The meaning behind God's Law by Ronald Dart

The meaning behind God’s Law

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One of the most persistent topics of conversation, and point of contention, has been the Law. This is nothing new, because this was a point of contention during the first century also:

“But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.” Titus 3:9

Many people ask, “Which Old Testament laws should we keep today?” For example, some may ask whether or not it is right to wear a wool and polyester suit; if this is a violation of the Old Testament law that forbids a garment of mixed fabric, such as wool and linen, to come upon our flesh (Deuteronomy 22:11). Some are concerned as to whether or not the elastic around the band at the top of socks would constitute the mixing of fabrics together; there are people that feel they need to take the elastics out of socks.

Why is it people play “hopscotch” through the Old Testament, keeping this law but not keeping that one right next to it? What is the criteria that we use to decide that we would do this but we would not do that? Others ask us, “Well, is this law (pointing to a passage from scripture) required for salvation?” Well, the answer is “No, that law is not required for salvation. But it is a sin if you do not do that law.”

Other people make a distinction between the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law. For example, they believe the Ten Commandments are valid, but the rest of the Law is not. Some people will distinguish between the Law of God on the one hand, and the law of Moses on the other; feeling that if it can be identified as the Law of God we should keep it, but if it’s a matter of the law of Moses then that’s done away with and there’s no obligation to keep that law. Still others distinguish between the Moral Law and the ceremonial law, and try to make the distinction based upon whether or not it is a ritual or sacrifice of some sort and those are done away, whereas the other aspects of the Law are not. One group contends that all of the Law was nailed to the cross, including the Ten Commandments, but that nine of the Commandments were reinstated in the New Testament.

A lot of people are more concerned with asking, “Well, do I have to do this or not?” rather than asking the question, “What does this law mean; what’s the underlying principle?” Too few people ever get around to asking, “Why?” And it’s the only question that’s important. The question, “Why” is the key to understanding why God gave those laws.

God would not and did not give to man a law that was bad for man. God’s Law is not arbitrary. God did not sit back one day and say, “Gee. These people need laws, and I must, at this point, determine what is going to be right and what is going to be wrong. Let’s see. This is fun, so I will make that wrong. Etc.” It is not an arbitrary decision. God made man, and He knows man, and scripture is God’s instruction book to man. God, having created man, began to communicate with man a way of life and things to do that were good for man, and save him from hurt and trouble and heartache that might come his way. So God, when He speaks to man, tells him something that is good for man.

But, there’s a “problem” with that, because as we begin to read through the Law, we’re going to occasionally find laws that are a little bit annoying; you’re going to find some that are deeply and profoundly troubling. For example, the laws regarding slavery:

“And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.” Exodus 21:20-21

Now, when I read that, it created a very serious personal crisis for me, because I said to myself, “How can a God who is good take such a callous look at man, and see them treated as chattel and property in that way?” The purpose of this law shows that it should be presumed that the man died through some other cause. And all penal laws should be construed as favorably as possible to the accused. The phrase “he is his money” means that the master had such a monied interest in the continued life of his servant, that it was not to be concluded that he meant to kill him, unless there should be clear evidence of the fact. Therefore, these laws still fall into the category that God did not give to man a law that was bad for man.

But my point is, it’s not so much that we’re getting the wrong answers as it is that we’re asking the wrong questions, or maybe we’re not asking the best questions. For example, “Is the law of Moses still binding upon bondservants of Christ?” or “Is keeping this law required for salvation?” There are implicit assumptions in these questions that make these questions invalid. For example, asking, “Is keeping this law required for salvation?” assumes that there are some laws that are. Whereas, in fact, the purpose of the Law is not to achieve salvation, it’s not even for that purpose, it is absolutely irrelevant to it. And the question, “Is the law of Moses still binding upon bondservants of Christ?” What does the word “binding” mean? Meaning you’re supposed to do it? Well, if you don’t do it, what happens to you? It’s another way of asking the same question, “Is it required for salvation?” In other words, this assumes a role for the Law that God never intended the Law to take.

“Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.” Deuteronomy 25:4

Now, this is an interesting law. And you might ask, “Should a bondservant of Christ feel bound by this law?” In the first place, we could ask, “Is this is a ceremonial law, or is it a moral law?” Well, there certainly isn’t any ritual involved with it. Yet, on the other hand, is it a question of morality whether or not you feed an ox while he’s actually working or before he starts working? “Is this the Law of God or is it the law of Moses?” someone else may ask. Well, that’s a difficult question to answer, but most would assume, from where it is, that’s it’s the law of Moses. “What if I don’t have an ox? Do I need to go out and buy one?” Yes, this is an absurd question, but it’s one that has to follow the question, “How binding is this law upon us?” Or maybe we can ask, “Was this law nailed to the cross?”

Well, Paul quotes from this law, and in a letter to the gentile assembly at Corinth, brings this in as an illustration to something he’s trying to say. Let’s read this chapter to get a full understanding of it.

“Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, Have we not power to eat and to drink?” 1 Corinthians 9:1-4

Now, what does he mean by this question? Of course they can eat and drink; everybody can. Well, in context, what Paul is actually saying is this. Don’t I have the authority, at the assembly’s expense, based upon the money you people give to the Christ’s assembly, to eat and drink; in other words, to buy a meal when I’m on a trip for the assembly or when I’m here for the assembly? Don’t I have the authority to pay my expenses?

“…have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?” 1 Corinthians 9:6-8

Now, here comes his appeal to the law about his argument whether he or Barnabas or any of the other apostles have the authority to be full time in the ministry and be paid for the work that we do. Now, somebody will come back and say, “Well, that’s purely a human argument!” Alright, what is Paul’s appeal? He does not appeal to Christ, or to the sermon on the mount, or to Peter; he appeals, of all places, to Moses! And he says:

For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes?…” 1 Corinthians 9:9-10

Now that is a very interesting statement. Does God really care that much about that animal you work with out there? And if you feed that animal before he goes to work, then work that animal and feed it after it works for you, if you’re sure the animal gets plenty to eat, what does God care whether or not you muzzle that animal while it treads up and down the corn? Paul’s’ answer is:

“… For our sakes, no doubt, this is written…” 1 Corinthians 9:10

Implying that the ox had little to do with the law when it was originally given. Now some people plowed with an ox, others plowed with an ass. There were other people who were not even in agriculture, but worked elsewhere. Others worked in vineyards and didn’t even use animals for anything they were doing, they would carry their fruit from the vineyards on their own shoulders. And so, there were people that this law would not have meant that much to when God gave it to them, but he spelled out the law that said, “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.”

Now, Paul says this was written for our sakes. Here, a gentile assembly is told, long after anything that was going to be nailed to the cross was nailed there, after Christ was buried, resurrected, and at the right hand of the Father in heaven, Paul says, to a gentile assembly, here is a law from Moses which was written for our sakes! Not because God was concerned about oxen, but because, and here is the reason:

“…he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 9:10-14

God, in such simple terms in the Old Testament, he lays down a principle for the man who is willing to understand it, that can transcend generations, national boundaries, that is applicable in any circumstance or man’s endeavors. And that is, that a man should be paid for what he does.

Now, a Pharisee would have been very meticulous in the process of his servants and the work that was being done in his fields, he would have been sure that that ox was not muzzled, that he was allowed to eat. He would have been very careful because that was specified in the letter of the law. But it’s also very likely that he would have deprived the man who followed the oxen around and swatted him once in a while, of his wages, or cheated him out of it, and said, “I have obeyed the law of God.”

The reason I’m going over this is because we have assumed that because we went to the trouble of buying a suit that was 100% wool, that we have kept the law of God, and yet, we may have cheated a brother out of something that was his, or we might deprive a friend of something he might have had. There are so many aspects of God’s Law that go much deeper than its surface. And it is easy to do what is on the surface and overlook the more deeper and profound meaning of the law.

Now, on the one hand, as I have said, the Pharisee might very well unmuzzle his ox and let him eat, while he deprives the servant of his wages. On the other hand there might be someone else who labels that an old testament law and blindly ignore it. James 5:4-6 expresses the underlying theme of the law, “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox” by condemning the withholding of the wages of laborers.

Now, there is a great deal of law, in the Old Testament, that has no direct application to the bondservant’s of Christ today. For example, we don’t have any oxen and we can’t muzzle an ox if we don’t have any. I don’t know of anyone that plows with an ox in the entire country. Another law is:

“When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof,” Deuteronomy 22:8

Now, if you had a flat roof with access from the inside to the roof, and you, your children, and other people’s children will be spending time on the roof, you ought to put a battlement, or railing, around the roof. Was that law abrogated? That is a simple law that states you are responsible for the safety of your family and guests, in whatever the circumstance may be. It may not be the roof of your house, it may be a patio or deck that was built over a drop-off along a lake. Now, the question is, are you bound by the law to put a railing around it? Well, certainly, if anyone falls and gets hurt, you will be construed as negligent by, not only God’s Law, but by man’s law as well. So, here is a scriptural principle, going back thousands of years, that has application to us today. The only reason it wouldn’t is if we had a pitched roof; and some people actually use that as an illustration to show that the law of God is not binding to us today, because they say, “A-ha! None of us have flat roofs!” But they have forgotten that there are many people today who, not only have flat roofs, but have stairways that go up to them, and patios, etc.

It may be that some of God’s Law would have no application to man because he has no wife. Also, laws which pertained to a particular priesthood would have no application if that priesthood was no longer in existence.

The Law, much like prophesy, is symbolic. If somebody asks, “Which laws are applicable to the bondservants of Christ today?” The answer is, “All of God’s Law is.” But you have to understand that the law is symbolic. The question people keep asking is, “Do I have to do this to be a bondservant of Christ? Do I have to do this to enter the Kingdom of God?” Well, a better question would be, “What does it mean?” That’s where the truth is to be found. And when we understand what it means, then we will be a lot further along in understanding God, understanding ourselves, and mayne knowing how to be a better servant of Christ. God is an expression of His Law.

Now let’s look at some Old Testament laws that are not so familiar nor easily dealt with, because Christ did not mention these. These are really good laws in their fundamental understanding and underlying principle, while the surface of it has no application for you. Let’s look at Deuteronomy, chapter 22.

“Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.” Deuteronomy 22:1

You’re walking down the road and here comes an animal that belongs to your neighbor. “Oh, I’m in a hurry. I haven’t got time. He’ll find him sooner or later. I’m not even going to let him know I saw him.” And just keep on going your way. But you are not to do that. You are to go over and help catch the animal and return him, because who knows how far the animal will go? And someone can steal that animal. Now, does that not have any application to us today? Well, perhaps not on the surface of it for you living in the city, but if you live in the country it may very well have some application for you. But really, if you get down to what the law is actually talking about, it has an application to every man. “I am responsible for trying to help protect my neighbor’s belongings.” Now, that is a godly principle that we should understand and hold ourselves accountable for, and it’s a part of the Law of God.

“And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again.” Deuteronomy 22:2

Even if you have to feed, it’s while at your house!

“In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost thing of thy brother’s, which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise: thou mayest not hide thyself. Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ass or his ox fall down by the way, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again.” Deuteronomy 22:3-4

Here’s someone who’s in trouble. Maybe he’s trying to get this animal out of the ditch, and you’re coming along and try to cross over to the hedge so he doesn’t see you so you don’t have to help. Well, you’re not supposed to do that, you’re to walk to him and stop and help. Now, obviously, the ox or the ass is not in effect anymore for you if you don’t live where they are, but the underlying principle of the law is still in effect for you. You are to help and pitch in.

“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” Deuteronomy 22:5

Now, many people are confused about this verse. Some women ask if it’s okay to wear their husbands’s work clothes (such as a parka) when they help their husband with their work. The dress style in China, the women’s apparel is pants, and what is the difference if the fabric goes around both legs or around each leg separately? There are some parts of the world wear men wear a kilt, or a skirt, and the skirt pertains to a man there.

But let’s just stop and meditate for a moment on God’s Law, because oftentimes, common sense is one of the first casualties in all these discussions. Does God really care whether or not the parka, that a woman puts on to milk the cows, belongs to her or her husband? Or, if her feet get cold, she puts on a pair of socks that belong to her husband? Does God really consider that wrong?

But if you go back to a problem in the world that existed then, and a problem that exists today, it’s that as young people are growing up, they’re having a problem retaining their sexual identitiy. The loss of identity (such as not having a father in the home and saying, “he’s a man, I’m a man, and therefore I know what men are”). This loss of the sexual identity is oftentimes responsible for some of the deviations that take place in later life (such as homosexuality), which can lead to an enormous amount of heartache, mental agony, mental illness, and perhaps suicide and death. Whereas God simply says, in this case, that a woman is not to try to look like a man and a man is not to try to look like a woman, because we wish to attain this concept of identity between the sexes. Now, this is the underlying meaning of this law. If you stop and think, “Wait a minute. What kind of God do I serve anyway? What did he mean by this?” Beginning with the truth that God is not arbitrary, unkind, that God is love and has never given a law to man that is bad to him, then this law is simple enough to understand, as to God’s intent.

“If a bird’s nest chance to be before thee in the way in any tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young: But thou shalt in any wise let the dam go, and take the young to thee; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days.” Deuteronomy 22:6-7

This passage seems to say that God in heaven is counting these little birds (Matthew 10:29-31, Luke 12:6-7), and because you interfere with this, God’s going to shorten your days, deliberately. What this really means is that the days of man upon the earth is dependant upon his attention to the animals, and to not destroying species, and seeing to it the conversation of your natural resources. Is this law binding? Well, of course it is! Is it meaningful in today’s time? Yes, it is!

“When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.” Deuteronomy 22:8

This is just being responsible for your property and protection of people that come upon your property. It is applicable, it has meaning, it has relevance to us living today.

“Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled. Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together. Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together.” Deuteronomy 22:9-11

Now, the principle here is expressed elsewhere in scripture: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” 2 Corinthians 6:14). A “yoke” is something fixed together on the neck of oxen for the purpose of binding them so that they might draw the plow. The reason God forbids and ox and an ass to be yoked together is because they would plow in different directions. This is the reason why God commanded us to be separate from unbelievers, and why Jesus commanded to be yoked to Him (Matthew 11:29-30). If we do His will, He will guide our steps. If we do our own will, we will pull in different directions. In other words, there can be such differences between the pulling of two men (or animals) in whatever it is they are being called to do, that we really should not try to work them together, or harness them together, or bind them together.

“Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together.” Deuteronomy 22:11

This says we should not have two different fabrics, one vegetable and one animal, come upon our flesh. This is symbolic for not mixing unequal things together, such as believers and unbelievers.

Therefore, when looking at God’s Law, do not ask, “Must I keep this law today?” Instead, ask, “What does this Law mean?”

This article was originally transcribed by

Ronald Dart
Ronald Dart is the voice of the Born to Win radio broadcast, heard on over 100 radio stations in America, Australia, Britain, and Canada. His easy delivery style and unique insight has earned him a large and loyal audience. He has been an ordained minister for more than 40 years and is chairman and founder of Christian Educational Ministry. He taught Bible and speech for many years at college and graduate level, has published extensively, and has spoken to crowds of more than 14,000 people on four continents. Ron's speciality is taking complex ideas and making them clear and understandable. He lives in Tyler, Texas with his wife Allie.
Ronald Dart
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