10 May 2015

Moses' Thoughts on Tithing

5 But you shall seek the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His Name and make His dwelling place, and there shall you come;6 And there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the offering of your hands, and your vows and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herd and of your flock.7 And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you put your hand, you and your households, in which the Lord your God has blessed you. ~Deuteronomy 12:5-7 AMP
Throughout Deuteronomy 12, 13 & 14, Moses recorded instructions for the Israelites about where & how they sacrifice, and what they may eat. He mentions that there will come a time when they can no longer sacrifice wherever the mood strikes them, but the Lord will choose one place where they will have to visit. The verses above are just a little snippet of the whole discourse, and shows the underlying premise that the Israelites' sacrifices wouldn't, as I had always thought, been wholly given to the Levites or the poor. Moses talks about sacrifices of grain, fruits of the ground, wine, oil and animals in the context of feasting; it's clearly understood that the children of Israel would eat, themselves, the things which they brought to sacrifice.

Sacrifice is supposed to be a feast. Not a God-inflicted famine.

For those who, when the time came, had to travel too far to the temple to bring their tithe, they were to sell their tithe, bring the money to the temple, "And you may spend that money for whatever your appetite craves, for oxen, or sheep, or new wine or strong[er] drink, or whatever you desire; and you shall eat there before the Lord your God and you shall rejoice, you and your household" (14:26).

Verses 28-29 of 14 set forth the way to care for the poor, the stranger, and the fatherless and the widow. Those who either did not have land which would yield support for them, or those who had not the strength to do so. That was a triennial tithe of the increase (i.e. what the farms & enterprises brought in over and above what was put into them at the beginning of the year; what we now call profit, or "net gain"); that tithe was to provide for the poor. The annual tithe of all produce (14:22) was to be sacrificed: feasted upon before the Lord, in the place where He would designate.

There's so much to meditate on here . . . on the way the Lord provided for His own, and how He has asked us to provide for one another. For, more than once through these chapters, the Israelites were reminded that they were not to neglect the Levite, the poor, or the stranger, who had no inheritance among them. I have the distinct feeling that the triennial tithe was not the upper limit of the help available to those in need--it was the "savings account" for the needy, for when those immediately around them were unable to help.

But my gem for today is the concept of sacrifice as feast. When we set something aside as holy, which is the purpose and meaning of the word, it's a beautiful symmetry of meaning that we should rejoice, be filled, and remember the Lord our God (14:23-24, 26).

And looking at the modern English meaning of sacrifice, to give something up, to voluntarily turn over something you love or desire, the mystery deepens further: for just as if I tried to wash my clothing in blood it would not come out pristinely white, the idea that giving up something dear to me should mean I feast and rejoice is equally as strange.

But we have a mysterious, powerful, miraculous God, Who not only washes us clean in His blood, but brings bounteous feasting, an overflowing filling, when we offer up to Him what He has asked.

Father in Heaven, I'm just filled with gratitude today. I'm not even sure where to start. Thank You. Just . . . thank You. You have my love, my best efforts (pathetic though they may be), and my deeply repentant heart. Thank You, for everything. In Jesus' name, amen.