by Doug Ward
The twin principles of love of God and love toward neighbor comprise one of the best summaries of the Bible's moral teaching. These principles are stated in the Torah in Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18.
The idea of combining the two "love commandments" to encapsulate righteous living goes back to the Second Temple period. We see this combination, for example, in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a fictional account from the first or second century B.C. of the deathbed advice given by the sons of Jacob to their descendants. "But love the Lord and your neighbor," exhorts Issachar in this work. Similarly, Benjamin says, "Fear ye the Lord, and love your neighbor."1
Jesus of Nazareth highlighted these two principles when he was asked to identify the greatest of God's commandments (Matt 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34). This was not a controversial teaching, as reflected by the fact that a scribe who posed the question to Jesus heartily endorsed his answer (Mark 12:32-33).
Jesus stated that "on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matt 22:40). To appreciate the truth of this assertion, it is worthwhile to meditate on how specific biblical commandments promote love of God and neighbor. As a case study, let's consider God's instruction to Israel on the use of material resources.
Follow the Money
We will begin at the time of Israel's Exodus from Egypt. As the children of Israel prepared to depart, they asked their Egyptian neighbors for silver and gold jewelry and clothing. The Egyptians honored their request (Exod 12:35-36), and so the Israelites left with "great possessions" (Gen 15:14), fulfilling a promise that God had made to Abraham hundreds of years before.
Although the Bible does not say so explicitly, it appears that a major purpose for this Egyptian wealth was to furnish raw materials for Israel's tabernacle. Several months later, the Israelites were invited to contribute fabrics, gems, precious metals, and labor for the project (Exod 35). The wealth obtained from the Egyptians enabled all the people to participate in the offering and thus have a personal stake in the construction of the tabernacle. The offering encouraged them to devote a significant share of their resources toward the love of God in worship.
The same goal was served by a regular schedule of public sacrifices to be carried out at the tabernacle (and later the temple), as described in Num 28-29. Each day two lambs would be offered, one in the morning and one in the evening (28:1-8). Two additional lambs would be offered on a weekly Sabbath day (28:9-10), and ten additional animals (two bulls, a ram, and seven lambs) were scheduled for the first day of a month. There were also special offerings for the annual festival days.
Especially notable was the schedule for the annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration, where the sacrifices included thirteen bulls on the first day, twelve on the second day, eleven on the third day, etc., continuing for seven days. The total number of bulls offered over seven days would be seventy, the traditional number of nations in the world. This number symbolized Israel's calling to be a light to the nations, and would remind the people of that calling. Also implicit in this plan was the promise that God would bless the nation to enable these sacrifices to take place.
In the agricultural society of ancient Israel, the animals in the flocks and herds were a major proportion of the nation's wealth. The sacrificial schedule of Num 28-29 allocated a significant part of Israel's resources to the tabernacle or temple. But these resources were going toward the all-important cause of building and maintaining a relationship with God. We can summarize the situation in the style of a familiar advertisement: Large numbers of bulls, rams, and lambs-a substantial financial investment. Living in communion with the Creator of the Universe-priceless.
Along with animals, human resources would also be dedicated to the tabernacle or temple. The tribe of Levi was set aside for God's service and supported by the tithes and offerings of Israel (Num 3, 18). Levites were to live in towns throughout the Promised Land (Num 35:1-8) and lead the nation in proper understanding and application of the Torah.
A tithe of an Israelite's income was earmarked for celebration of the pilgrim festivals (Deut 14:22-27). Commentator Roy Gane describes this festival tithe as a "celebration account." Gane observes, "The spiritual, culinary, social, and emotional highlight of the year was all wrapped up in the same event. Needless to say, this would tend to encourage a positive attitude toward God and recognition of his gifts."2
An additional tithe was to be set aside in the third and sixth years of every cycle of seven years for the poor and needy (Deut 14:28-29; 16:12-13). This was one of a number of provisions in the Torah to protect vulnerable members of society. Others included prohibitions against charging interest on personal loans (Exod 22:25; Deut 23:19), observing sabbatical years and the weekly Sabbath (Exod 23:10-12), and leaving gleanings from a harvest for the needy (Deut 24:19-21).
Another Important Principle
All of these provisions from the Torah direct the use of material resources to promote the eternal values of love of God and neighbor. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized these same priorities for use of the resources that God has granted us (Matt 6:19-24). He also brought out another important principle: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (v. 21). Our use of resources reveals where our true priorities lie. Conversely, channeling our wealth toward eternal values should point our hearts in the same direction.
1T. Issachar 5:2; T. Benjamin 3:3.
2Leviticus, Numbers (NIV Application Commentary), Zondervan Academic, Grand Rapids, 2004, p. 655.
translated from TEX by TTH,
On 22 May 2019, 14:18.