Tuesday, 11 March 2014

(71) March 12: Deuteronomy 14-16 & Mark 13:14-37

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read note how the provision of the specific “place” for God’s name impacts these laws.

To ponder:
Having affirmed the need for faithfulness to the true and holy God, the people’s holiness is to the fore. They are to be set-apart from the nations and so not to cut or shave themselves in grief as the nations did. This set-apartedness is also the reason for the food laws (see Leviticus). The distinction between clean and unclean on the basis of how distinctively of its kind the animal is, reflects the distinctiveness and cleanness of Israel compared to the nations. So the command not to eat animals that are found dead doesn’t apply to aliens (who have not joined the covenant people, compare Lev 17v15-16) or foreigners. Although these laws have been abrogated, the church is to be set-apart and holy, with a higher standard of life expected of it (1 Cor 5v9-11).
            Previous laws are now applied to the anticipated blessing in the land, and the provision of specific locations for worship. It seems Israel tithed more than the initial ten percent (Num 18:21-32). A second ten percent from what remains is mentioned here, to be eaten at God’s “place” so the people would always “revere” him. However, if the place is too distant, the tithe can be swapped for silver which can then be used at the place to buy “anything you wish” for a joyful feast with one’s household and which includes the Levites. Christians are not to be frugal. Using what we have to celebrate God’s goodness together with food and wine has an ancient heritage!
  Throughout however, the poor are to be remembered. So in every seven years, all tithes from the third and sixth years are to be stored in the towns for the Levites, aliens, fatherless and widows living there. And we’ve already seen that in the seventh, the whole land is to be left for the needy (Ex 23v10-11). In that year, debts should also be “cancelled” (for Israelites) because there “should” be “no poor” within Israel, even though the poor will remain (15v11). This cancelling is an expression of faith that God “will richly bless you,” so the creditor will not end up without. Indeed, if obedient, this blessing will mean Israel lend to and rule over nations. So the people are urged to “be open-handed” and “freely lend” to poor Israelites. They are to give “generously” and “not grudgingly,” not thinking that they might not get their loan back if the seventh year comes, but confident that the LORD will “bless” them in return. Indeed, not giving may lead to the poor appealing to God’s justice, causing those lacking generosity to be found guilty! Generosity is also to be seen not just in setting Hebrew slaves free in the seventh year, but supplying them liberally with livestock, grain and wine, again knowing blessing will be given in response.
Such regular provision for Christians without is urged upon us. This doesn’t justify giving out of greed for more. However, Paul tells us that if we give generously, we “will be made rich in every way so that” we “can be generous on every occasion” (2 Cor 9v6-11). Conversely, Christ is adamant that he will judge and condemn those who claim to be Christians who don’t care for the material needs of their brothers (Matt 25v31-46).
            In what remains, we’re told the firstborn animals (which are God’s) are now to be eaten at the LORD’s specified place, and the three key feasts of Passover, Weeks (Pentecost) and Tabernacles (Booths and Ingathering) are to be celebrated by the men there too - with joy and in response to God’s blessing.

Praying it home:
Thank God for his concern for the needy. Pray that you would have faith to give generously trusting God to meet you needs in return.

Thinking further:
God’s particular call to give to his people is affirmed then in both testaments, and is the dominant focus of God’s call to give. This is because God’s people are his particular concern. Moreover, how we “love” one-another is to be a taste of the coming kingdom and a testimony to the watching world. Nevertheless, we should note that concern for the needs of the poor more generally is not absent. The law constantly affirms the need to care for the “alien” (Deut 14v29), and the parable of the Good Samaritan urges practical care even of enemies as neighbours. Paul sums up the balance in Galatians 6v10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
So in our giving, we might first consider what to give to those who preach the gospel, as Israel did to the Levites who were set apart to serve God. Ultimately this benefits both believers and non-believers. Second, we might consider how we can give generously to fellow Christians in need, remembering especially those who are persecuted (Matt 25v31-46). Yet, third, we can also prayerfully consider what we can give to the needs of non-Christians too. This may be those we personally come across and are moved to help, as with the Good Samaritan. But we are free to give to others too; and might wish to do so through Christian organisations or churches so that Christ is commended by it.

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