Saturday, 6 September 2014
For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? 1 Corinthians 9:9
In his words of 1 Corinthians 9:9, Paul uses a common rabbinical technique known as kal va-khomer (from light to heavy) to argue his case. It is an argument as Chabad describes “whereby a conclusion is drawn from a minor premise or more lenient condition (“light”) to a major or more strict one (“weighty”) or vice versa, a fortiori argument. In common parlance, ‘all the more so.'”
He has, for the past several verses, been arguing for the case that he bears all the rights of an apostle. In order to bolster that argument in a way which the “judaizers” could not honestly refute, he turns to the very source of their claims for their laws, traditions, and heritage – the Law of Moses. There, within the law are written the words, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” This is stated in Deuteronomy 25:4.
The idea is that to muzzle an ox, who is participating in the labors of treading out the grain in order to separate the grain from the chaff, would show a disrespect for the laborer, even if it were a mere ox. Muzzling involved tying its mouth closed in one way or another or even placing a basket over its mouth so that it couldn’t eat the grain, thus depriving it of the food that was in its eyesight. It showed a coldness of heart towards the brute beast that was unacceptable in the eyes of God.
Paul then asks, “Is it oxen God is concerned about?” The answer is two-fold. First, “Yes, God cares about the oxen or he wouldn’t have placed the admonition in the law in the first place.” For this to be prescribed showed that God did, in fact, care for the oxen. He showed the same care for the animals of Nineveh when speaking to Jonah. At the very end of the book, these final words are noted –
“You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?” Jonah 4:10, 11
However, in making his kal va-khomer, or “light to heavy” argument, Paul shows that though God did care for the ox, he displays more care for man, His highest creature. This is with all certainty (though Paul doesn’t explain it here) because bordering the curious verse about muzzling the ox are examples of care for His people. Deuteronomy 25:1-3 deals with the punishment of an offender of the law and the mercy he was to be given. No more than 40 lashes could be meted out lest, “he should exceed this and beat him with many blows above these, and your brother be humiliated in your sight.”
And then after the note about the ox comes more verses which concern the care of His people. Specifically, the rights of, and care for, the widow of a dead man. The principle of the ox then, even within the law itself, implies something of greater weight than the mere words initially seem to entail. God is showing care for the ox and yet, the implication is of greater care for His people.
The verse is of such importance to understanding the greater principle intended by the law that Paul repeats it in his first letter to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:18.
Life application: The Law of Moses, though set aside in Christ, contains valuable insights into God’s relationship with, and desires for, His creatures. Because the Old Testament is so heavily cited in the New Testament, it is not truly possible to grasp the depth of New Testament revelation without understanding that of the Old. Don’t be afraid to dig into the Old Testament… it won’t bite you, but rather it will edify your understanding of God’s redemptive plans for humanity.
Precious Lord! I am thrilled beyond measure to wake up in the morning and know that You are there. As the day unfolds, I can see Your hand of grace, leading me to beauty that surrounds me – rainbows and puffy white clouds are there if I will just lift my eyes and look. The food I eat… I will not take it for granted, but will remember to thank You for it. So many others lack the abundance I possess. Lord, thank You for Your attentive hand of care for me. And should it all disappear tomorrow, I will thank You for my lack, knowing that it was ordained by You. You are great and are always worthy of praise. Amen.