I just ran across a fascinating passage among the writings of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). There are a considerable number of laws in those books that cover everything from stoning adulterers to properly cooking beef. The book of Deuteronomy is one such book. It’s got more laws than you can shake a shepherd’s staff at. Moses wasn’t called the lawgiver for nothing.
Anyway, the passage to which I’m referring is Deuteronomy 14:22-27. It contains one of the ordinances for tithing. In case you’re not familiar with that term, it generally refers to giving ten percent of your harvest back to the Lord. A lot of people still carry on that practice, but they generally do it with money now. Not too many of us have harvests these days.
“Fermented drink, or anything you wish.”
In this particular portion of Scripture, Moses directs his people to set aside a tenth of the harvest (as well as the firstborn of the flocks and herds) for a specific reason. They are to gather at the Lord’s dwelling place and have a party. Like most good parties, this one includes eating and drinking (“cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish”). I find the “anything you wish” part to be rather freeing.
What I find fascinating about this passage is twofold. Number one, we never hear preachers expound upon this pericope (that’s a highfalutin theological term for “piece of Scripture”). There are probably several reasons for this. What preacher wants her flock drinking up all the profits (so to speak)? There might not be enough left over to pay her salary.
Another reason could be that this passage is a rather obscure one. It gets lost in the shuffle, because there are plenty of other tithing regulations that don’t include the directive to “Party on, Garth!” If we throw this one into the mix, what would the modern day church do? We’d have a lot of fun, but we might not get very much else accomplished.
How tight were these people?
The other really fascinating part of this directive is this. It seems like God has to basically command us to party. A lot of folks look upon God as some sort of heavenly killjoy. But here he’s telling his people to take the portion they’ve set aside for him and use it to boogie down. Were they so tight that they weren’t doing this on their own?
Actually, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that the heavenly Father wants his people to have a good time. One party is not going to kill us (even if it’s an expensive one). I can think of a plethora of good reasons why he’d want us to do that. Among them would be the fact that we can’t take it with us. Heaven is going to be so much better than a few parties anyway.
Scripture tells us that the angels in Heaven rejoice when a sinner repents. (Luke 15:10) As long as they’re celebrating, maybe we should too.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]