30 All tenth-part gifts [or tithes] from the land, whether of seed from the ground or fruit from the trees, belong to the Lord; they are holy to the Lord. 31 If someone wishes to buy back part of their tenth-part gift, they must add one-fifth to it. 32 All tenth-part gifts from a herd or flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s staff—will be holy to the Lord.
1 Once you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you take possession of it and are settled there, 2 take some of the early produce of the fertile ground that you have harvested from the land the Lord your God is giving you, and put it in a basket. Then go to the location the Lord your God selects for his name to reside. 3 Go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him: “I am declaring right now before the Lord my God that I have indeed arrived in the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”
4 The priest will then take the basket from you and place it before the Lord your God’s altar. 5 Then you should solemnly state before the Lord your God:
“My father was a starving Aramean. He went down to Egypt, living as an immigrant there with few family members, but that is where he became a great nation, mighty and numerous. 6 The Egyptians treated us terribly, oppressing us and forcing hard labor on us. 7 So we cried out for help to the Lord, our ancestors’ God. The Lord heard our call. God saw our misery, our trouble, and our oppression. 8 The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with awesome power, and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land—a land full of milk and honey. 10 So now I am bringing the early produce of the fertile ground that you, Lord, have given me.”
Set the produce before the Lord your God, bowing down before the Lord your God. 11 Then celebrate all the good things the Lord your God has done for you and your family—each one of you along with the Levites and the immigrants who are among you.
12 When you have finished paying the entire tenth part of your produce on the third year—that is the year for paying the tenth-part—you will give it to the Levites, the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows so they can eat in your cities until they are full.
As Israel became a settled nation, they wrote down principles for giving to help them remember that God was the ultimate source of all they had. The idea of returning 10% of increase to God stayed at the center. Deuteronomy said they brought the first part of each crop to God, recognized their humble human descent, and thanked God as the creator and deliverer who made life’s good things possible. And they were to share the bounty with “the Levites, the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows.”
Lord God, you guided your people in ancient times to avoid the tentacles of greed by giving the early produce, the “first fruits,” to you. Help me make that principle a part of my mindset too. Amen.
“Then celebrate all the good things the Lord your God has done for you and your family – each one of you along with the Levites and the immigrants who are among you.” Deuteronomy 26:11
Here is a confession. I’ve always thought that today’s Scriptures read like story problems in the 5th grade, and therefore they produce the same anxiety that trying to determine the answer to “If Peter has five pumpkins and Sally has six apples…” I get all caught up in “tenth part gifts” and “If someone wishes to buy back part of their tenth-part gift, they must add one fifth to it.” Then I start wondering how you add one-fifth to the gift of a sheep, and never get to the point. And, of course, there is a point, and, thankfully, it really doesn’t have so much to do with long division and fractions as it does recognizing our blessings, naming them, celebrating them, and making sure that we share them from the very moment we receive them.
What are the blessings God wants us to share? All of them! Whatever is in our harvest basket, God expects us to share, to present it in recognition of all the ways God has blessed us. It’s not just produce and livestock, or dollars and cents, though those are very important, as Pastor Adam has shared. They make it possible for others to join in the celebration of God’s goodness. What we give is used to show God’s love and care in a practical and personal way to tens of thousands of people.
There is more, though. How do we give God a good portion of our time? Our thoughts? Our talents? Our labor? All of those things are gifts from God, and all of those things can be shared to the benefit of those who need the first and best portion of what we have. Our uncommon generosity, in all areas of our lives, is a celebration of the good things the Lord our God has done for us – all of us.
I still don’t know how to add one-fifth of a sheep, but I know that I hear God calling me to celebrate the good things God has done for me, and for those around me, even in this very difficult time. I know that he has given us these examples of giving from the first and best of our gifts through today’s Scripture, and I am thankful for that.
Lord God, thank you for all the good things you have given me, and help me to always recognize the first fruits of my money, my time, my thoughts, my talents, and my labor and bring those things to you by sharing them in your name. Amen.
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