“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” (Deuteronomy 22:9-11 NKJV).
Westerners visiting so called third world countries will often note the different standards of sanitation which prevail there. The use of polluted water, the profusion of garbage and litter, and neglect of what the visitor considers common hygiene prompt the reaction that “those people are just not clean.” The assumption often follows that they are merely lazy.
That is to some degree at least a misconception. Many in undeveloped regions work hard to keep themselves and their property clean by their understanding of the term. It is their standards which differ, and in many cases this is because they deal with a different reality of what is feasible and practical than do those privileged to live in developed areas. When the only water available is from scummy, garbage filled ponds, what can one do? Where there is no garbage pickup service, or sewage treatment system, how is a poor family to deal with it?
One’s standards of spiritual hygiene will also be modified by a perception of what is possible or practical. In a corrupt society, can a Christian really be open and honest in all of his or her dealings? As humans we frequently shrink from the attention such an attitude might bring.
In the Old Testament books of the Law, God through Moses directed the people of Israel to live by a higher standard. This standard was expressed repeatedly as, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). To be holy meant to be consecrated to God, called out from other people, and to be distinct. As Paul states, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:17).
The laws cited at the beginning of this article from Deuteronomy 22 are to be viewed with this principle in mind. Why should God be concerned about hybridization of grapes, or of mixing fabrics in a piece of clothing? Why does it matter if a farmer has only one ox and one donkey and yokes them together to plow?
There are practical considerations in these regulations that speak perhaps to the scientific foreknowledge of Scripture, but I believe there is another simple and basic reason for these rules. Israel was to be pure, distinct, and separate from other nations. They were not to intermarry with Gentiles, nor to worship their gods, nor partake in their practices. Purity (unmixed devotion to God) was their goal in all they did.
The laws regarding mixtures and hybrids are a way of emphasizing the importance of this purity. They helped to create a mindset of separation which would have lasting spiritual value. When one approaches the mundane details of daily life with an attitude of keeping everything undiluted and pure, it becomes a habit which pervades all of his efforts.
What a difference would be made in the life of Christians today if we made a similar commitment to purity and Spiritual maturity. If in everything we did we were conscious of our distinction from those of the world. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2) would be a guiding principle, applicable to all areas of our lives.
Tragically ancient Israel did not adopt the principle of purity, but were frequently led into adulterous relationships with other peoples and their gods. They were judged and punished by God for their sins, but they also were given many opportunities to repent and be forgiven.
In Christ we also may find forgiveness and a new chance to live a life dedicated to God. Let this Old Testament example teach us that such a life requires a commitment to him that affects all that we do. God is holy; let each of us strive to also be holy.