These three commands have the same general thought behind them. They move from concrete to intention, that is, from letter to spirit. The one regarding cloth is easiest to illustrate this principle. The specific application involves linen and wool, and Israel was not to mix the fibers from a vegetable product and an animal product into the same piece of material. It expands in its practical application when we understand that mixing animal and vegetable fibers makes poor quality material. Therefore, the intent—its spirit—is to teach us to purchase the best quality that we can afford.
The same holds true with the other laws that appear in this context. God is instructing us that the best thing to do is to keep the breeds pure and not let hybrids develop. The pure breeds of a species are always considered to be of higher quality.
Why was it done this way? It has to do with the Old Covenant and God's intention in His use of the children of Israel. It was not God's intention at the time to save them. He was producing a historical record so that the church of God, whom He did intend to save, could understand things much more clearly—His purpose—and make proper applications of those laws, examples, and principles to their lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 18)
Verse 1 informs us that God spoke directly to Moses and that he was to share all of this with the children of Israel. In the next verse, God says, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” Holy means “sacred” and “set apart.” The points that follow are designed to set Israel apart, and if observed, these statutes and judgments would keep Israel undefiled.
Verses 3 and 4 cover the first, second, fourth, and fifth commandments, and the following four verses deal with sacrificing. Verses 9-10 handle harvesting procedures and leaving something for the poor. Verse 11 covers the eighth and ninth commandments, while verse 12 rephrases the third commandment. Verse 13 gives counsel on dealing with neighbors and employees, and verse 14, with the handicapped. Verse 15 encourages us to judge righteously. Verse 16 condemns gossip, and verses 17-18 concern familial relationships.
After this, verse 19 begins: “You shall keep my statutes . . ..” The Hebrew word underlying “statutes” is shamar, “to hedge about, guard, protect, attend to, preserve, observe, and to treasure up in your memory.” God covers a great deal of ground in the first 18 verses, so at the chapter's halfway mark, He inserts a reminder that these laws and life principles, this huge amount of wisdom, is to be guarded, protected, attended to, preserved, and observed. He closes the chapter in verse 37 with the same reminder.
Notice the three matters listed in verse 19: “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.” Sandwiched between His admonition to bear no grudges and love your neighbor (verse 18) and the penalty for adultery (verse 20), we have these three directives.
Are they on a par with some of these others? No, of course not. Nor is idol worship (verse 4) comparable with gleaning the fields (verse 9). The chapter ends with God commanding us to observe “all My statutes and all My judgments.” We have to discern what this means.
Some of these verses deal with the Ten Commandments. Do any of us doubt that these are still in force and to be kept? Even so, few of us farm the land anymore, so what does mixing livestock or seed have to do with us? For that matter, how many tailors do we have today? What do we know of mixing fabrics? It is possible that pagan priests wore this mix; that one fabric signifies the Old Covenant, and the other, the New; that it was simply a consumer protection law; or that all of the above are true, which is likely. But what does it mean for us today?
Verse 27 admonishes us not to shave around the sides of our heads or “disfigure” the edges of our beards. These were things Egyptians did, and perhaps some of the Israelites had adopted those practices. From this distance in time, we do not really know what they were doing with their beards and hair, but God tells them, “No, don't do that. You are a special people. Come out of Egypt.” So, although we do not have to worry about our beards or hair as much in this regard, we still have to be aware of the “Egypt” around us and come out of her.
This same principle applies to mixing wool and linen. Note that this prohibition does not stand alone because in the same verse, God also forbids mixing cattle and seed. It is the principle of clean and unclean, righteous and unrighteous, Christian or pagan, Egypt or God.
In Matthew 5:17-18, Christ says:
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
Even the smallest point in the Old Testament is not “done away” until “all is fulfilled,” until “heaven and earth pass away.” Has that happened yet? Of course not. Some of the physical rituals—such as circumcision, the various washings, sacrifices and offerings—may not have to be performed anymore, but the spiritual intent lives on.
The Old Covenant emphasized physical things as a means of righteousness, but the emphasis under the New Covenant is on spiritual elements in our relationship with God and each other. Under the New Covenant, we become a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), and that sacrifice begins in our mind. This change from the Old to the New forces us to make spiritual use of the laws already written. They are not done away; we just have to figure out how they apply to us now.
Wool and Linen
What is the strangest law in the Bible? For many, it is Deuteronomy 22:11, “You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together.” This directive is repeated in Leviticus 19:19. The phrase “garment of different sorts” is from the Hebrew sha'atnez, literally “mixed stuff,” which Orthodox Jews define as specifically wool and linen together, not any other mixture.
The Law of Sha'atnez, they feel, is a chok, a decree that the King has passed for His subjects, for which we do not know the reason. Rabbinic commentators believe that many of God's statutes are of that sort. He provides no reason and expects us to accept them on faith. One rabbi has said, “Why ask why?” Their point has validity, certainly, but is there really no reason for this edict? Can we discern God's original point here, and does this mandate have any significance for Christians today?
A spiritual principle is involved here: the principle of separation. Just as God wanted the physical nation of Israel to be kept separate from the nations around it, we are to maintain spiritual separation from the sin that surrounds us.
Deuteronomy 14:2 says essentially the same thing to the children of Israel: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (see Exodus 19:5). For this reason, Israelites were not to mix wool and linen, nor mix physically with those around them.
With this understanding, we can bring the principle to the New Testament and apply it under the New Covenant:
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (II Corinthians 6:14-16)
The part that Paul quotes at the end—“I will be their God, and they shall be My people”—is found in at least a half-dozen Old Testament verses (Jeremiah 24:7; 31:33; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 37:23, 27; Zechariah 8:8). More importantly, the apostle clearly indicates that the principle still applies! Except now it is God's church that is separated out.
Further, Paul writes in Titus 2:14, speaking of Christ, “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed, and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” One interpretation of this law asserts that wool stands for works and linen represents grace, and the two can never be mixed. But does not the apostle Paul do just that in this verse? Christ gave Himself for us, to redeem us from sin, which is grace. Then he goes on to say that Jesus did this to purify us, to set us apart, to make us a people “zealous for good works.” He redeemed us by grace so we could strive to live a sinless life, which we fail at repeatedly. But we try. The laws of God give us our borders, our limits. Without them, there would be no sin (Romans 3:20).
I Peter 2:9, describing the church, the apostle Peter writes, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Where does this leave us in terms of Deuteronomy 22:11 and Leviticus 19:19? Just as not circumcising one's baby boy would not be a sin, since it is not a sign under the New Covenant, so with mixing wool and linen. However, there are proven health benefits to circumcision. God is not capricious that way; there is great good in following His instructions, even if they are no longer binding under the New Covenant. It would not be surprising if there are health benefits to not mixing these fabrics as well. Certainly, all of one or the other produces a better quality garment.
For us today, however, the takeaway is to keep ourselves spiritually pure, to concentrate on not mixing with the sin of this world, for we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood a holy nation, His own special people.”
Wool and Linen
Leviticus 19 deals with social relationships within the community, and these commandments are seen as major regulators of community relationships. God gives all of these laws with a common thought in mind: "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy." These laws are given because the Lawgiver is God (see verses 4, 10, 12, etc.).
They are not primarily statements of authority ("Do this because I tell you"), though some of this is included, but statements of the relationship between the Lawgiver and His law. The laws reflect His nature. The law is what it is because God is what He is. Therefore, if we want to be like God, we will imitate Him by obeying His laws in their physical and spiritual applications.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)
Should a Christian Wear Clothing of Mixed Fibers (Leviticus 19:19)?
This question often arises when people read Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:11. Today we would call this a "consumer protection law." Notice that these verses contain the basic principle that materials of widely differing character and texture are not to be combined. On the other hand, these verses allow a number of combinations that are within God's laws.
Today's garments are made of two basic kinds of natural fibers. The first is plant cellulose fiber, from which fabrics such as linen and cotton are produced. The second is animal protein fiber such as wool and silk. Because these kinds of fibers differ markedly in strength, washability, absorption, and so forth, they should not be mixed.
However, a garment made of a combination of cellulose materials—a mixture of cotton and linen, for example—is acceptable because the fibers are basically similar. For the same reason, mixtures of protein fibers (wool, mohair, silk, and so on) are acceptable.
What about the mixture of synthetic, man-made fabrics, such as Dacron, nylon, polyester, and rayon, with either cellulose or protein fibers? Many have not realized that a combination of synthetic and either plant or animal material does not necessarily break the biblical principle. Synthetic materials are usually made to have essentially the same characteristics as the natural fibers. Otherwise, they would not mix well. The stronger fibers would cut and tear away from the weaker ones or would not combine well in other ways. In other words, it is perfectly acceptable to manufacture fabrics from a combination of fibers which are naturally or artificially compatible with one another. It is the mixture of fibers with markedly differing qualities which this biblical principle concerns.
It should be noted that such combinations produce a cheaper garment, with respect to quality, than one made with the best grades of pure fibers. On the other hand, a fabric made from low-grade, natural fibers is usually improved by the addition of compatible man-made fibers. Any good tailor or seamstress knows that the best quality clothing is made from 100 percent wool, cotton, and so forth. Nevertheless, one need not throw away or destroy clothing which may be of lower quality or a wrong mixture. Wearing such materials is not a sin in itself. Rather, God does not want manufacturers producing shoddy materials in order to take advantage of their customers.
A wise principle to follow in selecting either a pure or mixed garment is to purchase the best quality one can afford—it will last longer and fit better than inferior, less expensive clothes. The primary reason to do this is to honor and glorify God in what we wear, especially if the clothing is to be worn primarily for church services. However, it is not wise to go into debt buying better quality than one can afford.
Wool and Linen
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Leviticus 19:19: