Formations 10.23.2016: A Festival of Giving

Deuteronomy 14:22-29

af26_1_102316_aEarlier this month, India celebrated its week-long festival of giving, Daan Utsav. This is a new holiday, first launched in 2009. It isn’t tied to any particular cultural or religious tradition, though an anonymous group of core volunteers manages the campaign. No one “owns” Daan Utsav, and people celebrate it in many different ways, both great and small.

Everyone is invited to participate in his or her own way. Some donate to orphanages or nursing homes in their neighborhoods. Charitable organizations hold fundraisers for themselves and others. People donate their time to read to underprivileged children.

Manoj Kabre, a corporate vice president, sees the festival of giving as a way of giving back to society. “Charity or philanthropy is to enable your passion or own self to motivate you to commit an act that helps you share your resources with others who need them most,” he says.

Daan Utsav is truly a celebration. When it first began, the holiday was called “Joy of Giving Week.” Kabre notes the great feeling one gets from being involved in charitable activities, stating, “It cheers you and also enables you to improve your productivity and efficiency in your regular work. It gives you solace and satisfaction.” In the past, company CEOs have danced in their tech parks to drum up support for the cause among their employees.

Today’s Bible passage invites us to consider such joyful acts of giving. Deuteronomy 14 sets forth two proper uses of the tithe, each with a celebratory aspect. Most years, the offering is to be used to “feast” and “celebrate” in God’s presence at the temple (v. 26)—being sure to include the Levites. Every third year, the tithe is to be spent in support of those who don’t have the wherewithal to bring an offering of their own: not only Levites but also immigrants, orphans, and widows. They, too, are to come to the temple and “feast until they are full” (v. 29).

We don’t usually think of using our tithes to throw parties, to feast and celebrate until everyone is full, but that is what this passage instructs. Our giving to God (who is often found in the faces of others, after all) is meant to result in a festive atmosphere where even the least among us can join in the celebration and eat their fill.

How can sharing our possessions, time, food, and money fill our lives—and the lives of others—with joy?

Bhumika K., “The Art of Giving,” The Hindu, 1 Oct 2016 <http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/this-week-celebrate-the-joy-of-giving/article9173824.ece>.

Discussion

• When have you genuinely enjoyed giving a gift to someone? What made this gift special?
• Where have you seen giving result in joy?
• What is the relationship between giving to God and giving to others?
• How can giving to God lead to celebration? How can it lead to relief for the underprivileged?

Reference Shelf

Three Separate Tithes

By the second century B.C.E., the regulations of Deuteronomy and Numbers had been blended, resulting in three separate tithes (the earliest reference to this blending is Tobit 1:5-6). The tenth of harvested goods would be given to the Levites, who would send a tenth of that to Jerusalem (Num 18). A second tenth of crops and animals would be sent directly to Jerusalem for the priests (Deut 14:22). The third tithe (Deut 14:28) was to be used for relief of the poor. These regulations indicate the growing power of the priesthood in the Second Temple period. They also help to explain the social unrest of that period—yielding thirty percent of one’s income to religion, plus paying taxes to the government, was impossible or intolerable to many. This system remained in place, however, at least until the time of the procurator Albinus (62–64 C.E.), when, according to Josephus, the high priest Ananus began to send thugs to take the tenth from the farmers at the threshing floors, before it could be given to the Levites.

Richard B. Vinson, “Tithe,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 921.

Joy before the Lord

For readers accustomed to characterizations of Old Testament religion as somber and legalistic, the wording and tone of 14:26 is remarkable. Twice the text encourages the worshiper to convert the proceeds from the sale of the original tithe into “whatever you desire” (Heb. bekol ’aser-te’awwe napseka) or “whatever your appetite craves” (Heb. bekol ’aser tis’aleka napseka). Possibilities even include “wine and strong drink” (Heb. ubayyayin ubassekar). Provisioned thus with one’s favorite foods and beverages, one should “eat there (at the central sanctuary) before YHWH your God and rejoice.” Obviously, Deuteronomy does not understand “tithing” as a transfer of goods to YHWH, neither in an attempt to appease him for one’s sins, nor even as a gift to the temple treasury to finance the temple budget. Contrary to popular Christian understanding, the Old Testament concept of tithes, offerings, and sacrifices has virtually nothing to do with appeasing the deity for one’s sins. Nor was ancient Israel’s religion as bureaucratic as even the most decentralized modern Protestant denomination. What need has YHWH of the bounty he has bestowed as a blessing? Instead, after a symbolic portion has been burnt on the altar, the worshiper, together with all his household and certain invited guests, consumes the tithe in a festive and joyful celebration of YHWH’s benevolence. In this interpretation, Sabbath transcends mere cessation of labor and far exceeds a mere passivity. Sabbath is the celebration of the fruits of one’s labor and YHWH’s blessing. Sabbath means rejoicing!

Mark E. Biddle, Deuteronomy, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2003), 253–54.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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