Only in times of famine

Section 89 can be difficult to understand. Between the undefined terms (what is a hot drink?) and the traditions we’ve grown up with, trying to understand what the Lord really intended can be tough. One subject that we see confusion around is eating meat.

D&C 89:10-13
And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving. Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; and it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

Here the Lord is telling us herbs and fruits are ordained as food for man. Also that the flesh of beasts and fowls are to used, not only in times of winter, or cold, or famine, but presumably all year round. (The comma between “should not be used” and “only in times of winter” was added in 1921, so I ignore it). One definition of sparingly is moderately,  tenderly, or not lavishly. Other times sparingly can mean seldom or not frequently, but the next scripture seems to not support that definition here.

D&C 49:18-21
And whoso forbids to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God; for, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance. But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin. And wo be unto man that sheds blood or that wastes flesh and has no need.

That’s a second witness that the beasts of the field and fowls of the air are ordained for the use of man. But the Lord gives two warnings. First, that one man should not possess more than another. We should not have people starving while others have plenty (insert law of consecration here). And secondly, wasting the flesh of animals, killing them when there is no need, is bad. But we are also to have this food in abundance. Abundance means ample sufficiency. This isn’t gluttony. It’s enough. More than the minimum, but not to excess.

God gives a third witness.

D&C 59:16-20
Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbs upon the trees and walketh upon the earth; yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards; yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleases God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.

To be used. For food. With judgment, not to excess.

Now that we’ve established this, let’s go back to Section 89 and read the next verses.

14 All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
15 And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

What exactly has God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess hunger?

Most people will assume he’s referring to eating meat again. But that contradicts all those previous scriptures that tells us meat is ordained for the use of man, to be used abundantly but not to excess.

Some interpret this to mean we’re only supposed to eat grain during times of famine and excess of hunger. But that seems to ignore the next verse.

16 All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground

I think the answer is right there in the scriptures.

14 All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth; and these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

This is the first time wild animals has been used in Section 89. The previous verses talk about eating beasts of the field, but do not mention wild animals.

Let’s use a bit of English grammar to decode this. These is plural. In verse 14, all grain is singular. Wild animals are plural. We also have the difference between these and those. When you have two groups, the closer group is referred to as these, and the more distant group is referred to as those. The closest group to the word these is wild animals, not grain, not beasts of the field, and not fowls of heaven.

While grammar can help us understand the meaning, we really need some scriptural witnesses to confirm that. Is there a difference between beasts of the field and wild beasts or wild animals?

1 Nephi 18:25
And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men.

Here Nephi seems to be making a distinction between beasts (cows, oxen, horses, and goats) and wild animals. Nephi talks about hunting wild beasts to feed his family during a time of excess hunger.

1 Nephi 16
19 And it came to pass that we did return without food to our families, and being much fatigued, because of their journeying, they did suffer much for the want of food.
21 Now it came to pass that I, Nephi, having been afflicted with my brethren because of the loss of my bow, and their bows having lost their springs, it began to be exceedingly difficult, yea, insomuch that we could obtain no food.
31 And it came to pass that I did slay wild beasts, insomuch that I did obtain food for our families.

Later in the Book of Mormon we have another description that distinguishes between domesticated animals and wild beasts.

3 Nephi 4:2-3
2 But behold, there were no wild beasts nor game in those lands which had been deserted by the Nephites, and there was no game for the robbers save it were in the wilderness. And the robbers could not exist save it were in the wilderness, for the want of food; for the Nephites had left their lands desolate, and had gathered their flocks and their herds and all their substance, and they were in one body.

It seems that wild beasts and wild animals are one in the same. The emphasis is on the wild part. The Lamanites were hunting game in the wilderness. The Nephites had flocks and herds. Alma also describes wild animals as living in the wilderness.

Alma 22:31
And they came from there up into the south wilderness. Thus the land on the northward was called Desolation, and the land on the southward was called Bountiful, it being the wilderness which is filled with all manner of wild animals of every kind, a part of which had come from the land northward for food.

It seems that hunting wild animals is what the Lord is referring to in D&C 89:15 when he says they are only to be used in times of famine and excess hunger. Hunting isn’t forbidden, but it is restricted. Enos went to hunt beasts in the forest when he kneeled down in prayer. Nephi hunted food in the wilderness to provide for his family. So this isn’t a sin outright. But who are the examples of those that hunt to excess? Nimrod, the founder of Babel, was a mighty hunter. Esau was a cunning hunter. And Enos tells us of the Lamanites.

Enos 1:20
And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us.

Nephi and his family ate raw meat in the wilderness and the Lord blessed them. The Lamanites at raw meat and it was a cursing. So eating raw meat in and of itself isn’t sin. During times of famine and excess hunger it’s fine. But if that becomes your staple diet, you’ve gone too far. So it seems with hunting in general. The Nephites farmed extensively, with both grains and flocks of animals, and hunted occasionally. The Lamanites didn’t farm, and either pillaged or hunted for their sustenance.

I can’t help but notice that our hunting laws restrict hunting to specific times of the year, and limit the number of animals that can be killed. I suspect that if these laws were repealed, some percentage of hunters would hunt to excess, much like what happened with the wild buffalo in the 1800s. Our hunting laws seem to be implementing the will of the Lord to some degree (albeit by coercion). An outright prohibition on hunting for food is not God’s will. Trophy hunting, where blood is spilled when there is no need, seems to be a different story.

So what does this mean for us? Beef, poultry, and other domesticated meats are fine to eat year round, in abundant moderation but not to excess. Grains, herbs, and fruits are fine to eat year round. Wild animals, however, should only be eaten in times of famine and excess hunger.

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