You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, or all the produce of the seed which you have sown and the increase of the vineyard will become defiled. You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together. You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself. If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then turns against her, and charges her with shameful deeds and publicly defames her, and says, ‘I took this woman, but when I came near her, I did not find her a virgin…'” -Deuteronomy 22:9-14
When you read the above laws prohibiting sowing two types of seeds in the vineyard or yoking an ox and donkey together, what kind of law do you consider them to be? The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) gives three categories for the law – moral, judicial, & ceremonial. Yet sometimes sticking laws in these categories is not always as easy as it might first appear, and the wisdom that is to come from meditating on them and seeing them in context can be lost in the process (see Psalm 1).
For what kind of law is the yoking law? Moral? Hardly, it seems, for it is about an ox and donkey. Ceremonial? Not really, for this law does not involve sacrifice or worship. Judicial (or civil)? Most likely, yet it raises a question. Was Moses in giving this law to Israel really like the modern bureaucrat who feels obligated to tell a farmer an obvious truth about plowing fields? We can look at some of the Old Testament laws in this categorizing way and the only value in so doing can seem to be in seeing a certain quaintness about them, much like taking a trip to an Amish village for a day. We like to visit, but we do not want to live there. The only thing we can seem to say with any degree of confidence about such laws is that they are no longer binding under the new covenant.
However, as the WCF says, there is obligation to observe the “general equity” of these laws. General equity is a legal term which, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is “a system of law… developed to enlarge, supplement, or override a narrow, rigid system of law.” What the WCF is in effect saying is that there are moral principles found within the judicial laws of the Old Testament that enlarge upon the narrow, immediate understanding of those laws.
That is how we see Jesus applying the Old Testament law. For instance, in Luke 14:1-6 Jesus healed a man of dropsy in a Pharisee’s house on the Sabbath day. When challenged, he appealed to this principle of general equity to defend his action. By asking the Pharisees if they would not rescue a son or an ox that had fallen into a well on the Sabbath, he showed that love for God and caring for people are at the heart of all of God’s commandments (and we recall that the fourth commandment even required that oxen be given rest on the Sabbath). The key to applying the law appropriately is meditating on the law and gaining the wisdom general equity gives to us. We are to read the law and then pray, “Lord, based on the principles or pictures seen in this law, what would you have us do to live righteously before You?”
Returning to the passage above, in verse 9 an Israelite was commanded not to sow two different types of seed in his vineyard. It sounds like the vineyard was to grow grapes only; if he wanted wheat he was to put that in another, separate field. To not do so would be, according to the text, to defile the fruit from both the vine and the wheat stalk. Yet is the garden all that God is concerned with here? I do not think so.
For remember that Deuteronomy is not simply a collection of laws, but a sermon Moses was preaching to get the people ready to go into Canaan. By the presence of God in their midst, they were to transform the Promised Land from its vileness, caused by the practices of the people there, into a land of holiness. Israel was to be a garden where the people would dwell with the holy God. With this in mind, we need to make sure we get the point of God’s sermon here.
Remember the time when Jesus was talking about leaven in bread, and his disciples began worrying about having enough to eat? He rebuked them for their crassness, their hardness of heart, for taking things too woodenly. The same is true here, I believe. God is talking about something really important – sexual holiness – and most of us are so uptight about getting every law in the right box, every grain of wheat in the right field, that we miss the whole point of Moses’ sermon.
For looking at the context, what follows the terse laws of verses 9-12 are laws regarding morality. Is there not a connection between verse 9 and what verses 13-22 teach? A man takes a woman for his wife, but suspects that she was not a virgin. He argues his case before the elders. The parents bring out the garment, presumably the stained bedclothes of the wedding night (New Geneva Study Bible), to prove her virginity. In essence, everyone is seeking to answer an important question. Has there been other seed sown in this vineyard? (The references to women being like vines or vineyards are numerous in the Old Testament. See Psalm 128:3; Song of Songs 4:12 for two examples.) If he is wrong, he was to pay a fine for humiliating her publicly and was not allowed to divorce her. If he has the evidence to substantiate his charges, then the unfaithful woman was in serious trouble. She was to be put to death.
In a similar manner, if I said, “A bird in the hand beats two in the bush,” then began teaching you about contentment, you would recognize that my earlier statement wasn’t about bird watching or hunting pheasants. Rather, it was functioning proverbially as a metaphor. That is the way it is here. If I say as Moses did, “Ensure that only one seed is sown in your vineyard” then start talking about fornication and adultery, would you not get the proverb and hear the warning? When God wants to be direct, he says in the moral law, “You shall not commit adultery.” When he wants to warn and give a picture of detestable adultery, he speaks of a defiled garden sown with different seeds producing rotten fruit (see Isaiah 5:1-7 for another example of this).
In this age of gross sexual licentiousness, how we need to meditate on the law once again and learn its truths anew! How strongly God speaks against sexual sin in all its various forms! Think of some applications of this passage.
Here we see that immoral pre-marital relationships defile the garden. Fornication adulterates or corrupts the marriage bed. On more than one occasion, I have had young people involved in sexual sin tell me they had not broken the law against adultery because they were not yet married. This command speaks directly against that misconception. Young men and women, recognize that communing with Christ means you are pledging yourself in holiness to Him. Tell Him today you will not be involved intimately with a member of the opposite sex until you are married. In this text, the question of purity was made public to the parents and elders. Do not cause your parents or elders to have to discuss your virginity because it is in doubt.
Young men, treat young Christian ladies as sisters. Do not minimize the anger of the Lord when he sees you using women for sexual pleasure. Think for a moment of this scenario. Imagine you live next to a little old lady who was kind to you and acted as a grandmother toward you. If she had a beautiful flower garden that she tended with care, how would you feel if one day you saw out your window some young punks uprooting and destroying her flowers? I dare say you would get angry and perhaps even take matters into your own hands to defend your neighbor. Now think of how God feels when he sees young men sowing illicit seed in the garden of a woman that he has created to be the recipient of only one man’s affection. How shameful fornication is!
Furthermore, all men should realize that another proverbial saying from the Scriptures applies here. “God is not mocked; for what a man sows, that he shall also reap.” If you commit adultery, God will punish you as the text teaches. The Scriptures say such things as the following will happen to those who violate the seventh commandment: your own garden will be cursed beyond belief (II Sam. 12:11-12; Prov. 5:15-17); your family and home will be broken and corrupted (Prov. 6:32-35; II Sam. 12:10); you will be stricken with diseases and perhaps death (Prov 7:22-23; 9:18). The list could go on.
Why is God so serious about sexual sin? Why does he consistently use this garden imagery in warning us against it? Recall the first marriage took place in a garden. So will the last one. In the new heavens and new earth, the great wedding feast of the Lamb with His church will take place in a garden city. At that feast will be the river of the water of life flowing, the tree of life bearing fruit on its banks, and the brightness of God’s countenance shining like the sun upon it. The Scriptures say there will be no immoral persons there at that marriage supper of the Lamb, for at that wedding only those clothed in fine linen, the bright and clean righteous lives of the saints, will be admitted (Rev. 19:7-10; 21:1-8).
So until we arrive there, Christ, who bought us body and soul with His own blood, wants us to be pure. As Paul said, “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” (II Corinthians 11:2). In the next verse, Paul warns us by reminding us of what happened in the garden. “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” Satan brought forth the fall by planting seeds of doubt alongside the Word of God, and the one who delights to sow tares among the wheat brought forth his ill fruits on mankind. Those that follow him act likewise. But for the people of God, pure gospel belief that brings forth the fruit of holiness and chastity is the life desired by God for both men and women. We are to be like virgins in our affections and behaviors, preparing ourselves for that eternal garden.