This particular ordinance contains no penalties, rather it serves to point out the moral obligations that fall to those living in the covenant community. Here they are identified as “brothers”. Following from the admonition to “love one’s neighbor,” covenant members are encouraged to constantly be observant to actively watch out for one another. The examples given here are lost animals or even articles of clothing. When such is discovered, they are to be secured and cared and, if possible, either returned as soon as possible or held until someone comes seeking them. This also contains a restatement of a law found in Exodus 23:4.
See also: Atheism, Animal Rights, and Incoherence
This is a similar restatement seeking to alleviate abuse or neglect of an animal, restating a similar law found in Exodus 23:5.
This particular law focuses on the practice of transvestism which was prevalent in the pagan religions. (1) It also establishes in the law the recognition of the created order: the biological distinctives of male and female are given by God and they are to be embraced fully. For that which is biologically male or female to reject their inherent biological identity is to reject the good gifts of their Creator. Given that the practice of transvestism is usually connected with homosexuality, which is itself forbidden in Israelite law as a violation of creation ordinance, it should be recognized that a human being’s biological sexual identity is identified with property that one should not seek to eschew or divest oneself of, as in transgenderism.(2)
Bruegemann notes here that this law seeks to prevent a “domino effect” from occurring in small village settings that had the potential to spread outward.(3)
This particular law also seeks to instill a creation ordinance in law. “It is permitted to take bird eggs or young birds. It is prohibited to take the mother bird. One must not interrupt the food chain, so that ‘every winged bird of every kind’ might continue to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Gen 1:21).”(4)
The ignorant and uniformed often mock this particular piece of legislation that they would often agree with in principle because it seeks to establish a protective and common building code. (5) Houses in the ancient near east, and still to this day, have flat roofs that provide extra living space.(6) The erection of a protective barrier around this additional space was a preventative against injury and death. There is also a similar legislation regarding excavations in Exodus 21. We should also note that this code prevents the establishment of an ever-expanding governmental bureaucracy in place of simple liability.(7)
This “law forbids sowing one’s vineyard with divers seeds; such mixed sowing will defile the field. This can occur a) by bringing together plants that will crossbreed to the detriment of both. Gardeners learn in time to keep certain plants apart; and b) certain fruit trees and vines find their strength sapped by certain kinds of plantings.”(8) Because certain plants require longer periods of growth, the temptation would be to plant those things which could be harvested sooner, however doing so could potentially harm both crops, thus leading to economic ruin, but also that there is a further creation ordinance that is meant to be observed. We must resist, however that there is some kind of pre-scientific reasoning behind this aside from God seeking to distinguish his people from the nations that surround them.
Another seemingly common sensical point is made here. The donkey and the ox have different strengths and yoking them together for a task could injure one or both in the task. Further the ceremonial cleanness of these animals is to be considered as, “…the ox is a clean animal, and the donkey is not.”(9)
Given that we use mixed fabrics today, this law seems ridiculous, however we miss the significance of the symbology in the ordinance: God made different things to do different jobs. However, some note that there may have been certain superstitions attached to mixing of materials through the paganism of the ancient near east. This law, being restated from Leviticus 19, also seems to contradict the instruction given in the construction of the priests garments in Exodus 28; however we must consider that such a law is an exception given for those whose job it is to serve in the sacred space of YHWH and the common man, thus distinguishing between the two.
The “garment” here is generally identified as “cloak”, possibly referring to the prayer shawl or talit that seen worn by Orthodox Jews today. The tassels on its corners are to consist of multicolored threads meant to serve as a either reminder of the Decalogue of the entirety of the covenant itself. This seems to be a brief restatement of a similar and more expansive law in Numbers 15.
It is very easy to get swept up in the minutia of these laws but there are principles that believers need to consider as we explore their relevance today.
God’s law is about freedom. Whether its freedom from want or disease or injury or rampant bureaucracy, God’s law seeks to liberate the oppressed. Freedom is found within bondaries. When we have commonly accepted moral boundaries, there are simply no limits as to how high we can go.
God’s law is about order. The God of the Bible is an orderly God. He brings order out of chaos. Rejecting his good rule injects chaos and seeks to set the world on its head. Whether its the plants, the animals or even people, there is an order that promotes life and goodness and harmony.
God’s law is about relationship. Those in ancient Israel who lived in line with the covenant of God were free from fear of injustice and oppression. When compromise came in, injustice followed. Maintaining the proper relationships within the created order gives life and with life comes hope.
The beauty of it all is that we see all of this brought into view in Christ.
- Rousas J. Rushdoony. Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Deuteronomy. Chalcedon Publishing. Valencia, CA. 2008. p. 327
- Ibid. p. 328
- Walter Brueggemann. Abingdon Old Testament Commentary Series: Deuteronomy. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN. 2001. p. 220.
- Rushdoony. p. 329