Saturday, March 17, 2018

Tithing (4) Caring for Levites

The Levites were one of the twelve tribes of Israel. They are the descendants of Levi, who was Jacob’s third son. The Levites were called to serve God. They were responsible for carrying and maintaining the tabernacle while the children of Israel travelled through the wilderness into the promised land.

Aaron was a Levite. The priests serving in the temple were always selected from his descendants, ie one branch of the Levite tribe.
The Levites were not allocated agricultural land when they entered the promised land (Num 18:21-24). Instead, they were allocated forty cities spread throughout the land.

The towns of the Levites in the territory held by the Israelites were forty-eight in all, together with their pasturelands (Jos 21:41).
Once the temple was built in Jerusalem, the Levites were rostered times to serve there (1 Chron 24:20-31). Some Levite families were rostered to be singers and musicians in the temple (1 Chron 25). Other families were rostered to be gatekeepers and ushers, ensuring that people visiting the temple knew where to go (1Chon 26:1-19). Other Levite families maintained the storehouses in which offerings made to the temple were stored until they were needed (1Chon 26:1-19).

The Levites spent some of their time serving in the temple, and they had not been allocated agricultural land, so they might not be able to produce enough to support themselves. God provided for the Levites through the tithe (Deut 18:1-2).

Do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands (Deut 14:27-29).
When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied (Deut 26:12).
At the end of every third year, the tithe was to be taken to their own towns and stored to be available for the Levites, and others who are poor (Amos 4:4). Some commentators have argued that this is a second tithe, on top of the one to be taken to Jerusalem, but the text in Deuteronomy does not say that. (It makes God seem mean, whereas, the tithe represented his generosity). I think it is more consistent with his grace that every third year, the people did not need to take their tithe to the temple but were to take into their towns and give it to the Levites. The Levites were responsible for distributing some of this food to foreigners, widows, and orphans.

According to the census taken in the wilderness, the Levites were only a small tribe. The largest tribe Judah was four times as large. The Levites were less than a twentieth of the population, so they did not need a tenth of the food produced every year. They were able to engage in productive activities when they were not rostered to the temple, so they did not need to get all their upkeep from the tithe. They had pasturelands around their towns (Jos 21:41), so they would be able to keep some of the livestock for milk and wool.

Getting a tenth of the nation’s production every would be more than they needed. Getting the tithe every third year would be enough for them to live well. The law does not specify a national standard for the third year. People could choose which year they stayed at home, provided that it was every third year. This could mean that the Levites might get a third of the tithe every year.

This is more grace. The Levites received a gift to sustain their life. The Israelites got the gift of a year off from travel to the temple.

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