Saturday Jun 18, 2022

Deuteronomy 26:12-19 - Israel’s triennial tithe and commitment to the Mosaic covenant

     In this section, Moses directs Israelite farmers to pay the triennial tithe, which God intended for the Levites, strangers, orphans and widows in their towns (Deut 26:12-15). Then Moses closes this section by directing all Israel to obey the Lord and walk with Him, and that if they do, God will bless and exalt them above all the nations (Deut 26:16-19).

Reminder to Give the Triennial Tithe

     Moses opens this section, saying, “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” (Deut 26:12). In a previous section, Moses had addressed the annual tithe of produce that was to be taken to the tabernacle/temple and eaten with the family and Levites (Deut 14:22-27). Here, Moses references the tithe that was taken every third year and deposited—not at the sanctuary—but in the Israelite’s own town. This triennial tithe was for the less fortunate and vulnerable within the community (see Deut 14:28-29). It’s likely the food was stored in city storerooms where the poor could go and draw from those resources over a period of time and not merely on one occasion.

     God had blessed Israel with freedom (Deut 5:6), land (Deut 4:1; 9:6), and the ability to make a profit (Deut 8:18). Giving the tithe was a test of their heart, to see if they loved the Lord and would trust Him as their Provider. When it came to helping the Levite, the alien, the orphan, and the widow, Israelites were to be generous and open-handed when surrendering the tenth of their labor-produce. This tithe would secure the needs of the economically vulnerable in the community. By means of this contribution, obedient-to-the-Word Israelites would serve as conduits of God’s grace. When the Israelite farmer followed God’s Word and gave this tithe to help the Levite, the alien, the orphan, and the widow, he revealed the two-dimensional way his mind and will operated as he looked upward to the Lord in faith and then acted outward for the benefit of others.

     Moses continued, saying, “You shall say before the LORD your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion from my house, and also have given it to the Levite and the alien, the orphan and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed or forgotten any of Your commandments” (Deut 26:13). The Israelite farmers, after setting aside this tithe, were to make a declaration “before the LORD” in which they stated their faithful obedience to God’s directive. Daniel Block believes the statement was made at the tabernacle/temple, saying, “After Israelite farmers have demonstrated covenantal loyalty to Yahweh by taking care of the poor, they are to make a pilgrimage to the central sanctuary and perform the verbal ritual that follows.”[1] However, Peter Craigie holds that the statement was probably made at the Israelite’s home, saying, “After distributing the tithe, the worshipper made a declaration before the Lord your God; since the words were probably to be spoken in the settlements, not at the central sanctuary, these words may indicate that this worship and declaration in the third year of settlement were performed in the home.”[2] This latter view makes more sense, since the food that was set aside by the farmer was handed over to the local residents.

     The collection and giving of the tithe of produce every third year was an act of loyal obedience by the Israelite farmer. Apparently, it was collected and stored at the farmer’s home until the appropriate time when it was handed over. Moses calls this tithe “the sacred portion” because it was sacred to the Lord, for His glory and the benefit of His people. The tithe of produce was to be held on deposit in the Israelite’s home until the day it was delivered to the Levite and the alien, the orphan, and the widow in the community. Here, giving to God’s needy people was the same as giving to God Himself; an identification truth we find elsewhere in Scripture (Matt 25:34-40; Acts 9:1-4). Earl Kalland states:

  • "Being sacred, the tenth is definitely not for the donor’s use. This sacred tithe was not conceived of as merely a secular tax for the welfare of the poor but as an act inspired by the Lord. Both the giving of it by the donor and the reception of it by the Levite or underprivileged were spiritual acts, and the tithe itself was to be recognized as holy."[3]

     Additionally, the Israelite was to say, “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. I have listened to the voice of the LORD my God; I have done according to all that You have commanded me” (Deut 26:14). The offering of the tithe was given to God and others, not because the offerer had produced it by means of his own hard work and clever industry, but because God had blessed him, both with the land and the power to make wealth. Once the tithe was dedicated to God, it was to be treated as sacred and could not be touched for any other purpose. That the farmer had not eaten any of the tithe while mourning, nor removed any of it while unclean, nor offered it to the dead, all seems to refer to Canaanite pagan practices that were forbidden by God. Eugene Merrill states:

  • "The best understanding here is that he had not participated in use of the tithe while engaged in pagan rites of fertility or sympathetic magic. Such rites were characteristic of Canaanite worship as a means of inducing the underworld deities to fertilize the soil and guarantee a bountiful harvest. They would include the presentation of offerings and a sacred drama in which weeping and lamentation would play a part (cf. Ezek 8:14)…Ordinary mourning occasioned by death was not in view here, however, for the offerer was to disclaim having made any offering to the dead. This no doubt is to be understood in terms of Canaanite ritual in which deities such as Baal who had been consigned to the Netherworld were sustained by food offerings until they could revive and return to their procreative function on the earth."[4]

     Having declared covenant loyalty to the Lord, the Israelite was to ask God to fulfill His Word to them by blessing their efforts, saying, “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” (Deut 26:15). Though the Israelite was to address God in heaven, it was understood that God was everywhere present (Psa 139:7-10; Isa 66:1-2). The request for God to bless His people was in keeping with His promise to them. The blessing included both His people and the land He’d given to them. The land which God was giving to His people was of particular interest to the Lord, as He’d promised it to the patriarchs and their descendants (Gen 17:7-8; 26:3-4; 28:13-14). Moses described it as “a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year” (Deut 11:12). God’s blessing upon His people did not mean everyone would receive equal outcomes, as social and economic stratification continued throughout the nation. Rather, it meant all would be cared for under Yahweh’s protections and provisions.

Directive to Obey All the Lord’s Commands

     Having discussed Israel’s obligations after entering the land of Canaan, Moses here calls his hearers back to the present, and the primary concern of living in obedience to all God’s directives. Moses states, “This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 26:16). Though Moses had been speaking, what was being communicated was the Word of God; saying, “This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances” (Deut 26:16a). Adhering to these directives meant they were following God.

     Furthermore, obedience to God implied they’d heard His Word and committed it to their hearts. This was not a one and done event. If Israel was to display covenant loyalty, it meant nothing less than a lifelong devotion to learning God’s Word and then applying it by faith to every aspect of their lives, whether marriage, family, work, war, economics, social activities, judicial matters, or religious duties. For the committed Israelite, it meant “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). He says, “O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psa 119:97). Unfortunately, most of Israel’s history was marked by disobedience, and this grieved the Lord (see Psa 81:11-14).

     Having heard God’s commitment to His people and providing directives for them to follow, the people were to recognize the solemnity of their oaths, as Moses states, “You have today declared the LORD to be your God, and that you would walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and listen to His voice” (Deut 26:17). Having agreed to the terms of the covenant, God then promised to bless them if they kept His directives. Moses said, “The LORD has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; 19 and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the LORD your God, as He has spoken” (Deut 26:18-19).

     In this statement, both God and Israel promised to keep their part of the covenant agreement. Israel was to learn and faithfully observe God’s directives. This was true for the generation that Moses was addressing, as well as subsequent generations born into the covenant community. If Israel would walk with the Lord, He would elevate them above all other nations. The result would be that Israel receive “praise, fame, and honor” by the other nations. Earl Radmacher states, “These verses conclude the legal corpus of Deuteronomy (12:1–26:19) in which Moses developed and applied the laws of the Book of the Covenant to a new situation, as Israel was about to enter the land. It is also an appropriate anticipation of the next section with its focus on covenant renewal (27:1–30:20).”[5] This last statement anticipates the blessings in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 that God promised to pour out on His people if they would walk with Him and obey His commands.

Israel Past, Present, and Future

     God called Abraham into a special relationship (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-18), and through his descendants, God would form a special nation (Gen 17:7-8). Abraham’s descendants went into Egypt, where they stayed for 400 years (Gen 15:13; 46:1-4; cf. Ex 12:40). Afterwards, God called Israel out of Egypt in 1445 BC under the leadership of Moses. When that happened, God created the nation of Israel (Isa 43:1), which He intended to be His holy people (Deut 7:6), to walk with Him in righteousness (Deut 5:33; 8:6). Under the Mosaic Law, Israel would know blessing if they obeyed God’s commands (Deut 28:1-15) and cursing if they did not (Deut 28:16-68). After Moses died, God brought the Israelites into the land of Canaan (i.e., the land promised to Abraham) under the leadership of Joshua (Deut 31:23; Josh 1:1-9), and there the land was divided, giving a portion to each of the descendants of Jacob. After Joshua died (Josh 24:29-31), Israel repeatedly fell into idolatry and suffered divine discipline for their rebellion (read Judges). This went on for over 300 years as Israel fell into a pattern of idolatry. The period of the Judges was marked by people who did not obey the Lord, but “did what was right in their own eyes” (Judg 17:6; 21:25). Samuel was the last of Israel’s judges, and then the people cried for a king because they wanted to be like the other nations (1 Sam 8:4-5). God gave them their request (1 Sam 8:22), and Saul became the first king in Israel (1 Sam 10:1). Though Saul started well, he quickly turned away from the Lord and would not obey God’s commands. Saul reigned for approximately 40 years and his leadership was a failure (1 Sam 13:1; cf. Acts 13:21). Later, God raised up David to be king in Israel (1 Sam 16:1-13), and David reigned for 40 years and was an ideal king who followed God and encouraged others to do the same (1 Ki 2:10-11). God decreed David’s throne would be established forever through one of his descendants (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4, 34-36), and this is Jesus (Luke 1:31-33). After David died, Solomon reigned for 40 years (1 Ki 2:12; 11:42-43), and though He was wise and did many good things (ruled well, built the temple, wrote Scripture, etc.), he eventually turned away from God and worshiped idols (1 Ki 11:1-10), and the kingdom was divided afterward (1 Ki 11:11-41).

     Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, ruled over the two southern tribes (Judah) and Jeroboam ruled over the ten northern tribes (Israel). Israel—the northern kingdom—had 19 kings throughout its history and all were bad, as they led God’s people into idolatry (i.e., the “sins of Jeroboam” 1 Ki 16:31; 2 Ki 3:3; 10:31; 13:2). The ten northern tribes came under divine discipline because of their idolatry and were destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC. Judah—the southern kingdom—had 20 kings throughout its history and 8 were good (some more than others), as they obeyed God and led others to do the same (they were committed to the Lord like David, 1 Ki 15:11). However, Judah repeatedly fell into idolatry—as the 10 northern tribes had done—and were eventually destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The dispersion of Israel was promised by God if they turned away from Him and served other gods (Deut 28:63-68). Since the destruction by Babylon, Israel has been under Gentile dominance (Luke 21:24; Rom 11:25). After a temporary regathering under Ezra and Nehemiah, Israel continued under Gentile dominance with the Medes & Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Because of their rejection of Jesus as Messiah, God disciplined Israel again in AD 70, and the Jews were scattered all over the world (Jam 1:1; 1 Pet 1:1). Jesus’ pronouncement of judgment was, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38 Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 39 For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matt 23:37-39). The apostle Paul tells us, “a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob’” (Rom 11:25-26). Israel will be restored as God’s special people when Messiah returns to establish His kingdom on earth (Rev 19:11-21; 20:4-6). Jack Deere states:

  • "Through disobedience and rebellion, generation after generation of Israelites forfeited their right to be exalted over the nations. But Isaiah wrote that Israel’s rebellion would not continue forever, for the Lord will raise up a generation of faithful Israelites in the future who will enjoy God’s grace in a golden age of blessing (Isa 60–62). That age is commonly called the Millennium."[6]


[1] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 605.

[2] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 322–323.

[3] Earl S. Kalland, “Deuteronomy,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 156.

[4] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 336.

[5] Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 260.

[6] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 309.

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