We are still studying a compilation of various laws passed onto the congregation by Moses. These laws were compiled without being in any particular order or relationship to each other. Today we'll take a look at a law regarding discipline in court and a law regarding animal welfare.
We begin with some rules regarding court cases. "When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty." (Deuteronomy 25:1) This is a type of case that can't be settled between the two parties. The guilty party will not admit guilt and make amends. The case must go before the judges where, upon the preponderance of evidence and upon the guidance of the Lord, the judges will render a verdict.
In ancient Israel the punishment for certain crimes and misdemeanors was flogging. "If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves, but the judge must not impose more than forty lashes. If the guilty party is flogged more than that, your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your eyes." (Deuteronomy 25:2-3) A person could be sentenced up to forty lashes but not more than forty lashes. It was up to the discretion of the judges, based on the severity of the person's wrongdoing, how many lashes between one and forty he would receive. It became standard practice to stop at thirty-nine lashes to prevent an error in counting; the judges themselves would be lawbreakers if a miscount occurred and the offender received forty-one lashes.
The Apostle Paul stated he had received thirty-nine lashes on five separate occasions for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:24) Blasphemy is one of the charges for which a flogging could be administered. Since the religious leaders of Israel considered the gospel of Jesus Christ to be blasphemy, the judges sentenced Paul to thirty-nine lashes on five different occasions. He preached the gospel of Christ inside and outside of Israel many more times than just those five times, not always with anyone laying hands on him to charge him with blasphemy, but on a lot of occasions he was arrested and imprisoned or beaten with rods. Once he was pelted with stones and left for dead. (For the entire list of things Paul endured for the sake of the gospel, see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.)
Now we'll move on to a law the Lord made for the benefit of an animal doing labor for its master. "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." (Deuteronomy 25:4) The ox is to be allowed to eat of the grain while it treads grain free from the husk. An ox would usually be tied to a post while the grain was spread out around the post in a circle. The ox would walk around and around the post for a while, repeatedly stepping on the same grain, until the husks were busted loose. While the ox works it is to be paid for its labor by allowing it to eat. A person with a greedy heart might be tempted to muzzle his ox in order to conserve as much of the grain for himself as possible, but the Lord says this is wrong. The animal deserves to be paid while it is working. It is earning its keep. The Lord considers it cruel for the animal to be able to look at the grain but not be able to eat of the grain if it feels hungry while it is working.
The Apostle Paul said the Lord also made this law for the benefit of the Old Testament priests and the New Testament (and church age) ministers of the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:7-12, 1 Timothy 5:18) Paul pointed out that the priests who served at the tabernacle and later at the temple made their living from their work at the house of the Lord. A portion of most of the offerings went to support the priests and Levites and their families. In this same way, Paul said the ministers of the gospel were to be supported by their churches. A church pastor ought to be paid a living wage. A pastor should not have to maintain a full time job in addition to leading the church and ministering to the flock. My own pastor and his assistant pastor are basically on call 24/7. Not only is our church office manned by one of them all day long on weekdays, but they visit sick congregants at home or in the hospital several times a week, sometimes being called to someone's bedside at odd hours of the day or night. They officiate over funerals and weddings, and in a church as large as mine, these occasions are fairly frequent. A pastor who has to do all these things, plus maintain a full time job outside the church, is going to burn out quickly. That's why it's so important to pay pastors a good wage so they don't need secondary employment. They cannot be effective in their work for the church and be effective in their work for a secular employer at the same time. Their work in both places will suffer along with their health and their home life with their families.
Join us tomorrow as we move on into the laws regarding a practice known as "Levirate Marriage".