavior towards irrational creatures, as seen above, reacts upon ourselves. In certain cases, this is readily perceived. Most people would shrink from the wanton mutilation of a dead animal, even in sport, and would admit the reactive effect of such an action in deadening humane instincts in him who did it. But it is the same with all cruelty and unfeelingness. Any action which, in human relationships, would be condemned as unsympathetic, will be found, if performed to animals, to have a blunting effect on the sensibilities of the agent. A man's dog is more to him than a brute. He is a friend. We can carry into our behavior towards the irrational creatures many of the feelings which actuate us in our personal relations, and the more we do it, the better for ourselves. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself: thou shalt give it unto the stranger that is in thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto an alien: for thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.
WEB: You shall not eat of anything that dies of itself: you may give it to the foreigner living among you who is within your gates, that he may eat it; or you may sell it to a foreigner: for you are a holy people to Yahweh your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk.