The Bible is filled with good advice. Even though it is an age-old book, you can still find guidelines on how to live your life in today’s world. The most famous examples of such guidelines are bundled in the Ten Commandments. But there are many more commandments that can help you navigate choices in the 21st century.
Originally, those commandments were written in a completely different environment. Life was much simpler and a lot focused around farm life. This is why when the Bible teaches people how to live their lives it goes into great detail on how to farm as well. Some of those guidelines seem really specific for that time period, but when you look at the meaning of those commandments, they are still surprisingly relevant.
Let’s take some of the guidelines that seem really specific for a farmer in biblical times and look for the meaning behind them. That way, the time-proven wisdom of the Bible can tell us something about our lives, when at first sight it seems to deal with something entirely different.
“Don’t muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.”
This is one of those guidelines that seem really specific. It even seems out of place in the part of the Bible where you can find it. But when you look a little further, there is a really powerful message that can influence your life, even if you’ll never see an ox at work and the only grain you know is hidden in your hamburger buns.
In the time of the Bible, oxen were a very important part of the household. When the harvest was collected, the animals would walk around the threshing floor to get the grains out of the plants. Because grain doesn’t just feed humans, but cattle as well, having an ox on the threshing floor meant that it would eat some of the harvest while it was working.
To prevent this, some people muzzled it, which simply means that they made sure the ox couldn’t eat any of the grain. This commandment told people they shouldn’t do this, and that they should allow their ox to eat some of the harvest.
This isn’t a rule that benefits only the ox. It teaches that when it comes to work, you should make sure that you’re being fair. You can’t have a floor full of grain, and have a hungry ox work for you. If you need others in your work, you need to make sure they are treated well, even if it means that in the end there will be less left for you. By letting the ox eat some of the harvest, you’re showing respect for the help you’re getting.
So how can we use this guideline in a modern setting? Very few people are involved in the grain harvest, and nobody uses an ox anymore. But we still don’t do all our work by ourselves. Like the ox, there are people helping us out, or making our work possible. From the cleaning lady to our direct employees or even the construction crews building and maintaining roads, we can only do our work because of the work of others.
Not muzzling your ox in a modern setting means a few things. First, it means understanding and appreciating that you’re always getting help in your work. Second, this understanding helps respect the help you’re getting. Sometimes, this respect literally means giving people a fair share of your gains. At other times, this means showing gratitude to the implicit help you’re getting. A smile, a nod of the head, or a simple ‘thank you’ might go a long way.
“Don’t reap your field right up to the edge”
In the farming times of the Bible, the harvest was an important moment. It’s when you finally see the result of your work. If you were able to harvest, it meant you were rich (because you had land) and you were about to get even more money, because you would sell the grain after the harvest. To harvest, the workers would cut all the wheat, reap it from the ground, put it together in sheaves, and carry the sheaves away from the field. By not reaping to the edges, some of the grain would remain on the field. After the workday, poor people (who had no land) were allowed on the field to pick up the leftover grain.
As you can imagine, the leftover grain was important to the poor. They wouldn’t have any land to grow their own grain, and they couldn’t buy any because they were poor. By picking up the remaining grain, they could still eat and survive. If the rich landowners were to reap their entire field all the way to the edge, poor people would be left without anything to eat, even though the landowners didn’t need the extra money as much. This guideline was a very practical way of making sure the rich landowners wouldn’t get even richer at the expense of the poor.
When you see it in this perspective, maybe it’s easier to understand how you can apply this in a modern setting. Most people don’t deal with wheat fields anymore, but we’re all aware of the differences between the rich and the poor. The Bible is never against being rich, but is against rich people getting richer at the expense of the poor. The landowners from the commandment didn’t need the last bit of grain; they already had most of the field. To the poor, that unimportant last bit meant a whole lot more.
I hope you’re always in the position of the landowner, where your work gives you so much that the last margins don’t make a big difference. To other people, it may make all the difference. Don’t take the final margins from the people who have nothing else. Don’t fight over the dollar that someone needs, and you would forget about. Don’t take from the poor what you don’t need. That’s what not reaping to the edges is really about.