Dt 14:22-15:1 (New Living Translation)
“You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year. Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored—and eat it there in his presence. This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds. Doing this will teach you always to fear the Lord your God.
Now when the Lord your God blesses you with a good harvest, the place of worship he chooses for his name to be honored might be too far for you to bring the tithe. If so, you may sell the tithe portion of your crops and herds, put the money in a pouch, and go to the place the Lord your God has chosen. When you arrive, you may use the money to buy any kind of food you want—cattle, sheep, goats, wine, or other alcoholic drink. Then feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and celebrate with your household. And do not neglect the Levites in your town, for they will receive no allotment of land among you.
At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town. Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all your work.”
In this passage in Deuteronomy it appears that the tithe is a portion (10%) of all the food that you grow and raise. The purpose of this tithe is for a huge meal, in which you will eat, the Levites will eat, non-Israelites and orphans and widows will eat, and in fact everyone in the town will eat. In fact, it sounds like a huge party in which the goal is that everyone gets to eat their fair share of food. The tithe in this passage was not about giving money to anyone, but instead food – life.
A New Testament comparison to this is communion. People are chided in the NT about gathering for the communion dinner, but only some people got food – and lots of it – while others barely received enough to satisfy their hunger. In this passage, the people are challenged to examine themselves and only partake of the communion if they find themselves worthy.
In modern days, this concept looses a lot of its meaning. Today communion is a wafer of bread and a small sip of either grape juice or wine. We have turned communion into a individualistic and introspective process in which we consider what we have done recently and ask forgiveness for our recent sins and then take the wafer and the sip. In this we feel that we are remembering our Lord Jesus until he returns – in the manner in which he has asked us to remember him.
But what happened to the meals? Where are we giving food to our neighbors, and our down-and-out? We are not fulfilling the mandate of the tithe, nor are we fulfilling the concept of communion as given to us by Jesus.
In a forum that I participate in, a person mentioned a mission trip that they would be going on – and that money would have to be raised. After a week of no one responding, one of the members piped in that the topic of money always finds a group of quiet people. And money always does have a weird way of changing peoples thoughts, words, and actions.
In these days, all of our “tithe” goes into supporting the church building, the pastor(s), and the missions that the church supports. All of these things are good things to support, and I am not criticizing these needs. But, I would challenge us all to remember the original purpose of the tithe. Speak in your church groups about a monthly, bi-monthly, yearly, or whatever dinner in which you raise food and money from local establishments. And from this food and money, provide a free dinner to the community. Seek out the poor, widowed, and orphaned of your community and ensure that they understand that they are welcome to come and are not obligated to provide anything. (Allow them to get involved if they wish – such as in setup/teardown, or cleaning/cooking.)
Throughout the OT and the NT, the poor, widowed, and orphaned have always been a top priority of following the Creator. Let us try to learn anew this focus of the Creator’s and do our best to become the servants and give to those in need.