Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. AS DISHONORING TO THE CREATOR. God, the Creator of the body, cannot take delight in seeing it abused. This proposition seems self-evident. The idea above referred to, and which lies at the root of so many false religions, viz. that it is pleasing to the Deity to see his creatures torturing and defacing themselves, is a libel on the Divine character. The body is rather to be reverenced as one of the noblest of God's works. It is to be studiously preserved and cared for. Religion, with reason, enjoins, "Do thyself no harm" (Acts 16:28).
II. AS INCONSISTENT WITH SELF-RESPECT. There is a propriety and decorum becoming in beings who possess reason. Wild and excessive grief, indicating the absence of power of self-control, lowers us beneath the dignity of rational existences. Neglect of the person, and, still more, wanton self-injury, in grief, betokens a like absence of proper self-respect. Least of all is such conduct excusable in those who claim the dignity of being God's children. They, of all others, ought to set an example of propriety and seemliness in behavior. They are "an holy people," and must study to deport themselves worthily of their high calling. The priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:28) behaved like maniacs. David and Job behaved like religious men (2 Samuel 12:20; Job 1:20, 21).
III. AS IMPLYING THE ABSENCE OF RELIGIOUS CONSOLATIONS. The early Jews were not without these (Hebrews 11:13, 14). We in the Christian age have them still more abundantly. Therefore must we not sorrow "as those which have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13). - J.O.
I. WHAT WAS MEANT BY CUTTING ONE'S SELF AND MAKING ONE'S SELF BALD FOR THE DEAD? It implied manifestly some post-mortem merit and service. It was akin to the sacrifices which often have been presented in connection with death. It was the sacrifice of something short of life, but yet valuable. It was the sacrifice of sightliness, if not of beauty, in the interests of the dead. It implied that something could be done for the departed by those who remained, and which self-denying love gladly undertook. Hence these practices brought out the hopelessness of sorrow as it exists in the heathen world, and the desire to propitiate offended Deity by sympathetic suffering and sacrifice.
II. THE PROHIBITION SUMMONED THE JEWS TO HOPEFUL SORROW. The dead were to be regarded as in the hands of God, and he was to be trusted with them absolutely. No post-mortem sacrifices were to be attempted, but the cases left with implicit confidence to the ever-living and gracious Father. "Prayers for the dead" and "Masses for the dead" but express the pitifulness of human hope, and the dread and doubt with which the dead are left in the hands of God. Israel was prohibited from any such infirmity.
III. THEY WERE EVEN TO REGARD THEMSELVES AS CONSECRATED TO THE LIVING GOD, AND CONSEQUENTLY NOT TO BE DESECRATED THROUGH MUTILATION FOR THE DEAD. The danger sometimes is for people to forget their dedication to God amid all the loneliness of their sorrow. The dead absorb attention. God has been removing "idols," but the idols have become, through death, more and more to them. Too much cannot be made of the dead, they think, and so they would make a perpetual dedication of themselves to the dead, forgetful of their relations to the living God above. Now, it is this everlasting relation which God insists upon. Nothing can be better, surely, than in sorrow to be reminded, "Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." It is just this which bereavement is intended to make emphatic. God claims us as his own: let not the dead make perpetual marks upon your persons, as if they had the right to your life-long service. This is desecration instead of consecration. Unreasonable attachment to the dead may be the denial of due consecration to the living God.
IV. UNCOMMON CONSECRATION TO GOD SHOULD BE OUR IDEAL. Israel was to be a peculiar people unto God "above all the nations that are upon the earth." All nations glorify God in some degree, even in spite of themselves. But his own people are wise in aiming at special consecration. There is nothing so important as the highest possible ideal. Devoted to this, we attain to something higher and nobler than is possible otherwise.
"Lord, we can trust thee for our holy dead,
I. ISRAEL'S SPECIAL PRIVILEGE. They enjoyed a position superior to all the nations of the earth.
1. They were the objects of God's choice. Out of all the peoples and tribes which dwelt on this round globe, Israel had been selected for a noble purpose. We may not be able to divine the reason, for our knowledge is exceedingly small. Yet God, who does nothing unwisely, did in this matter the wisest thing.
2. They had been chosen to sonship. God had revealed himself to these Hebrews in a special and endearing character. Had he not informed them of his dispositions towards them and his loving interest in them, they would not have dared to call him Father. In special condescension he informed them that he would treat them, in all substantial respects, as a father doth his children.
3. They had been chosen to righteous character. By virtue of this choice, they were on the high road to perfection. Their destiny was not secured irrespective of their own will and choice. They were now consecrated to the Divine service of Jehovah, and must perform holy actions, foster holy habits, so as to acquire a holy character. This is man's highest reward - a heaven within.
II. A SPECIFIC PROHIBITION. A prohibition against serf-mutilation. There were natural outlets for abundant grief - tears, sighs, and moans; these self-mutilations were unnatural and irrational.
1. Because inordinate sorrow for the death of friends is sinful. Moderate grief is allowable: it is the necessary concomitant of strong affection. But as we should enjoy every friend as a gift of God, so our sorrow at separation should be accompanied by filial submission.
2. Because such symbols of mourning were often pretences. Frequently, if not usually, this manifest sorrow was assumed. 'Twas mere trickery and falsehood. Such actions injured and deteriorated character.
3. Because even the body is the property of God. There is no part of his nature which the true Israelite does not recognize as belonging to God. Throughout, he is Jehovah's temple. Every faculty of body, every organ and member, is to be utilized for God, is to be preserved in health and vigor to do credit to Jehovah. "His Name is to be upon our foreheads."
4. Because this stir-mutilation would be conformity with heathen customs. The practices connected with idol-worship were dictated by a spirit of cruelty - by the genius of Satan. Far as the east is from the west, or north pole from the south, were the followers of God to-withdraw from heathen practices. As sane men flee from pestilence, so should pious men avoid the neighborhood of sin. - D.
I. ON NATURAL GROUNDS. It is based to some extent on natural preferences and repugnances - an index, often, to deeper correlations. We instinctively recognize certain creatures to be unfit for food. The Law of Moses drew the line practically where men's unguided instincts have always drawn it. A lesson of respect for natural order. In diet, as in higher matters, we do well to follow Nature's guidance, avoiding violations of her laws, and refraining from obliterating her distinctions.
II. ON CEREMONIAL GROUNDS. The prohibition against eating of blood had consequences in the region of cleanness and uncleanness of food. All flesh-eating and blood-eating animals - all beasts and birds of prey - were of necessity excluded. Ceremonially unclean themselves, they could not be clean to those eating them.
III. ON SYMBOLIC GROUNDS. The symbolic traits observable in certain animals may have had to do with their rejection. We can see reason in the exclusion of creatures of cruel and rapacious habits, of those also in whose dispositions we trace a reflection of the human vices. It may be pushing the principle too far to seek recondite meanings in the chewing of the and (meditation) and the dividing of the hoof (separation of walk), or in the possession of fins and scales in fishes (organs of advance and resistance). But a Law impregnated with symbolism could scarcely reckon as clean a filthy and repulsive creature like the sow. The accursed serpent, the treacherous fox, the ravenous jackal, even had they been suitable for food in other respects, could scarcely on this principle have been admitted. The reptile tribes generally, and all tribes of vermin, were similarly unclean by a kind of natural brand. A lesson of seeing in the natural a symbol of the moral. Nature is a symbolic lesson-book, daily open to our inspection. The distinction once ordained, and invested with religious significance, observance of it became to the Jews a sign and test of holiness. The general lesson taught is that of sanctification in the use of food. Holiness, indeed, is to be carried into every sphere and act of life. Eating, however, is an act which, though on its animal side related to the grossest part of us, is yet, on its spiritual side, of serious religious import. It is the act by which we supply oil to the flame of life. It has to do with the maintenance of those vital functions by which we are enabled to glorify God in the body. There is thus a natural sacredness about food, and it is to be received and used in a sacred fashion. That it may be "clean" to us, it is to be "sanctified by the Word of God and prayer," being "received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth" (1 Timothy 4:3-5). It is to be remembered, too, that in the sphere of the higher life, if not in the lower, clean and unclean are distinctions of abiding validity. Intellect, heart, spirit, etc. - the books we read, the company we keep, the principles we imbibe. - J.O.
jerboa, all of which - the latter translated "mouse - were for-hidden to the children of Israel.
I. THE REGULATION OF MEATS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT WAY OF SEPARATING ONE NATION FROM ALL OTHER NATIONS. For if association at table is an impossibility, all other association will be very superficial and comparatively harmless. Nothing more effectual," says Dr. Kitto, "could be devised to keep one people distinct from another. It causes the difference between them to be ever present to the mind, touching, as it does, upon so many points of social and everyday contact; and it is therefore far more efficient in its results, as a rule of distinction, than any difference in doctrine, worship, or morals which men could entertain It is a mutual repulsion continually operating; and its effect may be estimated from the fact that no nation in which a distinction of meats was rigidly enforced as a part of a religious system, has ever changed its religion." And we are surely taught the wisdom of expedients to keep up the desirable separation between the Church and the world. If every religious custom were abandoned, and the conduct of religious people were conformed in all particulars to that of their worldly neighbors, religion would soon become a name, and nothing more. "Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2).
II. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE ANIMALS SYMBOLIZED THE DISTINCTION WHICH SHOULD EXIST BETWEEN GOD'S PEOPLE AND THE WORLD. An excellent writer has suggested that in individual development we pass through the stages attributed to the organic world as a whole; children, for example, passing, through the "parrot" or the "monkey" stage. "Animated nature" seems designed to mirror human nature," whether in its evil or in its good propensities: Man finds himself in the image of the lower animals as well as, on his higher side, in the image of God. In conformity with this arrangement, then, the Jew was trained to regard certain animals as clean and edible, while others were unclean and forbidden. Towards the one class he was drawn, from the other he was repelled. Now, in the clean animals may be discovered certain good qualities, which make them fit illustrations of the moralities expected from an Israelite. For example, the characteristic of rumination, which belonged to the clean animals, was a fit type of that thoughtfulness and quiet meditation which should characterize the people of God. Again, sure-footedness characterizes the animals with the cloven hoof, which symbolizes the steadfastness of religious character. Speed and cleanliness also characterize the fishes that were accounted clean. On the other hand, the unclean beasts, birds, and fish illustrate most powerfully the lustful, selfish, and impure spirit which characterizes unregenerate man. Not only, therefore, did the distinction among the animals secure the desired national separation, but also that poetic outlook upon nature which discovers in it a great parable for the soul. Thus Emerson says, "Every rational creature has all nature for his dowry and estate. It is his, if he will He may divest himself of it; he may creep into a corner and abdicate his kingdom, as most men do, but he is entitled to the world by his constitution. In proportion to the energy of his thought and will, he takes up the world unto himself." What a richness of thought is thus afforded to the thoughtful soul!
III. THAT WHICH DIED OF ITSELF WAS ALSO EXCLUDED FROM THE DIET OF ISRAEL. In such a case there was no guarantee that the blood had been properly drained from the carcass, and that the atoning element had been solemnly eliminated from it. In fact, in such cases there is not the sacrifice of life which we have seen to obtain in the normal sustenance of the world. God's people consequently must avoid all contact with death, and keep themselves pure unto him. And this arrangement surely symbolized that watchfulness over our contact with the world, which should characterize all professors of religion. We must "keep our garments unspotted from the world," we must even in certain critical times "let the dead bury their dead," and deny ourselves that intercourse with the spiritually dead which otherwise might be most proper.
IV. A KID WAS NOT TO BE SEETHED IN HIS MOTHER'S MILK. A quotation from an old writer will best improve this commandment. "This is not the meaning of the command, Content yourselves to eat the kid, but take heed that ye eat not the dam also; neither is this the meaning of it, Ye shall not cat flesh with milk, as the Chaldee paraphrast paraphraseth it; neither is this the meaning of it, Take heed that ye seethe not the kid in the mother's milk, as the superstitious Jews expound it at this day; they will not seethe flesh and milk in one pot, neither will they cut both flesh and cheese with one knife; and amongst the precepts which they have written of things lawful to be eaten, they forbid the eating of flesh and milk together; but the meaning of the place seemeth to be this, Ye shall not eat of a kid as of a lamb (for so the LXX. translate it) so long as it sucketh the dam, for all this time it is as it were but milk; they might sacrifice it when it was but eight days old, but not to eat of it so long as it was sucking (1 Samuel 7:9). 'Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered.'" This would consequently form a ceremonial appendix to the sixth commandment, and would teach that abstinence from the semblance of cruelty which should characterize the people of the Lord. In accepting of God's bounty in the matter of flesh, care should be taken that no unnatural cruelty should be practiced or encouraged. The sanctified ones are thus taught to keep themselves separate from the world, to regard nature as a great parable for the soul, and to conduct themselves in that considerate spirit which should characterize the disciples of Jesus. - R.M.E.
I. BECAUSE IT WAS A SANITARY BENEFIT. In that early age, the sciences of physiology and health were unknown, and even now they are in their earliest infancy. We are, however, now aware of the fact that some (at least) of the flesh prohibited to the Hebrews is more or less unwholesome. Nor is it improbable that in that Eastern climate some flesh is more unwholesome for food than in our own land. As a father cares for the health of his child, so God cared for every part of Israel's well-being. Nothing escapes God's attention. "The Lord is for the body." With infinite tenderness, God legislated for the meals of the Hebrews, and gave them the advantage of his unerring judgment.
II. BECAUSE PARTIAL ABSTINENCE WAS SALUTARY FOR THE SOUL.
1. It taught them that fleshly appetite was not to be gratified for its own sake - not for mere pleasure. To strengthen and broaden the desires of the mind is an advantage in itself; but, excessive strength of bodily appetite is an evil, an injury to the real man. The lesson requires to be early learnt, that our nature requires government, that our highest good can be reached only by self-restraint and self-mortification. Bodily desires and inclinations are designed to be servants, not masters.
2. It exercised them in practical self-denial. The noblest qualities of human character are acquired only by personal discipline. Some parts of our nature have to be repressed; some have to be stimulated. The fleshly propensities have always been unfriendly to the spirit's life. It is a lesson hard to be learnt, to forego lesser enjoyments for remote advantages. The favor and society of God amply recompense for all minor pains.
3. The general rule of action was typical of higher truths. All such animals might be eaten as "parted the hoof, and chewed the cud." There was, doubtless, a reason for this permission arising out of the constituent nature of the flesh. But spiritual lessons also were suggested, viz. that to be acceptable for God's service there must be with us mental digestion of his truth, and there must also be practical circumspection - in our dally walk a separation from worldly contamination.
III. BECAUSE THIS DISCRIMINATION IN MEATS WOULD CONSTITUTE A VISIBLE PARTITION FROM THE HEATHEN. To bring to a successful issue the Divine purposes in the Hebrew race, it was incumbent to maintain broad distinctions between them and the heathen round about. They lived a coarser and more animal life. Animal passions were fostered by the glutting of the appetites. Some of the animals denied as food to the Jews were used by the heathen for divination; therefore it was safest to label such animals and birds as an abomination. A wise captain will give to a sunken reef a wide berth. Further, these differences in social customs and domestic habits would serve as perpetual barriers against intermarriages with neighboring tribes. This might appear unsocial and exclusive. But lesser good has to be sacrificed for loftier and eternal blessing. To every quibble of human reason it is surely enough to reply, "God knows best." This proscription of some kinds of food applied to the Jews only. They might supply to strangers among them food which they were forbidden to eat themselves. Thus a practical lesson was taught them that they were to be pre-eminently holy. The moral attainments of others were not to be the standards by which they should measure conduct. More plainly than speech did such prohibition say, "Be not conformed to the world." What it is allowable for others to do, may be sin for me to practice.
IV. BECAUSE THIS ARRANGEMENT SERVED FOR THE DALLY DISCIPLINE OF FAITH. Of the first importance was it that the faith of the Hebrews should be maintained, and that their faith should be practically displayed. Very clearly God had assured them that this was his will concerning them; and, whether any reason appeared for the demand or not, as his acknowledged servants they were bound to obey. Such a requirement had some correspondence with the test imposed on our first parents. The act forbidden might be in itself indifferent - having no moral character. Apart from the command, they might have eaten, or abstained from eating, without any violation of conscience. This would make the matter a better test of obedience. In abstaining from such and such meat, they did no one wrong; they violated no law of nature, no law of God: they did themselves no injury. They still had enough to meet all the necessities of hunger. Here, then, was [a true test whether men would simply obey God's word, even though obedience should mean privation. This was the discipline of faith. - D.
Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:25), may be connected with magical superstitions, but it is equally probable that the act was condemned as an outrage on the connection naturally subsisting between parent and offspring. It is thus related to the commands forbidding the killing of a cow and a calf on the same day (Leviticus 22:28), or the taking a bird with its young (Deuteronomy 22:6), and to the precepts enjoining a scrupulous regard for natural distinctions - not sowing a field with mingled seed, etc. (Leviticus 19:19). It suggests -
I. THE DUTY OF CHERISHING THE FINER INSTINCTS OF OUR NATURE. The act here forbidden could hardly be called cruelty, the kid being dead, but it was unnatural. It argued a blunted state of the sympathies. A finer instinct, alive to the tenderness of the relation between parent and offspring, would have disallowed it. It is beautiful to see the ancient Law inculcating this rare and delicate fineness of feeling - this considerateness and sympathy even for dead animals. The lesson is that everything is to be avoided which would tend to blunt our moral sensibilities. The act has its analogue in higher relations. Not infrequently has the affection of a parent been used by the ingenuity of cruelty to inflict keener tortures on a child; or, conversely, a child has been betrayed into disclosures afterwards used to injure the parent.
II. THE DUTY OF CONSIDERATION IN DEALING WITH IRRATIONAL CREATURES.
1. It is right that irrational creatures should be treated kindly. And if the Law required that this delicate consideration should be shown towards dead animals, how much more does it require of us kindly treatment of them while living!
2. Our behavior towards irrational creatures, as seen above, reacts upon ourselves. In certain cases, this is readily perceived. Most people would shrink from the wanton mutilation of a dead animal, even in sport, and would admit the reactive effect of such an action in deadening humane instincts in him who did it. But it is the same with all cruelty and unfeelingness. Any action which, in human relationships, would be condemned as unsympathetic, will be found, if performed to animals, to have a blunting effect on the sensibilities of the agent. A man's dog is more to him than a brute. He is a friend. We can carry into our behavior towards the irrational creatures many of the feelings which actuate us in our personal relations, and the more we do it, the better for ourselves. - J.O.
Numbers 18., had fallen into disuse, is unsupported by evidence. The provision in Deuteronomy would have furnished no support worth speaking of to the enormous Levitical establishments of the post-Davidic period (1 Chronicles 23-27.; 2 Chronicles 29.); nor are we prepared to concede, what is often so conveniently assumed, the non-authenticity of these sections of the chronicler. We learn -
I. THAT PIETY AND CHARITY ARE TO BE LIBERALLY PROVIDED FOR IN THE APPORTIONMENT OF INCOME. The tithes were to be faithfully and punctually set apart as a first charge upon the Jew's income. The second or vegetable tithe was appointed to be consumed in feasts at the sanctuary, or, in the third year, at home. A lesson is taught here as to the duty of liberal, systematic, and conscientious giving for religious and charitable purposes. Christians, it is true, are not under Law, but under grace. But it will scarcely be pleaded that on this account they are less bound to liberality than Jews were. The argument is all the other way: if this was done under Law, how much more ought to be done under the impulse of love to Christ! Unfortunately, the duty of systematic and proportionate giving is but little recognized. It would put many a Christian to the blush if he would sit down at the year's end, and
(1) reckon up the sum of his year's givings to Christ, and
(2) calculate its proportion to what he has thought himself at liberty to expend upon his own comforts and pleasures. Nor will there be improvement in this matter till giving for religious and charitable objects is made a point in conscience, and till a suitable proportion of income is set apart for this purpose in advance. That proportion is to be determined by the degree to which God has prospered us (1 Corinthians 16:2). The ever-widening operations of the Church at homo and abroad, the constantly multiplying claims of a wise Christian philanthropy, render liberal givings increasingly necessary.
II. THAT OBEDIENCE TO THE SPIRIT OF A LAW IS OF GREATER IMPORTANCE THAN OBEDIENCE TO ITS LETTER. (Vers. 24-26.) God is not a hard master - reaping where he has not sown, and gathering where he has not strawed (Matthew 25:4). He is tenderly considerate of the circumstances of his people. He asks no more from them than they are able to render. Where laws could not be kept in the letter, modifications were introduced which made obedience practicable. This is seen in the accommodation of the laws of sacrifice to the circumstances of the poor (Leviticus 5:7, etc.), in the rules for commutation (Leviticus 27.), in the relaxation of the law about eating flesh (Deuteronomy 12:21), in this law of tithes. Gleaming through these changes, it is easy to detect the principle that the letter of an ordinance is in all cases subordinate to the spirit of obedience which manifests itself through it; and that, while obedience to the letter is required where possible, the will, in circumstances where it cannot be observed, will readily be accepted by Jehovah for the deed.
III. THAT PROVIDED RELIGIOUS MOTIVES PREDOMINATE, AND OTHER DUTIES ARE NOT NEGLECTED, THE ENJOYMENT OF WHAT WE HAVE IS PLEASING TO GOD. (Vers. 25, 26.) True religion is not ascetic. It does not frown our joy. It regulates, but does not seek to banish, the pleasures of the festive board, and the flow of the soul connected therewith (John 2:1-12; 1 Corinthians 10:27; 1 Timothy 6:18). The sanctuary services were associated with feasts, in which, of course, religious motives were expected to predominate. The eating was "before the Lord," and the guests were invariably to include the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. This would give a high-toned character to the feast, and would preclude coarse debauchery. Festivities should be so conducted that God's presence can be invoked, and his blessing asked on all that is said and done.
IV. THAT THE ENJOYMENT OF WHAT WE HAVE IS ENHANCED BY SHARING IT WITH OTHERS. (Ver. 29.) This is a truth recognized in all festivity. But the Law gave the truth a peculiar turn when it bade the Jew seek his guests among the classes who were most in need. The Savior would have us recall our feasting to the like pattern (Luke 14:12-14). Each feast of the kind prescribed would be an invaluable education of the disinterested affections in their purest exercise. How far we have departed from this idea may be seen in the stiff, exclusive, and ceremonious, if often superb and stately, dinner-parties and public feasts of modern society. Which type of feast contributes most to happiness? And is it not in fulfilling the duties of a warm-hearted love that we are most entitled to expect blessing from our Maker (ver. 29)? When Jesus made his great supper, he acted on his own principle, and invited the "poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind," to come and sit down at it (Luke 14:21). - J.O.
second tithe devoted to the delectation of the poor. Now, we learn from these arrangements -
I. THAT FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD IS THE CROWN OF TRUE RELIGION. A feast with God, he taking the best portions, his priests the next best, and the offerer joyful over the remainder of the sacrifice, constituted the glory of the Jewish ritual. All the sin offerings, burnt offerings, and meat offerings were valueless if not crowned by the peace offering and its feast of fellowship. No wonder our Lord makes out fellowship to be the substance of eternal life, when in his prayer he says, "And this is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). If we are not led up into this acquaintanceship, our religion is a name and not a reality.
II. THE FELLOWSHIP IS WELL WORTH ANY EXPENSE IT MAY INVOLVE. While it is, of course, true that God's blessings are gratuitous, "without money and without price," it is also true that a niggardly soul will fall out of fellowship. In fact, fellowship with God will seem so precious as to be worth infinitely more than all our possessions, and any proportion of these required by God for the maintenance of fellowship will seem a small price. Our conviction will be that of the psalmist, "The Law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver." Now, while God's favor is given freely, there must evidently be something about which he and we can have fellowship. In other words, fellowship requires a medium. Fellowship means having something in common. When we analyze all we have, we find that it is all "the gift of God." Jesus is his gift; the Holy Spirit is his gift; money is his gift; every good thing is his gift (James 1:17). He has surely every right, then, to say to his people, "You must dedicate a proportion of my gifts to you, for the purposes of fellowship; let us have a tithe in common; let us rejoice mutually over it as ours." This was the principle underlying Jewish tithing - it is the principle underlying all genuine beneficence. We are only returning to God such a proportion of what he gives as shall be the medium of fellowship. A peace offering at the tabernacle was a most precious commodity. It was an animal regarding which the worshipper and God agreed to say, "It is ours," and each to feast upon it. It was the organ and means of fellowship. It was a delight to God and to man. Who would not pay anything required for such a privilege? Man is honored most highly in being allowed such a partnership with God.
III. THE SENSE OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD IN THE FEAST IS THE REAL PRESERVATION OF MAN FROM UNDUE INDULGENCE. It is noticeable that "wine" and "strong drink" (XXX) might be included in the feast before God. The safety of the partaker lay in the sense of fellowship and its consequent consecration. Just as Paul afterwards maintained that "every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4, 5). It is the unhallowed use of God's gifts which is the danger. The temperance reformation will do well to keep in view this Divine side of the question, where in the last resort the stress must be laid.
IV. THE FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD IMPLIES THE INVITATION OF OTHERS TO SHARE THE BLESSING WITH US. Our households and the Levite are to be partakers with us of our sacred feasts. For God does not encourage lonely satisfactions; but as he calls us into his fellowship, it is on the understanding that we shall invite others, and make the fellowship a family thing. Now, the support of the Levites was to be a matter of cheerfulness and religious privilege. It was to be a joy embraced rather than a mere debt moodily discharged. It is surely here that "ministerial support" must be pleaded and advanced. It is not to be something doled out, but a feast of fellowship, the call of God's minister to share in our good fortune and success.
V. THE CARE OF THE POOR MUST ALSO BE PUT UPON THE BASIS OF FELLOWSHIP. It has been made a matter of law. And doubtless there is a noble element in the fact that a nation, passing beyond what old moralists called duties of debt, has entered upon duties of merit. Still, the national obligation embodied in the "poor rates" is apt to sap a certain amount of individual sympathy. The care of the poor is not the feast of joy and fellowship God meant it to be a The three years' system brought under our notice in this passage was an effort, apparently, to bring the lonely and needy classes up to the standard of fellowship and of joy that the religious Jew himself had attained. It was the systematic effort to make the needy ones glad before God. And it is here that we find the goal of our exertions, whether to support a minister, to comfort a stranger, or a fatherless child, or a widow. Let all be guests of our love, and lifted, if possible, into our light and fellowship with God. For this we should strive evermore.
VI. THOSE WHO THUS HONOR GOD WILL BE BLESSED AND HONORED BY HIM. Not, of course, that systematic beneficence should be in any sense a speculation. It is not beneficence if it is a selfish investment. But at the same time, God blesses the system which recognizes obligation to him and tries to discharge it. The accurate survey of circumstances which systematic giving implies tends to financial success. There is no reason why religious men should not be "successful merchants." Were systematic beneficence more general, there would be less failure and heart-burning in the walks of business. - R.M.E.
I. THE GROUND OF GOD'S CLAIM. His claim proceeds from his proprietorship. Towards the Hebrews he was obviously and directly landlord. He had put them into possession of their estates, and rightfully could exact from them a rent. And with respect to all national substance, God is absolute Proprietor. He has an original and indefeasible right as Creator; and it is his supreme power that maintains in existence the treasures of the earth. Even the power we have to accumulate wealth is derived from the same beneficent Source. It is his gift, not that he has conveyed to us the irresponsible right in it, but simply in the sense that we had nothing with which to purchase it. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof."
II. A DEFINITE PROPORTION DEMANDED. It was competent for God to make such terms as he pleased with men. He might justly have permitted for our own use a bare existence, and required us to devote to him the residue of our gains. Or he might very properly have exacted as his tribute one-half. Whatever had been his will in the matter, it would become us meekly to acquiesce. He did make known his will very clearly to the Jews, and his terms were very generous. So small a portion as one-tenth he condescended to take, and even this was expended in advantage for the nation. Many significant hints have we that, in unwritten form, this part of his will was made known to ether nations. Among heathen tribes we find the custom prevails of consecrating one-tenth of their harvests unto idol gods; and when Abraham returned from the conquest of the invaders, he gave to Melchizedek the tithe of all his spoils. Hence we may regard the law, not as exclusively Jewish, but as intended for all peoples.
III. THE METHOD OF ASSESSMENT. No official assessor was appointed. The cost of collection was nil. Each man was to act as his own assessor, and to separate, at harvest-time, God's share of corn and wine and oil. It was a transaction between each man and his God. It was Israel's privilege to live under the shield of Jehovah's arm, and therefore "ever in his Great Taskmaster's eye." The penalty for dishonesty was not immediate, nor visible. Every plan was devised to suit the convenience of the debtor. He might bring his tithe to the temple, either in kind or in coin. Jehovah was no hard Taskmaster, but a considerate and generous King. Giving to him was only another form of receiving. The absence of intermediary officers was a spiritual advantage. It brought each man into direct contact with God, and taught him to act with integrity towards the "Searcher of hearts."
IV. THE EMPLOYMENT OF GOD'S TITHE. The tithe here spoken of is not the tithe of all profits, which was due to the Levite, but a second tithe. The first tithe was regarded as an equivalent to the tribe of Levi, for Levi's share in the allotted possessions. Each man in the twelve tribes received, in the original distribution of land, one-twelfth more than his due, from the fact that Levi did not participate. In return for this increment of property, each proprietor paid to the tribe of Levi yearly one-tenth of the produce of the land. This was due as a legal right, and as a just equivalent for non-participation in the territory. But this second tithe was peculiarly the Lord's. Nevertheless, it was returned, with added blessing, into their own bosoms. Its first use was to afford a banquet for the offerers themselves. The temple was to be the scene of sacred feasting. The guests might select such viands as pleased their taste. The overshadowing presence of Jehovah would serve as a sufficient check against excess. To this banquet, in which the entire household shared, they were to invite the Levite, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. The essential idea thus embodied was philanthropy. The institution was intended to foster a spirit of benevolence and charity. The presence of the poor in their midst was to be accounted a benefit. It offered scope for the exercise of noblest dispositions. There was to be no niggardly stint in this provision, for it was at Jehovah's cost, and the occasion was to be characterized by unrestrained joy.
V. THE MORAL ADVANTAGES WHICH ENSUED.
1. It served as a practical reminder of God's proprietorship in them and in their possessions. Nothing is more easy than to forget cur obligations; and such forgetfulness is an immeasurable loss. Not an item was there in their persons, property, or enjoyments, but came from the hand of a generous God.
2. It was a potent check upon their worldly-mindedness. The propensity for selfish avarice is indigenous in human nature. Every wise man will welcome any breakwater that will withstand this mischievous tide of cupidity. Thus God, with wondrous forethought, provided a safeguard against the abuse of prosperity. He designs to make even worldly gain serve as a stepping-stone to piety. Money is nothing more than means to an end. Reconciliation with God, and personal holiness, - these are to be the aims of human life.
3. It fostered kindly dispositions among all classes of the people. Though, as the children of Abraham, they enjoyed great external privileges, they were not to despise the stranger. Yea, he too might be admitted to a full share in their blessings. Brotherly love is a reciprocal boon: both parties are blessed. The fountain of love is replenished in the very act of giving. The helped today may become the helper tomorrow. We are only stewards of God's possessions. - D.