By Clinton D. Hamilton
The question to be responded to in this column is taken from the Old Testament and concerns instructions given about the tithe. The Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) was written prior to the Israelites’ settling in the land of Palestine and the setting up the tabernacle to which the annual tithe was to be taken every third year as instructed by God. Some of the instructions in the Pentateuch anticipated their settlement in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Such is the instruction from which the question to be considered in the column arises.
Question: Would you please explain Deuteronomy 14:22-26, especially verse 26?
Response: Prior to reading of this response to the question, it would be good for the reader to go to Deuteronomy 14:22-26 and read the entire text. It would also be helpful to read the first 21 verses of the chapter. Some of these comments in the response will be based on them.
In the first 21 verses, the Israelites were instructed not to disfigure their bodies nor make any baldness between their eyes for the dead (14:1). They were to avoid the mourning practices of the heathen nations that would be about them. There were to be no idolatrous practices among them whatsoever. Rather, they were to be holy and separated as God defines this (14:2). Nor were they to eat any abominable thing and God specified the animals that they could eat (14:3-21).
There are then given instructions about tithing. Each year there was to be the tithe of the seed coming from the field (14:22). They were also instructed to eat before Jehovah in the place where God shall cause his name to dwell there; the tithe shall be of grain, new wine, and oil; the firstlings of the herd or the flock were also to be brought (14:23). Verses 24-26 deal with the same issue: the exception granted to those who lived too far from the tabernacle to carry the tithe and firstlings in kind to it. In this instance, permission is given to sell the tithe and the firstlings and to take the silver secured in exchange in a purse in the hand to go to the tabernacle and to buy the materials for the tithe and the firstlings and the associated festal meals. The tithe and the firstlings are to be of whatever God has blessed the individual (14:24); one is not required to tithe or bring what he does not have.
A good background for the understanding of the specific instructions in this passage is to read the following pas-sages in full: Leviticus and Numbers but only links them to the sacrificial meals to be eaten at the tabernacle from the tithes and the firstlings which they were to bring. Moses had previously given the instruction about the partaking of the sacrificial meals to be taken from the tithes and firstlings of the herd and the flock in the words of Deuteronomy 12:5-14. Subsequently, further instructions are given about the firstlings and who they were to eat of them at the place where God caused his name to dwell (15:19-23). The festal or sacrificial meals were to be eaten before God where he caused his name to dwell (12:5).
However, after they settled in Canaan, many of them would be long distances from the place God designated. The weight and bulk of that which they might have as the tithe to bring could be impossible for them to carry to the place so designated. In that event, they could convert the tithe or the firstlings into money by sale and carry this in a purse in their hand to God’s designated place (14:24-25). At this place, they could take the cash and buy whatever oxen, sheep, wine, or whatever one’s soul desired to carry out what God had commanded (14:26). At the festal meal, the Levite was to be invited as instructed in 12:12,18-19.
It may be that the querist is concerned about these words in verse 26: “and thou shalt bestow the money for whatever thy soul asketh of thee.” Directed by the Lord’s instructions, what his soul would desire or his soul would ask is that which was commanded. Although he was unable to bring bodily all the tithe and the firstlings, he could take the money for which he exchanged whatever it was and buy accordingly to replace it. It was of this which he bought that the tithe was to be made and the meal eaten, taking into consideration the Levite of his city.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 7, p. 5
April 7, 1994