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D'varim/Deuteronomy 14:29 ... so that the L-rd your G-d shall bless you in all the work of your hand that you do.
View whole verse and interlinear translation ...
Once again, the word , "so that" or "in order that", forms the pivot in this verse introducing the consequences of obeying one of the commands of the Torah. Let us first hear the whole verse and then see what command it is that has this sweeping result. Here's the verse: "Then the Levite, who has no hereditary portion as you have, and the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in your settlements shall come and eat their fill, so that the L-RD your God may bless you in all the enterprises you undertake" (D'varim 14:29, NJPS). That doesn't by itself tell us exactly what is going; we'll need to look a bit further back in the chapter.
If we rewind as far as verse 22, we discover that this block (22-29) deals with a tithe or "tenth part" of all the produce derived from the land, the normal agricultural process. Earlier, the Torah describes what is known as the "first tithe", which is to be given to the Levites "in return for the services that they perform, the services of the Tent of Meeting" (B'Midbar 18:21, NJPS). The Levites in turn give a tenth of what they receive to the priests as their share in the nation's provision for the needs of those who serve HaShem and the people in the sanctuary. This tithe is to be made up of the five grains, wine, olive oil, fruit and cattle and is to be given every year that the land is worked: years one to six of each seven year cycle. It is not considered sacred and the recipients and their households "may eat it anywhere, for it is your recompense for your services in the Tent of Meeting" (v. 31, NJPS), sell it or trade with it, for it is essentially a salary for services rendered.
Here in D'varim 14, however, Moshe is talking about a second tithe. It too is to be taken every year that the land is worked and is to come from the "new grain and wine and oil, and the firstlings of your herds and flocks" (v. 23, NJPS), but unlike the first tithe, it is to consumed by each family "in the presence of the L-RD your G-d, in the place where He will choose to establish His name" (v. 23, NJPS) - Shilo at first, then once the temple has been built, in Jerusalem. Once again, this tithe is not consider holy so that if a family live too far away from Jerusalem to carry all their produce there, they may sell it locally and then take the money to Jerusalem and there buy whatever they would like to eat and drink to fulfill the command. However, the Torah then tells us that "every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your yield of that year, but leave it within your settlements" (v. 28, NJPS), which leads us into our text: the Levite, the poor and disenfranchised in society can come and eat. So the pattern for the second tithe looks like this: years one and two, eat it yourself in Jerusalem; year three, eaten by the poor; year four and five, eat it yourself in Jerusalem; year six, eaten by the poor; year seven, sabbatical year, no tithe as no harvest.
Based on a text in the Mishnah - "One must not give to the poor from the threshing-floor less than a half kab of wheat or a kab of barley [and similar quantities for spelt, figs, wine and oil] ... As for other kinds of produce, Abba Saul says that the amount given must be enough to enable the poor man to sell them and buy with the money sufficient food for two meals" (m. Peah 8:5) -Rashi says, "Give them enough for satisfaction." Drazin and Wagner explain that, "when distributing the tithe to the poor, farmers should make certain to give each poor person at least enough to leave the person sated. The sages established a minimum quantity for that purpose." More could be given, of course, if there was enough to do so. The third-year second tithes were collected and pooled locally in a warehouse or storage facility, then distributed from a common store, so that any one family's tithe did not have to be stretched too thinly.
All that gets us as far as the middle of verse 29, but doesn't address our particular text, the reason or motivation the Torah gives for doing this. Isn't essentially selfish to give so that you may receive more? "It was a public duty that the weakest and poorest should also be enabled to eat and be satisfied from the blessing of Yahweh on the whole nation," writes Christopher Wright, "Only thus, indeed, would that blessing abide. Only by sharing the blessing would the blessing continue."1 Peter Craigie points out that, "in receiving [provision] from the tithe, which properly belonged to G-d, the needs of the poor were met. Thus the health of the community would be maintained and the people would continue to experience the blessing of G-d which led to prosperity."2 It seems that the action works both ways, that the blessing to the individual is part of the blessing to the community. In meeting the needs of the poor, the needs of the community are also met; in blessing the poor, the community and the individual are blessed. More, the continuity of blessing is dependent not only on obedience, but also on sharing the blessing with the Levites, poor, widows and orphans.
Walter Brueggemann quotes from the Psalms - "I claim no bull from your estate, no he-goats from your pens. For Mine is every animal of the forest, the beasts on a thousand mountains. I know every bird of the mountains, the creatures of the field are subject to Me. Were I hungry, I would not tell you, for Mine is the world and all it holds" (Psalm 50:9-12, NJPS) - to show that YHVH is not a needy G-d who relies upon the gifts and offerings of Israel, for YHVH has no needs that Israel can or must satisfy."3HaShem does not mandate the tithe for His benefit, but for ours so that we may live in the context of His generosity, as Brueggemann explains: "An economy that is rooted in the generous character of YHVH is an economy in which there is more than enough, so that a YHVH-rooted economy gives the lie to all economic theory that is based on scarcity. The tithe dramatises an economy of surplus."4 In the world, it is common marketing practice to increase both the rate and volume of sales by 'creating' a sense or urgency based on scarcity - "Buy Now! Only ten left at this price!" - which is quite the opposite of the kingdom of G-d. While in one sense, the offer of the kingdom is urgent - "Seek the L-RD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near" (Isaiah 55:5, ESV) - the number of places is not limited, it is not a zero-sum game; on the contrary, the offer of the gospel is explicitly made available to all: "G-d so loved the world that He gave His only and unique Son, so that everyone who trusts in Him may have eternal life" (John 3:16, CJB).
Mark's gospel records Yeshua distributing G-d/s generosity to those who were following Him - literally, around the Galil! - not just once but twice. The first time, "He took the five loaves and the two fish, and, looking up toward heaven, made a b'rakhah. Next He broke up the loaves and began giving them to the talmidim to distribute. He also divided up the two fish among them all. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces and fish. Those who ate the loaves numbered five thousand men" (Mark 6:41-44, CJB). Then, just two chapters later, "He then told the crowd to sit down on the ground, took the seven loaves, made a b'rakhah, broke the loaves and gave them to His talmidim to serve to the people. They also had a few fish; making a b'rakhah over them he also ordered these to be served. The people ate their fill; and the talmidim took up the leftover pieces, seven large basketfuls. About four thousand were there" (8:6-9, CJB). Critics say that this is just the same story, recycled with a few changed details, or two people's versions of the same event. We say, not a bit of it; these are two worked examples of the gospel of surplus, G-d's plenty being poured out for His people to show that those who follow Yeshua will know and experience G-d's provision.
Returning to the principle of our text - that when we give and share in obedience to the Torah, HaShem will bless our further work - Jeffrey Tigay points out that "such assurances are given in connection with laws that require economic sacrifice for the sake of the poor: freeing the indentured servant after six years, lending to fellow Israelites even close to the remission year and without interest, and leaving overlooked sheaves, olives and grapes for the poor (see 15:10,18; 23:21; 24:19-21). Lest the Israelites fear that these sacrifices will cause economic hardship, he is assured that, on the contrary, they will ultimately lead to greater prosperity." This is echoed by Yeshua - "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil" (Luke 6:35, ESV) - and by Rav Sha'ul: "G-d has the power to provide you with every gracious gift in abundance, so that always in every way you will have all you need yourselves and be able to provide abundantly for every good cause" (2 Corinthians 9:8, CJB).
G-d is the one who gives generously to us, "He who provides both seed for the planter and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your tzedakah" (v. 10, CJB), so that we may give to and share with others: "You will be enriched in every way, so that you can be generous in everything. And through us your generosity will cause people to thank G-d" (v. 11, CJB). This blesses both us and G-d; it provides for the needs of the community and keeps the community healthy. He will bless the work of our hands in every way as we sow the fruit of the kingdom back into the kingdom: more and enough, pressed down and running over.
1. - Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), page 184.
2. - P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), page 234.
3. - Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), pages 162-163.
4. - Brueggemann, page 163.
Further Study: Luke 6:38; Philippians 4:15-20
Application: Are you experiencing the surplus of G-d's provision, enough to give to everyone as the Spirit leads? Are you setting aside the second tithe to bless the community and pour blessing out as G-d blesses you? Ask the Divine Quartermaster for an extra ration today that you can share today where He directs.
Comment - 08:48 21Aug22 HW: Fabulous insights!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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