Friday, March 16, 2018

Tithing (3) Eat with the Lord

Leviticus says that the tithe belongs to the Lord, but we have to go to Deuteronomy for teaching about how it should be given to the Lord. The tithe was to be eaten in the presence of the Lord as a celebration.

You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your grain and new wine and olive oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts. Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the LORD your God at the place the LORD your God will choose—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns—and you are to rejoice before the LORD your God in everything you put your hand to (Deut 12:17-18).
This is surprising. The tithe is to be eaten by the people who gave it as a celebration. However, they are to not to eat in their own towns. The tithes were to be eaten near his tabernacle in Jerusalem, where the presence of the Lord dwelt. The tabernacle was eventually replaced by Solomon’s temple. The tithe was to be eaten in the presence of the Lord’s as a celebration of his goodness.
At first thought, it does not seem possible for the people to eat a tenth of their production during a celebration. However, the Israelites were expected to visit Jerusalem, three times a year
  • Passover — 1 week plus a sabbath
  • Feast of Weeks — 2 days
  • Feast of Tabernacles — 1 week plus a sabbath.
A trip to Jerusalem would take two or three days there and a similar time to get back. Thus, a family would spend the following times in Jerusalem or travelling their and back.
  • Passover — 2 weeks
  • Feast of Weeks — 1 week and a day
  • Feast of Tabernacles — 2 weeks.
An Israelite family would spend 5 weeks plus a day away from home each year. This is a tenth of their time (5.15 / 52 = 10). While they were away, they would need to eat. While travelling, the wastage of food would be greater. In addition, they usually made a contribution to priests for sacrifices at the temple (Lev 23:8,19,36)

Each family was expected to take their servants, the Levites, widows, orphans and foreigners living in their town with them to enjoy the celebration in the Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks (Deut 16:11) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut 16:14).

Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete. (Deut 16:14-15).
The entire community was to be included in the celebration. The families with crops were expected to share their tithe with other people from their community.

Families would be away from home celebrating the feasts for a tenth of their time. They were expected to share with others during that time, so it is not surprising that they would consume a tenth of what they produce during their visits to Jerusalem.

The tithe demonstrates the graciousness of God. He says that the tithe belongs to him because he created the earth and gave its produce to the people. Then he tells them that they can consume his share in a magnificent celebration. He takes a portion of the what he had blessed his people with and gives it back to them as a blessing they can use for a celebration. What amazing generosity and kindness.

Travel Costs
If people had to travel a long way to Jerusalem and carrying the tithe was too difficult, they could sell it for silver, and buy what they needed when they got to Jerusalem.

If that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD our God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice (Deut 14:24-26).
This practice made life simpler, but it had a cost. The person tithing would be selling their produce at a place where many other people would be selling. When they got to Jerusalem, everyone would be buying. They would be selling in a weak market for low prices and buying in a tight market for high prices. Therefore, by swapping their tithe for silver, they would lose out. Only those with really good crops would be able to afford this economic loss.

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