Deuteronomy 14 – Living All of Your Life for the LORD
A. Commands regarding separation from pagans.
1. (1) The command to abstain from pagan burial customs.
You are the children of the LORD your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave the front of your head for the dead.
a. You shall not cut yourselves nor shave the front of your head for the dead: Among the pagan cultures surrounding Israel, it was common to cut one’s self, or shave the front of one’s head, for the dead – that is, as a part of pagan burial rituals.
i. “The cutting of the body and the shaving of the head were common mourning rites in the ancient Near East and are referred to in many places in the Old Testament (Isaiah 3:24; 15:2; 22:12; Jeremiah 16:6; 41:5; Ezekiel 7:18; Amos 8:10; Micah 1:16).” (Thompson)
ii. “The mutilation of the body persists still in some countries, e.g. in New Guinea, where a mourner, especially a woman, removes a joint of a finger, and in extreme cases, more than one finger joint.” (Thompson)
b. You are the children of the LORD your God: Among Christians today, there is something wrong if our burial customs are just as the rituals of the ungodly. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13: But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. We may certainly mourn the passing of our loved ones, but as those who have eternal hope in Jesus, we should be different in our mourning.
2. (2) The principle behind the commands for separation.
For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
a. You are a holy people: The idea behind holy is “separate.” The people of Israel were a people separate unto the LORD. In Jesus, we also are a holy people: But you are… a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9).
b. The LORD has chosen you to be a people for Himself: The people of Israel were chosen by God, to be His own special people. In Jesus, we also are a chosen people, special to God: But you are a chosen generation… His own special people (1 Peter 2:9).
c. A special treasure: The people of Israel were a special treasure to God. In Jesus, we also are a special treasure to God: We are His inheritance (Ephesians 1:18).
d. Above all the people who are on the face of the earth: Each of these glorious privileges carried with it a special responsibility. If God regarded Israel as something special among the nations, they had to conduct themselves as something special among the nations.
3. (3-21) The command to separate in regard to foods.
These are the animals which you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roe deer, the wild goat, the mountain goat, the antelope, and the mountain sheep. And you may eat every animal with cloven hooves, having the hoof split into two parts, and that chews the cud, among the animals. Nevertheless, of those that chew the cud or have cloven hooves, you shall not eat, such as these: the camel, the hare, and the rock hyrax; for they chew the cud but do not have cloven hooves; they are unclean for you. Also the swine is unclean for you, because it has cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud; you shall not eat their flesh or touch their dead carcasses. These you may eat of all that are in the waters: you may eat all that have fins and scales. And whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you. All clean birds you may eat. But these you shall not eat: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard, the red kite, the falcon, and the kite after their kinds; every raven after its kind; the ostrich, the short-eared owl, the seagull, and the hawk after their kinds; the little owl, the screech owl, the white owl, the jackdaw, the carrion vulture, the fisher owl, the stork, the heron after its kind, and the hoopoe and the bat. Also every creeping thing that flies is unclean for you; they shall not be eaten. You may eat all clean birds. You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to the alien who is within your gates, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner; for you are a holy people to the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
a. These are the animals which you may eat: Only certain mammals were allowed to be eaten, and the rule was simple. If an animal had a divided hoof (not a single hoof as a horse has), and chewed its cud, it could be eaten. For example, the camel, the rock hyrax, and the hare all chew the cud, but do not have divided hooves – instead, they have paws – so they are considered unkosher. Additionally, the swine has a divided hoof, but does not chew the cud – so it is considered unkosher.
b. These you may eat of all that are in the waters: Only certain sea creatures could be eaten, and the rule was simple. Any water creature having both fins and scales was kosher and could be eaten. Therefore, most fishes were considered clean – except a fish like the catfish, which has no scales. Shellfish would be unclean, because clams, crabs, oysters, and lobster all do not have fins and scales.
c. All clean birds you may eat: Only certain birds could be eaten; though there is no rule given to determine if a bird is clean or unclean, the specifically mentioned unclean birds (and flying creeping things) are either predators or scavengers; these were considered unclean.
i. Among these animals, they fall into one of three categories: predators (unclean because they ate both the flesh and the blood of animals), scavengers (unclean because they were carriers of disease, and they regularly contacted dead bodies), or potentially poisonous or dangerous foods such as shellfish and the like. Eliminating these from the diet of Israel no doubt had a healthy effect, and one of the reasons for the dietary laws of Israel was to keep Israel healthy!
d. You shall not eat anything that dies of itself: If any animal dies of itself, it has not been properly bled; therefore, it is unkosher.
i. It was important to bleed animals before eating them, because the blood represented the life principle of the animal (Leviticus 17:11), and the life principle belonged to God and God alone. Another reason for the dietary laws was to project an important symbolism to Israel regarding blood and the sanctity of the life principle.
e. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk: This unusual law was a command to not imitate a common pagan fertility ritual. It illustrated the third principle behind the dietary laws of Israel: They were a statement of separation from the nations and prevented Israel from having easy fellowship (sitting down at a common meal) with Gentiles.
i. This law, because of strange rabbinical interpretations, became the reason why one cannot have a kosher cheeseburger. Observant Jews today will not eat milk and meat at the same meal (or even on the same plates with the same utensils cooked in the same pots), because the rabbis insist that the meat in the hamburger may have come from the calf of the cow that gave the milk for the cheese, and the cheese and the meat would “boil” together in one’s stomach and be a violation of this command.
B. The command of the tithe.
1. (22-23) The command to tithe.
You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.
a. You shall truly tithe: The word truly is important; since the tithe described giving ten percent, God commanded that it really be ten percent. One might easily imagine Israelites discovering ways to give God less than truly ten percent.
b. All the increase of your grain: Seemingly, this meant the grain left over after the seed-grain was taken out. This meant that the tithe was assessed on the income, not on the total assets.
c. You shall eat before the LORD: When the tithe was delivered to the tabernacle (and later, to the temple), a portion of the tithe was enjoyed in a ceremonial meal “with” the LORD. The remainder was given to the priest.
d. That you may learn to fear the LORD your God always: This was the purpose of tithing; to build an honor and reverence for God. The paraphrase in the Living Bible puts it plainly: The purpose of tithing is to teach you always to put God first in your lives (Deuteronomy 14:23b, Living Bible).
2. (24-27) “Long-distance” tithing.
But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you.
a. But if the journey is too long for you: Since the tithe was to be brought to one place for the whole nation, some would be farther than others. And, if someone was far away, they would find it difficult to transport the grain and livestock the tithe required.
b. You shall exchange it for money: If distance prevented the easy transport of the animals, they could exchange their tithe for money, and then use the money to tithe with when they came to the tabernacle (and later, the temple).
c. You shall rejoice, you and your household: Laws like this show us that God is a common-sense God. He does not place unreasonable demands on His people. He made a way for them to more conveniently tithe.
3. (28-29) The third-year tithe.
At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
a. At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year: Some have said this speaks of another tithe (sometimes called the “poor tithe”) to be brought every three years. Yet since it speaks of the tithe, and since it also went to the Levite and not only to the poor, it is best to understand that this was not an additional tithe, but a command that once every three years the tithe also be available to the poor, not only to the Levite.
i. As Kalland points out: “The Jewish rabbis have usually held that there were three tithes: (1) for the priests and Levites, (2) for the communal meals, (3) every third year for the nonlanded (i.e., the Levites, aliens, fatherless, and widows).” Kalland goes on to object to this rabbinic approach, and accurately observes, “So all the designations of tithes speak of one basic tithe to be put to various uses.”
b. That the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do: God will bless the giving heart. Ask anyone who gives as the Bible instructs them to give – they are blessed.
i. The New Testament nowhere specifically commands tithing, but it certainly does speak of it in a positive light if it is done with a right heart (Luke 11:42).
ii. It is also important to understand that tithing is not a principle dependent on the Mosaic Law; as Hebrews 7:5-9 explains, tithing was practiced and honored by God before the law of Moses.
iii. What the New Testament does speak with great clarity on is the principle of giving; that giving should be regular, planned, proportional, and private (1 Corinthians 16:1-4); that it must be generous, freely given, and cheerful (2 Corinthians 9).
iv. Since the New Testament doesn’t emphasize tithing, one might not be strict on it for Christians (though some Christians do argue against tithing on the basis of self-interest). Yet since giving is to be proportional, we should be giving some percentage – and ten percent is a good benchmark – and starting place. For some to give ten percent is nowhere near enough; for others, at their present time, five percent may be a massive step of faith.
v. If our question is, “How little can I give and still be pleasing to God?” our heart isn’t in the right place at all. We should have the attitude of some early Christians, who essentially said: “We’re not under the tithe – we can give more!” Giving and financial management is a spiritual issue, not just a financial one (Luke 16:11).
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission