You shall truly tithe all the increase of your seed, that the field brings forth year by year.…
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" (XXX) 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, 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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year.