“You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain” (Deuteronomy 25:4).
That is a sight one does not see very often in the United States. We were driving through rural Bangladesh a week or so ago and saw in several different places people threshing their rice by having oxen walk around in circles over piles of rice straw with the heads still attached.
The feet of the oxen knocked the grain off the straw, and when all was clear the straw could be picked up and the rice grains gathered from where they had fallen. This is a method which dates back for at least 3,500 years, to the time of Moses, and is still being used in many parts of the world.
One notable feature in each of these places was that every ox being used to “tread the grain” was muzzled so that he could not eat either the straw or the grain as he worked. That only makes economic sense to the farmer, as a hungry ox would quickly deplete a pretty good quantity of the valuable rice.
No farmer in this part of the world grows rice for animal food – it is all needed to feed one’s family.
When that is noted and understood, the essential fairness and generosity of the Laws of God are better recognized. It is easy to see seeming inhumane or unfair provisions in the Old Testament Law of Moses, as for instance capital punishment, some of the unequal treatment of women, and other things that are jarring to modern western sensibilities.
But it is not appropriate to consider these without also noting the many instances where God’s laws are far more sensitive and humane than man’s, not only those contemporary with the Biblical texts under consideration, but even in many cases with regard to modern laws and customs.
As Paul noted in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10, God is concerned not only with the welfare of oxen, but especially with that of mankind. There is a principle involved here, one of equity and fairness. One who labors deserves to enjoy the fruit of his labors. That is only right and just. God provides for righteousness and justice in His laws.
When we consider the totality of God’s laws we should remember principle of fairness and justice. Is it proper for God to punish sin? Or does his mercy and love preclude any retribution no matter what evil is done?
Remember that throughout his laws he has demonstrated a sense of fairness and rightness. Man is not capable of judging each action and purpose of God. His ways are far beyond our comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-9).
But when we recognize characteristics of his laws and acts, we can reason from them that other difficult to understand actions do not violate established principles, such as God’s innate goodness and fairness.
If God is kinder to the ox than man would normally be, why would we not trust his goodness to us? As Jesus taught:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. . . . Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29, 31).
God’s love is abundantly manifested (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9-10). We may not understand all that he does, but we can have confidence in his wisdom, justice and mercy.