Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Oxen, Muzzles, Grains, and Suffering?

What in the world do oxen, muzzles, and grains have to do with suffering? Recently, I was reading in Deuteronomy and noticed something that I had not seen before.  Deuteronomy 25:4 ("You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain") is quoted by Paul on two different occasions in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 9:9 & 1 Timothy 5:18) in reference to financial provision for those who labor in gospel ministry. I have often wondered what it was that caused Paul to cite this particularly verse as as argument to financially support those who labor in gospel ministry. One would think that if Paul were going to draw on an example from the Old Testament, he would have mainly use the parallel with the provision that the other Israelite tribes were to make for the Levites, instead of a verse having to do with muzzles, oxen, and grain. Why was this verse even on the forefront of Paul's mind? Perhaps, it has to do with Paul's own experience and the overall context of Deuteronomy 25:4. In specific notice Deuteronomy 25:1-3.

"If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, 2 then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. 3 Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight."

In verses 2 & 3 Moses gives the description for what should take place when someone is guilty and is deserving of being beaten. They were to be given upwards of 40 stripes for their crime. What is interesting about this punishment is that Paul himself received it at least five times during the course of his ministry (2 Corinthians 11:24) Perhaps, before the Apostle Paul would receive the beating the Deuteronomy text was read to provide the judicial grounds for punishing him. Or maybe Paul found himself in a bit of despair after being beaten each time and wanted to be reminded of the overall context for the punishment to see if he was doing anything deserving of punishment. Or perhaps as a good Pharisee he had this passage of Scripture committed to memory and with each successive beating it was impressed all the more on him mind. All of these are speculations, but what seems to be clear is that Paul used his own suffering and where it took him in the Scriptures for meditation/reflection as a means of offering encouragement to others. Paul did not allow his own suffering and sorrow to limit his effectiveness for advancing the kingdom. Instead, not only does he use his being beaten as a proof of his apostleship in 2 Corinthians 11, but it also appears that he uses his suffering as a means of strengthening the Churches by encouraging them to support those who labor in their midst on behalf of the gospel. Oh, that God would give us grace to have eyes to see that the circumstances that He has us in now (no matter how bleak) are often His primary means of equipping us for future effective ministry.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post Harold. Your thoughts on Paul's choice of passages in the OT are helpful. On another note, Shawn Schwartzman told me Sunday that he just finished "Why Revival Tarries". I had lent him "our" copy and he said the book was awesome, and that he also enjoyed reading your notes in the margins.