“But no devoted thing that a man devotes to the Lord, of anything that he has, whether man or beast, or of his inherited field, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord. No one devoted, who is to be devoted for destruction from mankind, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death." (Leviticus 27:28-29 ESV)
The twenty-seventh and last chapter of the book of Leviticus concerns the principle (and regulations around the principle) of devotion. Once something was devoted, it belonged exclusively to God and could not be reclaimed or swapped. In fact if someone tried to do a swap for something that was already devoted then both the original and the intended swap became devoted. You get the impression that it was not something the Israelites tried to do, or certainly not more than once!
This is the way the items in the tabernacle were most holy to the Lord. I don't know if it has ever struck you how a 'thing' can be holy? Not because of absence of sin, or any intrinsic moral virtue, but because they were devoted. They only had one exclusive use — to serve the Lord — and it was unthinkable that they would be used in any other way.
This principle clearly carries through to our own walk with the Lord. The modern usage of devotion stems from this principle. We are the Lord's exclusive possession, redeemed to belong to him alone. My life is no longer my own it belongs to Christ. One of the ways the Lord desires us to be holy, is that we should be exclusively his 24/7, not on and off as we feel like it or not.
To see how seriously the Israelites treated the principle of devotion, one only has to read the story of Jephthah (Judges 11). Like my good friend Dave, I could say a lot about Jephthah and the rich seam of typology in this story, but now is not the time.
To see how seriously the Lord himself took the principle of devotion, you only have to read Joshua 7, 1 Samuel 15, or Daniel 5. Violating the devoted things cost Achan his life, Saul his kingdom, and Belshazzar both!
Now here's the thing... when we first come across the principle (and regulations regarding the principle) of tithing in the Law, guess where it occurs? That's right... Leviticus 27!
“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord's; it is holy to the Lord." (Leviticus 27:30)
Now when we say that the tithe, or tenth as it literally means, belongs to the Lord, we are not saying it in a way that implies that the other nine-tenths does not. All our finance belongs to the Lord. We enter this world with nothing, and we leave with nothing. We are merely custodians, guardians, and stewards of the resources that God blesses us with. It is never ours in the sense that we have exclusive right to it. But the first tenth is God's in exactly that way! He is claiming exclusive rights to it. The context of the passage and the regulations that follow, reveal that God treats the tithe as if it was something that had already been devoted to him.
This is why Malachi reveals that not to tithe, is not just like being a little stingy with your giving. God treats the tithe as if it was already given. Thus not to tithe is robbing God! If a tithe of your income is £30 pounds a week, and when the offering basket comes round you put in £20, you may see yourself being generous, but what God sees is you reaching in and pulling out a tenner!
We don't often talk about "the fear of God" these days. It seems that we are sometimes guilty of taking this wonderful grace from Christ that we enjoy for granted some times. I was very pleased to see my good friend and one-time bible college room-mate, Richard, has just written on the subject. While it is true that we should never give out of compulsion, there is a very real sense in which the tithe is not giving — because the Lord considers it as if it was already given — it already belongs exclusively to him. Whilst I do believe that there is a heart attitude that we should capture when we tithe, and also real promises of blessing which we can claim (I will come onto these next), the fear of the Lord is a very valid reason to tithe.
I don't want to be found in violation of God's holy things. Even though God is rich in mercy and forbearance, I don't want to take this for granted. Or as it has been said before:
"I don't want to be caught with God's money in my pocket."