July 1, 2020

What do we learn when we tithe? (Deut 14:22-23)

What do we learn when we tithe? (Deut 14:22-23)
Deut 14:22-23 “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.

The Grammar: The "you shall tithe" phrase is emphasized in the Hebrew grammar.  This phrase helps us to focus on the power and authority of the benefactor who requires this to be done—the LORD himself.

The Product: While the text, in its earliest context, referred to agricultural produce, i.e., the economic products of grain, new wine and fresh oil from the land (see v. 23 and also refer backwards to 7:13), the text in the 21st Century context for believers in SG can point to whatever economic output that contributes to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) tabulations.

The Place: Realise the balance here: On the one hand, there is no freedom to bring this produce to wherever and for whatever purpose the giver intends. This prevents the giver from donating to a cause or charity far removed from the LORD but nevertheless counted it wrongly as tithing to the LORD!  No, the tithe shall be taken to the place that "he will choose" eventually after they cross the river into the Promised Land (note the Deuteronomy historical setting of the verse).  

On the other hand, there is full freedom to decide on the particular economic activity to be involved in, and to eventually bring the products of it to the LORD as tithe.  Do bear in mind that these same products would eventually be consumed by the giver anyway!  Readers need to focus not only on what leaves the giver's hands, but also what eventually goes into his/her own stomachs, or benefits the giver directly/indirectly ultimately ("you shall eat the tithe of your grain..." v. 23).

The Purpose of the Tithing Activity: When a tithe giver regularly practices the giving of the tithes, he or she will soon realise that the verb of his/her own actions is not "give" but "return".  This would remind worshippers that their prosperity does not depend entirely on their abilities or technologies or economic acumen.  In the terrain of the Promised Land, the abundant produce that would come by WOULD NOT BE the result of their own clever irrigation canals/systems nor their state-of-the-art agricultural techniques.  

That phrase "that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always" reminds us of the outcome of this activity—the giver would be taught that it was non other than the bountiful and gracious provisions of their God that brought them whatever that was now in their hands.  Reverence and awe for the LORD would be an ideal outcome of all this.

This important teaching for the people before the start to live on the land of the LORD was also taught more than once elsewhere,

Deuteronomy 12:5–7 [5] But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go, [6] and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. [7] And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the LORD your God has blessed you. (ESV)

Ponder: What are we returning to the LORD today?