By Elizabeth Yeamans Simrell (Guest Blogger)
Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 13-15
Key Scripture Verses: Deuteronomy 14:22 (NIV, Life Application Bible)
“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always.”
Tithing is sometimes hard to teach or talk about in the church and members of the congregation don’t like to talk about money and asking each other for money—it’s not comfortable. But, the Bible has a lot to say about tithing. This passage struck me as a different lesson on tithing that I found interesting. To make sure I presented this accurately, I consulted a couple of commentaries: Layman’s Bible Commentary and Believer’s Bible Commentary. In most of the tithing verses that I am most familiar with, we are told we are to give our firsts—first harvest, firstborn of our flocks and herds, and our bests—best crops, best animals without blemish—we are told to give the “cream of the crop” to God first, before taking for ourselves.
In this passage, we are told to set aside a tenth of the crops and the firstborn, just as expected, but also to enjoy them in the Lord’s presence in a place he calls his own. In other words, we are to celebrate with these tithes and give the glory to God in reverence and thanks. This seems to be a different tithe. The commentaries indicate that perhaps this is a second tithe set aside for feast holidays.
While Thanksgiving is around the corner now and we are thinking to prepare big holiday meals and to give thanks to God for his many blessings, perhaps our scripture is about that kind of tithing—saving and setting aside a tenth of our best, after we have already given God his due, to celebrate with him, to share our blessings of food and drink with each other and those less fortunate. The scriptures emphasize not forgetting the Levites who have no allotment of their own crops and herds and not forgetting to feed and share food and drink with foreigners, fatherless, and widows. It sounds a lot like the historical, American Thanksgiving feast, doesn’t it?
The commentaries emphasize that tithes had several purposes: to give glory to God in reverence and thanksgiving for all of the many blessings he bestows upon us, to regularly put God and his purposes first in our thinking and in our actions—doing so would keep us ever reminded of putting him first, for the whole household to be mindful of saving and preparing for a family meal and thus being mindful collectively of the tithe as a form of worship as they all put something aside for the “sanctuary meal” (Layman’s Bible Commentary); to provide for the priests and their families, as well as for the poor, as there would be a communal storehouse for providing for them and every three years they would specifically take what was stored in the storehouses and share it with them; and that regular tithing would result in their having more than enough—reminding them that their blessings come from God and his blessing their ability to labor and blessing their crops with rain, sunshine, and his favor. This last point reminds me of how Jesus and his disciples fed the large crowds with only fishes and loaves and how the baskets literally overflowed with leftovers beyond what was initially provided—because Jesus provided beyond what they offered.
So, the tithing in these scriptures seems to refer to tithing above and beyond the first tenth of their earnings–a second tithe of pitching in together for reverence and thanksgiving, offering their extras on a regular basis for sharing with others.
And in all of these scriptures, the emphasis appears to be not in the amount but in the willingness to give what they had proportionately.
Most of us are very spoiled and have more than enough, even when we feel strapped. If we really look at our priorities and how we spend our wealth, we have something to give, something to set aside for a celebration or Thanksgiving meal, something we could share with someone less fortunate, ways that we could willingly give of ourselves to further God’s purposes and to share his love in fellowship. May we generously and regularly give our tithes to God and to his purposes. May we give our “second tithes” to celebration of the many blessings he has given us and may we share that with others in his name.