Can you resist the sin of covetousness by giving to God? Could that be a reason why so many Bible texts tell us to give gifts to God? I mean, why give to God since He owns everything already?
Perhaps the answer is found in one of the readings for tomorrow, the first Sunday in Lent. (Click here to read all the lectionary readings.)
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 commands the Israelites to offer “to the LORD your God,” a basket of the first of every product harvested by them upon their entry into the land God promised to them and commanded them to possess. It includes a form of words to be uttered by them when they take the basket to the priest, at the place designated by the LORD.
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 has the Israelites singing that God shelters them from the troubles of the world, including plagues (pandemics) and attacks by wild animals. The psalm also contains words Satan used to tempt Jesus during his 40 days of fasting. (Satan urged Jesus to jump from a height, saying God had promised to send His angels to save him.)
Romans 10:8-13, is the basis for “the sinner’s prayer.” Many of us have prayed it, confessing with our mouths that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that we will submit to Him as Lord.
Luke 4:1-13, tells of the time Satan urged Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple if he believed God’s promise in Psalm 91. Considering the choice of Psalm for today, the choice of this Gospel reading is no surprise.
I will focus on the Deuteronomy passage. Is it possible that its purpose is to teach us that we resist the sin of covetousness by giving to God? I think so, because Deuteronomy – the constitution and laws of Israel for right living in the promised land – is structured as an exposition of how the Ten Commandments are to be observed.
We must read everything in the Bible as literature skilfully composed in order to transmit vitally important ideas. We must recognize the structure and purpose of the writing if we are to grasp the ideas it seeks to transmit to us, ideas which are vital to our right worship of God.
The purpose of Deuteronomy 12:1 to 25:16 is to show readers how the Ten Commandments (listed in Deuteronomy 5:7-20) are to be applied.
This is how Bible scholar Edward J Woods, lays it out:
|Commandment||Section of Deuteronomy|
|# 1-2 No other Gods and idols||12:1-13:18|
|# 3 No misuse of God’s name, especially|
within the cult of the dead
|# 4 Sabbath observance||14:22-16:17|
|# 5 Honour of parents||16:18-18:22|
|# 6 No murder||19:1-22:8|
|# 7 No adultery||22:9-23:18|
|# 8 No stealing||23:19-24:7|
|# 9 No false witness||24:8-25:4|
|# 10 Do not covet||25:5-16|
In the explanation of how the Ten Commandments are to be applied, “place” is given importance at the beginning (12:5-6), and “inheritance” is given importance at the end (25:19).
The section on firstfruits follows the end of the section on “do not covet,” and begins by stressing “place” and “inheritance” (26:1).
Why are place and inheritance pivotal? Woods answers in these words:
“Central to [26:1-15] is the offering of firstfruits as a fitting conclusion to the tenth commandment (the best antidote to coveting is giving), as well as to the entire law section from chapter 12 onwards.”
“In fact, the offering of firstfruits is an indicator of the abundance and blessing of the land of inheritance that the Lord has given (natan; vv. 1, 2, 3 , 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 , 15 ) to Israel. This should make covetousness at all levels redundant.”
Notice the repetition of “given,” and its derivatives. Everything we have, everything we do, is given to us. We need rituals to remind us of this. The rituals must be accompanied by words which express, to ourselves and to others, why we do what we do.
Taking a basket of fruits harvested “by our labour” is a suitable ritual, if it is accompanied by a clear expression of why we do it: we offer it to show that we won’t covet what belongs to our neighbour, for everything we have, and he has, is a gift from God, to be given or taken at His pleasure.
Our liturgical response must recount that by grace, by his gift, we went from being aliens to being His children, and that we will please Him by establishing and enforcing laws which are for the good of all His creation.
Some people give to appease their gods. We give to adore. And we resist the sin of covetousness by giving to God in a prescribed manner.