Thursday, June 16, 2011

I'm reading a book by Allen P. Ross and I found these two pages illuminating.

Tithing and Sacrificial Giving

In addition to the sacrificial offerings that were to be made, worshippers also were to bring their required tithes and freewill offerings to the sanctuary. On the surface tithing sounds like a very simple calculation---10 percent. But the laws for Israel’s stewardship were more complex.

The regular tithes and offerings were legislated in Leviticus 27:30-31; Numbers 18:8-13, 19-32; Deuteronomy 14:22-23; 26:12-15; and Nehemiah 10:35-39. The people could not pledge their tithes (Lev. 27), for that would make it look like a freewill offering---they could not pledge what already belonged to God.

At the outset an offering was given to the priests, either 10 percent or 2 percent. Then the standard tithe (10 percent) was paid to the Levites, covering all forms of income. But there was also a second tithe, a budgeted 10 percent to be spent in Jerusalem at the three annual festivals. Then, in the third and the sixth years of the seven year cycle, a third tithe, properly known as the poor tax, was due. Thus, a faithful Israelite family could pay anywhere between 22 percent and 30 percent in a given year. Poor people would bring tithes as well, but they would have had to glean in the fields of willing rich people to have something to give to the Lord.

Above and beyond the yearly tithes, there were other financial obligations under the law. Fields were not to be planted in the seventh year, which meant that over a seven-year cycle people would relinquish up to one-seventh of their income. The same was true of the Year of Jubilee; accordingly, every forty-ninth year there would be little or no income, so people had to prepare for the loss of that amount too. But in the Jubilee all debts had to be canceled, possessions returned, and lands restored. Someone who had accumulated a good deal of wealth over a forty-year period might find Jubilee costly if the laws were obeyed.

To all this we must add the animal sacrifices. Three times a year the Israelites were to go to the sanctuary, and each time they were to bring a few animals and some foods per family. If they had major sins to deal with as well, the reparation offering would be a factor in what it cost to live under the law; it required a guilty person to restore what was defrauded and pay an additional 20 percent to the sanctuary.

Farmers were to leave the corners of their fields for the poor. How much of the field made up the “corners” depended on the generosity of the farmer. If they obeyed the laws, then the poor would have food and something to bring to the Lord.

Charitable gifts were also expected from the devout. The spirit of the law was to love the neighbor, take care of the widow and the orphan, and help the poor and the foreigner. These had no monetary values placed on them, but certainly would have cost something (e.g., the Good Samaritan). There was also the ruling that a rich and responsible relative would pay off the debts of his near kinsmen in order to keep the land in the tribe. This was not always charity; it could be a good investment. But no devout wealthy person could allow his relative to be sold into servitude.

Finally, people also made vows and freewill offerings, promising to give something to the Lord that was above what was required. Hannah’s generous offering was the fulfillment of vows she made and the expression of her deep faith and gratitude. Moreover, even when worshippers wanted to praise the Lord, they would bring a peace offering, called the sacrifice for praise. If they simply wanted to declare their love for the Lord, then they would bring the same for a freewill offering. One simply did not think of going before the Lord empty-handed. The spirit of true worship is gratitude, and generosity is the evidence of gratitude.

All of this adds up to a sizeable financial responsibility for those under the law who professed to be righteous worshippers. But it was all necessary because the laws were part of a full socio-economic system, not just the support of a religious organization---although that would be no small task since the Levites who were to be supported were one-twelfth of the nation. This is why it is not easy to transfer the rules of tithes and offerings over to the church---a simple 10 percent is a small part of what the Israelites paid. If people try to live under the law today, they cannot ignore all of these covenant obligations.

Even though Christians are not under Israel’s law as their binding constitution, their obligations are not less than Israel’s. To go back under the regulations of the law, even if possible, would be to go back under a whole system of life that is no longer in place. Yet what the law revealed about the will of God is still binding for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16), that is, the spirit of the law remains; so giving, and giving generously, to the Lord and to the needy is part of spiritual devotion and worship. But the New Testament has a higher standard. Because we live in the fulfillment of the promises and have been sanctified before God forever by the one complete and sufficient sacrifice, all our time belongs to God, all our talents are for his use, and all material possessions are his. We are to live a life of total dedication to the Lord, being willing to give everything to him, willing to use everything for his glory. The point is that devout worshippers acknowledge through their giving that they owe everything to God, even though God in his goodness allows them to retain most of it for their use.* Those who refuse to give anything, or who give what is left over and unusable to God (Mal. 1:6-14), are not worshipping in spirit and truth.

* This is the point of the message in Deuteronomy 8. God warned the people that when they settled in the land and became wealthy and comfortable they were never to forget that God gave them everything they possessed. If they did not give him the credit, he would take it all away.

--from Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory

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