Q. Deut 14 says: “Eat the tithe of your grain (v 23) … Use the silver to buy whatever you like, … or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice (v 26).” Why does it asks us to enjoy ourselves with the tithes which are for God?
A. Some readers might be confused by two phrases in this passage – buy whatever you like, anything you wish. To understand what it really said we have to first look at the text, which I copied from NASB & pasted below in italics, with brief comments:
22 You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year.
• Tithe = 1/10; all the produce i.e. income in an agricultural society, not principal
23 You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.
• As in the case of fellowship offerings (Lev 3, 7:11-21), the offerer eats a communal meal when he brings his tithes. The rest of the tithes belong to the Levites. The purpose is that the Israelites learn everything comes from God, & also to provide for the Levites who serve God & do not receive land as an inheritance.
24 If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you,
25 then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses.
• Because of God’s care for the Israelites, He provided a temporary exchange for their convenience, in order that they don’t have to carry produce or live stock over long distances, because travel was typically on foot in those days.
26 You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.
• Upon arrival at Jerusalem, the offerer may buy whatever he desires to offer, including produce or live stock, or donate the money as is, out of which he enjoys a communal meal with his family, and gives the rest to God.
27 Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you.
• The tithes are provisions for the Levites.
28 At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town.
29 The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
• Every third year the beneficiaries of the tithe extend beyond the Levites to the foreigners & the poor. Other commentators believe it’s an additional tithe, not just dividing the one tithe over more recipients. I myself hold this view.
These instructions are actually already given in the preceding context, Deut 12:5-7, 11-12, & 17-19:
5 But you shall seek the LORD at the place which the LORD your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come.
6 There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock.
• The Israelites are to seek God at the place God chooses i.e. Jerusalem, not any place they choose & bring their offerings & tithes there.
7 There also you and your households shall eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you.
• The offerer’s family shares in a communal meal.
11 then it shall come about that the place in which the LORD your God will choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the LORD.
12 And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.
The offerer’s household enjoys a meal as the tithes are offered, which will be used to provide for the Levites who have no inheritance like other tribes.
17 You are not allowed to eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or new wine or oil, or the firstborn of your herd or flock, or any of your votive offerings which you vow, or your freewill offerings, or the contribution of your hand.
18 But you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and daughter, and your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all your undertakings.
19 Be careful that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land.
The communal meal is to include the whole household and the Levites.
So Deut 12 and 14 are consistent. The exchange into money is only for the offerers’ convenience to easily carry while traveling to Jerusalem, not to spend it all on themselves. They only share in a fellowship meal, not the entire tithe which are for the Levites’ maintenance.