A tithing of each year's produce of the cultivated ground was to be made; and this tithe was to be brought to the place which the Lord should choose, as also the firstling of the herds and flocks; and there a sacrificial meal was to be partaken of, that Israel might learn to fear Jehovah their God always, reverencing him as their Ruler, and rejoicing in him as the Giver of all good.
Strong drink ; shecar ( שֵׁכַר ). "Any drink which can inebriate, whether that is made from grain, or the juice of apples, or when honey is boiled into a sweet and barbarous potion, or the fruit of the palm [dates], is expressed into liquor, and the duller water is colored by the prepared fruits" (Jerome, 'De Vit. Cler.').
A threefold cord; or, the triple use of property.
These details which so frequently occur respecting the use of property, specially of that which is possessed or gained in the form of produce, may seem burdensome. Probably, to us, they would be so, but it is nevertheless a topic of perpetual interest for our day, to see how tenderly and lovingly the Great Father trained his people, by such minute regulations as were needful for them, to the practice and perception of principles which were to be ultimately the possession of the world—principles which would be a perpetual spring of holy and benevolent gladness. We say, advisedly, "practice and perception of principles," rather than " perception and practice." For though it may seem as if perception must come first, yea, though indeed it is logically prior to practice, yet when a race tainted with heathen customs and tendencies has to be educated out of them, the sure mode of effecting this is by giving them rules to be put into practice, as m leverage to raise them to value the principles which were the basis of those rules. Now in the paragraph before us we have "a threefold cord" of duty with regard to the religious use of the produce of the field. The question (with which the Exposition has dealt) whether the third-named tithe was actually such, or simply a special application of the second, does not affect the homiletic treatment of the paragraph before us. There is here indicated to us a triple use which was to be made of the produce of the land. The enactment, however, is so framed as to be an appeal to the religion and devotion of the people; it is not a mere civil statute, enjoining that, if such devotement is not made, it is to be recoverable under pains and penalties. If a man failed in his duty in these respects, there was no compulsory enforcement thereof. It was a sin before the Lord.
I. THE FIRST APPLICATION OF PRODUCE WAS FOR GOD 'S SERVICE . It is taken for granted here that this was well understood (cf. Le 27:30). Hence we find the general precept in Proverbs 3:1-35 , " Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase." There was to be a thankful recognition of God as the Author of all their mercies, without whose care and bounty no land would yield its supply; while there was also to be a recognition of themselves as devoted to the Lord, and that so completely and entirely, that the maintenance of his Name, honor, worship, and ordinances among them, was to be their first and chief concern. This twofold recognition was to find corresponding practice in the offering of the first tenth of their produce for God. Now we have, under the New Testament, no such detailed precepts. The appeal of apostles there is rather to honor, gratitude, love; while for the most part they take for granted that these emotions will prompt to a worthy course. Take, e.g. such an exhortation as this, "See that ye abound in this grace also … for ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," etc. If love to Christ is maintained in due fervor, it will prompt to corresponding devotion; and if by such constraining devotion, offerings to and for God are regulated, there will be no need, as indeed no one now has the right, to tell any man how much he ought to give to God. When a man carries out in all respects the precept," Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," that will certainly include and ensure his honoring the Lord with his substance. The faith was " once delivered to the saints," i . e . once for all, that they might guard and honor it, and also diffuse it through the world, and, without much detailed injunction, it is assumed that believers will be ready to devote themselves, heart and soul, to the spread of their Master's honor.
II. A SECOND RELIGIOUS APPLICATION THEREOF WAS TO FAMILY AND HOUSEHOLD USE . ( Proverbs 3:22-27 .) When Israel should go up to the place the Lord their God should choose, they would go up to religious sacrifice and service. Hence all their family meals, then and there, would be baptized with the religious spirit. So all-pervading would be the presence of, and so sure the fellowship with, the Lord their God, that their family feasts on such occasions would be regarded as " eating before the Lord their God." And by thus eating before the Lord on these special occasions, they would learn to hallow home joys on every occasion. So Proverbs 3:23 intimates: "that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always." Considerable latitude was allowed them according to their distance from the place of meeting, etc.; they might first turn the produce into money, and then the money into provision, and so on. And they might purchase what they desired. For they were not slaves, but free men. They were the loved and happy people of the Lord, and as such were to rejoice before him in their family feasts, at their sacred festivals, that from the impulses of joy and gladness so sanctified then, they might come to realize how near God was to them, and how he would have them glory in him as theirs all the year round. It is not possible to overrate the value of this, even now . By a truly religious and devout man all the minor affairs of life are lifted up into the religious region. And he is not only at liberty to enjoy his possessions, when he has sanctified the firstfruits for God, but he ought so to enjoy them. God "hath given us all things richly to enjoy." And when a godly man gathers his family around him at his table, with the table abounding in ample provision, he may then joyfully "eat before the Lord his God," in the full assurance that such enjoyment is a part of the Divine intent, and that the love and care of God may and do put their own seal of hallowed and hallowing mirth upon the use of common things.
II. A THIRD RELIGIOUS APPLICATION OF PRODUCE WAS FOR THE USE AND ENJOYMENT OF OTHERS . ( Proverbs 3:28 , Proverbs 3:29 .) Whether this special use which was enjoined for every third year involved the setting apart a third tithe, or whether it was a triennial application of the second, is a point the discussion of which belongs to others. But either way, the principle, we conceive, is the same, which we understand to be this, "Let a man be a man all round." God first, then home, then him neighbors. Such is to be the order of his action. A special care was to be taken of the Levite (who, by the way, was to be thought of every year), as having charge of religious arrangements, but, besides these, how wide a scope is here opened up to a man's kindness and generosity! "The stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow … shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied." Is this an instance of the hardness of Judaism? They do not understand it who speak thus of it. Its spirit was kindness itself; for here the showing of goodness and benevolence to the poor and the needy is made a part of their religion. Need we ask the question whether Christianity has dropped this out? Details may change; principles, never! The Apostle James tells that the New Testament ritual is, "To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." Let us ask, in conclusion, Which part of this threefold cord could be broken without serious injury? For we see here that Judaism, in this triple direction of duty, does but recognize the triple relations of human life. We are related first and foremost to our God, to whom our supreme allegiance is due. We are related next to our home, to our families and households, whose interests and happiness it is our first earthly business to promote; and then to our fellow-citizens, to whom we are bound to do good, where we can and when we can. Finally, by way of ensuring the right discharge of other duties, special care is taken to guide Israel in regard to the right use of property. There is singular, yea, superhuman wisdom in this. Where a man's getting and giving are right, he is not likely to be far wrong in anything. Wisdom in adding to, and giving from, the contents of the purse, is a fair guarantee of wisdom in other directions. "The love of money is a root of all evil," and by so much as love of money tends to deteriorate character, by so much will its right use tend to elevate it. And the lifting up of character is the surest sign of the blessing promised (verse 29).
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The second tithe.
We adopt the usual view, that the lawgiver is here regulating the disposal of what, in later times, was called "the second tithe." The hypothesis that the book was written at a late date, when the gift of tithes to the Levites, prescribed in Numbers 18:1-32 ; had fallen into disuse, is unsupported by evidence. The provision in Deuteronomy would have furnished no support worth speaking of to the enormous Levitical establishments of the post-Davidic period (1 Chronicles 23-27.; 2 Chronicles 29:1-36 .); nor are we prepared to concede, what is often so conveniently assumed, the non-authenticity of these sections of the chronicler. We learn—
I. THAT PIETY AND CHARITY ARE TO BE LIBERALLY PROVIDED FOR IN THE APPORTIONMENT OF INCOME . The tithes were to be faithfully and punctually set apart as a first charge upon the Jew's income. The second or vegetable tithe was appointed to be consumed in feasts at the sanctuary, or, in the third year, at home. A lesson is taught here as to the duty of liberal, systematic, and conscientious giving for religious and charitable purposes. Christians, it is true, are not under Law, but under grace. But it will scarcely be pleaded that on this account they are less bound to liberality than Jews were. The argument is all the other way: if this was done under Law, how much more ought to be done under the impulse of love to Christ! Unfortunately, the duty of systematic and proportionate giving is but little recognized. It would put many a Christian to the blush if he would sit down at the year's end, and
II. THAT OBEDIENCE TO THE SPIRIT OF A LAW IS OF GREATER IMPORTANCE THAN OBEDIENCE TO ITS LETTER . (Verses 24-26.) God is not a hard master—reaping where he has not sown, and gathering where he has not strawed ( Matthew 25:4 ). He is tenderly considerate of the circumstances of his people. He asks no more from them than they are able to render. Where laws could not be kept in the letter, modifications were introduced which made obedience practicable. This is seen in the accommodation of the laws of sacrifice to the circumstances of the poor (Le Deuteronomy 5:7 , etc.), in the rules for commutation ( Leviticus 27:1-34 .), in the relaxation of the law about eating flesh ( Deuteronomy 12:21 ), in this law of tithes. Gleaming through these changes, it is easy to detect the principle that the letter of an ordinance is in all cases subordinate to the spirit of obedience which manifests itself through it; and that, while obedience to the letter is required where possible, the will, in circumstances where it cannot be observed, will readily be accepted by Jehovah for the deed.
III. THAT PROVIDED RELIGIOUS MOTIVES PREDOMINATE , AND OTHER DUTIES ARE NOT NEGLECTED , THE ENJOYMENT OF WHAT WE HAVE IS PLEASING TO GOD . (Verses 25, 26.) True religion is not ascetic. It does not frown our joy. It regulates, but does not seek to banish, the pleasures of the festive board, and the flow of the soul connected therewith ( John 2:1-12 ; 1 Corinthians 10:27 ; 1 Timothy 6:18 ). The sanctuary services were associated with feasts, in which, of course, religious motives were expected to predominate. The eating was " before the Lord," and the guests were invariably to include the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. This would give a high-toned character to the feast, and would preclude coarse debauchery. Festivities should be so conducted that God's presence can be invoked, and his blessing asked on all that is said and done.
IV. THAT THE ENJOYMENT OF WHAT WE HAVE IS ENHANCED BY SHARING IT WITH OTHERS . (Verse 29.) This is a truth recognized in all festivity. But the Law gave the truth a peculiar turn when it bade the Jew seek his guests among the classes who were most in need. The Savior would have us recall our feasting to the like pattern ( Luke 14:12-14 ). Each feast of the kind prescribed would be an invaluable education of the disinterested affections in their purest exercise. How far we have departed from this idea may be seen in the stiff, exclusive, and ceremonious, if often superb and stately, dinner-parties and public feasts of modern society. Which type of feast contributes most to happiness? And is it not in fulfilling the duties of a warm-hearted love that we are most entitled to expect blessing from our Maker (verse 29)? When Jesus made his great supper, he acted on his own principle, and invited the "poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind," to come and sit down at it ( Luke 14:21 ).—J.O.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Systematic provision for fellowship with God.
From the arrangements about ordinary diet, we pass now to the minute directions about "eating before God." A tithe of the corn, the wine, and the oil, together with the firstlings of their flocks and herds, must be devoted to the purposes of fellowship. It is clear from this, then, that God designed a systematic storing of the tenth part of the Jewish income for the purposes of religion. If the Jew resided far from the tabernacle, then he was to sell the tithe, and turning it into money, he was to go up with this to the central altar, and there invest in whatever his soul desired, and partake of it all before God. In this the Levite was to have his share. Over and above all this, every third year there was to be a second tithe devoted to the delectation of the poor. Now, we learn from these arrangements—
I. THAT FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD IS THE CROWN OF TRUE RELIGION . A feast with God, he taking the best portions, his priests the next best, and the offerer joyful over the remainder of the sacrifice, constituted the glory of the Jewish ritual. All the sin offerings, burnt offerings, and meat offerings were valueless if not crowned by the peace offering and its feast of fellowship. No wonder our Lord makes out fellowship to be the substance of eternal life, when in his prayer he says, "And this is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" ( John 17:3 ). If we are not led up into this acquaintanceship, our religion is a name and not a reality.
II. THE FELLOWSHIP IS WELL WORTH ANY EXPENSE IT MAY INVOLVE . While it is, of course, true that God's blessings are gratuitous, "without money and without price," it is also true that a niggardly soul will fall out of fellowship. In fact, fellowship with God will seem so precious as to be worth infinitely more than all our possessions, and any proportion of these required by God for the maintenance of fellowship will seem a small price. Our conviction will be that of the psalmist, "The Law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver."
Now, while God's favor is given freely, there must evidently be something about which he and we can have fellowship. In other words, fellowship requires a medium. Fellowship means having something in common. When we analyze all we have, we find that it is all "the gift of God." Jesus is his gift; the Holy Spirit is his gift; money is his gift; every good thing is his gift ( James 1:17 ). He has surely every right, then, to say to his people, "You must dedicate a proportion of my gifts to you, for the purposes of fellowship; let us have a tithe in common; let us rejoice mutually over it as ours ." This was the principle underlying Jewish tithing—it is the principle underlying all genuine beneficence. We are only returning to God such a proportion of what he gives as shall be the medium of fellowship.
A peace offering at the tabernacle was a most precious commodity. It was an animal regarding which the worshipper and God agreed to say, "It is ours ," and each to feast upon it. It was the organ and means of fellowship. It was a delight to God and to man. Who would not pay anything required for such a privilege? Man is honored most highly in being allowed such a partnership with God.
III. THE SENSE OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD IN THE FEAST IS THE REAL PRESERVATION OF MAN FROM UNDUE INDULGENCE . It is noticeable that "wine" and "strong drink" (De) might be included in the feast before God. The safety of the partaker lay in the sense of fellowship and its consequent consecration. Just as Paul afterwards maintained that "every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer" ( 1 Timothy 4:4 , 1 Timothy 4:5 ). It is the unhallowed use of God's gifts which is the danger. The temperance reformation will do well to keep in view this Divine side of the question, where in the last resort the stress must be laid.
IV. THE FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD IMPLIES THE INVITATION OF OTHERS TO SHARE THE BLESSING WITH US . Our households and the Levite are to be partakers with us of our sacred feasts. For God does not encourage lonely satisfactions; but as he calls us into his fellowship, it is on the understanding that we shall invite others, and make the fellowship a family thing. Now, the support of the Levites was to be a matter of cheerfulness and religious privilege. It was to be a joy embraced rather than a mere debt moodily discharged. It is surely here that "ministerial support" must be pleaded and advanced. It is not to be something doled out, but a feast of fellowship, the call of God's minister to share in our good fortune and success.
V. THE CARE OF THE POOR MUST ALSO BE PUT UPON THE BASIS OF FELLOWSHIP . It has been made a matter of law. And doubtless there is a noble element in the fact that a nation, passing beyond what old moralists called duties of debt , has entered upon duties of merit . Still, the national obligation embodied in the "poor rates" is apt to sap a certain amount of individual sympathy. The care of the poor is not the feast of joy and fellowship God meant it to be a The three years' system brought under our notice in this passage was an effort, apparently, to bring the lonely and needy classes up to the standard of fellowship and of joy that the religious Jew himself had attained. It was the systematic effort to make the needy ones glad before God . And it is here that we find the goal of our exertions, whether to support a minister, to comfort a stranger, or a fatherless child, or a widow. Let all be guests of our love, and lifted, if possible, into our light and fellowship with God. For this we should strive evermore.
VI. THOSE WHO THUS HONOR GOD WILL BE BLESSED AND HONORED BY HIM . Not, of course, that systematic beneficence should be in any sense a speculation. It is not beneficence if it is a selfish investment. But at the same time, God blesses the system which recognizes obligation to him and tries to discharge it. The accurate survey of circumstances which systematic giving implies tends to financial success. There is no reason why religious men should not be "successful merchants." Were systematic beneficence more general, there would be less failure and heart-burning in the walks of business.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
God's claim upon our money gains.
In every province of human life God requires his proprietorship to be recognized. The seventh part of our time is hallowed for his service. The firstfruits of corn were to be devoted to religious uses. The firstborn in the household belonged to God, and was to be redeemed by substitution. And now, of all their yearly gains, one-tenth was claimed by God.
I. THE GROUND OF GOD 'S CLAIM . His claim proceeds from his proprietorship. Towards the Hebrews he was obviously and directly landlord. He had put them into possession of their estates, and rightfully could exact from them a rent. And with respect to all national substance, God is absolute Proprietor. He has an original and indefeasible right as Creator; and it is his supreme power that maintains in existence the treasures of the earth. Even the power we have to accumulate wealth is derived from the same beneficent Source. It is his gift , not that he has conveyed to us the irresponsible right in it, but simply in the sense that we had nothing with which to purchase it. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof."
II. A DEFINITE PROPORTION DEMANDED . It was competent for God to make such terms as he pleased with men. He might justly have permitted for our own use a bare existence, and required us to devote to him the residue of our gains. Or he might very properly have exacted as his tribute one-half. Whatever had been his will in the matter, it would become us meekly to acquiesce. He did make known his will very clearly to the Jews, and his terms were very generous. So small a portion as one-tenth he condescended to take, and even this was expended in advantage for the nation. Many significant hints have we that, in unwritten form, this part of his will was made known to ether nations. Among heathen tribes we find the custom prevails of consecrating one-tenth of their harvests unto idol gods; and when Abraham returned from the conquest of the invaders, he gave to Melchizedek the tithe of all his spoils. Hence we may regard the law, not as exclusively Jewish, but as intended for all peoples.
III. THE METHOD OF ASSESSMENT . No official assessor was appointed. The cost of collection was nil . Each man was to act as his own assessor, and to separate, at harvest-time, God's share of corn and wine and oil. It was a transaction between each man and his God. It was Israel's privilege to live under the shield of Jehovah's arm, and therefore "ever in his Great Taskmaster's eye." The penalty for dishonesty was not immediate, nor visible. Every plan was devised to suit the convenience of the debtor. He might bring his tithe to the temple, either in kind or in coin. Jehovah was no hard Taskmaster, but a considerate and generous King. Giving to him was only another form of receiving. The absence of intermediary officers was a spiritual advantage. It brought each man into direct contact with God, and taught him to act with integrity towards the "Searcher of hearts."
IV. THE EMPLOYMENT OF GOD 'S TITHE . The tithe here spoken of is not the tithe of all profits, which was due to the Levite, but a second tithe. The first tithe was regarded as an equivalent to the tribe of Levi, for Levi's share in the allotted possessions. Each man in the twelve tribes received, in the original distribution of land, one-twelfth more than his due, from the fact that Levi did not participate. In return for this increment of property, each proprietor paid to the tribe of Levi yearly one-tenth of the produce of the laud. This was due as a legal right, and as a just equivalent for non-participation in the territory. But this second tithe was peculiarly the Lord's. Nevertheless, it was returned, with added blessing, into their own bosoms. Its first use was to afford a banquet for the offerers themselves. The temple was to be the scene of sacred feasting. The guests might select such viands as pleased their taste. The overshadowing presence of Jehovah would serve as a sufficient check against excess. To this banquet, in which the entire household shared, they were to invite the Levite, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. The essential idea thus embodied was philanthropy. The institution was intended to foster a spirit of benevolence and charity. The presence of the poor in their midst was to be accounted a benefit. It offered scope for the exercise of noblest dispositions. There was to be no niggardly stint in this provision, for it was at Jehovah's cost, and the occasion was to be characterized by unrestrained joy.
V. THE MORAL ADVANTAGES WHICH ENSUED .
1. It served as a practical reminder of God ' s proprietorship in them and in their possessions . Nothing is more easy than to forget cur obligations; and such forgetfulness is an immeasurable loss. Not an item was there in their persons, property, or enjoyments, but came from the hand of a generous God.
2. It was a potent check upon their worldly-mindedness . The propensity for selfish avarice is indigenous in human nature. Every wise man will welcome any breakwater that will withstand this mischievous tide of cupidity. Thus God, with wondrous forethought, provided a safeguard against the abuse of prosperity. He designs to make even worldly gain serve as a stepping-stone to piety. Money is nothing more than means to an end. Reconciliation with God, and personal holiness,—these are to be the aims of human life.
3. It fostered kindly dispositions among all classes of the people . Though, as the children of Abraham, they enjoyed great external privileges, they were not to despise the stranger. Yea, he too might be admitted to a full share in their blessings. Brotherly love is a reciprocal boon: both parties are blessed. The fountain of love is replenished in the very act of giving. The helped today may become the helper tomorrow. We are only stewards of God's possessions.—D.