application

Deuteronomy 25, Isaiah 52

Today’s OT18 readings are Deuteronomy 25 and Isaiah 52.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 25:4--kind of, but not really.

Lemme explain....

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.

Right?

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.

Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Psalm 7

Today we’re reading Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Psalm 7.

This devotional is about Ezra 7.

Isn’t it interesting that this book of the Bible is named after someone who doesn’t appear until chapter 7? And, the book of Ezra only has 10 chapters, so the man Ezra is absent from most of it.

And yet, it is fitting that this book is named after Ezra because Ezra, we will see, was given by God to be a key spiritual leader for Israel. Verses 1-5 told us that Ezra had the human pedigree needed to hold the office of priest (see also verse 11: “Ezra the priest”). This was important because of God’s commands about the office of priest. But, one could be humanly qualified to be a priest without actually being a true spiritual leader. Eli’s sons from another era are an example of that.

So what made Ezra special? Well, the grace of God of course. But, in keeping with that grace, Ezra prepared himself. Before he showed up in Jerusalem to be a spiritual leader in Israel, he “was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given” (v. 6b). Ezra prepared to teach God’s word before he showed up to serve as a leader of God’s people.

That preparation is elaborated on in verse 10. How did he become the man verse 6 says was “well versed in the Law of Moses”? According to verse 10a, he “had devoted himself to the study... of the Law of the Lord.” He put in the time; he was in the word himself.

That’s not all though, because verse 10 goes on to say, “Ezra had devoted himself to the... observance of the Law of the Lord.” That means he obeyed it himself. After he learned what it said, Ezra abided by it in the way that he lived his life. Only then did he devote himself “to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (v. 10c).

This is the pattern that any and every one of us who leads spiritually must follow. We must be in the word personally, applying it personally and obeying it personally before we teach it to others. If we try to teach without study, we will lead people to error and false doctrine. If we study without application, we will be exposed as hypocrites, creating a crisis of credibility for ourselves and causing some who follow us to stumble.

Are you an elder in our church? A deacon or deaconess? A Calvary Class teacher? An AWANA leader? A parent? Almost everyone of us is leading someone in some way. May the Lord use Ezra’s method of preparation for leadership to call us to prepare well before we speak in God’s name.

Mark 7

Today’s reading is Mark 7.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were careful to observe the ceremonial washings that other men had created (vv. 1-4) and they were offended when Jesus and his disciples did not follow that tradition (v. 5). Jesus used their complaint to charge them with hypocrisy for holding religiously to man-made traditions while looking for religious reasons to avoid doing God’s will (vv. 6-13). Christ used the specific example of “Corban” to illustrate this sinful choice. One of the Big 10 commandments was to “honor your father and mother” (v. 10). We talk about this command to children and of course it applies to them. But the command was originally given to adults which suggests that there were responsibilities that adults had to their parents. If a man is going to honor his parents, that may mean giving them financial assistance as they get older. In a society without a concept such as “retirement” and no financial way to prepare for getting older, an elderly person would have to work until he/she died or live on the support of their children. Jesus applied the commandment to honor your parents to this kind of financial support. To Christ, if you want to honor your parents, you’d better share your home, your food, and/or your income when they have needs. This is a very logical application of the commandment to honor your parents.

The most religious people in Jesus’ society found a way to use their religious rules to render themselves unable of helping their parents. They would take a portion of their income or some of their assets and vow an oath to give that to God (someday). If it were devoted to God, then it would be morally wrong for them to give it to someone else, even their own elderly parents. They applied God’s word, then, in ways that helped them avoid the difficult applications of other portions of God’s word. In the words of Jesus, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (v. 9).

Do we do that? Do we ever apply scripture in ways that let us off the hook for obeying other passages of scripture? If we use the truth of God’s electing grace as an excuse not to share the gospel, then we are doing something like the Pharisees did. What about if we buy a large house for the good of our family but can’t tithe and pay the mortgage at the same time? What about if we volunteer to serve in one ministry in order to avoid getting into a small group or coming to the worship service?

These are just a few things that come to my mind at the moment. The human heart being what it is, I’m sure there are other ways we do something like what the Pharisees did here. If something comes to mind for you, consider what Jesus said about this practice of the Pharisees: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ’“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”’” Don’t apply one command so favorably that it helps you avoid obeying another command. That reveals a heart that is distant from God, not one that wants to honor and obey him.