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First Fruits and Tithes

26

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, 5you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

12 When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, 13then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of your commandments: 14I have not eaten of it while in mourning; I have not removed any of it while I was unclean; and I have not offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the Lord my God, doing just as you commanded me. 15Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Concluding Exhortation

16 This very day the Lord your God is commanding you to observe these statutes and ordinances; so observe them diligently with all your heart and with all your soul. 17Today you have obtained the Lord’s agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him. 18Today the Lord has obtained your agreement: to be his treasured people, as he promised you, and to keep his commandments; 19for him to set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honor; and for you to be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.


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1. And it shall be when thou art come. The Israelites are commanded to offer their first-fruits, for the same reason that they were to pay the tribute for every soul; viz., that they might confess that they themselves, and all that they had, belonged to God. This was the only distinction, that the tribute was a symbol of their emancipation, that they might acknowledge themselves to be free, as having been redeemed by the special mercy of God; but by the firstfruits they testified that the land was tributary to God, and that they were masters of it by no other title than as tenants at will, so that the direct sovereignty and property of it remained with God alone. This, then, was the object of the first-fruits, that they might renew every year the recollection of their adoption; because the land of Canaan was given to them as their peculiar inheritance, in which they were to worship God in piety and holiness, and at the same time reflect that they were not fed promiscuously, like the Gentiles, by God, but like children; whence also their food was sacred. But we shall have to speak again elsewhere of the first-fruits, in as much as they were a part of the oblations; yet it was necessary to insert here their main object, that we might know that they were appointed to be offered by the people, in pious acknowledgment that their food was received from God, and to shew that, being separated from other nations, they were dependent upon the God of Israel alone.

2. That thou shalt take of the first. We know that in the first-fruits the whole produce of the year was consecrated to God. The people,338338     “Ainsi les enfans d’Israel apportoyent en leur corbeille une protestation qu’ils se vouloyent ranger a Dieu comme enfans, selon qu’ils l’experimentoyent Pere nourissier;” thus the children of Israel bore in their basket a protestation that they desired to rank themselves as God’s children, since they daily experienced Him to be their nursing Father. — Fr. therefore, bore in them a testimony of their piety to Him, whom they daily experienced to be their preserver, and the giver of their food. This typical rite has now, indeed, ceased, but Paul tells us that the true observation of it still remains, where he exhorts us, whether we eat or drink, to do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31.) As to the place where the first-fruits were to be offered, and why God is said to have placed His name there, we shall hereafter consider, when we come to the sacrifices; I now only briefly touch upon what concerns the present subject.

I profess this day. In these words the Israelites confess that they had not gained dominion of the land either by their own strength or good fortune, but by the free gift of God, and that according to His promise. There are, therefore, two clauses in this sentence; first, that God had gratuitously promised to grant that land to Abraham as the inheritance of his descendants; and, secondly, that He had performed His promise, not only when He had brought the children of Abraham into possession, but by adding’ to His grace by their peaceful enjoyment of it. He pursues the same point more fully immediately afterwards, where the Israelites are commanded to declare how wretched was the condition of their fathers, before the Lord embraced them with His favor, and vouchsafed unto them His mercy. The original word in verse 5, meaning to answer, I translate simply, according to the Hebrew idiom, to speak or say; unless to testify be thought better, which would be very suitable; for the solemn profession is here described, whereby they bound themselves every year to God. They do not count their origin from Abraham, but from Jacob, in whose person God’s grace shone forth more brightly; for being compelled to fly from the land of Canaan, he had spent a good part of his life in Syria, (for he did not return home, till he was old,) and then, being again driven into Egypt by the famine, he had at length died there. The land had not, therefore, fallen to them by hereditary right, nor by their own efforts; their father Jacob not having been permitted even to sojourn there. They call him a Syrian, because when he had married Laban’s daughters, and had begotten children, and was stricken in years before he had returned home, he might seem to have renounced the land of Canaan. Since then he had been content for many years with the dwelling which he chose for himself in Syria, his descendants justly confessed that he was a pilgrim and stranger, because of his long exile; and for the same reason that they also might be counted foreigners. They add that their father Jacob again abandoned the land of Canaan when he was forced by the famine to go down into Egypt; and whilst they recount that he sojourned there with a few, and afterwards grew into a mighty nation, they thus acknowledge that they were Egyptians, since they had sprung from thence, where was the beginning of their name and race. In the rest of the passage they further confirm the fact that they were led into the land of Canaan by the hand of God; because when they were oppressed by tyranny, they cried unto Him, and were heard. They are commanded also to celebrate the signs and wonders whereby their redemption was more clearly manifested, in order that they should unhesitatingly give thanks to God, and contrast His pure worship with all the imaginations of the heathen: otherwise, this would have been but a cold exercise of piety. What follows in the last verse, “And thou shalt rejoice,” etc., seems indeed to have been a promise, as if God, by setting before them the assurance of His blessing, added a stimulus to arouse the people to more cheerful affection; but the sense would appear more clear and natural if the copula were changed into the temporal adverb then; for this is the main thing in the use of our meat and drink, with a glad and joyful conscience to accept it as a testimony of God’s paternal favor. Nothing is more wretched than doubt; and therefore Paul especially requires of us this confidence, bidding us eat not without faith. (Romans 14:23.) In order, then, to render the Israelites more prompt in their duty, Moses reminds them that they would only be able to rejoice freely in the use of God’s gifts, if they should have expressed their gratitude as He commanded.

12. When thou hast made an end of tithing. In this passage Moses urgently stimulates them to offer the tithes willingly and abundantly, by placing God, as it were, before their eyes, as if they paid them into his hand: for a solemn protestation is enjoined, in which they condemn themselves as guilty before God, if they have not faithfully paid the tax imposed upon them; but they pray for grace and peace if they have honestly discharged their duty. For nothing can be more awakening to men, than when 219219     “Il n’y a rien qui esveille mieux les hommes, et les touche plus au vif, que quand Dieu leur est amend et produit pour juge, et qu’ilsont adjournez comme en sa presence:” there is nothing which awakens men more, or touches them more on the quick, than when God is brought forward and produced as their Judge, and when they are summoned as it were into His presence. — Fr. God is introduced as the judge of any particular matter. This is the reason why he commands them to protest in God’s sight that they have obeyed His ordinance in the payment of their tithes. To separate, or “bring away out of the house,” is equivalent to their being conscious of no fraud in withholding from God what was His; and thus that they were guiltless of sacrilege, since they had not diverted anything holy to their private use. What follows, “I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them,” must only be referred to the matter in hand; for it would have been too great an act of temerity and arrogance in them, to have boasted that they had kept and fulfilled the Law in every part and parcel. Still this manner of speaking signifies desire rather than perfection; as if they had said, that it was the full purpose of their minds to obey God’s precepts. We must remember, however, what I have said, that this properly refers to the legal ceremonies. With the same meaning it is soon after said, “I have done according to all that thou hast commanded me:” for if they had gloried in their perfection, they had no need of sacrifices, or other means of purification. But as I have just said, God only invites them to examine themselves, 220220     The Fr. gives a different turn to this, “seulement Dieu les a voulu aussi examiner, en les faisant tesmoins et juges de leur syncerite et rondeur:” God only wished them also to make an examination, calling themselves as witnesses of their own sincerity and integrity. so that they may in sincerity of heart call upon Him as the witness of their piety.

14. I have not eaten thereof in my mourning (tristitia) It is clear that the sacred offerings are here spoken of; but the question is, what is meant by eating in mourning? This is the exposition received by almost universal consent; that although want may have tempted them to theft and fraud, yet the people assert that, even in their poverty and straits, they have abstained from the hallowed things; and to this I willingly assent; although this word “mourning” may be taken for the anxiety of a mind conscious of its iniquity in this sense, “I have not knowingly and willingly eaten anything consecrated to God, so that the hot iron (cauterium) of an evil conscience should burn me, in the way in which man’s guilt ever torments and troubles him.” As to the second clause, interpreters differ. Some translate the word בער bagnar, 221221     בער, is to consume, and especially as fire consumes. The verb is here in Pihel, in which conjugation it further signifies to carry away, as rendered in A.V. Our author gives the paraphrase of Aben Ezra, as quoted in S. M. — W. to destroy:” as if it were said, that they had suffered nothing to perish through uncleanness; but others explain it, I have taken away nothing for a profane purpose. My own opinion is, however, that the word טמא, tama, is used adverbially for “impurely,” so that the people testify that they are not polluted, or contaminated by withholding anything. 222222     “En rien appliquant a soy de ce qui appartenoit a Dieu:” by appropriating anything to themselves of what belonged to God. — Fr. Thus, in my idea, some do not badly translate it “by uncleanness:” for it was not possible for the Israelites to apply the tithes to other uses, without contracting pollution by their wicked abuse of them. The ambiguity in the third clause is still greater; literally it is, “I have not given thereof to the dead.” In my version I have followed those who refer it to funeral rites; but some suppose that the word “dead” is used metaphorically for an unclean thing; others, in a less natural sense, for expenses, which do not contribute to support man’s life. But it does not yet appear wherefore it should he said that nothing had been spent on funeral rites. It is true that whatever had touched a dead body was unclean; and therefore some expound it, that the victims had not been polluted by any connection with funeral preparations. But if this sense is preferred, the expression must be taken by synecdoche for anything unclean. My own opinion however, is, that under this particular head all things are included which have a shew of piety. The burial of the dead was a praiseworthy office and a religious exercise; 223223     “Telle apparence pouvoit enhardir les gens a y employer les offertes deues a Dieu:” this pretext might embolden the people to employ upon it the offerings due to God. — Fr. so that it might afford a colorable pretext for peculiar laxity; in this word, therefore, God would have the Israelites declare, that they offered no excuse if they had misemployed any of the consecrated things.

15. Look down from thy holy habitation. Whilst they are commanded to offer their prayers and supplications, that God would bless the land, on this condition, that they had not defiled themselves by any sacrilege, at the same time they are reminded, on the other hand, that God’s blessing was not else to be hoped for. Meanwhile the expression is remarkable, “Bless the land which thou hast given us, a land that floweth with milk and honey:” for we infer from hence that the land was not so much fertile by nature, as because God daily watered it by His secret blessing to make it so.

16. This day the Lord thy God. He again reminds them that God is the author of the Law, in order that His majesty should the more impress them; and not only so, but that, since the Law was specially delivered to them, its observation was the more enjoined upon them. Hence he exhorts them earnestly to apply their hearts to those things which God had enjoined them to keep, because men grow careless in their duties, unless they are often stirred up. For, undoubtedly, God indirectly rebukes the people’s indifference, by so often calling them to obedience. By the words “with all thy soul” is meant serious apprehension, and carefulness, as well as sincerity, free from all disguise and deceit. For nothing is more displeasing to God than hypocrisy, because He seeth the heart. If any object that it was vain to demand of them what no mortal can perform, viz., to keep the Law with all their heart, I reply, that all the heart is opposed to a double or divided heart, and is equivalent to entire, or altogether without deceit, although (as we shall hereafter see) it is not absurd to propose to believers an object, at which they are to aim, although they may not attain to it as long as the weakness of the flesh hinders them.

17. Thou hast avouched the Lord231231     Thou hast exalted, etc — Lat. He shews them from the consequence that nothing can be better or more desirable for them than to embrace God’s Law; for nothing can be more honorable to ourselves than to give to God His due honor, and to exalt His glory to its due preeminence. Moses declares that, if the Israelites submit themselves to the Law, this will be, as it were, to place Him in His rightful dignity; and he promises that the fruit of it will return to them, for that God, on his part, will exalt them, so that they shall far excel all other nations; as it is said in Isaiah, (Isaiah 8:13, 14,) “Sanctify the Lord of hosts — and he shall be for a sanctuary.” For no otherwise does He desire to be glorified by us, than to make us in turn partakers of His glory; and thus Moses gently entices them to receive the Law, because their solid happiness consists in this pious duty, if they altogether devote themselves to obedience. But this excellency of the Church, although it shines forth in the world, is still hidden from the blind, and, since it is spiritual, only obtains its praise before God and the angels.




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