Learning from the law
The Old Testament contains many commands which were given specifically to Israel. How should Christians regard these commands? Should we ignore them as not being relevant to us today or can we learn something from studying them? The Bible gives us the answer to this question.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16,17
Since all Scripture is profitable we must study all the commands God has given even if we are no longer required to follow them literally. God has also given us an example to show us how to interpret these commands.
You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.
Very few people use oxen anymore so not many of us can obey this command literally but Paul quoted it twice and in doing so showed us the spiritual principle which it illustrates.
Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
1 Corinthians 9:8-12
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
1 Timothy 5:17-18
The real meaning of the command is that anyone who does work that benefits another person should be payed for it. In both of these cases Paul was speaking about those who work full time in serving God but it isn’t limited to this kind of work.
Here are two more examples of commands that have a deeper meaning that the literal one. If you take the time and effort to study the law you will be able to find more.
When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.
When this was written houses were built with flat roofs and the roof was used as another room in the house so obviously a railing was needed to protect the people on it. Since we don’t normally build houses like this today we don’t have to follow this law literally but we can learn something from it that does apply today.
If God had wanted to do so he could have used his power to protect the people from falling off their roofs and a railing wouldn’t have been necessary, but he has chosen not to do this. We learn from this that he expects us to foresee possible dangers and take precautions to guard against them. For example, we should fasten our seatbelts when in a car and we should always use protective equipment when doing things that involve the risk of injury. We should not use the fact that he has promised to protect us as an excuse for carelessness.
You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.
An ox was a clean animal which could be eaten or offered as a sacrifice. A donkey was unclean and couldn’t be sacrificed to God. Paul might have had this verse in mind when he wrote 2 Corinthians 6:14,
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.
The work of God is to be carried out only by Christians and we must avoid anything which we bind us too closely with unsaved people. This verse has often been used to show that a Christian shouldn’t marry a nonChristian, and while this is true it applies to other situations as well.
One area where Christians have often violated this principle in the past is in making Christianity the official religion of a nation or trying to get help from the government for the church. Practices like these have led to Christians relying on the government rather than to God and has opened a door for the unsaved citizens of the government to influence the church. We should use our influence to ensure that the laws of their country are in accord with God’s standards of right and wrong but we should never seek or accept government help in the primary work of the church, which is preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible.