Today’s OT18 readings are Deuteronomy 25 and Isaiah 52.
This devotional is about Deuteronomy 25:4–kind of, but not really.
Deuteronomy 25:4 is a very simple command: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” I don’t know anyone who owns an ox. I’m sure I have some friend or acquaintance or friend of a friend who grows grain but I doubt that person uses an ox. So, on its face, this simple command seems to say nothing to any of us. It might be applicable to the Amish, but if you’re Amish, how and why are you reading this devotional online?
Anyway, this command looks like a dead instruction. It looks like a command that was relevant to God’s people for thousands of years but no longer. So, as people of God today, we can safely ignore it.
Not so fast. Paul quoted this passage in 1 Corinthians 9:9 and also in 1 Timothy 5:18, but 1 Corinthians 9 is the passage where he says the most about it. Here is his quotation of Deuteronomy 25:4 and a few verses of the surrounding context from 1 Corinthians 9:9-10:
9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.
This is an important passage because of what Paul’s handling of it teaches us about how to use scripture.
- First, note that Paul ascribed the quote to Moses in verse 9a “…it is written in the Law of Moses….” But in verse 9c he attributed the verse to God when he wrote, “Is it about oxen that God is concerned?” This shows us that Paul and Christians in the New Testament believed that Moses’s law was God’s word.
- Second, because it is God’s word, it isn’t just about oxen. Paul argued that point in verse 9c-10b: “Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us….” His argument is that a command of scripture like this one that has a very simple, straightforward meaning and application, still has relevance for people who don’t own oxen or grow grain. That brings us to:
- Third, the command in verse 4 teaches a principle that applies in many different settings that don’t include oxen. That’s what Paul said in the rest of verse 10: “…this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.” His point is that the ox is working so that the harvest will be valuable and that ox has a right to some of the value for his work.
So the command not to muzzle the ox points to a greater principle: “Don’t take all the value created by the work of everyone for yourself; let the workers have their share.” Paul went on to apply that principle to himself in 1 Corinthians 9 and to elders in the church in 1 Timothy 5:18. His takeaway from Deuteronomy 25:4 was, “the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” Note that it begins with “the Lord.” In other words, this isn’t just wise advice, like “measure twice, cut once” that you might learn from watching someone cut a board too short. No, for Paul, his application of Deuteronomy 25:4 WAS God’s word and must be obeyed.
I bring this up in this devotional because it is an important lesson for interpreting the Bible and for living the Christian life. None of the Bible was written TO us directly. There is no letter to the Ypsilantians in any copy of scripture I’ve ever owned. But all of the Bible was written FOR us and, as God’s creation and as his children by faith in Christ, what he wrote through Moses thousands of years ago is authoritative, instructive, important, and applicable to us. Our job is to interpret what he said carefully, to discern the larger principle taught in any scripture, then to apply it to our lives and live it.
This is what I’m trying to do in these daily devotionals. I hope it helps you to know God’s word better, live it more consistently, and learn how to interpret and apply it for yourself.