Musings on the greatest set of books ever written, etc.

Month: July, 2013

“Use the silver to buy whatever you like”

In my ongoing series on tithing in the Bible, I now come to what is probably my favorite passage on the subject—the “yearly” tithe of Deut 14:22-27, a portion of which I have already quoted in the title to this blogpost (from v. 26, NIV). Many people already know that the central theme of the book of Deuteronomy is “only one God, only one place of worship” (see especially chs. 6 and 12). Now, the system of sabbatical years in the Torah is also familiar to many: there were to be six years of cultivation of the land, but in the seventh year the land is to lay fallow (see Leviticus 25:1-7; compare Deut 15:1-11). So the “storehouse tithe” paid every three years (see my previous post on “robbing God”), would in actuality be paid in year three and six of the seven year system, and the present “travel tithe” be paid in years one through six, but not year seven (no harvest of crops, no tithe required—see Deut 14:22). I myself suspect that this “travel tithe” was not paid in years three and six (when the “storehouse tithe” was exacted), but I cannot prove this one way or the other. (And in reality, most scholars suspect that the overall Deuteronomic tithing system was more idealistic and utopian than precisely enforced anyway).

Now, I have used the term, “to pay,” for this “travel tithe.” But to whom was this tithe “paid”? Here, it gets very interesting! In Deut 14:23, this tithe is “brought” into the one place of worship Yahweh will designate in the Promised Land (eventually, of course, this was the Solomonic Temple in Jerusalem), and “eaten” there. And the purpose of this tithe? Just to have a party in Yahweh’s sanctuary, complete with meat and wine (see vv. 23, 26)? No, not just a party. Certainly not a “pity party”! But rather, a “fear party” (to coin a term). To remind the tither that he or she should “fear” Yahweh God. But also, for the family to “celebrate” him (v. 26, NLT). Now, that’s a party! (Note that “fearing” Yahweh means putting no other gods before him—see Exod 20:3; Deut 5:7, 28-29; etc.)

Years ago, I ran into a woman who took this tithe seriously, and used her tithe money to pay for a trip to the Holy Land. I really couldn’t argue against that, at least from the book of Deuteronomy, although I would not advise people to do that as a matter of course, today. (The pastors of some local churches might be unhappy with the results, for example.) But she was on the right track, biblically speaking.

So let’s review: This “travel tithe” (or “party tithe”?) is to be used to have a good time (NLT puts it well in v. 26, “use the money to buy anything you want—an ox, a sheep, some wine, or beer. Then feast there in the presence of the LORD [Yahweh] your God and celebrate with your household”). Maybe it’s a good thing the contemporary church and synagogue do not normally practice strict tithing any more (I will argue as most everybody does these days that the New Testament church urged generosity—especially toward the poor—rather than strict tithing for its members). But, as with the storehouse tithe for the poor, how practical the Bible (yes, even the Old Testament) is concerning our use of money. So let’s have a party!



Robbing God?

Recently, Pope Francis visited the country of Brazil (Brasil), and, among other things, he walked through the Varginha slum, greeting the people warmly. As Time magazine put it:

Francis blasted what he said was a “culture of selfishness and individualism” that permeates society today, demanding that those with money and power share their wealth and resources to fight hunger and poverty.

“It is certainly necessary to give bread to the hungry — this is an act of justice. But there is also a deeper hunger, the hunger for a happiness that only God can satisfy,” he said.

(As a side note, I love Pope Francis’ priorities here—he addresses forthrightly both spiritual and physical hunger, and ranks them most appropriately—the one being of great importance and the other even more so.)

Now, what does all this have to do with robbing God? In a relatively familiar text in Malachi chapter 3, we read about “putting the whole tithe into the storehouse,” and by doing so, not robbing God (see verses 8-12). A tithe is ten percent of one’s income, and the “storehouse tithe” is that dedicated to the widow, the orphan, the alien (the non-native), and the Levite (the religious workers who have no land to support themselves). (All this is spelled out in detail back in Deuteronomy 14:28-29; see also 26:12-15.) Thus, in a nutshell, when we rob the poor, we rob God! God’s special people are the poor (see, for example, Proverbs 14:31; also Deut 10:17-22). I don’t know about you, but I certainly do not want to be accused of robbing God!



This is the first of a series of blogposts on the subject of tithing in the Bible.

“Render unto Caesar” redux

[This blog post is a lightly revised version of my Memorial Day post, updated for the Fourth of July, which is a national holiday in the United States, celebrating the signing of the “Declaration of Independence” back in 1776, and thus establishing the new nation as separate from England (after winning a “War of Independence,” of course).]