October 19, 2013

Meals Made For A Monster: Cannibalism In the Bible

It is the time of year where the culture celebrates the dead, evil and the occult. It seems like a good time to address similar things in the Bible as it might help me draw in someone that is lost in the culture and possibly tune them into the Bible and its truths. In this post I might not be dealing specifically with monsters per se...but I am certainly dealing with godless and monsterous behavior that is only possible if God removes His covering of grace and mercy from mankind.
As far as I know there are only a handful of examples of cannibalism in the Bible. There is also one noted misunderstanding in the New Testament about something Jesus said also which I will elaborate on at the end of this post.

For the first incident we must visit 2 Kings. A woman in Samaria boiled her son and ate him with her neighbor and then cried to the king when her neighbor would not boil her son.

2 Kings 6:24-29 ~ “Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria. And there was a great famine in Samaria, as they besieged it, until a donkey's head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab (approx. 1 quart) of dove's dung for five shekels of silver. Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” And he said, “If the Lord will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?” And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.”

So what would drive a human to such a horrendous act? In a word: starvation. We see the horrors of a severe famine. We see how famine is the dreaded companion of war. The Syrians poured into the Northern Kingdom in Samaria in such volume that they soon overwhelmed the ability to support the army and the kingdom turned to abject famine. The route of war either leads through or creates a trail of famine or the famished. History is littered with examples of morbid human dishes that besieged cities were forced to dine on because no food was left.

Further on in the Scriptures we see that when King David had a choice between famine, war or pestilence, David threw himself on the mercy of the Lord rather than chose something as horrendous as famine (1 Samuel 24:14).

We see that famine dulls human dignity to blunt rounded edge and kills the humane condition of men. This is brutally evident here. A mother’s love for her child is one of the most powerful emotional bonds in creation yet that is overridden in this story. All sense of right and wrong are thrown to the wind (or into the gut if you prefer). What horrid condition must a person sink to extinguish the bond of a mother to her child? How far does a mother need to stoop to be able to share a meal with another adult made from her own child? It defies description and dwells somewhere in the dark brooding crevasse of human depravity.

What is incredibly sad though is that it was foretold of long before it happened. How you say? In the Law, Moses told of these types of repercussions for disobedience to the Lord. This punishment would come not so much as punishments in-and-of-itself but rather as the natural fallout of a depraved humanity let go to the horrible base nature of their sin(s) in the breakdown of social order. It is found in the context of curses from God for disobedience in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 we read the following…

Deuteronomy 28:53 ~ “And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you.

Here we see the fragile boundary between the civilized and savagery. Here we see the brittle razor-thin line between righteousness and sinful wicked depravity.  It is no wonder that righteousness cannot be found in anything man does…it can only come from God. When the divine mercies abate and the restraints of divine grace are removed, true evil can then be unleashed on the world in all its frightful satanic power.

The second abominable act comes to us from Jeremiah in his Lamentations. Lamentations is essentially Jeremiah’s eyewitness account of Jerusalem’s fall in 586 B.C in the Southern Kingdom this time (ironically). It falls to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army. It is God’s judgment being visited on a disobedient people. People that saw what happened to their northern sister in Samaria and still continued on their wicked course.

Lamentations 4:10 ~ “The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food during the destruction of the daughter of my people.

Again, as in 2 Kings, we see mothers cooking and eating their own children. Moral duty is foregone, and unnatural crimes are perpetrated at the beckoning of starvation and hunger. In the previous verse of 7 and 8 we see the condition of the Nazarites who were normally remarkable for health and personal beauty and were held in veneration because of their religious devotion (Numbers 6). Their rose complexion in Lamentations 4 has turned to blackness, their frame is shrunk and distorted, and their skin is shriveled and dry. Famine plays havoc with beauty, and brings the strongest down to helplessness. Evil and deformed.

We recoil at the thought of cannibalism but the conditions must have been deplorable and the need to survive insurmountable. The conditions were so bad that falling to the sword was deemed a more acceptable end than dying through starvation. The living envied teh dead. So extreme was the famine, that cannibalism became common and not seen as taboo and mothers actually boiled and ate their own children. Again we see the restraints of civilization are merely superficial and it is only through divine grace that any semblance of society is maintained. Famine makes people forget the suffering of their children. Severe suffering affects all levels of society including the rich and well-to-do. Famine and starvation changes beauty into deformity and will make the most refined person into an animal capable of cannibalism. How far are we today from similar circumstance? I makes one wonder, doesn't it?

My final allusion to cannibalism comes to us from the Gospel of John and it is a misunderstanding to something Jesus says to His disciples.

John 6:47-52 ~ “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Many listening are stunned as they have clearly misunderstood what Jesus has said here and have taken Him literally.

John 6:53-57 ~ “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.

Is Jesus condoning cannibalism here? No…of course not. He is speaking at least indirectly to the later idea of communion but there is something more here that is distinctly spiritual taking place. Jesus was looking forward to a time soon where the great atoning work of His crucifixion and resurrection would be complete. His death and the Cross were in plain view for Him. The will of the Father and the will of the incarnate Son are seen to be in perfect unison here. It is the Father who sends down the true bread from heaven (like Manna) and the Son, who is the true bread, gives His flesh/blood, His incarnate life for the life of the world dead in its sin (Levitcus 17:11).

In this passage Jesus is referring to Himself as the Bread of Life. As such, we must eat of it daily. We must eat it or take it in internally. The means by which we can do so is expressed in the words, "He that believes in Me has eternal life " (John 3:16; 6:47). We must receive Jesus and His word with all the grace, truth and spiritual power that it brings. We must integrate this divine nourishment (truth, life) and integrate it into our lives. If we do this it becomes us as opposed to becoming an evil monster. We therefore would emulate Christ and would exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. What Jesus is saying is that there should be such a close spiritual union between Himself and His people that they may be seen as one in Him

We as Christians are to partake of His life and teaching. We become members of His body figuratively therefore partaking of His Spirit and being sustained and made fruitful by His life in us. We are to partake of this “bread” every day as we are not capable of any righteousness on our own without Him. To maintain this life we must take Him in daily, just like food, to keep this eternal life alive in us.

Jesus will immediately go on to clarify his statement. There were apparently many people or hangers –on with weak faith that still considered themselves Jesus’ disciple but at the point of this statement…they are blown asunder and can't run fast enough to get away from Him. Their conception of His ministry seems to have been flawed. This claim by Jesus must have just made it harder for them to believe and remain disciples. He claims not only to be the long promised Messiah, who would be greater than manna but that He Himself was the bread of life which came down from heaven to give life to the world.  Those that wished to gain eternal life must eat of His flesh and drink His blood. Those loosely attached are appalled and murmur. In answer to the murmuring Jesus corrects their misunderstanding of His words.

John 6: 60-63 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 

The proof of His words would be given in His ascension to Heaven in Acts. It would show that He would return from where He had come. He would not ascend like a servant but as the Son of God by His own divine power back into Heaven. Jesus’ ascension would show by what interpretive measure these words were to be understood. "The words that I speak unto you are spirit," In other words, when the appearance of Jesus resurrection body (His life) flesh disappears in the ascension, the body he assumed at the Resurrection…it would be then that the disciples and believers would understand that these words from Jesus now have a spiritual meaning-not a literal meaning.

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