Do Not Muzzle an Ox While it is Treading Out the Grain (Dt. 25.4)

This verse is interpreted by Paul in 1Cor. 9.8-10 and yet few Christians understand it (or, possibly, I understand it wrong). I am fairly sure I grasp what Paul meant. Here is Paul’s take on this command only given once in Dt. 25.4:

Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 
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? 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. (1Cor. 9.8-10)
The key word in Paul’s proof that Dt. 25.4 speaks to the situation that he and the other apostles were in, I propose, is “thresh.” “Thresh” here is used metaphorically to refer to inflicting judgment. Also, the idea of threshing is a recurring trope found in the bible speaking of retribution.  Threshing is the removal of the grain from the inedible stem. It involves using an animal alone or with a weighted cart physically (and violently) to separate the wheat from the stalk.
The exact Hebrew word for “tread” in Dt. 25.4 is only found here and means to thresh or tread. Conceptually, it is linked to judgment on the serpent in Gen. 3.15 (crushing the head). The enduring image of trampling as a curse has continued in Middle Eastern countries to this day by their symbolic use of shoes. Hitting a person with one’s shoe is probably the worst message which can be conveyed in their eyes. Showing the soles of shoes, or even worse, throwing footwear is an insult.
Paul says he and the other apostles were involved in plowing and threshing metaphorically when they spread the gospel and so should expect to be supported financially (vs. 10). Focusing on “threshing,” this would have most likely been Paul’s corrective words in his letters and rebukes in person toward other Christians to correct ungodly or errant behavior.
Returning to the context of Dt. 25.4, we see hypothetical punishment in the form of 40 lashes (usually 39) by an officer of the judge (probably Jewish High Priest). So, in Deuteronomy, we have a sanctioned judgment and punishment by the priests who didn’t really get paid for this type of service, that is, civil judgment (notice vs. 1).
Priests lived off the sacrifices (meat) of the Israelites’ offerings and tithes. Civil matters are separate from the temple sacrifices but ultimately maintains the nation’s justice and therefore appropriate for priests to preside in this type of procedure. I propose Dt. 25.4 as a sort of ‘court costs’ for sustaining the officials who serve in this judicial process as well as those who dole out the punishment. The executor of the lashes would have had to be respectful to the recipient (vs. 3) and yet impersonally punish the offender.
What Deuteronomy seems to be saying is the one threshing (giving the blows of punishment) should share in the benefit by receiving compensation for his position. Paul recognizes the text is speaking metaphorically and not about oxen.

The Beloved Disciple

Six times in the Gospel of John (and found in no other account), the terminology of “the beloved disciple” is presented: 13.23, 25, 19.26, 20.2, 21.7, 21.20. The Apostle John, writing toward the end of his life, identified himself as author of this gospel which we know by account comparison: This is the disciple who testifies about these things and has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true (John 21.24 NET). The end note of knowing the veracity of John’s testimony is probably a reflection by his team of followers and amanuenses about his exemplary life and testimony of The Spirit.

Proverbs 13:24: The one who spares his rod hates his child, but the one who loves him is prompt in disciplining him.

Here is a proverb which explains a concern over a child’s ultimate welfare. The parent who loves a child in the best possible way gives him or her the attention required for guidance. Even though this proverb  contrasts the love of discipline exhibited by a parent with the hate of sparing the rod, hate is probably not the direct opposite of love. Ignoring the child, rather, would probably be the antithesis of love.

This illustration of love from Proverbs helps to explain the act of discipleship. To mentor someone involves attentive effort instead of self concern and/or given attention to others. Hypothetically, any would-be mentor must isolate those of his pupils who are the most interested in his teaching and who would be adept at propagating it. This explains why Jesus loved one disciple especially: John, the son of Zebedee. This was James’ younger brother who along with him and Peter formed an inner circle of special disclosure. Even though John was prominent from the beginning of the church (Acts chapters 3-4), his enduring contribution is seen through the Revelation account, Gospel, and epistles. John’s unique understanding and writings reflect the purposes of Jesus in mentoring the young disciple.

This concept of an ‘inner circle’ is seen in the lists of disciples from the Synoptic Gospels and Acts: Mt. 10.2-4, Mk. 3.16-19, Lk. 6.14-16, Acts 1.13. This ‘inner circle’ are always listed first. They were the ones that Jesus called first to follow after John the Baptist was imprisoned (Mk. 1.16-20). Andrew, however, fades into the background from this inner circle for an undisclosed reason. The ‘inner circle’ is seen by who Jesus allows to accompany during extraordinary events: The raising of Jairus daughter from the dead (Mk. 5.37), The Transfiguration of Christ (Mk. 9.2), and the Garden of Gethsemane prayer (Mk. 14.32-35). Also, to these three disciples Jesus gave new names: “Peter” to Simon bar Jonah, and Sons of Boanerges (thunder) to James and John.

John was younger than James most probably since he is listed after his brother. He may not have been out of his teens  when called by Jesus since a Hebrew boy became a man at age 12. Being called to discipleship at a younger age had the advantage of not having to relearn faulty approaches to life which were common among the other disciples. Jesus could take John and disciple him before he could form erroneous spiritual ideas such as the then current thinking of the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees.

It was the ‘inner three’ who received the bulk of the rebukes of Jesus. Often, the ‘inner three’ they put themselves forward in their misguided zeal: James and John wanting to call fire upon their adversaries (Luke 9.51-56), Peter hindering Jesus’ purpose (Mt. 16.21-23), John and James wanting to sit with Jesus in His kingdom (Mk. 10.35-45). As is the case in Proverbs, John recognized authorial instruction from a godly figure as loving.

John was very aged at the time of his recorded writings, and inevitably, the question arose: How would he refer to himself in his recounting the events in his gospel? After all, one of the purposes of his gospel was to correct a few (but important) misconceptions which were starting to form from the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels alone (John wrote an additional account and not a replacement). Any eyewitness publishing his historical account seeks to represent himself to his audience as a participant to achieve any credibility for his assertions. On the other hand, truly and ultimately (and also in the other scriptures) the author is God and John probably is sensitive to this fact (see John 14.26). After a lifetime of reflection upon the person of Jesus and all the events John experienced including the start of the Church Community, John could have happily concluded he was beloved by God, and so chose that moniker when composing The Gospel of John.


Idols of a Mother’s Heart — Reformation21

If you’re a parent and a Christian, you’ve probably read your share of parenting books. Of the making of self-help parenting books, there is seemingly no end. If, like the writer of Ecclesiastes, you’ve been wearied by such study, Christina Fox’s new book, Idols of a Mother’s Heart, will be a balm for your soul.…

via Idols of a Mother’s Heart — Reformation21

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