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In the Gates

No Substitutes

The First Commandment

No other gods


Leviticus 27.30-33

Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’s; it is holy to the LORD. If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. 32And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the LORD. One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.”

 The notion of substituting for a tithe is rather more mysterious, at least to me. Why would a person want to substitute one, say, calf, for another? Perhaps the one to be retained was in better condition? By substituting a less robust animal a man might keep the healthy one for himself and still fulfill the obligations of the tithe.

Unless, of course, he was discovered. That seems to be the idea here, since substituting would go against the command not to differentiate between good and bad. A man who substituted a poorer offering for a better one, should he be discovered (we must assume), would be required to relinquish both the original offering and the substitute. Thus God seems to have wanted to discourage this practice, doubtless, at least in part, to keep mere self-interest from entering into the work of giving.

This is instructive for us, if only indirectly, in our day, when so many appeals for funding offer premiums or promises of divine blessing to come to the giver – blatant appeals to mere self-interest in seeking to garner funds for the “work of the Lord.”

This series of In the Gates we present a detailed explanation of the Law of God, beginning with the Ten Commandments, and working through the statutes and rules that accompany each commandment. For a practical guide to the role of God’s Law in the practice of ethics, get The Ground for Christian Ethics by going to and click on our Book Store.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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