Monday 13th March 2023 – Part 2

LEVITICUS 26 and 27

If you were a gambler, living at the time that Leviticus 26 was written, and you wanted to place a substantial wager on whether or not Israel would obey the Lord and keep his covenant or disobey him and rebel… you might want to count up the number of verses promising rewards for obedience (13) compared with the number of verses promising punishments for disobedience (33).  No contest!  By keeping God’s covenant, Israel was promised sufficient rain and abundant harvests, peace and protection in the land, blessings in marriage and children, and the presence of the Lord in their midst at all times.  This was Plan ‘A’.

The punishments for disobedience came in ‘waves’:  Diseases, famines, fear, invasion, and captivity by enemy nations; attack and infestation by animals and insects; ruined cities, desolation, and death.  The fortunate ones, the survivors, would be taken a great distance in captivity to a foreign land.  Knowing that Israel would always choose Plan ‘B’, in his mercy, the Lord made provision for repentance and confession of sins to bring restoration of the covenant and resettlement of the nation.  The duration of that exile was for seventy years exactly and was timed to match the exact number of Sabbath Years that should have occurred – but didn’t – in the preceding 490 years of Israel’s rebellion.  In the end, God gets his way!

If the majority of Leviticus is concerned with the compulsory offerings from Israel to God, the final chapter mainly describes the giving of freewill gifts, over and above the minimum.  A person could be dedicated to the Lord by giving a monetary amount equivalent to the notional ‘value’ set by the priest.  For example, the value of an able-bodied male was about three months’ salary for an agricultural labourer.  The poor were not excluded from making such an offering of themselves, since the priest was authorised to set a much lower value relative to the person’s income.

Animals (of good quality), houses, land and precious things could all be dedicated to the Lord – and could also be ‘redeemed’ (purchased back) at the same value plus 20%.  The only things that could not be dedicated were the firstborn, since they legally belonged to the Lord already!

An even more permanent form of giving was by devoting something to the Lord – this meant handing it over for ever and for such use that it could never be used in an every-day way again.  Sometimes, during the campaign to occupy Canaan, the Lord demanded that whole cities of Canaanites be devoted to him – which essentially meant to be killed without mercy or exception.  Failure to do this – or an attempt to steal a devoted item – was punishable by death.  It was the reason that Israel met defeat in battle in those early years, and the reason that those guilty were judicially executed.  (See the first few chapters of the Book of Joshua.)

Finally, the Tithe (or ‘Tenth’): this, for Israel, was compulsory and was probably three tithes in some years.  The first was the regular annual tithe paid to the Levites (see Numbers 18:21) who in turn paid a tenth of that to the priests.  The second was another annual tithe devoted to a huge annual meal and party that included the People who gave what was offered and also the Levites (Deuteronomy 14:22-27).  The third was paid every three years and was given to the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).  Giving is always of benefit to both the recipient and the giver.  Generous giving is a powerful antidote to materialism and provides opportunities for faith and a change of heart.  Perhaps we should adopt the same approach in our giving today: some to the church to enable bills to be met and the full-time workers to be paid a generous living wage; some for mission, celebration, and festivals; and certainly some to meet the needs of the poor – who will always be among us.  “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse… Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” – the Lord says to us today.  “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also!” 

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