At the beginning of this chapter (verse 2), Moses told the people of Israel how God had given them three distinguishing privileges. These were an honor to them; and they were pictures that represented those spiritual blessings in heavenly things, with which God has blessed us in Christ. The first of these privileges was election. The Lord had chosen them – not because of their own merits, or because He foresaw that they would do good works; but rather, because He wished to magnify the riches of His power and grace among them. He did not choose them because their own actions made them a peculiar people to Him above other nations; instead, He chose them so that – by His grace – they would become such a people. And believers in Jesus are chosen to be God’s people in the same way (Eph. 1:4). As for the second privilege, it was adoption. “Ye are the children of the Lord your God,” Moses told them – not because God needed children; but because they were orphans, and they needed a father. And every spiritual Israelite is a child of God indeed, and a partaker of His nature and favor. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us!” (1 John 3:1) The third privilege was sanctification. The Israelites were a holy people – separated and set apart for God, devoted to His service, designed for His praise, governed by a holy law, and graced by a holy Tabernacle and its holy ordinances. God’s people are required to be holy, but they are indebted to the grace of God which makes them so!
Those whom God chooses to be His children, He will form into a holy people who are zealous of good works. To this end, therefore, the Lord required that the Israelites distinguish themselves from their heathen neighbors – particularly in their expressions of grief and in their diet. They were to be very careful to avoid everything which might disgrace their profession of faith, in the sight of those who eagerly watch for the falling and failing of God’s people. Those who are dedicated to the Lord as a holy people must not do anything to disfigure their bodies. Our bodies belong to the Lord, and they are to be handled accordingly. Consequently, the people were forbidden to disturb and afflict their bodies and their minds with excessive grief for the loss of their loved ones – exemplified by heathen customs such as cutting one’s body or making oneself bald. To do such things indicates that the mourner is stubbornly hardened in their sorrow for the dead, as if they have no hope whatsoever. But since we have a God to hope in and a heaven to hope for, we must pray for grace to bear ourselves up with this hope when we are under burdens of this kind (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
The Israelites’ heathen neighbors freely ate of many kinds of meat which the Lord forbade His own people to partake of (see Leviticus 11). The purpose of these dietary regulations was to place a mark of separation upon God’s people – wherever they were, and whomever they were with. These laws would keep them from mingling with their idolatrous neighbors, and learning their ways.
In verses 22-29, we have some words concerning tithes. The productions of the Israelites’ crops were to be tithed twice, so that by putting both of the tithes together, a fifth part (20%) was devoted to God out of their crops. This left four parts of five (80%) for their own personal use; and they could not help acknowledging that these were easy terms, especially considering that the giving of the Lord’s portion would be for their own benefit and advantage. The first tithe was for the support of the Levites, who taught the people the good knowledge of God, and ministered to them in holy things. But it is the second tithe that is spoken of here in this chapter; each family was to take it out of the remainder of their crops, after the Levites had taken their portion out. The people were to bring this tithe to the sanctuary of the Lord, and there they were to spend it in holy feasting before the Lord. If it was inconvenient for them to carry the tithe to the Lord’s sanctuary, then they were permitted to convert its value into an equivalent sum of money and bring it to the sanctuary, where they could spend it in purchasing something to feast upon with joy before the Lord. One of the reasons why the Lord required the people to come and feast before Him at the Tabernacle was so that they would learn that the ways of true religion are ways of delight and pleasantness. The more pleasure we find in the ways of the Lord, the more likely we will be to persevere in those ways. However, one thing that the Israelites were not to forget during these times of holy joy and feasting was to invite the Levites to participate with them in their times of joy.
Every third year, the Israelites were to do something different than what was just described above. In this year, they were to take the “second tithe” and lay it up within the gates of their own hometown, so that the poor among their local neighbors would have something to eat and be satisfied. This charitable distribution of the second tithe was for the benefit of the Levites, in order to encourage and support them; for the poor foreigners (non-Jews), in order to not only feed them, but also to seek to convert them to the worship of the true God; and for the fatherless and widows, in order to ease them in their time of trouble, when they would probably not be as well provided for as they once were. God takes particular care of the poor and helpless, and He expects us to do the same. It is an undoubted truth (although little believed) that to be charitable to the poor, and to be free and generous in the support of the Lord’s work, is the surest and safest way of thriving. That which is lent to the Lord will be repaid with abundant interest!
Lord, thank You for choosing us to be Your people, adopting us into Your family, and sanctifying us by Your grace! Help us to live to Your glory, so that we may be distinguished as Your holy people. Amen.
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