Deuteronomy 26:12 (CSB)
12 “When you have finished paying all the tenth of your produce in the third year, the year of the tenth, you are to give it to the Levites, resident aliens, fatherless children and widows, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.
I have a bad habit of letting my relationship with God end with him. In other words, I read his word, I pray to him, I seek his reply (sometimes), and try my best to be aware of, and open to the reception of, his working in and around me. And those are, I think, all good things. But when my relationship with God ends there: that’s the bad habit.
I think this passage is a good reminder for us that being a child of God does not end with our interaction with him alone, but flows outside of it, spilling over into our relationships with God’s people, and his creation.
This passage is clear that the act of giving the tithe of the third year to the poor and needy remains exactly that: a tithe. It is still an act of obedience to God (v13, 14). It is still out of remembrance of what God has done (v15). And the tithe is still “given” to God (v12, 13). Our relationship with God should permeate and define all of our relationships: it should be the primary relationship in our life.
But as a part of that primary relationship, we should see our relationships with others grow as well. What would it mean if we were so pious that we spent so much time in commune with God, but then turned our backs to the least of society, to those in dire need? Would we be much different than Satan standing insolently before God? It would seem that our turning to, and caring for, the needy and helpless, rather than diminishing the import of the offering to God, rather reinforces the offering, and stands equivalent to it. If not, would the tither stand “in the presence of God” and make the claim recited in Deut. 26:13-15?
It should be noted that the tithe given to the needy, to the widow, alien, orphan, and Levite, is equivalent to the tithe given to God in every way. It is consecrated and clean. It is brought and offered in accordance with the command of God. It is worthy of blessing by God. I like how one commentary puts it: “Thus the offering of firstfruits to the Lord (26:1–11) could not be separated from the beneficence to be shown to fellow kingdom citizens (vv. 12–15).” 1
1 Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 335.
Lord, thank you for reminding us that loving you necessarily means loving your children. I forget that, and I need that reminder. I am sorry for turning my back on those in need, and I pray for the compassion and grace to reach out to them moving forward, just as you reached for me. Amen.