Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tithing - An Intriguing Aspect of Giving - Genesis 14:1-24 - Pete's Bible Commentary

Could I think of a more controversial topic to discuss? Tithing. Firstly, the question is, why is tithing so controversial for so many people? For some, I sense that to tithe (or to give the first 10% of your income to God) comes to the heart of the Christian life; that is, will we put God first in our lives? When the rubber hits the road, we can talk about reading the Bible, lifting up prayers and helping those in need, and these are great expressions of the Christian life, though giving of our financial resources challenges what we do with what we have been given. What will I do with that $1000 for the fortnight? Will I let go of $100 of it, and tithe it to the local church?

Now, we are going to explore some biblical texts related to tithing. This post does not seek to be a complete intellectual expose of everything tithing, but rather I would like to offer an intriguing aspect of giving.

Before I look at this intriguing aspect of giving, lets consider Moses and his trip up Mount Sinai. On this mountaintop God (YHWH) released a blue print to him that would become the codes for living for the Israelite people. What was offered to Moses, for the Israelite community was the 'Law'. The word law conjures up primarily negative images in our contemporary minds, but back then, many of the laws offered were related to health and wellbeing, and were offered to the people of Israel thousands of years before they had the luxuries of 'surfing the Internet' to find a solution to their leprosy!

Within these laws, God taught his people to tithe. He asked for people to tithe, and he desired people to tithe to him. A tithe was the giving of the first ten per cent of their produce that they received off the land. Actually at times, God required people to ‘tithe’ or sacrifice a tenth of their livestock, not just their grain. That’s a lot of steak sandwiches right there!

What does the Old Testament texts say about tithing?

Leviticus 27:30 - 30 "'A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.

Deuteronomy 12:5-7 - 5 But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; 6 there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and donations, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you.

So giving of a tithe and above that, offerings, was a celebration of the fact that God had blessed you. What a concept! Giving a tithe to the priesthood, was not a legalistic thing (atleast that was not what God was wanting), but rather so that people would firstly, put God number one, and secondly use this giving as an opportunity to be thankful for all the blessings God has given.

BUT this is NOT what has been intriguing me. I mean, I know about tithing, and giving ten percent. I know that it is a way to celebrate and put God first in our lives. I know that. I also believe that tithing is a concept/law that passes on to the New Testament believer. Though I am not going to enter into that debate. I think it is somewhat irrelevant, because generous giving in the New Testament seems to be above and beyond 10% anyway! The picture of the NT Scriptures is that tithing was seemingly the bare minimum for a mature follower in Christ. I mean, I have never sold a house and laid the money at anyone's feet before! (Acts 4:34-35).  

BUT this is NOT what has been intriguing me about tithing.

Stop and have a read of the following story in Genesis 14:11-20:
Genesis 14:11-20 11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram's nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom. 13 One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people. 17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Did you read the passage? Let me unpack it for you. Abram (soon to be named Abraham), finds out his nephew Lot had been captured, along with his possessions. Abram rallied a few hundred of his trained men to attack the kings who had captured Lot, and obtained back Lot's rightful possessions. What happens next intrigues me. Melchizedek, who was a priest of 'God Most High' blesses Abram, and mentions that God was the one who blessed him in battle that day. It was the Creator of heaven and earth who delivered the enemies into Abram's hands. What was Abram's response? "Thanks Melchizedek, we should do coffee some time..." No, his response was that he gave the priest a tenth of everything. Imagine how much livestock this would have been? There would have been enough sheep to make New Zealand proud. What an amazing response by Abram. Melchizedek, the priest, makes Abram aware of the fact that God had blessed him in battle, and Abram's response was to give back to God.

What intrigues me the most about this tithe is this... Abram tithed before it became law. We know that Moses had not gone up the Mountain yet. Moses had not passed on the law to the people of Israel. In fact, Moses wasn't even born yet! Abram did not have the law in front of him that read, 'You shall give a tenth of your livestock to God'. This is the point - When Abram became aware that God was blessing him, he gave back to him to show his appreciation. This was Abram's automatic response; one of generosity. God blessed me, therefore I will bless God.

This is the point of tithing. It is not a law, per se. It is not a religious duty. It is an act of thankfulness. It is an act of giving that expresses gratitude to God, for being created, for the blessing in life, for having anything of value in the first place! Let us learn from the intriguing story of Abram, when he realised God had blessed him, so he gave God a tenth of his possessions.

I can learn something about generosity from this story in Genesis 14:1-24.
This glance at Genesis 14:1-24, Leviticus 27:30 and Deuteronomy 12:5-7 on tithing/giving, is part of a growing collection from Pete's Bible Commentary.
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