The tithe—the first fruits, the first part, the firstborn, your first love—is what God wants from us. Not just in the legalistic sense, that is, as prescribed in Biblical law, but as the loving and organic response of our lives. That is the worship God not only demands as our Creator and Ruler, but deserves as our loving Heavenly Father.
Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 3:40-41
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now count all the firstborn sons in Israel who are one month old or older, and make a list of their names. The Levites must be reserved for me as substitutes for the firstborn sons of Israel; I am the Lord. And the Levites’ livestock must be reserved for me as substitutes for the firstborn livestock of the whole nation of Israel.”
The tithe—the first fruits, the first part, the firstborn, your first love—is what God wants from you and me. Not just in the legalistic sense, that is, as prescribed in Biblical law, but as the loving and organic response of our life. That is our worship. God wants us to recognize him, honor him and obey him through the enthusiastic offering of our tithe—and I am not talking just about money, but the first and best part of us, whatever that is. God not only demands it—and why shouldn’t he, he created us, chose us and has called us into mission for him—but God deserves it for those very same reasons.
To help us remember that we owe him the best part, and to give us a sacred process for acknowledging as much, God established the dedication of the firstborn as that tithe at the time of the proto-Passover in Exodus 13:2-3, 11-12, 14,
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Dedicate to me every firstborn among the Israelites. The first offspring to be born, of both humans and animals, belongs to me.” So Moses said to the people, “This is a day to remember forever—the day you left Egypt, the place of your slavery. Today the Lord has brought you out by the power of his mighty hand. …This is what you must do when the Lord fulfills the promise he swore to you and to your ancestors. When he gives you the land where the Canaanites now live, you must present all firstborn sons and firstborn male animals to the Lord, for they belong to him. …And in the future, your children will ask you, ‘What does all this mean?’ Then you will tell them, ‘With the power of his mighty hand, the Lord brought us out of Egypt, the place of our slavery.’”
The firstborn of the families of the Exodus belonged to the Lord to remind the entire nation that God had miraculously saved them from slavery. He brought them out of Egypt not only as a demonstration of his mighty power, which they were to never forget, but he had displayed that power to save them because he loved them and had sovereignly chose them to be he very own people, a nation set apart as his own. And they were to never forget that as well.
The firstborn of the Israelites’ animals were to be offered as a sacrifice to the Lord, but the firstborn sons of the Israelites were not to be killed, they were to be redeemed by the dedication of the Levites to the Lord’s service in tabernacle worship as a sacred substitute. Here in Numbers 3, two years into their journey from Egypt to Canaan, this substitution was worshipfully and ceremonially made: the Levites for the firstborn of the other eleven tribes.
So what does that mean for you today? Most importantly, reading this account is to remind you of the greatest substitution of all: the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son, Jesus, who was offered up as a sacrifice to God for your sins. You deserved death because of your sins—we all did; but Jesus died on the cross in our place. He was our substitute. Furthermore, the substitution of the Levites for the firstborn of the Israelites not only foreshadowed God’s mighty power displayed at the cross, it foreshadowed the reason he redeemed you from your enslavement to sin: because he loved you immeasurably and had sovereignly chose you to be his very own, part of a nation set apart as his own holy people.
That is why God still calls us to make an offering of the best of us—the first fruits, the first part, our first love—as a way to recognize that he substituted Jesus as an offering for us. That’s called the tithe, which is to be paid not just in a legal sense, although there are perfectly good reasons to observe that through a formal process, but as the loving and organic response of our life. God wants us to recognize him, honor him and obey him through the enthusiastic offering of the first and best part of you and me, whatever that is.
God not only demands the best part—and why shouldn’t he, he created you, chose you and has called you into mission for him—but God deserves it for those very same reasons.