OLD TESTAMENT GIVING
God is the creator of all things, and thus all things belong to God. He is the creator of man. Notice very carefully what God said when He created man.
And God said to them … have dominion …. I have given you every plant bearing seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree …. To you it will be for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth … I have given every green plant for food (Gn 1:28-30).
The above makes man only the steward of what was created for him by God. Man, therefore, must remember what God says, “The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine” (Hg 2:8; see Ez 18:4). Also, “… the world is Mine and its fullness” (Ps 50:12; see At 17:24-28; Cl 1:15-17). It is as the Psalmist wrote, “The earth is the Lord’s and its fullness, the world and those who dwell on it” (Ps 24:1). “For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. … for the world is Mine and its fullness” (Ps 50:10,12).
If we would seek to take personal possession of that which belongs to God, then we are irreverently trying to take ownership of that which does not belong to us. We must always remember that we only have dominion over that which already existed before us.
One of the first challenges that faces the new Christian is to realize that all that he has first originated with God, and thus all things belong to God. We are only stewards of that which we have control. We must grow out of claiming our own wealth, for it is God who gives us the opportunity to have wealth through the things He created (See Dt 8:11,17,18). God eternally owns all that exists since He is the origin and eternality of all that will exist.
Because of the benevolence of God, man has been given the right to possess and use (“have dominion”), but not the right to take ownership of that over which God has made him a steward. God can never give up His ownership of all things. He cannot because He is the creator and sustainer of all things. It is necessary to understand that, “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Tm 6:7). Job realized this truth. After having lost all, Job declared, “Naked I came out of my mother’s womb and naked I will return. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed is the name of the Lord” (Jb 1:21). When we consider the things of this world over which we have dominion, we are actually “naked possessors.”
One of the first evidences that one is truly a mature child of God is discovered in one’s realization that everything belongs to the Lord. At the same time, one of the evidences of unrighteousness is when one seeks to take ownership of that which is God’s. Good stewards seek to be righteous, and thus, they follow the life-style of Proverbs 3:9: “Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the firstfruits of all your increase ….” The righteous are thus known for being good stewards of that which God has allowed them to have possession (See Lk 16:10-12). The good steward, therefore, uses that which has been given to him by God in order to honor God (See Mt 24:24-27). Paul wrote, “Moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy” (1 Co 4:2). But when the steward seeks to lay claim to that which is truly God’s, then he has turned into a idolater. He is not trustworthy. He idolizes the material by excluding the rightful owner of all things. Every materialist is an idolater. Of such people, the Holy Spirit charges in reference to our personal struggle with materialism, “… put to death your members that are on the earth … covetousness, which is idolatry” (Cl 3:5). With these principles in mind, consider God’s teaching on being a good steward by faithfully offering to God that which manifests one’s reverence for Him.
A. Abel offered to the Lord:
The reverential action of offering back to God that which is His has existed from the beginning. The offering of that which is of this created world did not originate with Old Testament teaching through the law of Moses. On the contrary, from the very beginning, it was required of man to manifest his reverent worship of God through commanded sacrifices.
“Now in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought the fruit of the ground as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord looked with favor on Abel and on his offering” (Gn 4:3,4).
We do not learn until the writing of Hebrews 11:4 why God looked with favor on the offering of Abel. “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous ….” God had favor with Abel’s offering because Abel was righteous, that is, he did that which was right according to the will of God. And in order to do that which was right according to the will of God, the will of God had to have been revealed to both brothers. What God would accept as a correct offering was not a guess on their part. Both Abel and Cain offered according to acceptance or rejection of the instructions of God concerning sacrifices. Abel walked by faith in the word of God (See Rm 10:17). Cain sought to walk contrary to the instructions of God concerning an appropriate offering. His offering thus manifested his unrighteousness, which unrighteousness was later revealed by his killing of Abel. It is imperative, therefore, that when it comes to doing what God would require of us concerning offerings, we must follow His instructions.
B. Abraham and Jacob offered to the Lord:
Four hundred years before Moses inscribed any laws concerning offerings and contributions, Abraham had given a tenth (tithe) offering to Melchizedek (Gn 14:20; Hb 7:4-10). Melchizedek was functioning as a priest of God, and thus Abraham was obligated to continue Melchizedek’s ministry as a priest by giving sustenance to him. Long before Jews existed, Abraham, as a Gentile, was giving to a Gentile priest of God, Melchizedek. Sacrifices and offerings, therefore, were not confined to Israel alone. Such things were not an invention of the Israelites.
The grandson of Abraham, Jacob, also gave an offering (Gn 28:20-22). Both Abraham and Jacob made their contributions and offerings before the law of Moses was given on Mt. Sinai around 1445 B.C. We must assume that God instructed the people of faith that the spiritual representatives for God must be supported (See Hb 1:1,2). Since tithing was practiced by the patriarchs before the law of Moses was given to Israel, then we must assume that it has always been a command of God to contribute to His spiritual workers. And when sin came into the world, God instructed that sacrifices be offered for sin. From the time man first sinned and needed atonement before God, and direction in living through spiritual leadership, God has required sacrifices and contributions from man.
C. Israel offered to the Lord:
The Old Testament law of Moses (the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Old Testament), were given to the nation of Israel on Mt. Sinai as the law of the covenant that God made with the nation.
Within the Old Testament law, there are numerous instructions concerning offerings that were to be offered for sin, and contributions that were to be made to the Levites as God’s spiritual leaders among the people (See Lv 27:30-34; Nm 3:11; 18:20,21; Dt 14:22-29:
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There were several different tithes that were required of the Israelites. There was the first tithe that was “holy to the Lord.” The tithe of the firstfruits of the crops was also to be given. There was also the second tithe that was eaten by both the Levities and the one who offered the tithe. In the following statement, notice why God enjoined these tithes on the people:
You will surely tithe all the increase of your seed that the field brings forth year by year. And you will eat before the Lord your God in the place that He will choose to place His name there, the tithe of your corn [maise], of your wine and of your oil and the firstborn of your herds and of your flocks, so that you may learn always to fear the Lord your God” (Dt 14:22,23).
Tithing reminded people of God’s ownership of all that exists. When they offered their tithe, they were manifesting their reverence to God for all that He had given to them as a blessing. If they failed in their tithes and offerings, therefore, they would not be offering worship to the Lord who created them as a nation among nations.
Besides all the tithes for their spiritual leaders, there were many other laws given to Israel in reference to being benevolent to the poor. There were contributions that were to be made as freewill offerings. When Moses built the tabernacle, the people gave abundantly to its construction, even to the point that he had to ask them to stop giving (Ex 25). When the harvesters cut the crops of the field, the Israelites were not allowed to cut the corners of the field in order that the poor glean from the harvest (Lv 19:9; see Rt 2:15). They were not to gather every grape from their vineyards in order that the poor be able to glean from the harvest (Lv 19:10).
When people today seek to bind legally on God’s people the commanded contributions and offerings that were required of Israel, they seem to forget that God required of Israel more than the ten percent tithe. What was required of Israel in offerings amounted to more than thirty percent of the products that they generated through their labors. We must keep in mind that the contributions and offerings that were required of Israel were for the support of the nation, not just the Levites. If we would seek to bring laws from the Old Testament over into the new covenant that we now have with God, then we must to bring over all the laws concerning contributions and offerings that were required of Israel. It may be convenient to think only of the ten percent, but to be consistent, when considering the contributions and offerings of Israel, one must think of thirty percent and more. What we do learn from God’s requirements of Israel is that He required contributions and offerings. We must also continue contributions and offerings for our spiritual growth in Christ today. The nature of our contributions and offerings have changed, but not the principle of giving.
D. David offered to the Lord.
At the end of his life, David prepared for the building of the temple. All that he did in reference to preparations for the building truly identified him to have a heart of worship.
In 1 Chronicles 22:5 it is stated that “David prepared abundantly before his death.” His free-will giving was planned, and it was planned to be in abundance. David purposed and planned for the building of the temple, which his son, Solomon, would eventually build. Though God did not permit David to build the actual temple, this did not mean he could not prepare materials for his son to use in building the temple after he died. In preparation for the building of the temple, David was even given by God a building pattern. “All this,” David said, “the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand on me, even all the works of this pattern” (1 Ch 28:19).
Now when it came to preparing for the building, David had the plans, and thus, he knew what it would take to build the building. So the people partnered with David in the preparations for the temple.
And they with whom precious stones were found gave them to the treasury of the house of the Lord by the hand of Jehiel the Gershonite. Then the people rejoiced for what they offered willingly, because with a whole heart they offered willingly to the Lord. And David the king also rejoiced with great joy (1 Ch 29:8,9).
It is significant to notice what David said after the contributions were made. David realized that all that was given actually first belonged to the Lord. “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty. For all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Yours” (1 Ch 29:11). They willingly returned to God that over which they had dominion because of their reverence for the God who actually owned what they returned to Him. David continued, “But who am I, and what are my people that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort. For all things come from You and from Your hand we have given to You” (1 Co 29:14). They willingly gave out of a heart of gratitude because they realized that they were only stewards of all that belong to God. This is the secret to bountiful giving. Our bountiful giving manifests the depth of our spirituality. It manifests that we understand that all belongs to God, and thus, our contribution to God’s work is only returning to Him that which is rightfully His. Now see if this is not what David said in the following statement:
I know also, my God, that You try the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things. And now I have seen with joy Your people who are present here to offer willingly to You (1 Ch 29:17).
One will not offer willingly to God with a cheerful heart if he does not realize that all things belong to God. David’s uprightness, therefore, as well as the uprightness of the people, was manifested in their willingness to return to God that which was rightfully God’s. David and the people thus worshiped God through their willful giving. We could conclude, therefore, that if anyone would not willingly return to God that which is God’s, then he is not worshiping the God who owns all things. The materialistic idolater allows his possessions to take the place of the God who should be idolized in our giving.
Christians are no longer under the law that was given to Israel (Rm 7:1-4). We are under the law of Christ. However, what is important to remember concerning the laws and practices of the patriarchs concerning offerings and tithes is Romans 15:4. “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning …” (See 1 Co 10:11). We learn from the offerings of the patriarchs that God requires offerings from His people. We are not under the tithe of the ten percent, but we are certainly under the principle that as Christians we must give to our Lord. And if anyone does not give to the Lord, then he falls under the condemnation of Malachi. He first reminded Israel, “For I am the Lord. I do not change” (Ml 3:6). The people to whom these words were written had turned from the will of God. They had manifested their lack of reverence for God by withholding that which belonged to God. God judged them with the words, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In tithes and offerings” (Ml 3:8). When we withhold from God that which belongs to Him, then we have robbed God of His possessions. Israel’s sinful state was identified by their not returning to God that which belong to God. We would judge any society to be “God robbers” if they lack in giving to God.
The world and all that is in it belongs to God. In her backslidden state, Israel’s fall from God was identified by a violation of the laws that pertained to returning to God that which was His. But their sinful behavior went deeper than violating laws concerning tithes and offerings. They had turned from serving the one true and living God to serving gods they had created after their own imagination. And these gods in their minds said that what they possessed was their own. Their lack of giving their offerings to God, therefore, revealed their covetousness. When one ceases to reverence the one true and living God, then he will terminate, or minimize, his offerings. He will do so because he thinks that the possessions he has acquired belong exclusively to him because of his hard work to acquire them. Offering to God is something that is simply natural for those who know that all they possess belongs to the God who created all things. When one does not give to God, then he is covetous, and no covetous person has a right to be forever in the presence of the One who owns that which he covets.
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Forthcoming Lecture 2: The Faithful Steward