Nourishing liquid and its by-products, the staple of the Hebrew diet. The Old Testament uses the term variously of sweet milk, soured milk, cheese, butter, and, symbolically, of blessing and abundance. The NT only has a symbolic use of what is first and basic in the Christian life. The word is used forty-three times in the OT with twenty being symbolic and only five times in the NT. Ben Sira mentions milk before wine and oil as among “the principal things for the whole use of man's life” (Sirach 39:26). Most often milk came from sheep and goats (Proverbs 27:27;
Deuteronomy 32:14); cow's milk was also known (Isaiah 7:21-22), as was milk from humans (Isaiah 28:9). Butter and cheese were known among the ancients (1 Samuel 17:18) as well as curdled, sour milk which still forms, after bread, the chief food of the poorer classes in Arabia and Syria. This soured milk was carried by travelers who mixed it with meat, dried it, and then dissolved it in water to make a refreshing drink such as that set by Abraham before the messengers (Genesis 18:8). After setting awhile, the drink would carry an intoxicating effect leading some to believe that the fermented variety is the drink that Jael gave to Sisera (Judges 4:19).
The Old Testament's most extensive use of milk is in conjunction with honey to symbolize abundance and blessing (Exodus 3:17;
Joshua 5:6). Milk is also used to symbolize whiteness (Lamentations 4:7) and in Song of Songs as a symbol of marital bliss (Lamentations 5:1).
Milk as a symbol prevails in the NT where the term is used only five times (1 Corinthians 3:2;
1 Corinthians 9:7;
1 Peter 2:2), In each instance it speaks concerning what is basic to the Christian life, but not all that is needed. The ancient bedouins could live on milk for days but eventually had to have meat; so must the Christian.
One of the more perplexing sayings of Scripture is the repeated rule (Exodus 23:19;
Deuteronomy 14:21) not to boil a kid in its mother's milk. The rabbis interpreted this command to mean that milk and meat should neither be cooked or eaten together. Certain scholars have seen in the command a prohibition relating to Caananite sacrificial customs though recent archaeological investigations lend little support to this view. It remains one of the mysteries of scripture.
G. Al Wright, Jr.