Thursday, May 18, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Fourteen: Don't Eat That and Giving to God

The first section of the Deuteronomy ch. 14 describes clean and unclean food. About this biblical scholar Tremper Longman III writes, "Perhaps certain animals were thought to conform to the norms of creation, while others were thought to blur the boundaries. For instance, fish that have "fins and scales" are true fish, while other animals in the deep that do not have them (lobsters) somehow do not seem to fit this category (Renovare Study Bible 269)." That said, what is of the most importance is that dietary laws helped distinguish Jew from gentile. The New Testament, however, declares that in Christ all outward distinctions are superficial (Galatians 3:28). What is of higher importance is that we remain in Christ, relying on the Holy Spirit--this, quite naturally, distinguishes God's chosen as a counter-culture to the world's ways. Now, if we were to rely on dietary restrictions for entrance into the Kingdom of God we would be forgetting Matthew ch. 11 v.11 where Jesus tells the group surrounding him, "What Goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean'". Also, in Acts ch. 10 the Lord gives Peter a vision of unclean animals and concludes the vision with the charge, "kill and eat." Thus solidifying the Jesus' message in Matthew.

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The section of Deut. 14 is about tithing. It is here, among other places in the Old Testament, where we receive the distinction of 10% (ch.15 v.22) of our income should be poured back out to God's work. While this frustrates our thoroughly western sense of ownership and property it serves as a high reminder that God has allowed us to receive what we have--so in a real sense--it is already his. In view of this tithing only 10% is more God accommodating us, more than us accommodating God. Also, it is a fundamentally healthy because it prevents us from hoarding and falling into the temptation of decandence.

Moses charges Israel to give the tithe "in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always" (14:23). What we come to understand from this is that our offerings are on God's terms, not only does he provide the means for us and sets the amount that we should give back to him, but also he decides where it all happens. Moses tells us that this all happens so that, we "may learn to revere the Lord". We learn to worship when we let God decide.

But God isn't a cold slavemaster, or a distant despot, the following verse tells us that if a family is far away from the place God chooses then they shouldn't be burdened by having to carry an animal all the way with them. Find an animal when you get there, but don't steal it, buy it (v. 24). God cares about us, he doesn't want us burdened--the journey there to worship is the greatest importance.

Lastly, there is a social justice component to tithing. Though this might be obvious, since the call is to give to God's kingdom. It, of course, is important to point out. First, we read that the Levites (the priestly tribe), whose inheritance is the Lord himself (Num ch.18 v.20, ch.26 v.22 Deut. ch.10 v.9). After stating the provisions for the Levites the text opens up to embrace "the aliens, fatherless and the widows" (v.29). Israel is called to give to them out of their supply (v.28) so that they "may come and eat and be satisfied" (v.29). It is important to note that this isn't just forced service project, this wide-armed, welcoming care that is extended to the marginalized ("least of these") and it is worship to the core.

Question: Does this have implications for the current immigration issue?


MattMissyKamps said...

First reaction- Deuteronomy has no implications on the US immigration issue because the US is not a Christian country. I'll give my second thought later.

Bryan Halferty said...

Even so the Bible then brings judgment on US policies.

MattMissyKamps said...

Second thought- as in the abortion issue, the solution is not to just protect the unborn, it is to fix the system that causes people to get abortions. Far short of ridding the world of sinners, our solutions to social problems have to be broad-minded, or we end of making short-sighted mistakes. As for the immigration issue, poverty and land ownership laws, and a kind of oligarchy in Latin America have contributed to the large number of immigrants coming to the US. On the US side, we have become used to low prices brought by cheap labor. Not only used to the cheap labor that Latin America exports to us, but in the products that we have made in Asia and Latin America. Caring for the least of these in our sphere of influence is just one facet of the issue. Caring for the poor we already have, and changing our aversion toward hard work in America are steps that also need to be taken.
Third thought coming.

MattMissyKamps said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bryan Halferty said...

That was a good comment Matt.
Your Bud.