"When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied." (Deuteronomy 26:12)There are several things of interest in this passage of scripture. First, benevolence was to be undertaken by the individual and not the church or state. It was the individual's responsibility to "Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce" (Proverbs 3:9) in giving to the poor, needy, and the Levites. Today, we are more accustomed to looking to the government to provide for the welfare of the needy among us. We expect the government to use our taxes (or more preferably the taxes of the rich) to provide for those in need, but this was never what God intended. God intended that the poor and needy were to be provided for out of the abundance and generosity of others. This approach to benevolence was echoed by Paul when he said,
"For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality — at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.'" (2 Corinthians 8:12-15)God appoints that equity should flow out of the voluntarily generosity of people's hearts, not as compulsion mandated by the government and extracted through taxes.
Secondly, the Old Testament practice of tithing was very different from our modern notions. "I have not eaten of it while mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor offered any of it to the dead." (Deuteronomy 26:14) It is interesting that, in a scripture focused primarily on using the tithe to provide for those in need, the giver is to confess before the Lord, "I have not eaten of it while morning." His confession is not that he has not eaten of the tithe but merely that he has not eaten of it while morning. Presently, in most western churches, tithing is interpreted as bringing your money to the church for them to do with as they see fit. We would never consider spending a portion of the tithe on our selves, nor presume to stipulate how it should be used, but in this scripture it is at the discretion of the giver how they should offer that tithe so long as it is done with the knowledge that the tithe is seen as holy by the Lord.
Lastly, there is a promise for the land that is generous. "Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our fathers." (Deuteronomy 26:14) There is a blessing on the generous. "There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered." (Proverbs 11:24-25) However, this blessing is not limited to individuals, but the nation that is generous will also be bless. This scripture speaks of not an individual blessing but a blessing on the ground and a blessing on the nation.
I believe that this blessing on generosity is in part what has made my country such a prosperous country. Our generosity has led to America's greatness and has been at the foundation of American exceptionalism. Americas prosperity is not solely the result of individual industry but also of the blessing of God poured out on her because of the generosity of her people.
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