Torah Reflections 49
Torah Portion Deuteronomy 26 : 1 to 29 : 9
Haftarah Portion Isaiah 60 : 1 – 22
The Torah of YHWH given to Moses
“When you come into the Land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it”. Thus opens our parashah this week. The time is now very close. Final instructions were being given, things to remember, and things that must be done. And what is that very first thing? Present the FIRSTFRUITS of the Land to the Lord. And in so doing they were to recite the story of how they were released from slavery in Egypt and brought to this beautiful Land which they themselves had declared to be “flowing with milk and honey”. It was an act of worship. It was something they would DO.
That is an initial lesson for us from this reading. We WORSHIP God by what we DO, not by what we say. We PRAISE God by what we say.
Then the Israelites are given a lesson in tithing. It is quite different to the teaching on ‘tithing’ which most of us receive in our churches today. In our reading it is called a ‘holy tithe’. That is a ‘set apart’ tithe. Being mindful that they were an agricultural community, it is clear that their tithe was of the produce of the Land. Care for the Levites, who had no Land possession allotted to them. Care for the stranger, the fatherless, the widow. Care for those in real need. This, my dear friends is the very essence of living righteously before the Lord, and before our fellow citizens. However, there is complementary teaching in Deuteronomy 14 which considers, amongst other things, tithes of money. Read it.
We could well say “This is the day that the Lord has made”, because in it God declared that He would set this people 'high above all nations’. He declared that this people were ‘His special people’. That they would be a ‘holy’ people, in name, in praise and in honour’. Wow!!
What an introduction. But there is more!
In Chapter 27, in addition to the command, yet again, that they must keep all the commandments of God, there is the injunction to set up, in the very centre of the Promised Land, a mound of whitewashed stones, inscribed very plainly, (my Bible says) with the Torah of YHWH. There they were to make sacrifices of burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord.
Let us try to apply that to ourselves today.
For all Gentile believers, departure from Egypt is symbolized in the acceptance and trust, by faith, in the atoning death, burial and resurrection of Yeshua. In type, that means leaving Egypt and entering the Promised Land. So looking at the application of our parashah, we receive some instructions about what to do when we arrive. The commandment about tithing, whilst not specifically taught in detail in the Brit Hadashah, may reasonably be taken as a continuing practice amongst the Israelites down through the ages. For Jews today, it is one of many important “mitzvot’ which they continue in their significant acts of benevolence within their community.
The altar, which God commanded be set up for sacrifice is an interesting one. We know that Yeshua’s atoning death (accompanied by the destruction of the Temple) effectively brought an end to the sacrificial system. And so it did in respect of sin atonement. But, our body is ‘the Temple of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 6:19), and the Temple is a place of worship as well as sacrifice. And ‘worship’ is what we DO, not what we say. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:1, taught that we should “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service”.
Close by that altar of sacrifice, in our text, were the whitewashed stones of remembrance, clearly proclaiming the Torah of YHWH. Like a beacon for all who came close, saying this is what we stand by, this is the sure foundation on which we are established. Unshakeable. Permanent. Is it taking it too far to suggest that our equivalent today may be judged, not by a mound of whitewashed stones, but by our very conduct. The way we act towards others. The way we live. The way we treat the commands of God. The way we treat His ‘special treasure’.
If there is NOTHING for us to learn here, it is just a history lesson. But we know better than that, because “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished into all good works”. God grant that we all may learn that which He wishes to teach us, just as our parashah was for the benefit of those Israelites long ago.