You shall truly tithe all the increase of your seed, that the field brings forth year by year.…
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., 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.); 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
(1) reckon up the sum of his year's givings to Christ, and
(2) calculate its proportion to what he has thought himself at liberty to expend upon his own comforts and pleasures. Nor will there be improvement in this matter till giving for religious and charitable objects is made a point in conscience, and till a suitable proportion of income is set apart for this purpose in advance. That proportion is to be determined by the degree to which God has prospered us (1 Corinthians 16:2). The ever-widening operations of the Church at homo and abroad, the constantly multiplying claims of a wise Christian philanthropy, render liberal givings increasingly necessary.
II. THAT OBEDIENCE TO THE SPIRIT OF A LAW IS OF GREATER IMPORTANCE THAN OBEDIENCE TO ITS LETTER. (Vers. 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 (Leviticus 5:7, etc.), in the rules for commutation (Leviticus 27.), 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. (Vers. 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. (Ver. 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 (ver. 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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year.