Why were Jews forbidden to mix differing types of material (for ex., wool and cotton) as in Deut 22:11?
Unbelievers claim that this law is arbitrary and useless. When Christians fail to obey this law they are picking and choosing which laws to obey or disobey. Christians often come up with practical reasons such as the fact that polyester had not yet been invented—cotton and polyester are compatible blends now but then polyester did not exist. (But aren’t God’s commands timeless?) Another response has been that if you blend two types of materials they shrink differently and can easily tear. Really? So God had to come up with a commandment in His mighty word just so that Israelites didn’t waste too much time remaking their clothing? Couldn’t they figure that one out on their own? And besides, is this even true for every combination of materials? Jews have their own explanations. They are quite interesting and usually such explanations date back centuries. Some date back to Cain and Able in the garden offering differing sacrifices, arguments that would make Gentile heads spin.
The two passages in Deuteronomy and Judges regarding mixing things go like this:
Deut 22:9-11 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.
Lev 19:19 You shall keep My statutes. You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you.
I studied Christian commentaries and every commentator had a different comment trying to explain these passages. The categories are:
1) Practical considerations (for example a donkey and an ox cannot be yoked together because the ox is stronger and they will pull against one another. But this begs the question. Why did God have to inaugurate a law against such things? Couldn’t they learn from experience? To disobey such commands had natural consequences, but to disobey any of God’s commandments also invited God’s wrath. Why place such gravity upon simple matters that could be learned through trial and error and at worst merely waste a little time and a few resources?)
2) A visual reminder to avoid pagan practices (too many to mention here). There is validity to many of these explanations.
3) Spiritual explanations. (For example, Dr. Jay Vernon Mcgee says that to forbid mixing things was a practical, visual demonstration for Jews to avoid mixing truth with error).
Okay, so here is my contribution. God separated the Jews from the nations and chose them for specific tasks. He set them apart and loved them, not because they were better or more obedient, but as a demonstration of His grace and mercy, ultimately expressed through His beloved Son. The Jews were to be holy, separate, though their fleshly nature cried out to be like other nations, to intermarry with them, adopt their gods and customs. They even sought a king because they wanted to be like the surrounding nations and have somebody rule over them besides their invisible God.
These laws of separation are visual reminders to Israel to be separate from the nations. Wool is not better than cotton; it is just different. Mules are not better than oxen; they should just do different tasks. Corn is not superior to wheat; they both have their purposes. Jews were commanded NOT to intermarry with Gentiles. God set His people apart, not because they were better but to demonstrate His nature, His purposes, His pleasure and glory, to bring many sons and daughters into His kingdom. He also had a specific Person in mind with a particular DNA. Jesus!
But God allowed the genetic line of Judah, through which Jesus received His DNA, to be contaminated by gentile blood! (Ruth, the Moabitetess, Rahab the harlot). Furthermore, some of His ancestors were adulterers (see Judah and Tamar, David and Bathsheba). Did God break His own command by allowing this DNA mixture with sinners and Gentiles? No! He set up the commandment for a great purpose! Just as the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to the grace that is in Christ, so also the commandment not to mix is resolved in the person of Christ. It is by grace that we are saved, not by keeping the letter of the law!
The commandment not to mix materials and animals was a visual illustration for Jews not to mix with the world, to preserve themselves from pagan rituals and practices and to preserve the Holy messianic line. May we also as Christians today remember that we too have been set apart from the world for God’s purposes. We are not to deliberately marry an unbeliever; we are to refrain from pagan and worldly practices that bring harm to men’s souls.
But we must also remember that the Jews failed and so have we. Hence the need of our Savior to die a bloody death to pay the penalty for our sin, our mixing with the world’s seed, the garment of our soul intertwined with both a carnal and a spiritual nature, even as Christ Himself was fully man and fully God.