The un-Wisdom of Yoking Oxen with Donkeys

By Rebecca Terhune ’15
Deuteronomy 22:10, “Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.”
Upon reading this verse, my sixteen-year-old son said to me, “You know Israel has its issues when God gave them these kinds of laws.” Other ancient cultures don’t seem to have laws like this one. Did Hammurabi of Assyria tell his kingdom not to yoke their oxen with donkeys? The Egyptians also seemed to know better. One can imagine the interior monologue of the warring, pagan nations of the ancient world. As my son pointed out, it would go something like this, “We may make the wrong kind of sacrifices; but doesn’t everyone know that you doesn’t yoke an ox with a donkey?”
Through the Law and in His mercy, God saved Israel from their pagan neighbors. The Rev. Nadine Drayton-Keen writes, “is very crucial that we avoid compromising relationships. We should apply this ‘unequally yoked’ biblical principle to every one of our daily activities: to our church, ministries, to our business associations, to our personal relationships, to our marital union, and to every other alliance that would involve us being bound to, or us establishing a partnership with, anyone whose primary goal in life does not involve glorifying Father God and enjoying Him forever.”
Of course, this verse has much richness to offer. Leviticus refers to it first, then Deuteronomy, with Paul using it in 2 Corinthians. In charity, we are to care for our neighbor who sometimes cannot keep up. We are not to tie ourselves to that neighbor though. In advertising there is a model of plan, deploy, operate, upgrade. Planning means having strategy; deploy involves integration; operate is about customer care; upgrade means recognizing when it’s time to raise something to a higher standard. Quintilian taught this in similar words when he directed his students of rhetoric. For one to be persuaded, one trusts the speaker. Israel had to trust God to know what was best. Israel had to trust in everything, even the mundane — yoking and planting; in the hard things like surviving. That is why we ask God to incline our hearts to keep His law.
As we step towards Advent, we are mindful of this. William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens is a clunky play, rarely performed; and when it is, many audience eyebrows become furrowed. However, there is a line that speaks to many, “Tis not enough to help the feeble up but to support him after.” This is habit being formed, realizing when our neighbor may not be able to keep up. Or perhaps it’s us who are unable to keep up with our neighbor.
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About nashotahhouse

Located in Nashotah, Wisconsin, Nashotah House Theological Seminary is the oldest institute of higher education in the state of Wisconsin. Founded in 1842 by a Missionary Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Nashotah House belongs to the Anglican tradition of worship, theology and spirituality. That is, Nashotah House traces her roots to the Church of England and locates herself within the worldwide Anglican Communion. Comprehending the fundamental disciplines of Holy Scripture, Theology, Church History, Spirituality and Pastoral Ministry, the curriculum at Nashotah House not only roots our students in the ancient wisdom of the Church, it prepares and empowers them to communicate the Gospel to the world today.