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D'varim/Deuteronomy 16:10 And you shall make the festival of Shavuot to the Lord your G-d, giving the offering of the abundance of your hand, as the L-rd your G-d shall bless you.
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Here, in the middle of general instructions for celebrating the three pilgrimage feasts - Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot - comes a very specific and yet quite casually vague requirement for the summer festival of Shavuot. Shavuot comes fifty days after Pesach and usually falls in the last two weeks of May or the first two weeks of June. Gunther Plaut tells us that Hag Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, is also referred to as Hag HaKatzir, the Feast of the Harvest, in Shemot 23:16 and - perhaps a little surprisingly or confusingly - as Hag HaBikkurim, the Feast of Firstfruits, in B'Midbar 28:26.
There is a textual difficulty in the text: the word is ahapax legomenon in the Hebrew Scriptures. Davidson suggests that it is a construct form of the noun , from the geminate root , "to number, to reckon", with the meaning of a tax, tribute or offering. Another possibility would derive from the root , "to try, prove or tempt", with the meaning of a trial or temptation. Targum Onkelos simply transcribes the Hebrew word, but also uses it in the verse "you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need" (D'varim 15:8, ESV) so equating it to the Hebrew word "enough or sufficient"; "Give as much as you can afford" is the Onkelos translation offered by Drazin and Wagner. The Septuagint proposes , from a root meaning to be strong or able, so implying ability or abundance. Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, proposes that comes from the root , "to raise oneself up" and its more well-known noun , a banner. He says that we should "raise a banner to the glory of G-d by bringing offerings - raising one's hand with this gift."
From there the commentators link the size of the offering and the attitude with which the offering is brought. Based onSifrei, Rashi comments that "this means: to the extent of the offering of your hand, entirely commensurate with the blessing with which G-d will have blessed you." The Rashbam suggests, "Offer 'enough' of a freewill contribution, that is, as much as the spirit moves you to give." Rabbi Hirsch makes proportionality explicit: "The purely free-willed nature of such a gift is stressed by the following 'as the L-rd will bless you', which leaves the size of the gift corresponding to the benefits received entirely to the discretion of the giver." Two modern commentators echo the sages; Jeffrey Tigay reports that people are being encouraged to "offer what you can afford as a result of the harvest ... because the feeling of prosperity and hence generosity, would be foremost in the farmer's mind after the harvest." Michael Carasik, in his modern compendium, adds: "Your generosity should match the L-rd's generosity in blessing you. Bring peace offerings joyfully and invite guests to eat with you."
While this is a command - to bring an offering, every Shavuot - it is to be seen in rather a different light from the usual burnt offerings and sacrifices brought to the Temple. These are free-will offerings, thank offerings and peace offerings, of which the offerer keeps the majority after the priest has presented the L-rd's portion before the altar. They could be animals, grain, drink or money; the priest kept his share and the largest part is returned so that it can be eaten gladly by the offerer, his family and guests to celebrate the feast together. It is a freewill offering based on gratitude and joy from the harvest, not a sacrificial offering that must be extracted as a point of obedience. It is brought to rejoice over the blessing that the L-rd has already given to each farmer, shared joyfully and consumed together to create and build community. It seems to me that there is a lesson that we need to learn today from this encouragement to community life in Messiah.
Rav Sha'ul picks up on the way that gifts are to be used within the Body of Messiah: "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness" (Romans 12:6-8, ESV). N. T. Wright explains that the gifts - including giving - should be exercised "with as much energy and skill as they can."1 Richard Longenecker notes that "we are individually judged by G-d in accordance with our response to and our expression of these G-d-given gifts," adding that the "faithful expression of G-d's gifts must underlie all our living, both individually and corporately."2 These are not just identity markers of believers in Yeshua, typical norms or behaviour patterns of those who are inspired and moved by the Spirit and their love of Yeshua, they are expressions of rational worship in a diversity that creates unity in the community, each serving each other - and, so the group - to the full extent that we are able.3 Each gives enough, not to excess, nor to impoverish the giver, but sufficient and multiplied by the Spirit because of the accompanying attitude of joy and enthusiasm to contribute and see the community's life and witness grow.
One day when Yeshua had been teaching in the Temple, He sat down with the disciples near to the big offering boxes that stood by the treasury. Many people would turn their heads as the sharp staccato rattle of coins announced large donations given by rich people. Quite unnoticed, however, was a poor widow who simply dropped in two small copper coins which together amounted to about one sixty-fourth of a day's wage for a labourer. But Yeshua noticed her and He called the disciples attention together, saying, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box" (Mark 12:43, ESV). You can imagine the looks of disbelief or puzzlement; the disciples simply didn't get this at all, so Yeshua had to explain, "they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on" (v.44, ESV). The widow's attitude of giving, giving everything, multiplied her gift many fold according to G-d's valuation. She contributed generously, to excess, everything that she had, trusting that G-d would provide for her needs. Not only did she give, but she exercised faith with her giving, allowing G-d to do a miracle. Just like the woman who anointed Yeshua's feet with rich perfume, her story is still being told two thousand years later wherever the gospel is shared; her generosity is still a model for the kingdom of G-d. As Ben Witherington comments, "The story reminds Mark's audience that even the poorest among them can make a worthy offering to G-d."4 The widow raised a banner for G-d's glory as she made her offering.
So what does that means for us? Is this just another exhortation about giving, about bringing "the full tithe into the storehouse" (Malachi 3:10, JPS)? No, not at all. It is about being aware of the way and the extent to which G-d has blessed us and being intentional in acknowledging that by passing that blessing on to others in appropriate ways. This is our "spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1). It is not a tax that G-d expects us to pay on our income, it is not even a fixed amount or proportion. It is a generosity born of the Spirit, giving enough - be that time, materials, finance, labour, intellect, skills or vocation - so that our local community and the wider Body of Messiah is blessed and grows together. No-one is to make themselves destitute or go into debt - giving repeatedly on a credit card that is never fully paid off is simply ungodly foolishness - and no-one is to be embarrassed, either by giving or receiving. The economy of the kingdom flourishes in small and quiet ways as needs are seen and met from hands that are themselves full from G-d's larder: "with the measure you use it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:2, ESV). Yeshua has given us so much - how can we give Him less?
1. - N. T. Wright, New Interpreter's Bible Commentary, Vol. IX, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 612.
2. - Richard Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans, NIGTC, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), page 930.
3. - Philip Esler, Conflict and Identity in Romans, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), page 315.
4. - Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), page 336.
Further Study: Mark 4:21-25; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Ephesians 4:1-7
Application: When was the last time you gave something in the same measure as G-d gives to you? How can we all increase our vision for sharing the blessings of the kingdom so that everyone has enough and to spare and a banner is raised up for G-d's glory?
© Jonathan Allen, 2017
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