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In the Gates

Guard against Self-interest

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.”

Leviticus 22.1-3; 1 Corinthians 9.16-21

Two other ideas are present here, that of “redeeming” one’s tithe and of “substituting” for it. Evidently it was possible to redeem a portion (or all?) of one’s firstfruit, perhaps to ensure more seed for a future planting or to build one’s flocks. It was lawful to do this, but sacrifice was still required. Paying merely the market price of grain, fruit, or livestock was not sufficient; a fifth of that price must be added. Thus one could accomplish the full purpose of the tithe in making an offering and in making it sacrificial.

The notion of substituting for a tithe is rather more mysterious, at least to me. Why would a person want to substitute, say, one 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.”

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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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