Tag Archives: hermeneutics

Ox Plowing 101

The last time I ox plowed, I got a biblical lesson. How many of us can start a sentence with “the last time I ox plowed?” Well I can now.

On my way to plow

On my way to plow


In case you were unaware, and I hope you weren’t, Brooke and I are doing 5 months of training at the New Hope Institute near Kiwoko, Uganda. We have the going to class every day part down pat. Another part of the class is to work with one of the seven families that are homes to orphaned children. We work with the family known as the Calvary family. We visit and lead devotions some times and other times we work in the garden (more devotion leading than garden work for me) or let them braid our hair (more for Brooke).

One of the requirements of the Institute (and this might be the best one) is to ox plow with, well oxen. Only I am not sure they are actually ox oxen. They are more like cow oxen, for whatever that’s worth. I grew up mowing lawns and maybe working in a garden here and there. But farming or working with live animals was not a real requirement for me. I have been around a lot of farms, but mostly to get lost in their corn mazes.

So just before rainy season began, I made an appointment with my family to do some ox plowing. This required getting up early and skipping breakfast time but being back in time for class (remember I have that down pat). Real man stuff, especially considering there were pancakes for breakfast.

Plowing behind live oxen seems like real hard work. I mean I have seen movies where people have struggled at it. So it was good for me that the guys of the family were there to show me how to do it.

Ox plowing in Uganda

Ox plowing in Uganda

I must admit I was a little nervous. I had visions of wild oxen running wherever they wanted with me hanging onto the plow for dear life & yelling at them to stop. Meanwhile I would have plowed the road and other places that did not need plowing.
But when we got there the guys quickly showed me how to do it. You walk behind the plow and tilt it right to go left and tilt it left to go right. However, the object is to go straight. When I started it felt like I was doodling curved lines everywhere. Going straight is definitely the hard part. Holding the plow upright is not the hard part. I did not have to drive the oxen for there is another guy to do that.

It is at the turns where the hardest physical labor comes into play. When the oxen turned I had to pick up the plow and get it in line behind the oxen for the next plow line. The plow is heavy and a little awkward to carry. It only caused me a little struggle (just don’t ask me to define little).

The turns are also where the biblical lesson was learned. One of the best commands in the Old Testament is, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain” (Deut 25:4). We were not treading grain and were using cow oxen but it was close enough. In the New Testament, Paul quotes this verse not once but twice. You didn’t know just how important not muzzling an ox was, did you?
But never did I think I would ever have to apply the verse in its original sense. When Paul quoted that verse, he used it to show that a pastor should be paid. If you have ever wrestled with this issue, then let the oxen settle it for you.

When I had thought about this verse previously I just assumed the oxen ate as they walked. No big deal. No time or energy lost but maybe some food is lost in the process. It really is a neat command by God for the Israelites to show concern for the oxen and then pastors. Yet, I think I was right in how I thought about it. In my experience on that morning, the oxen took forever to make the turn because they were eating the grass on the edge of the field. I just stood there as the oxen driver tried to encourage them to move along. At least in my experience time and energy were also lost and so it was an inconvenience not to muzzle the oxen. So I learned something about the Bible while plowing behind oxen. I may have also decreased their yield by doodling in their field. So I am praying the Lord will multiply their harvest.

Doodling in the fields

Doodling in the fields

I never did get to eat those pancakes for breakfast. I am still looking for the verse about not muzzling the ox plowman while plowing. If you find it let me know.

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Can We Just Pick and Choose?: A Response to Clay Travis

Travis PicWhen Chris Broussard, an NBA analyst, said on ESPN that he thought homosexuality was a sin you just knew a firestorm would erupt over his comments.  Broussard said he got his view from the Bible.  This only adds fuel to the fire.

So Clay Travis, a radio host out of Nashville and the proprietor of the website outkickthecoverage.com, took to his website to voice his opinion of the matter.  In the process he takes shots at the Bible, heaven, Pat Robertson, baptism, pastors, churches, Southern Baptists, and God.

In the article Travis asserts that when he was twelve he read the entire Bible.  He also says he grew up going to church.  All of this has left him with questions and concerns.  I can appreciate this.  Most people who criticize the Bible have not read it all the way through.  Also he raises honest questions about God and how these questions left him insecure with God.  While his article touches on various issues, my main aim in answering him is to deal with the interpretive issues he presents when he dismisses the Biblical prohibition of homosexuality outright.

This is especially important because his rationale for dismissing the claims of the Bible is a common one today.  I mainly hear this argument used when discussing homosexuality.  This is presumably because the biblical prohibition against homosexuality is so clear you can’t say that the Bible doesn’t prohibit it.  So another line of reasoning is needed.  The argument goes something like this:  “The Bible says homosexuality is wrong but it also says some crazy thing is wrong.  We do that crazy thing without bother so that must mean homosexuality is ok.”

A Case Study

The “some crazy thing” that is prohibited in the Bible is usually a verse found in the Old Testament.  Let’s use one I have heard often – the prohibition of shellfish.  This prohibition is found in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 14:10.

This law comes just after Israel was rescued from being slaves in Egypt.  God gives them laws to constitute them as a people and to show them how to live now that they are a redeemed people.  The laws were meant to teach Israel about God and who He was.  Two things must be remembered: 1. These laws were for the nation of Israel 2. These laws were for the working out all facets of life, the moral, civil, and religious functions.  Israel was not only a civil entity but also a religious entity.  In America today, we do not have religious laws.  We have only civil laws.  Therefore, many of Israel’s laws seem out of place.  But they were designed for Israel to live out their lives before God and before men in holiness.  God gave them these laws for their good.

So when Jesus instituted the Church He did not also institute a civil entity.  That portion of life was gone.  Also gone were the religious portions of the law, namely concerned with sacrifice and the temple.  All that was left was the moral aspect.  So when Jesus tells Peter to eat foods previously forbidden Peter reacts with surprise.  The message is clear.  This portion of the law has served its purpose to lead to Christ.  It has no more direct force.  The principles of holiness are still there.  But the direct prohibition of eating shellfish has been done away.

Christ did away with the dietary laws in Acts.  The church since then has known that most of the laws in the OT are not directly applicable to the church.  Rather they were for a specific time and place, namely the people of Israel before the time of Christ.  We may find some of these laws intriguing, confusing, or maybe even wrong for application today.  However, they are not racist, sexist, or wrong for Israel in their day as Travis claims.

So what do we do with these Old Testament laws?  We follow them as they are intended to be followed.  The moral commands are in force just as they were for Israel.  However, the other laws serve as case law and to be used to guide us or give principles.  They are not meant to be followed in a literalistic fashion today.

So what of the commands against homosexuality?  They fall in the moral category and are still in force today.  Besides that, the prohibition against homosexuality is repeated in the New Testament.  So it is still wrong to practice homosexuality.  God means this for our good.

Other Claims of Travis

In Travis’ case, the “some crazy thing” is slavery.  He says the Bible was used to say slavery was ok.  However, this is patently false.  1 Timothy 1:9-10 clearly prohibits enslaving other human beings.  While it is true that some used the Bible to make the claim that slavery was ok.  This is utterly regrettable.  In fact Travis mentions the Southern Baptists who repented of this practice.  This does not show that they now disregard this portion of the Bible.  Rather they repent of misinterpreting the Bible.

Travis says, “The Bible says tens of thousands of things that are. . . impossible to follow in today’s modern society” and “Let’s be clear, the Bible says all sorts of crazy things that every Christian has agreed not to follow.” We both come to this conclusion for different reasons.  He thinks we just know better now.  I don’t dismiss the Bible just because I don’t like what it says.  Rather I follow sound hermeneutical logic to come to my conclusion.  Here is another instance of someone using Travis’ unbiblical logic to unfruitful outcomes.  So Travis can say they are impossible to follow today but most of the things he is talking about are not to be followed today as I have described above.

Something that Travis says about his five year old self breaks my heart, “Why did he [God] also need me to constantly acknowledge his superiority over me?”  He sees God’s laws as arbitrary and that God has low self-esteem and needs others to worship Him.  This is tragic because it precludes Travis from seeing how awesome and wonderful God is.  He has the issue backwards.  He thinks God needs us.  In reality we need God.  It is for our benefit that He has spoken through His Word.  It is for our benefit that He has given us laws.  It is for our benefit that He offers Himself for worship.

Travis’ fascination with Ezekiel 23:20 shows that God is concerned with justice and holy living of His people.  Also, his description of the Southern Baptists officially apologizing for slavery shows that Bible is concerned with real people in real life.  They realized they had gotten it wrong and are now doing what they know they should do – repent. This is the beauty of the gospel message found in the Bible.  It offers real people, who do real sinful stuff, forgiveness.  It offers them hope and a new life.  It can do this because of the death and resurrection of Christ.  Those sins were heinous enough for Christ to die so that they could be forgiven.  So when we think ourselves guilty or shamed we should not seek to dismiss the action as being ok.  Rather we should repent and trust Christ for forgiveness.  God has meant this for our good.

Conclusion

This is how Travis ultimately sees the issue:  “Using a single Bible verse to justify an opinion that dehumanizes another individual is.”  This is unfortunate especially because this is how the culture at large thinks.  However, the issue is not that the Bible or Christianity or Broussard dehumanizes homosexuals.  This is evident from Broussard’s own friendship with a homosexual as he described it in the article.  No one says the Bible dehumanizes adulterers or murders when it prohibits these actions.  On the contrary the Bible humanizes every person by saying they were made in the image of God that we should love every person.  Saying you think an action is wrong does not dehumanize the person who might practice that action.  Wherever the church has dehumanized homosexuals or anyone else for that matter, and unfortunately it is guilty in some respects, it should repent.  But the fact remains that this dehumanization is not the result of saying that an action is sinful.  I hope he does not think I am dehumanizing him by disagreeing with him.

The church will not look back on this time and regret saying that homosexuality is wrong.  There will be much repentance over the treatment of homosexuals and how the matter was handled.  I myself have repented of how I have handled this issue.  More love is certainly needed in the matter.  However, more love does not mean less truth.  The Bible makes plain that homosexuality is wrong and the true church will stand by that for the rest of its history.  More people will spring up and use the logic Travis is using.  I pray they see that God loves them and offers His Word for their good.  Only when we repent of our rebellion against God and trust Christ will we find the real humanization we all long for.

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