March 4 Reading: Deuteronomy 14-16 Commentary
“You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year.” (Deut. 14:22)
“For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.'” (Deut. 15:11)
Deuteronomy 14 – Food and Tithing Principles
Israel had a special relationship with the Lord. Moses described it this way in Deut. 14:2:
“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
One way the people demonstrated this relationship was to avoid some daily practices and rituals of their neighbors. Being different served as an outward sign that Israel was different. They were dedicated to God’s agenda, not that of the world.
Israel avoided many things that characterized their neighbors. One item discussed in this chapter included mourning rituals (v. 1). They were not to cut themselves or shave their head when grieving a loved one.
Additionally, they were not to eat certain foods (vv. 3-21). The items mentioned in this section were first discussed in Leviticus 11:1-47. Here God calls the forbidden items “detestable” (v. 3), signifying a strong dislike.
One odd verse within the passage is Deut. 14:21: “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” It’s an odd notation that doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the text. However, the Canaanites did this. They boiled baby goats alive in their mother’s milk as part of sacrifices to their fertility gods. So once again, Israel was to be different than those around them.
Before the law ever existed, Abraham gave a tithe. It happened in Genesis 14:20 when he was visited and blessed by Melchizedek, King of Salem. Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the goods and spoils he recovered in his battle to rescue his nephew Lot who had been swept up in and captured in a regional battle between multiple kings (Gen. 14:1-17).
Abraham recognized God had blessed him. He viewed his gift to Melchizedek as a gift to the Lord. Abraham gave in thankfulness out of an increase of his personal wealth.
That is what tithing was always meant to be. It is giving one-tenth of your increase in wealth back to God, since it is he who allows you to be prosperous in the first place (see Deut. 8:17-18) and it all belongs to Him anyway (Ps. 24:1-2). It’s an expression of gratitude for all that He has done for us.
Deut. 14:22 specifically defines this concept:
“You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year.”
For Israel, it was clear directive to give from their increase. Every time God increased their wealth, they were to honor him with a tithe.
Should We Tithe Today?
Many see the tithe as an Old Testament only concept. They point to the New Testament’s emphasis on one’s attitude when giving instead of the percentage. Verses like like II Cor. 9:7 support this notion:
“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
However, in confronting the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23, Jesus reiterates the importance of the tithe. He says:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”
Did you catch that? Jesus said the Pharisees tithed as a demonstration of their righteousness, but they failed in following the things of the law Jesus considered more significant – justice, mercy and faith. But, in the end, he said they should have done both, not emphasize one over the other. They should have tithed and practiced justice, mercy and faith.
That seems to be Jesus confirming the legitimacy of the Old Testament tithe in a New Testament passage. So read that way, tithing is a present day practice for Jesus followers. And we can also do that with a cheerful heart, being thankful for God’s provision in our lives.
Deuteronomy 15 – Generosity Encouraged
While going into debt isn’t a sin, nowhere in Scripture does God speak favorably about it. It’s portrayed as foolish and always accompanied by danger (see Prov. 6:1-5 and Prov. 22:7). But even in the Old Testament, people found themselves in debt for one reason or another.
“And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release.” (v. 2)
This was one way the people were generous to the poor. There is no doubt, God has a special place in his heart for the poor. It is a constant theme throughout Scripture.
In Deuteronomy 15:7-11, he commands the people to be generous to those in need. They were to “not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs” (vv. 7-8).
That’s a great visual – an open hand, extended in giving to a person who needs your help. And they would have many opportunities to do this based on verse 11 where God said: “For the poor will never cease from the land…”
If they followed this command, God would bless them “in all your works and in all to which you put your hand” (v. 12). That’s how much God cared about the poor.
Deuteronomy 16 – Reviewing Special Festivals
Moses reviews the major festivals in Deuteronomy 16. They include the Passover, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Passover commemorated God “passing over” the Hebrews during the final plague in Egypt. It is instituted in Exodus 12:1-28 and discussed further in Leviticus 23:5-8 and Numbers 28:16-25. It was observed during Nisan (Abib), the first month of their sacred year.
For Israel, the Feast of Weeks (aka the Feast of Harvest – Ex. 23:16) began “seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain.” They gave a tribute freewill offering as the Lord blessed them. It is discussed additionally in Leviticus 23:15-21 and Numbers 28:26-31.
The Feast of Tabernacles (aka the Feast of Ingathering – Ex. 23:16) is also discussed in Leviticus 23:33-43 and Numbers 29:12-40. It was a harvest festival that included a pilgrimage where people remembered God’s goodness and how they had once lived in tents. Today it’s known as Succoth (from the Hebrew word meaning booths). It lasted for seven days and ended with a special ceremony.
Questions to Consider:
God called Israel “a holy people…chosen to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” That sounds a lot like how believers can feel about their relationship with God today.
Do you tithe? If not, what is keeping you from it?
Is your heart sensitive to those in need? Do you live life with an open hand, willing to give to those in need?
What other points would you want to know about in our Deuteronomy 14-16 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.