I just never thought I'd be writing about what the Bible has to say about people eating their children and other people. How on earth did I come to this subject? I am working on a series of verses and posts on Passion to Know More social media about Jesus is compassion. The word "compassion" is a key word in the Bible because God is described over and over as being compassionate. I went to Bible Gateway and typed in "compassionate" and then read through the many verses with "compassionate" in them. And low and behold Lamentations 4:10 pops up.
With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed.
That's not a verse which you'd put on a coffee mug.
I don't remember when I learned it was mentioned in the Bible about people eating their young. But I do know it fascinated me and grossed me out. Whenever I mention to anyone about people becoming so desperate that they ate their children (which honestly does not come up that often for obvious reasons,) they always react shocked that cannibalism is in there.
Cannibalism is mentioned in the Bible as a covenant curse for rejecting God and doing evil. Cannibalism is mentioned in regards to the sieges.
We need to back up to the key word "covenant." God made a series of covenants with His people. Covenant is more than just a promise or a contract. It is a sacred holy promise that God and His people enter in together. He will be their God and they will love Him with all their heart and soul and might. Jesus has told us His blood is the new covenant. The covenant comes with blessings for God's people who fear Him. And it comes with curses for those who reject Him.
Further, you will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters you will eat.
Chapter 26 is about the blessings of obedience and the penalties of disobedience. It is important to remember the people knew this before they agreed to enter the covenant. God very clearly told them this is what will happen if you break His covenant. (Leviticus 26:14.) Not only does God spell out for them what will happen if they break the covenant, but He also tells them if you break the covenant, there is a way to restore the covenant. God gives them an out if they confess their iniquity in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Him, become humbled so they then make amends for their iniquity; then He will remember His covenant with them. See Leviticus 26:40-46.
These are the statutes and ordinances and laws which the LORD established between Himself and the sons of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai.
God sets the rules. This is what will happen if you enter the covenant and are obedient. You will be blessed. And this is what will happen if you break the covenant. You will be cursed. But even if you break the covenant, and return to God and repent; you can be restored in the covenant with God. He will take you back.
And the people agreed to the covenant. See Exodus 24:7
God's people knew full well what the LORD their God required of them. They were to fear the LORD their God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD their God with all their heart and with all their soul, and to keep the LORD's commandments and His statutes. (See Deuteronomy 10:12-22) Moses proceeds to go over the rewards of obedience and all the statutes again, and then you get to Deuteronomy chapter 28 and the consequences of disobedience are again repeated. And this is where the second time cannibalism is mentioned. Deuteronomy 28:53: Then you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters... Verse 55 so that he will not give even one of them any of the flesh of his children which he will eat, since he has nothing else left, during the siege and the distress... Verse 57 ... she will eat them secretly for lack of anything else, during the siege and the distress ...
Deuteronomy chapter 30 tells us (again) God always provides a way for restoration of the covenant. He sets before them life and prosperity, and death and adversity and tells them to "choose life." Deuteronomy 30:19.
The people agreed to the covenant between them and their God.
Do the people break the covenant? They do.
Do the covenant curses come true? They do.
2 Kings 6:28-29
And the king said to her, "What is the matter with you?" And 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 I said to her on the next day, 'Give your son, that we may eat him'; but she has hidden her son."
The siege of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, was so severe that the people resorted to cannibalism. These verses in 2 Kings have to do with an earlier siege of Samaria under the Arameans. This is a depth of sin that was predicted earlier and is shocking.
Then we get to Jeremiah 19:9.
"I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they will eat one another's flesh in the siege and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life will distress them."
Jeremiah predicted that the citizens of Jerusalem would do this during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.
Then we get to Lamentations 2:20.
... Should women eat their offspring, the little ones who were born healthy?...
And Lamentations 4:10.
The hands of compassionate women boiled their own children; they became food for them...
Jeremiah lived to see this happen. People fought over whose child should be eaten next. Compassionate women who under normal circumstances would not imagine doing such a thing.
And Ezekiel 5:10.
'Therefore, fathers will eat their sons among you, and sons will eat their fathers; for I will execute judgments on you and scatter all your remnant to every wind.'
This is during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 588-586 B.C. Remember cannibalism was prohibited in the law of Moses and was denounced by prophets. This is the whole point though. This isn't what God wanted for His people. They broke their covenant with God and resorted to unimaginable evil.
And finally we get to A.D. 70 and the Roman siege of Jerusalem which was recorded by Josephus in Wars of the Jews, 6.3.4.
"A woman... who... had fled to Jerusalem... killed her son, roasted him, and ate one half, concealing and saving the rest."
When you read about the sieges of Samaria and Jerusalem in the Bible you don't get a sense of how bad they were. The Bible just tells you this happened and this happened - kind of matter-of-factly. But the sieges were horrific. And we know this mainly because of archeological finds. The Assyrians talk about skinning people while they were alive and beheading others and putting their heads on poles and lining the roads. The Babylonians were also brutal. The people would flee to the walled cities for protection. The whole point of a siege was to starve the people for years (yes years) to where they became so weak they were easily conquered. Sieges were a common practice of warfare. The people became so starved they resorted to eating grass and cannibalism. Most died. Then the invading armies would slaughter the few still alive or take them as slaves.
What are we to make of all of this? I have four take-aways from thinking about the covenant curse of cannibalism.
First of all I think a take-away is that God is not ambiguous. We don't have to wonder what He thinks and what He expects of us. He has told us. Did God make them eat their young? No! Never! He simply told them if you break our covenant, there will be curses and you will sink to the lowest of the low. They chose their course.
Yes God is compassionate and slow to anger. You can go to Bible Gateway; type in "compassionate" or "slow to anger" and read those verses. We like to focus on these characteristics of God. But God is holy and almighty also and those aren't trivial words to be ignored. Feel their majesty. When His people reject Him and do evil in His sight, look out. My second take away is to read the Bible with balance - keep in my heart both an intimate relationship with God as loving me and at the same time for me to have a profound reverence for Him. I serve a loving holy God.
Another take-away for me is that as a professed Christian I have entered the new covenant. When we take the Lord's Supper/ communion/ the Eucharist we hear about the bread is His body and then we hear about the cup. Jesus says "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood." (Luke 22:20.) When we drink of that it is in remembrance we have entered that covenant. We are agreeing to the terms. That is a very sacred moment. We are professing Jesus is our Savior and our Lord. There is a seriousness with that which needs to be recognized and acted upon. With keeping the covenant comes blessings. We are left to our own accord if we reject God. But hope is never lost because there is always a chance to be restored. Always. Why? Because our God is compassionate and is the God of second chances.
Our last take-away should be that the Bible is not boring. Smile.
Oh no wait. I have one more lesson we should remember. Keep the covenant.
In writing this article I used my Bibles as sources.
New American Standard reference Bible 1995 (NASB)
Christian Standard study Bible (CSB)
New International Version study Bible (NIV)
English Standard Version study Bible (ESV)