Thursday, October 16, 2014

More than a Check: Deuteronomy 14

In Summary: Moses carries forward to the list of clean and unclean animals in Deuteronomy 14. This list matters for two purposes. First, the people were not to eat the unclean. Second, they were not to sacrifice the unclean. Studies abound about why certain animals were listed by God as unclean. These range from serious, like the view that pig was forbidden for disease fears, to a little silly, like the view that pork is so delicious it was a risk for idolatry. (Somebody call the Bacon Coalition!)

I find two things worth noting on this list. First is that God provided a specific list, then a qualification list. That allowed the people to deal with any animal that didn't fit the list. Second is that acceptable animals required either attentive care (cattle-types) or hunting effort.

The clean/unclean list follows an instruction to avoid cutting oneself or shaving one’s forehead for the sake of the dead. Guess what? We don’t know exactly what that meant. I would assure you that any idolatrous practice is forbidden, but it is likely broader than that. Perhaps the idea of self-mutilation in memory of another is in view. In all, I think the purpose is that the Israelites were God’s people and should act like it, even in grief.

In Focus: Coming to the end of the chapter, we see commands related to the tithe. This is a touchy subject these days, as some hold that the tithe is an absolutely binding law on the church and others that it is absolutely not. Let us first examine this in context.

First, the tithe is 10%. That’s what the word means, tenth. Suggesting that a tithe was anything else is nonsense. However, there was more than one tithe—so the cost of fulfilling all “tithes” was more than 10%.

Second, the tithe is agricultural. One should note, however, that everyone had an agricultural allotment, so everyone had agriculture to tithe from.

Third, the tithe could be converted from produce/agriculture to money, and then brought in to the worship center.

Fourth, the tithe was to be used for the purpose of worship and fellowship. The Levites were to be “remembered” in the process.

Fifth, every three years a tithe was to be collected and kept in town rather than shipped out. It was to feed the Levites, the widows, the orphans, and the aliens. (ALIENS AGAIN!!)

One thing on this triennial tithe: I’m not as awesome on the grammar as most commentators, but I am almost seeing this as a replacement for the tithe above. That is, 2 years you take it to the center point, then the third year you keep it local. I’m not convinced it’s an additional tithe.

One other thing to remember: the setup of Deuteronomy was for a nation governed through religious practice. Tithes and taxes were aligned. There was nothing done that didn't either come from freewill giving or mandatory sacrifices and tithes.

In Practice: What do we do with this?

We admit that principles for an agricultural economy have to migrate to a monetary one. That tithes were in produce then does not mean that only farmers tithe now—it was about the income from work.

Do we tithe today?

First, no. Because we see God as owning everything, we do not bring Him a tenth and call it good.

Second, yes. Because we see God as owning everything and we ought to bring in worship, showing our respect and commitment to Him.

Nice and confused, right?

Here is the reality as I see it: we are not under the Law. The Law was fulfilled in Christ, so we are not trying to keep it. But we do learn about God through it. We can see that trusting God to make whole what we give away benefits us, spiritually.

We can see that we have responsibilities to provide for those in need and those that teach, and those responsibilities are part of our worshipful life before God. We can also see that the “firstfruits” ought to come. What are the firsts? Some say the best, some say the chronological firsts. I think it’s both—that we keep not the best, and that we trust God by giving among the first of what we receive.

Does that mean we are cursed if our first check is not 10% to a local church? Of course we’re not. That’s nonsense—the blood of Christ frees us from the curse.

But we are not learning faith if we give based on what we think we can afford instead of trusting in God. How that hits you may be different, but it should remain true that you seek to give more and more rather than less and less.

Does it all go to the local church? No—but if your local church is not clearly a major part of how you are involved in God’s kingdom, why are you there? If you are not learning the Word and helping widows, orphans, and aliens (ALIENS!!!) through your church, what is it doing?

And look at the other concepts: to gather and celebrate God’s grace? That should be the church as well. The giving of believers should be about living out what we see the ways of God commend to us. If your local church isn’t worthy of your giving, you should examine Scripture. Somebody’s wrong, either you or the church. It could be either one.

In Nerdiness: Shortly: is there something to animals being clean that take effort to keep? Pigs, for example, easy to keep—they eat anything.

Other types of cattle, sheep, etc.? Hard to keep. You learn shepherding and care from them. Is that part of how God determined clean from unclean?

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