#1 The “vegetarian mandate” was part and parcel of God’s original plan for creation. If one looks closely, one finds that the first chapter in Genesis is consistent in showing that the Creator never gave the birds, fish, and animals to the humans for food. The author of Genesis thus presents God as commanding his human creatures to be entirely plant and fruit eaters (today we would say "vegetarians"):
God said, "See, I have given you [humans] every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so (Gen 1:29-30 NRSV).
Gen 2-3 makes the point that God himself is the master farmer and that he trains Adam [and later Eve] to be a farmer like himself. The human purpose given to Adam is “to till it [the earth] and keep it” (Gen 2:15). In this environment that is entirely agricultural, God creates the animals and birds and fish and brings them to Adam in the hope that he will find a solution to his loneliness (Gen 2:18-20). Animals and birds are never given to Adam to cover food shortages. It is also abundantly clear that Adam has been exclusively eating fruits and grains because (as yet) there were no animals, birds, or fish even created as yet to even be considered as food. [Note here that, according to Gen 1, the animals, birds, and fish were created before humans.]
What the opening chapters of Genesis make clear is that the animals and birds are also entirely “vegetarian.” Thus the original design of the Creator was to insure that neither the human nor the animals had any reason to kill any living thing for food or for their pelts.
#2 The “vegetarian mandate” was part and parcel of God’s plan for building Noah’s ark. During the extended stay of more than a year in the ark of salvation, neither the humans nor the animals would ever kill each other. This is made clear by virtue of this provision: “Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you [Noah and his family] and for them [the living creatures]” (Gen 6:21). When one hears the word “food” here, one thinks of the Creator saying, “Everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food" (Gen 1:29-30 NRSV). Thus, even aboard the ark, the author of Genesis shows that the “vegetarian mandate” was faithfully observed (Gen 1:29-30, 9:1-3).
#3 After the Great Flood, however, the author of Genesis presents God as suddenly overturning the “vegetarian mandate”:
God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you [earlier in Gen 1:29-30] the green plants, [now] I give you everything [for your food] (Gen 9:1-3 NRSV).
Yipes! Why this sudden reversal? The “vegetarian mandate” had been in effect for 1657* years. Part of the “righteousness” of Noah was the fact that he trained his family not to kill the animals, the birds, and the fish nor to eat them as their food. God spared Noah and his family because they were not “violent” like the others. For an entire year, they had been practicing the “vegetarian mandate” while living on the ark.
So the big question is this: Why does the author of Genesis present God as suddenly abandoning his “vegetarian mandate” after maintaining it for over 1500 years?
A good, better, and best response would have to respond to one, two, or three of the following:
Issue #1: In Gen 1-8, there are only two mandates given to humans and animals: (1) “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:22 for birds and fish; Gen 1:28 for humans; Gen 8:17 and 9:1) and (2) Be “vegetarian” (Gen 1:29-30, 6:21). So, after the revival of the earth following the flood, God blesses Noah and his sons [Why are the women left out?]. Then he repeats the first mandate and negates the second. What reason does Genesis offer for this unexpected turn-around? Why does this turn-around seemingly come at the very moment when Noah and his family are ready to create a new world order dedicated to the “vegetarian mandate”? [So a good response will have to decide whether the text of Genesis offers a clear reason for this unexpected turn-around. If no clear motive is discovered, are you perhaps ready to identify an "implied motive" (by reading between the lines)?]
Issue #2: God is presented as fully aware that negating the “vegetarian mandate” will wreck violence upon his creatures: “The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal, bird, and fish” (Gen 9:1-3). Earlier, Genesis tells us that God lamented “that he had made humankind” (Gen 6:6). Later, this same God is lamenting the fact that he had destroyed “all flesh” outside the ark saying, “Never again. . . . Never again. . . ”(Gen 9:11). But then the author of Genesis seemingly ignores these regrets and lamentations when God is presented as laying the groundwork for enabling humans to become more and more violent. [So a good response will have to either allow or to deny that Genesis presents God as regretting and lamenting his own violence. Is God permitted to reflect on his own conduct and to acknowledge his bad choices? Does this regretting and lamenting inspire confidence in Noah or distrust? Finally, when God is presented as negating the “vegetarian mandate,” the reader will have to decide whether this is another instance of regretting and lamenting. Does this turn-around inspire confidence in Noah or distrust? Can the reader of the text know whether this turn-around will be expected to increase or reduce human violence in the future? ]
Issue #3: It is significant that the “vegetarian mandate” tacitly shows up again in the end times material of the bible. Take, as an example, Isa 11:6-7:
The wolf shall lie with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
Thus the end of days will have some features that were present at the grand beginning in Gen 1. There will be no violence between animals because the “vegetarian mandate” will finally become a lived reality. This reality, meanwhile, also demonstrates how nations will also be harmless and that the Lord shall negotiate peace:
[God] shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their swords into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit down under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken (Mic 4:3-4 = Isa 2:4)
[So a good response will explore whether the prophet Isaiah wants his hearers to believe and to hope that the “vegetarian mandate” of Gen 1-8 will someday flourish again and bring about universal peace and security between animals and between nations. If so, how might this impact the way that Isaiah and his followers would understand Gen 9:1-3?]
PS: In a future question, I want to explore to what degree contemporary churches (and synagogues) embrace the reading of Genesis and of Isaiah that has been presented here.
*Computed using the internal genealogies in Genesis