Introduction: After repenting of their sins, the Jews committed to obeying God’s law: “Now because of all this we are making an agreement in writing; and on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites, and our priests.” (Neh. 9:38). In this chapter, Nehemiah recorded the names of the faithful leaders who entered into this agreement. They then inspired the rest of the nation to renew their vows and commit to obeying God. Here, God reveals seven lessons for maintaining a covenant relationship with Him. These include: (1) accountability, (2) obedience, (3) separation, (4) dedication, (5) giving / tithing, (6) service, and (7) sacrifice.
First, to lead by example, 84 civil and religious leaders publicly committed to following God’s laws. They made themselves accountable by opening themselves up to public rebuke if any strayed from God’s Word. To keep yourself on your walk, God also wants you to publicly commit to following Him and to stay accountable to other believers. Second, the rest of the Jews then committed themselves to obeying God. God also wants you to commit to obeying His Word. Third, the Jews committed to staying separate from pagan influences. This included their commitment to not be unequally yoked with pagans in marriage. God also wants you to remain holy and separate from unclean influences. Fourth, the Jews dedicated the Sabbath to serving God and gave up the opportunity to make money on that day. Although Jesus freed you from any legal obligation to observe the Sabbath, He promises to bless you when you dedicate a day for serving Him, resting, and helping others. Fifth, the Jews committed to paying a Temple tax to support the Temple and their sacrifices. God also desires that you tithe from the resources that He has given you to help support your church. Sixth, the Jews also committed to providing other kinds of support. This included the first fruits of the produce, flocks, and labor. God also wants you to offer the best of your time, talent, and treasure for Him. Finally, the priests committed to sacrificing for God by offering a tenth of the modest tithes that they received from the people. Today, every believer is part of Jesus’ royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9). Jesus your High Priest made the ultimate sacrifice. As part of His royal priesthood, Jesus calls upon you to sacrifice for Him.
The Jewish leaders sign a covenant with God. To encourage the Jews’ to renew their vows to God, 84 prominent religious and civil leaders publicly pledged to obey God: “1 Now on the sealed document were the names of: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, and Zedekiah, 2 Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, 3 Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, 4 Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, 5 Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, 6 Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, 7 Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, 8 Maaziah, Bilgai, and Shemaiah. These were the priests. 9 And the Levites: Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, and Kadmiel; 10 also their brothers Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, 11 Mica, Rehob, Hashabiah, 12 Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, 13 Hodiah, Bani, and Beninu. 14 The leaders of the people: Parosh, Pahath-moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, 15 Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, 16 Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, 17 Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, 18 Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai, 19 Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, 20 Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, 21 Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, 22 Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, 23 Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, 24 Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, 25 Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, 26 Ahiah, Hanan, Anan, 27 Malluch, Harim, and Baanah.” (Neh. 10:1-27). Among other things, the book of Nehemiah stresses the importance of leadership. These courageous leaders led by their example. Their public vows to follow God’s laws helped to ensured their accountability and to inspire others. The list is almost equally composed of religious and civil leaders. Many modern believers incorrectly assume that God separated religious from political morals. But He did no such thing. Indeed, when the Levites ceased to be God’s salt in the wound of sin, the kings of both Northern Israel and Judah led their nations into idolatry and rebellion.
God desires for you to publicly commit yourself to following Him. There are parallels between the 84 leaders who publicly committed to renewing their vows with God and the 70 elders who publicly committed to following the Ten Commandments. In both cases, the elders failed to uphold their commitments because of their sinful hearts. After receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses had the 70 elders and the people make a public vow to accept it: “3 Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Ex. 24:3). When the people spoke “we do,” they were agreeing to enter into a wedding contract (consisting of the Ten Commandments) with God. In Jewish culture, a couple enters into the wedding contract before they dwell together. God tells us that He was betrothed to Israel (Jer. 2:2). He was faithful to His bride (Ps. 18:25). Yet, a wedding contract must be signed by a friend of the bride and a friend of the groom. Moses was a friend of the bride, Israel. But God did not allow him to sign the contract. Instead, Moses later broke the Ten Commandments (Ex. 32:19). The sin that caused the people to break the wedding contract was spiritual adultery and idolatry. Rather than accepting their bridegroom and waiting on Him, they made for themselves a new bridegroom out of a golden calf (Ex. 32:24). King Jeroboam later sadly recreated two golden calves. Adultery is a sin that justifies divorce (Matt. 5:32). But God still implored the unfaithful Jews to return to their husband: ‘“Return faithless people,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am your husband.’” (Jer. 3:14). Despite the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra, the Jews would soon also break their vows. These repeated failures were meant to show that a vow without the Holy Spirit and a transformed heart will fail. Thankfully, Jesus has purified the Church and will one day complete His marriage with the Church (Rev. 19:7-14). The bridegroom and the bride will then be able to dwell together in joy forever (Rev. 20:4). Where the Jews failed, Jesus has given you the Holy Spirit to transform your heart. The signs of your transformed heart should be visible for others to see and follow. Among other things, this should include a public baptism and sharing your testimony with others.
Church accountability, along with public vows, are both necessary to maintain your walk. The Bible warns believers not forsake the accountability that comes from being in a fellowship group in your church: “not abandoning our own meeting together, as is the habit of some people, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25). This accountability comes from being in a small group, not just floating in and out of a mega church. A public commitment to follow God’s Word is also necessary to maintain your walk. For example, the psalmist made a public vow of accountability: “I have sworn and I will confirm it, that I will keep Your righteous judgments.” (Ps. 119:106). King Josiah followed this example by having the people affirm their agreement to be bound by the Ten Commandments (2 Chr. 34:29-33; 2 Kgs. 23:1-3). Ezra also followed in this example in leading the people in a public vow of accountability: “12 Then all the assembly replied with a loud voice, ‘That’s right! As you have said, so it is our duty to do . . .. 14 Let our leaders represent the whole assembly and let all those in our cities who have married foreign wives come at appointed times, together with the elders and judges of each city, until the fierce anger of our God on account of this matter is turned away from us.’” (Ezra 10:12-14). Today, God also wants you to publicly confess your faith and agreement to the New Covenant as your wedding contract with Him: “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ -- that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” (Ro. 10:8-9). If you confess Jesus to be Lord and Savior before others, He in turn will confess you in heaven (Lk. 12:8; Matt. 10:32). Are you in a small accountability group and sharing your faith in Jesus with others? (Matt. 28:16-20).
The Jews commit to obeying God. Following the example of their leaders, those Jews who had already separated themselves from pagan influences also committed to obey God: “28 Now the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, all those who had knowledge and understanding, 29 are joining with their kinsmen, their nobles, and are taking on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law, which was given through Moses, God’s servant, and to keep and to comply with all the commandments of God our Lord, and His ordinances and statutes;” (Neh. 10:28-29). Their commitment included an agreement to be bound by God’s curses under the law if they disobeyed (Dt. 28:15-68).
Spirit-led leaders must encourage God’s people to obey God. The Jewish leaders followed the example of many prior God-fearing leaders who encouraged the people to break from their sins and obey God’s Word. For example, before the Jews entered the Promised Land, they agreed with Moses in a covenant at Mount Ebal that they would be cursed if they broke God’s law (Dt. 27:1-26). After God allowed the Jews to conquer the Promised Land, Joshua also led the Jews in a covenant to obey God’s Word (Josh. 24:19-22). The High Priest Jehoiada also led faithful Levities in a covenant to reject Baal worship and to restore the line of David to the throne (2 Chr. 23:16). King Josiah also led the people in making a covenant to break from their idolatry and other sins to follow God’s law (2 Chr. 34:31). God is looking for leaders to help encourage believers to be obedient. Will you accept His calling and help to ensure believer accountability?
Your faith should produce the fruit of obedience. When Moses gave God’s law, he urged the Jews to commit to following all of it, not just the parts that they agreed with: “So you shall observe to do just as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left.” (Dt. 5:32). “and do not turn aside from any of the words which I command you today, to the right or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.” (Dt. 28:14). “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.” (Josh. 1:7). “Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.” (Prov. 4:27). King Josiah was later celebrated because his faith produced the fruit of complete obedience. “He did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or the left.” (2 Chr. 34:2; 2 Kgs. 22:2). Do you follow all of God’s Word? Or, do you pick and choose only the parts of God’s Word that you agree with?
Jesus is not your Lord if you refuse to do what He says. Without works, a person’s faith is dead: “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (Jam. 2:17). A believer may proclaim Jesus as Lord. Yet, Jesus is not your Lord if you disobey Him: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” (Matt. 7:21). “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk. 6:46). “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (Jam. 1:22). “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24). “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” (Matt. 7:26). Is your faith evidenced through obedience to Jesus?
The Jews commit to stay separate from the pagan peoples. As part of their covenant, the Jews also committed to staying separate in marriage and in important matters from pagans: “30 and that we will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons.” (Neh. 10:30). After Ezra discovered that the Jews were marrying pagans, he also led the people in a vow to never do this again: “So now do not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or their prosperity, so that you may be strong and may eat the good things of the land, and leave it as an inheritance to your sons forever.” (Ezra 9:12). Sadly, not long after making this vow, Nehemiah rebuked the Jews for breaking it (Neh. 13:25).
God’s purity laws for marriage were meant to protect His people. God wanted His people to remain holy and separate from the nations around them (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7). To keep His people holy and from turning their hearts away from Him, God prohibited the Jews from marrying any pagan person: “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them: you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, and they will serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.” (Dt. 7:3-4). God also prohibited the Jews from forming covenants with the pagan nations (Ex. 34:12; Dt. 23:6). God was also clear that the Jews were not to adopt the sexual practices of the pagan nations (Lev. 18:1-3). When the Jews did these things, they “defiled” themselves (Lev. 18:24). God warned that a pagan spouse would pull a believer off his or her walk with Him: “and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might prostitute themselves with their gods and cause your sons also to prostitute themselves with their gods.” (Ex. 34:16). This is exactly what happened to the Jews during the time period of the judges: “and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.” (Jdgs. 3:6; Ps. 106:35). This again happened with King Solomon: “For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of his father David had been.” (1 Kgs. 11:4). When the Jews later broke their vows and married pagan wives, Nehemiah blamed Solomon for setting a bad example for the Jews (Neh. 13:26).
Do not be unequally yoked in your walk. It is sadly common for many Christians to incorrectly assume that Jesus made the lessons of the Old Testament irrelevant. But these warnings are repeated in the New Testament: “Do not be mismatched with unbelievers; for what do righteousness and lawlessness share together, or what does light have in common with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). If you allow yourself to be unequally yoked, you also risk being slowly pulled off your walk with Jesus to pursue worldly interests. Are you keeping your heart separated from worldly people and worldly influences?
The Jews dedicate themselves to obeying God’s Sabbath laws. The Jews’ covenant also included a commitment to dedicate the Sabbath for God and to keep it holy: “31 As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day; and we will forgo the crops of the seventh year and every debt.” (Neh. 10:31). “[T]he Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Ex. 20:11; Gen. 2:3). Because the day was holy, the Jews were prohibited from doing work on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11; 31:13-17; Dt. 5:12-16). They were also required to allow their lands to rest every seventh year (Ex. 23:11). But they failed to do this. God sent the Jews into 70 years of exile in part for failing to observe the Sabbath (2 Chr. 26:20-21). The Jews swore that they would not continue to break these rules. But Nehemiah would soon find the Jews were breaking their oaths (Neh. 13:15).
The Jews were required to free others from debt during the Sabbath year. The Sabbath was never meant to be a burden. “Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mk. 2:27). This was a day that God created to give mankind freedom from work, to refresh themselves, and worship Him. Because this was a day that symbolized freedom, God required the Jews to forgive others from the burdens of debt once every seven years: “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. 2 This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. 3 From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother.” (Dt. 15:1-3). The Jews had apparently ignored this obligation in order to make money. But this was offensive to God. Thus, they swore to uphold God’s law (Neh. 10:31). The Lord’s Prayer also implores believers to forgive debts (Matt. 6:12). As one of His final seven statements, Jesus also asked God to forgive the debts of those who murdered Him on the cross (Lk. 23:34). Jesus also warns that God will not forgive your debts if you fail to forgive the debts that others owe to you (Matt. 6:14). He also warned that if you do not forgive those who have caused you harm, your Heavenly Father will not forgive you (Matt. 6:15; 18:34-35, Mk. 11:26l Lk. 6:36). Have you forgiven those who are in debt to you?
Seven reasons to observe a voluntary Sabbath. Part of a Covent relationship included observing a Sabbath. For the unsaved, the penalty for breaking this Commandment is death (Ex. 31:14; Nu. 15:33-36). Yet, Jesus came to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17). Through Jesus, your legal obligations were “nailed to the cross.” (Col. 2:14). Thus, “[l]et no man judge you . . . in respect [to] . . . the Sabbath days.” (Col. 2:16). These things are the “shadow” of Jesus (Col. 2:17; Gal. 4:10-11). You also have the freedom to observe a day to honor God any day of the week (Ro. 14:5-6). Although not required, there are several reasons to observe a voluntary Sabbath. First, observing the Sabbath (along with the other Commandments) is a sign of your love for Christ. Jesus advised: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 15:10; Matt. 19:17; 1 Jo. 2:3; 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). He is the great “I AM” who gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Jo. 8:58; Ex. 3:14). The Jews further never casually mixed or confused the Ten Commandment with other statutes, ordinances, or saying. For example, God commended Abraham “because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.” (Gen. 26:5). Thus, Jesus was referring to the Ten Commandments, not His sayings or sermons, when He spoke of following His Commandments out of love. Second, keeping a “holy” Sabbath gives God the opportunity to refresh your body. We were created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). On the Sabbath, God refreshed Himself: “[F]or in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.” (Ex. 31:17). The Sabbath also allows God’s people to “refresh themselves.” (Ex. 23:12). Third, keeping a holy Sabbath allows time to worship and study God’s Word. Fourth, if your church is properly structured, keeping a holy Sabbath can bring fellowship and accountability (Heb. 10:24-25). Sixth, Jesus healed others during the Sabbath (e.g., Matt. 12:9-21; Mk. 3:1-6; Lk. 6:6-11; 13:10-17; 14:1; Jo. 5:1-18). His point was that a holy Sabbath should include volunteering and helping others. Jesus never meant to turn the day into a day for hedonism. Finally, keeping a holy Sabbath allows you to receive a blessing from God. For those who spend the Sabbath seeking after God, He promises great delight: “Then you will take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;” (Is. 58:13-14). He also promises to “bless” you : “How blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who takes hold of it; who keeps from profaning the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil . . .” (Is. 56:2, 5-7). If you don’t take a Sabbath while serving God, you are likely to suffer spiritual burnout. Although you are under no legal obligation to observe a Sabbath, why turn down God’s offer to bless you?
Dedicate one day a week to serving God and those in need. The Jews broke God’s Sabbath because they did not want to give up the chance to make money that day: “The motive for breaking this law was clear. They could make more money selling on seven days of the week instead of six days. This was a covenant to only make money in ways that were obedient and glorifying to God. This is a great challenge for the church today, when many are in careers where they have the opportunity to make money in ways that are plain wrong. We need to have the same heart they had here, and covenant before God to only make money in ways that are obedient and glorifying to Him.” (David Guzik on Neh. 10). Will you dedicate at least one day for serving God and helping others?
The Jews commit to tithe a Temple tax. The Jews’ renewed covenant also included a commitment to tithe a Temple tax to support the Temple and to pay for the sacrifices: “32 We also imposed on ourselves the obligation to contribute yearly a third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: 33 for the showbread, for the continual grain offering, for the continual burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, for the appointed times, for the holy things, and for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God.” (Neh. 10:32-33). The Temple tax did not previously exist. Yet, on several different occasions, God commanded the Jews to tithe on a regular basis (e.g., Lev. 27:30-33; Nu. 18:26-28; Dt. 12:19; 14:28-29). Based upon Jacob’s example, the Jews were expected to tithe 10 percent of their income (Gen. 28:20-22).
Test God by tithing when times are tough. Normally, believers are not allowed to test God (Matt. 4:7; Dt. 6:16). Yet, tithing is the one area where God encourages you to test Him: ‘“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’” (Mal. 3:10). Where you put your money is also a sign of where your heart is (Matt. 6:21). If you seek first God’s Kingdom (which includes tithing and giving to the poor), God promises to provide for you (Matt. 6:33). “Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.” (Prov. 3:9-10). Do you trust God enough to give to Him when times are tough?
Failing to tithe robs God of resources for His Church. The money that you receive from your job comes from God: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (Jam. 1:17). When you fail to properly tithe, you are robbing Him of His resources for His Church: “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.” (Mal. 3:8). This warning applies to the entire nation: “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you!” (Mal. 3:9). He wants you to “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High;” (Ps. 50:14). If you are grateful for what He has done for you, are you willing to tithe to help His Church grow and function properly?
Be a cheerful giver. God also wants you to be a cheerful giver: “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7). “For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Cor. 8:12). “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.” (Dt. 15:10). “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution.” (Ex. 25:2). “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15). Are you tithing with joy?
The Jews commit to tithe in kind donations of their first fruits. In addition to tithing money, the Jews committed to making in kind contributions. This included the “first fruits” or the best of their animals, produce, and services to support God’s Kingdom: “34 Likewise we cast lots for the supply of wood among the priests, the Levites, and the people so that they could bring it to the house of our God, according to our fathers’ households, at set times annually, to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Law; 35 and so that they could bring the first fruits of our ground and the first fruits of all the fruit of every tree to the house of the Lord annually, 36 and bring to the house of our God the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks as it is written in the Law, for the priests who are ministering in the house of our God. 37 We will also bring the first of our dough, our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the new wine, and the oil to the priests at the chambers of the house of our God, and the tithe of our ground to the Levites, for the Levites are they who receive the tithes in all the rural towns.” (Neh. 10:34-37). By casting lots to supply the fire wood, animals, and produce that the priests needed for sacrifices and for themselves (Neh. 10:34), the Jews allowed the Holy Spirit to guide them as they cheerfully gave their best.
Offer your first fruits to sustain those in ministry. The Jews gave their first fruits as a tithe to support the priests who were in full-time ministry (Dt. 14:27-29). “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest.”’ (Lev. 23:10). God promised that the priests would receive the best “fresh oil,” “fresh wine” and the “first fruits” of the grain and fruit offerings (Nu. 18:12-13). “The first of all the first fruits of every kind and every contribution of every kind, from all your contributions, shall be for the priests; . . .” (Ezek. 44:30; Heb. 7:5-6). Are you supporting missionaries and those who labor full time for the Church? (Mal. 3:8).
God’s principle of trust with a first fruit offering. The Jews were required to give the “first fruits” or “bikkurim” of their agricultural produce: “1 Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it, 2 that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you bring in from your land that the Lord your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name.” (Dt. 26:1-2). “You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God.” (Ex. 23:19(a); 34:26(a)). “9 Honor the Lord from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce; 10 then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.” (Prov. 3:9-10). At the very beginning of the harvest, a farmer would tie ribbons on the first fruits as they emerged. The marked buds were later given to God when they were ripe. Yet, unlike the requirements for monetary tithes, the Torah did specify the exact amount of produce that the farmer was required to bring with the first fruit harvest (First Fruits of Zion, the Torah Club, Deuteronomy Vol. 1 p. 794; Vol. 2, p. 707). Thus, this left unanswered questions. Did a farmer need to give a tenth of the first fruits to appear or all the fruits that appeared in the beginning? Would the farmer need to mark the fruit that he or she saw during the first day or the first week of the harvest? If the farmer checked every day and only marked the buds observed on the first day, the farmer could minimize the size of his or her tithe. Only God and the farmer would know if the farmer was generous and honest. A farmer would also need to trust God that the first fruits of the harvest would not be the last. Weather, insects, or humans could destroy the crops at any time. Just like the farmer, your giving is an act of trust and faith in Him. He wants you to trust Him that He will pay back your tithes. Jesus commended the woman who gave out of her poverty as opposed to others who gave only out of their surplus (Lk. 21:1-4). Do you trust God to tithe before you pay for your expenses? Or, are you only tithing from your surplus at the end of the month?
Give the first fruits or best of your life to God to show your gratitude. Money is not the only kind of sacrifice that you can make to God. Some people have little to give. Likewise, for some, giving money involves little sacrifice or is not the only thing that they can offer to serving God’s kingdom. Giving the best of your time and talents can be an equally important “first fruit” offerings to God: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Ro. 12:1). “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:20). Are you giving Him the best of your time, talent, and treasure? And do you offer these things with a joyful heart?
Teach your children to offer their first fruits to God. The first fruits commandment also applied to a believer’s children: “The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me.” (Ex. 22:29 (b)). “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.” (Ex. 13:2). “The first offspring from every womb belongs to Me, and all your male livestock, the first offspring from cattle and sheep.” (Ex. 34:19). Your children are a gift from God (Ps. 127:3). Like any other gift from God, you should tithe this gift. You can tithe your children by raising them up in the Lord (Prov. 22:6). As a believer, you are meant to be a steward in raising God’s children. Are teaching your children to follow God’s Word? (Dt. 4:9; Eph. 6:4).
If you love Jesus, you can also show it by helping the poor and the disadvantaged. God created you for His “good works.” (Eph. 2:10). This includes compassion and charity for those who are less fortunate: “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed.” (Prov. 19:17; Dt. 15:11; Matt. 5:42). “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”’ (Matt. 25:40, 35). Conversely, Jesus warns: ‘“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”’ (Matt. 25:45). “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.” (Prov. 14:31). “But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jo. 3:17). “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.” (Prov. 21:13). If you are not giving to the poor or your brothers or sisters in Christ who are in need, how much love and gratitude can you say you have for Jesus?
The Levities commit to tithe a tenth of their tithes. Although the priests lived a modest life from the tithes, they were also called upon to sacrifice to support God’s Kingdom: “38 And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse. 39 For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine, and the oil to the chambers; the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers, and the singers are there. So we will not neglect the house of our God.” (Neh. 10:38-39). The Levites sacrificed the right to own or inherit land. Their inheritance was with God in heaven. Their food was further limited to what the people gave them as part of their tithes (Dt. 18:1-2; 10:9; 12:12; Nu. 18:20; Josh. 13:33; 18:7). Because they had no land of their own, the Levities were allowed to eat some of the offerings so that they could devote themselves to God (Nu. 18:10-11; Lev. 6:16-18; 7:6; Dt. 18:1). But this would not have been worth a lot of money. Moreover, God further required that the priests give a “tithe of a tithe.” (Nu. 18:24-29). Thus, the priests were called upon to make personal sacrifices as they served.
Store up your treasures in heaven and let Jesus be your inheritance. Jesus is our High Priest (Heb. 4:14). To fulfill the Law, He lived without owning land while He lived as man on Earth (Matt. 8:20; Lk. 9:58). Like the Levites, you are today part of His holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Like the Levities, He calls upon every believer to store up all forms of wealth (not just land) in heaven (Matt. 6:19-20; Lk. 12:33). Yet, He did not prohibit people from owning land. Having wealth is not in and of itself sinful. If it were, God would not have rewarded Job or Solomon with riches (Job 42:10; 2 Chron. 1:11). Instead, Jesus asks you to give up wealth if it causes you to covet. He commanded a young man to give up his wealth because He knew that the man’s wealth had caused him to hoard wealth (Matt. 9:21; Lk. 18:22). If Jesus were to call upon you to sell your property to help the poor, would your heart be filled with sadness?
Like the Levites, you are privileged to sacrifice for God. The Levities learned that their privilege to serve was not without sacrifice. As your High Priest, Jesus also sacrificed for His Church by paying the ultimate price for your sins (Mk. 3:28-29). Like the Levities and like Jesus, your privilege in serving as a priest means that you will also sometimes suffer for Him. Yet, you must always remember that this is a privilege. Peter advised those who suffer for the cause of Christ to rejoice (1 Pet. 4:13). Your suffering, trials, and humiliation make you a better witness for Him (Ro. 5:3; Jam. 1:2-4). Through your trials, you can tell others that Jesus offers the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7). Yet, if you have never had to cling to God in a rough storm, how much will someone in a storm trust your advice? How good can you be at fulfilling your duty in comforting others (2 Cor. 1:4) if you have never needed comfort yourself?
Let Jesus be your inheritance. As part of God’s holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9), your sacrifice is not without a reward. You have the right to count Jesus as your inheritance: “And it shall be with regard to an inheritance for them, that I am their inheritance; and you shall give them no possession in Israel-- I am their possession.” (Ezek. 44:28). “The LORD is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words.” (Ps. 119:57). “The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot.” (Ps. 16:5; Is. 61:6-7). Yet, unlike the Levities, you do not need to wait to receive your inheritance. First, Jesus offers any believer the Holy Spirit as a down payment on His inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22). Second, when you act in one accord with your fellow believers for Christ, Jesus further gives part of His glory to you (Jo. 17:22). Third, you have an inheritance in heaven that is so great that it cannot be adequately described (1 Cor. 2:9; Ro. 8:18). Are you storing up treasures in heaven by denying yourself of pleasures and giving the best of your time, talent, and treasure to help the Church and those in need?