Bringing our offerings to the Lord Exodus 35:4-5,20-29

When I planned this series of sermons on Israel’s Wilderness Years, I did not have in mind that we would be giving thanks to God for all his goodness to us at our Harvest Services today. Nor did I know then that we would be taking time today to launch our appeal towards our building project. But here we are in Exodus chapter 35
Exodus 35 4 Moses said to the whole Israelite community, ‘This is what the LORD has commanded: 5 from what you have, take an offering for the LORD. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the LORD an offering ….
Actually, God had already given the command to bring this offering, straight after the giving of the Ten Commandments and even before the Israelites had rebelled against God by making an idol of a golden calf and worshipping it.
Exodus 25 The LORD said to Moses, 2 ‘Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. 3 These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; and a whole list of other items besides.
The offering was a freewill offering – entirely from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. It was to be completely voluntary, as an expression of the Israelites’ gratitude to God for the wonderful salvation they had experienced in their escape from Egypt and crossing the Red Sea on dry land. The list of specific items invited for the offering was chosen because God had a specific purpose for that offering.
Exodus 25 8 ‘Then let them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.
So in Exodus chapter 25 we have the announcement of the very first offering for a church building project. We find other such offerings centuries later in the time of Solomon building the Temple in Jerusalem and in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah rebuilding the Temple after the return of the Exiles. Here in our reading today in Exodus chapter 35 we find the occasion when the Israelites brought their gifts to build the Tabernacle, the portable tent of meeting where the priests would offer the sacrifices God commanded as the people moved around the wilderness and then took possession of the Promised Land.
Exodus 35 20 Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence, 21 and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the LORD for the work on the tent of meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. 22 All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewellery of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments. They all presented their gold as a wave offering to the LORD.
They all brought the different kinds of offerings which God had invited, to be used in building the Tabernacle.
27 The leaders brought onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece. 28 They also brought spices and olive oil for the light and for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense. 29 All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the LORD freewill offerings for all the work the LORD through Moses had commanded them to do.
The overflowing expression of gratitude in this special freewill offering was a one-off, specifically to build the Tabernacle. It expresses perfectly the principle of Christian giving which we find in 2 Corinthians 9:7 in the NET Bible (New English Translation)
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give. You shouldn’t give if you don’t want to. You shouldn’t give because you are forced to. God loves a cheerful giver.
There at the foot of Mount Sinai the Israelites brought their freewill offering, as each was moved in their heart to give. But in the years that followed God gave them other commands about giving. I don’t believe that Christians are obliged to interpret every law in the Law of Moses literally. We are not under law but under grace. At the same time I think there are at least three general principles about giving which do apply to Christians today and the first is this.
Give your first and your best to God
Deuteronomy 14. 22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always.
The word “tithe” simply means setting aside one tenth. The Old Testament practice was very simple. One tenth of everything the Promised Land produced is to be set apart – it belongs to God. This pattern of giving was an important discipline so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. It reminds God’s people that everything comes from God. Deuteronomy Chapter 8 reminds us that all the blessings we enjoy come from not from our own efforts but from the hand of our generous God.
Deuteronomy 8 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.
Everything we have comes from God. And the basic practice of Old Testament giving is that one tenth of everything should be given back to God. The first example we find of this came in the life of Abraham.
Gen 14:18-20 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.20 And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
There are a few important points to make about this principle of giving one tenth. The first is that it applied equally to everybody who owned land or who had some kind of income in fruit or grain or livestock. One tenth was set apart for the Lord. In this way, giving was to be proportionate. The more God blessed you the greater the amount you would give back to God in gratitude.
Will you also notice there what the tithes were to be used for?
23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always.
If the place where God chose as a dwelling was too far away to carry all these gifts, the people were allowed to turn the produce into silver to travel with. Then at the other end.
26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice.
To put it simply, these tithes of all the good things God had given were to be used for a great big party to celebrate God’s goodness! Yes. those things were holy to the Lord. They belonged to the Lord. But this full ten per cent of all they produced was to be used, not for day to day living expenses but for wonderful extravagant celebrations to honour God. The people gave back to God. But then God gave back to his chosen people once again allowing them to enjoy that produce which was holy to Him in celebration of his name! The tithe was set aside specifically to be eaten in the presence of the Lord with rejoicing.
God called on the Israelites to give back to him one tenth of everything. One tenth gross, before taxes, before national insurance, before pension contributions. One tenth of everything. So our giving to God should come before all our other expenses. Everything we have comes from God. If God says that 10% belongs to Him, or any other proportion belongs to him, for Him to say what it should be used for, then that is fine by me. Because everything we receive comes from God, and everything belongs to him.
For us one problem we may have with giving is that our work does not produce goods, fruit or grain or oil or livestock which we can measure one tenth of. Our work produces money. And as soon as that money goes into our bank accounts we inevitably think of it all as “our” money. Not like offerings in churches I have visited in Uganda or in Zambia, where people bring up to the altars their cassava or their maize and their bananas and their live chickens!
I think the idea of giving back to God even before you realise the money is in your bank account, even before you think of that money as “yours” is a good idea. Giving directly and regularly to the church by Standing Order, with Gift Aid claimed back of course. Or giving directly and regularly to Charities Aid Foundation or Stewardship Services and deciding later which Christian work the gifts should go to, in order to remind us that everything we have comes from God.
Our first and our best for God. Giving straight away. Then the second principle we find in the Old Testament about giving is that
We give in proportion to what we have received,
I am not saying that that proportion is necessarily one tenth, or 10%. Sometimes more is appropriate, sometimes less. But our regular giving should be in some way in proportion. Somebody once put it this way. “May we all increase our offerings to be in proportion to our incomes, lest the Lord reduce our incomes to be in proportion to our offerings”!
On top of that regular giving of 10%, the Israelites were also called to bring freewill offerings, again, in proportion to how the Lord has blessed us.
Deuteronomy 16:10, 16-17 10 Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you. ….
16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.
So as well as one tenth of all their produce to God, Israelites were supposed to bring Freewill Offerings to God three times a year, at each of the major festivals. And those offerings again were to be a gift in proportion to the way your God has blessed you. No fixed proportion this time, but still “in proportion.” They were freewill gifts – completely voluntary – but at the same time “no man should appear before the Lord empty handed!” And then there was a third principle for giving in the Old Testament.
Giving one third to the poor and needy
In the first and second year, the tithes were to be used for lavish celebrations of God’s goodness. In the third year the tithes were used for a very different purpose.
Deuteronomy 14 27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. 28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
So every third year the tithe was not used for the family’s celebrations but for the needs of two specific groups of people. Firstly the levites, the tribe of Levi, the priests. They had no land of their own. The Bible specifically says “the Lord Himself is their inheritance.” They lived off the tithes of the ordinary people.
Then there were others who had no land of their own because of their circumstances, the strangers and the refugees, the fatherless and the widows. The tithes in the third year were set aside also to provide food and drink for the poor and needy.
Deut 26: 12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13 Then say to the LORD your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded.
So everybody who was blessed with land and grain and fruit and oil and livestock set aside one tenth of all they produced. And every third year that was given to take care of the poor and needy. Caring for the widows and orphans and refugees was part of the duty of the whole community. A “welfare state” was build into the system from the start.
The principle of one third. The general idea that a proportion of our giving should be directed to the Levites and the aliens and the fatherless and the widows. In other words, not necessarily exactly one third, but a substantial proportion of every Christian’s giving should be directed to the two causes of funding Christian workers (the Levites) and to caring for the poor and needy. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “When you give alms”. Not “If you give alms”. Caring for the poor and needy is our Christian duty, not only by practical love but also in generous giving.
This is what the Old Testament teaches us about giving. We should give our first and our best to God – our giving to God should come before everything else. We should give in proportion to all we have received. We should give to support the poor and needy. And back to where we started. The offering we read about in Exodus 35 was specifically for the Tabernacle. So it’s alright to have a special freewill offering for a church building.
Freely, freely you have received. Freely, freely give!
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give. You shouldn’t give if you don’t want to. You shouldn’t give because you are forced to. God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

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