OFFERING TITHES AFFORDS THE OPPORTUNITY TO JOYFULLY CELEBRATE A COMMUNAL FEAST IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD
Daniel Block: Deuteronomy 14:22–29 is transitional, bringing to a conclusion a chapter on eating in the presence of Yahweh and introducing a series of instructions on charity that extends through chapter 15. With the latter it shares a common concern to loosen the Israelites’ hold on their material possessions.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Tithes easily sound like taxes and, when required of people, are really not that different. The distinction between tithes and taxes was even less in the ancient world, where state and religious bureaucracy were interconnected and where people were “taxed” for the support of public personnel, whether religious, political, or military. . . the overall mood is one of eating, drinking, and rejoicing in the presence of Yahweh, the God who has redeemed them and now is blessing them (14:29).
Duane Christensen: It was the individual worshiper’s responsibility to provide the means to maintain the religious establishment, but a major part of the offerings presented in the annual tithe were in fact consumed by the worshiper himself and his household. It is much easier to give when the giver’s own needs are met as well within the context of celebration in public worship. For the people of God in ancient Israel, tithing was not an option. Part of the offerings went to the support of the Levites, and in the three-year cycle a major part to the poor (symbolized by the widow, the orphan, and the resident alien in their midst). Nonetheless, the chief purpose of the tithe was “that you may learn to fear YHWH your God always” (v 23).
Keil: As the Israelites were to sanctify their food, on the one hand, positively by abstinence from everything unclean, so were they, on the other hand, to do so negatively by delivering the tithes and firstlings at the place where the Lord would cause His name to dwell, and by holding festal meals on the occasion, and rejoicing there before Jehovah their God.
Ryrie: The tithe had to be taken to the central sanctuary. This referred to what was known as the second tithe. Two tithes were required: an annual tithe for the maintenance of the Levites (Lev. 27:30; Nu. 18:21) and a second tithe brought to Jerusalem for the Lord’s feast (Dt. 14:22). Every third year, however, the second tithe was kept at home and used for the poor (Dt. 14:28). One’s use of money is often a barometer of his spirituality (cf. 1 John 3:17). This command was considered by Jewish interpreters to be for a second tithe (see Lev. 27:30+ and Num. 18:21 for the first; also Mal. 3:8+), which was brought to the central sanctuary either in kind or in money. Apparently the offerer could use a part of this tithe for a feast at the sanctuary (Dt 14:26-27).
Peter Pett: In total contrast with what has gone before, the tithe is holy food. It has been set aside for Yahweh and is for the priests (a tenth of it), the Levites (a good proportion of it) and Yahweh’s ‘pensioners’, the widows, the orphans and the resident aliens, with some being made available at the religious feasts held at the Sanctuary, the place which Yahweh chooses.
So having listed those thing which may or may not be eaten, he goes on to deal with eating in its highest form, eating before Yahweh of that which is His. This is the purest form of eating. They can do this because they are ‘clean’. He ignores the tithing of the increase among animals, a practice which was now common among them and did not therefore need to be referred to, and proceeds to deal with what will be a relatively new phenomenon in the future, the tithing of crops and vegetation. The abundance of this which will be produced when they enter the land will result in an additional purpose for the tithe.
R. K. Harrison: When Moses spoke these words, the principle of tithing was already well accepted in Israel. Tithes were first given as a token of gratitude (Gn. 14:20) or devotion (Gn. 28:22). Man’s wealth is a divine gift, and is held in trust for God (Dt. 8:18; Mt. 25:14). To mark the sacredness of this whole, a definite proportion is to be set aside and dedicated at the sanctuary. This is the so-called “second tithe”, as contrasted with that tithe of the produce given to maintain the Levites (see Nu. 18:26-28).
I. (:22) THE BASIC REQUIREMENT OF ANNUAL TITHING
A. Tithing is Essential for Every Family
“You shall surely”
This is not optional; not some type of freewill thank offering; this giving is commanded and the amount is commanded
B. Tithing is Proportional = Ten Percent
C. Tithing is a By-Product of Working Responsibly
“all the produce from what you sow,”
D. Tithing is Based on Your Harvest Which God Has Provided
“which comes out of the field every year.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The basic expectation is stated in the opening verse. All were familiar with the general practice, so no background explanation is needed. Whether tithe or tax, state bureaucracy requires income. The king and his court, the cult and its personnel—all need resources to survive and implement their programs. Since the king was chosen by God, the line between religious and political is blurred. Deuteronomy, like Leviticus (27:30–33) and Numbers (18:21–32), assumes that tithing is part of life.
Duane Christensen: This tithe is to be presented in the Feast of Booths, at the end of the agricultural year, to be consumed by the household of each worshiper, along with the priestly establishment at the central sanctuary. It should be noted that all the firstlings of the livestock were consumed at the central sanctuary, not just a tenth of them (see 15:19–20).
Michael Grisanti: Building on other tithing passages (Ge 14:20; 28:22; Lev 27:30–32; Nu 18:21–28), Moses commands the children of Israel to set aside one-tenth of their produce (grain, new wine, and oil) and the firstborn of their herds and flocks each year and devote them to the Lord. As families, they will eat from that “tithe” in the central sanctuary (“at the place he will choose”). The pedagogical purpose for this practice is to teach God’s chosen people to fear him always (cf. 4:10; 17:19). Their prosperity will not result from their irrigation or advanced agricultural techniques but is due to Yahweh’s fixed commitment to his covenantal promises (Craigie, 233). This abundance will not be caused by Canaan’s fertility god but by the one and only God of the world, Israel’s marvelous God.
II. (:23-27) THE BASIC REGULATIONS GOVERNING TITHING
A. (:23) Standard Practice
1. Place of Celebration
“And you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God,
at the place where He chooses to establish His name,”
2. Prescribed Offerings
“the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil,
and the first-born of your herd and your flock,”
3. Purpose of Celebration
“in order that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Deuteronomy has previously exhorted Israel to remember and not forget what God has done (e.g., 6:12; 7:18), with the danger in mind that Israel may begin to think that it is responsible for producing its own wealth (8:17). The tithe challenges any such misreading of reality. The required response is to fear God (see on 10:12–11:32, which repeatedly calls Israel to fear God; 10:12, 20). The tithe feast of Chapter 14 brings together an emphasis on rejoicing with a didactic purpose.
Eugene Merrill: More specifically, these were all edibles; for the presentation of these goods, in line with covenant ratification and renewal procedures, involved a meal shared by the Lord and the people alike at the dwelling place of the Great King, the central sanctuary (cf. Exod 23:19; 24:11; 34:26; Deut 12:5-7). The “eating” by the Lord was, of course, represented by the burning of the offerings whereas that by the people was literal and actual. Not to be overlooked is the fact that the underlying purpose for presenting the tithe was to instill within the Israelite a proper reverence for the Lord as the Sovereign, the one to whom he was ultimately accountable (v. 23).
B. (:24-26) Special Circumstances = Logistical Concessions Based on Geography
1. (:24) Determined by Distance from the Place of Worship
“And if the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you,”
Gerald Gerbrandt: First, the tithe is a response to God’s blessing. Not only does verse 24 refer to God’s blessing (cf. 12:7); it also makes this point more vividly by listing what Israel is to tithe: the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock (14:23). Here is an echo of Deuteronomy 7, with its focus on Israel’s election. After declaring Israel’s election (7:6) and its basis (7:7–11), the chapter turns to how it benefits Israel (7:12–26). The key verse there is verse 13: He will love you, bless you, and multiply you; he will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock, in the land that he swore to your ancestors to give you. Each example of blessing in Chapter 7 now is repeated in the same order, with the exception of the reference to multiplying you (herd replaces cattle). Tithing is possible because of God’s blessing, and it is a reminder of that blessing.
Daniel Block: Moses’ sympathetic disposition toward the people is evident in verses 24–25, where he recognizes the logistical difficulties that the requirement might pose for those who live far from the central sanctuary. When the Israelites experience the fulfillment of Yahweh’s blessing (7:13; 11:13–15), how will they carry the tithe, whether horticultural or animal, to the place of worship? Moses’ solution is both liberal and practical. Instead of packing up these goods and transporting them, the people may convert their value into silver. The worshipers were to wrap the silver in a cloth or bind it in a bag and carry it by hand to the place that Yahweh would choose to establish his name. Upon arrival at the sanctuary, the silver could be exchanged for beef or veal from the herd, mutton or lamb from the flock, and wine or other alcoholic drink.
2. (:25-26) Designated Transaction Instructions
“then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. 26 And you may spend the money for whatever your heart desires, for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires;”
3. (:26b) Devoted Joyful Participation
“and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God
and rejoice, you and your household.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: A tithe quite naturally draws to mind thoughts of giving away, of sacrificing, of losing. And yet the striking feature of this passage is that its tone is best captured by the term rejoicing rather than by a sense of giving away or sacrifice. For Deuteronomy, the tithe is a tithe of celebration.
Eugene Merrill: Like any other concession of this kind, it was subject to abuse by those who, like the moneychangers, would profit from the exchange by charging exorbitant rates.
Peter Pett: Note the emphasis on the feast as being fully satisfying. The land is being portrayed as providing fullness of bliss. With Yahweh dwelling among them as He has chosen to do, how could it be otherwise? It is implanting the hope of a blessed future. It was in embryo pointing forward to the everlasting kingdom.
C. (:27) Special Emphasis = Remember the Levites
“Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town,
for he has no portion or inheritance among you.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Even though it introduces a new element, verse 27 is part of this section rather than the following verses (as is suggested by the NRSV paragraph divisions). Since the Levites have no allotment in the land, they need special consideration (cf. 18:1). Numbers assigns the total tithe to the Levites with the expectation that they contribute one-tenth of it to the priests (18:21, 26). Deuteronomy may adjust this expectation but does not cancel it entirely. Even if the tithe celebration at the central sanctuary is lavish, at least for ancient times, there still is food left over. This verse reminds the people that despite the distinctive thrust of these verses, with all celebrating the blessing, the more traditional understanding of the tithe remains: the Levites must not be neglected.
III. (:28-29) THE BLESSING PROVIDED EVERY THIRD YEAR TO THE LEVITES AND THE DISADVANTAGED
A. (:28) Local Target for the Tithe Every Third Year
“At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The last two verses of the chapter present a third-year variation for the annual tithe (cf. 26:13–15). Every third year (probably understood as the third and sixth year of a seven-year cycle) the tithe is stored in the local community as a “food bank” for those in need, the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns.
Daniel Block: Rather than bringing their tithes to the central sanctuary, in the third and sixth years the farmers must deposit their tithes in their towns. It is unclear whether everyone must do this in the same third and sixth years of the seven-year cycle, or whether they are to be staggered, which would ensure a continuous supply of food for the Levites. Although in verse 27 “your gates” functions metaphorically for “your towns” (NIV), verse 28 uses the expression in its literal sense. Here they can be stored and distributed to the Levites.
Michael Grisanti: Rabbinic writings refer to three kinds of tithes (Tigay, Deuteronomy, 141–42; Averbeck, NIDOTTE, 2:1052–53): a “first” tithe given to the Levites (Nu 18:1–28); a second tithe, part of which was eaten by the Israelites who offered their tithe to Yahweh (Lev 27:30–31; Dt 14:22–27); and a third tithe (for the poor) every third year (Dt 14:28–29). Other scholars contend that there were two distinct tithes, with the second tithe being an additional tithe sent to local Levites every third year (14:28–29; Merrill, Deuteronomy, 241). A number of scholars identify only one tithe. In that case, the triennial tithe was sent to the local communities rather than to the central sanctuary (Averbeck, NIDOTTE, 2:1047; G. McConville, Law and Theology in Deuteronomy [Sheffield: JSOT, 1984], 68–78; Ridderbos, 180; Thompson, 184). Although one must remain tentative in light of the limited evidence, the second option appears to be the most likely. The central sanctuary (and the priests and Levites serving there) would always have the same needs. It seems unlikely that they could have functioned without the tithe for a year. Also, the tithe referred to in 26:12–15 suggests a distinct tithe.
B. (:29) Loving Target for the Tithe
“And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you,
and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town,
shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Sharing blessings is the way to ensure continuation of blessings from God.
Michael Grisanti: This loving care for the needy in their midst manifests a genuine commitment to enacting God’s desire for justice and equity among the members of his servant-nation. God promises to bless sincere conformity to his covenantal expectations.