DEUTERONOMY 14, 15 and 16
Food, Finance and Festivals – these three topics largely make up today’s readings. The food laws have been referred to previously and more or less boil down to Israelites only being able to eat vegetarian creatures, not carnivores (but that is only approximate). A reminder, too, from Mark 17:19 that Jesus called all foods ‘clean’ under the New Covenant, so it is not worth spending too much time worrying about the precise regulations under the Old Covenant. They were essentially to mark out Israel as holy, as different from the nations they were displacing. Cooking a young goat in its mother’s milk was probably a pagan ritual that was definitely to be avoided.
The Tithing section needs to be taken in conjunction with Numbers 18:21-29 since there are variations between them. Taken together, at least a tenth annually was given to the Levites, and either a small part of that tenth was eaten in Jerusalem by the donor, or else it was an additional tenth. Every third year, either an additional tenth was given to the poor in the local towns, or part of the Levitical tenth was given to the poor. Either way, the Levites always gave a tenth of their amount to the priests. Whichever specific interpretation you favour, it is undeniable that under the Old Covenant, generosity towards God’s people and towards the poor was expected and practised by the entire nation. How much more should we be generous under the New Covenant since we have better promises of provision from the Lord!
To completely eradicate poverty, every seventh year was designated a debt-cancelling year and was a mini-Jubilee. This was not a case of debtors being declared bankrupt, but rather a genuine forgiveness of every loan was expected and enforced, meaning that all lending was not only interest-free, but time-limited. Generosity by lenders was also expected in this wealth transference process – which was entirely voluntary – and this meant that a person’s unwise decisions would not haunt them for the rest of their lives. “He who gives to the poor, lends to the Lord”, says the Proverb! “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also.”
Similarly, every Hebrew slave was set free in the seventh year, and long-term slavery was seen, by God, as an offence, since He had worked so hard to free every Israelite from their slavery in Egypt. Slavery of the kind that was later abolished by Wilberforce in 19th Century Britain, was not what God had in mind – or else no slave would have volunteered to stay in service for ever – and it is never condoned in scripture. Slavery in Israel was more of a voluntary, servant relationship, for financial reasons, and was time-limited too.
Then follows a summary of the festivals that all Jews were expected to attend – three times per year. Passover / Unleavened Bread, Weeks, and Tabernacles. The instructions are given this time from the perspective of the common Israelite, rather than to the ‘professional’ priesthood. Perhaps a festival-style rhythm of worship is something that the church today has rather neglected and should in future encourage more strongly. Large gatherings of God’s people in one place have a powerful spiritual effect.