Maintaining Purity

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Sometimes, I wonder what it would have been like to have lived during the Mosaic age.  What would it have been like to have stood at the base of Mount Sinai as the thunder and lightening cracked and the trumpet blew to introduce the presence of God (Exodus 19:16)?  What would I have thought if I had been fighting the Amorites with Joshua and realized the sun had stayed in the same spot in the sky for a lot longer than it should have (Joshua 10:12-13)?

As amazing as some of those experiences would have been, I can think of many other reasons why I love living in the Christian dispensation.  I get to experience the love and fellowship that comes with being part of the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:12-21).  I get to hold the word of God in my hands and read it on a daily basis (I Corinthians 13:10; II Timothy 3:16-17).  This last one, though, may sound kind of odd…but I’m just being honest.  Have you read Leviticus and Deuteronomy?

When we look back at the details of the Mosaic Law that the children of Israel were given, it can be overwhelming.  Many in the world think it was simply a list of ten rules (The Ten Commandments), but it was so much more.  I have never counted them for myself, but many people smarter than me have counted and indicate there were 613 laws given under the Law of Moses.  And it’s not like you could just forget about one of them.  Penalties could be severe.  Take for instance Leviticus 20:9 – “For everyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.  He has cursed his father or his mother.  His blood shall be upon him.”

When you read through some of these laws in the Old Testament, many of them are very straight forward.  Also, with the hindsight of modern-day medical knowledge, many of the laws might make more sense to us today than they would have to the children of Israel (an example would be the dietary laws laid out in Leviticus 11).  However, when you read some of the laws today that they were held to, we might scratch our head a little bit.  One of these particular laws that have always made me think “What?” can be found in Deuteronomy 22:9-11:

You shall not sow your vineyard with different kinds of seed, lest the yield of the seed which you have sown and the fruit of your vineyard be defiled.  You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.  You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together.

I can already hear what some of you are thinking.  “Well, Jonathan, what’s so confusing about those?  That’s common sense.”  I completely understand that if you plant watermelon and cantaloupe next to each other, you are going to get some funny tasting watermelon.  That watermelon would be “defiled.”  If you plow with a donkey and an ox, you’re just going to go in circles because an ox is obviously stronger than a donkey.  If you mix two different types of fabric on a garment, then they will shrink at different rates and the clothes will either tear or deform.  I get all that, but couldn’t the children of Israel have figured that out on their own.  Plus, don’t we do all that same stuff today?  Don’t believe me?  Just google ‘Plant Breeding’.  Mixing seeds happens daily in hopes of finding crops that grow with less water, are more resistant to disease, and even grow bigger.  And what if there was an Israelite that was maybe poor and only owned an ox and a donkey?  He would have figured out in the first 10 feet of his first row that they pulled at different strengths.  However, that can be overcome with some ingenuity and planning.  And mixing garments?  The tag in my khaki shorts I’m wearing right now say 97% cotton and 3% elastane.  We mix fabrics all the time.

So what was the purpose of these three laws that seem a little out of place?  Did God not think they were smart enough to figure these things out on their own?  I believe what God is getting at with these laws goes so much deeper than that.  Take a look at what He said in Leviticus 20:22-23:

You shall therefore keep all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them, that the land where I am bringing you to dwell may not vomit you out.  And you shall not walk in the statutes of the nation which I am casting out before you; for they commit all these things, and therefore I abhor them.

The children of Israel were going to eventually enter the land of Canaan and drive out its inhabitants.  These Canaanites were some vile people that did not respect the Lord or His commands.  The worst thing that could happen was for the children of Israel to enter Canaan and adopt their practices instead of driving them out.  Even picking up a few bad habits would be devastating.  God needed to instill in them a concept of purity.  They needed to understand that God set them apart and expected them to hold to a relationship with Him and not allow it to be defiled from the outside.  I truly believe that’s what God was trying to get at with these three laws.  They were not to mix seeds.  They were not to plow with two different animals.  They were not to mix fabrics on their clothes.  It was not that doing these three things would cause them to turn their back on God.  However, it showed them the importance of purity.

As Christians, we are expected to maintain our purity today.  “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.  For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?  And what communion has light with darkness?” [II Corinthians 6:14]   Just like a donkey was not to be unequally yoked with an ox, we are not to be unequally yoked with the world.  We are to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness” (II Corinthians 7:1).  We are to transform our minds away from the thinking of the world (Romans 12:2).  Our love and desire it to be focused on heaven and not things of this world (I John 2:15-16; Matthew 6:19-21).

I look at it this way.  God knew exactly what He was doing when He made those laws for the children of Israel.  He knew the struggles and failures they would have as they started their conquest of Canaan.  He knew that purity was going to be a struggle for them, just as it can be for us today.  No matter how strong our desire is to become part of the world, maintaining our purity from the world is of utmost importance (Colossians 3:1-5).