Here we are, ex-slaves from Egypt, camped around Mount Sinai, on the top of which Moses and God regularly converse. What’s the next move? As it turns out, a building project. Moses presents an extremely detailed plan for a tabernacle — a tent — that will be the central meeting place for the worship of Yahweh, who brought them out of Egypt.
This is a good idea. It will draw this large, unwieldy group of people together — both for regular communal worship and also because so many of them will have contributed to the creation of the tabernacle.
It was obviously a big deal, because the details — of the hangings, the furniture, the priests’ vestments — take up 12 chapters.
What most surprised me were the women, mentioned at four specific places in our text. I know they are only included because women’s possessions, like jewelry, and women’s work, like spinning, weaving and sewing, were required. But still, the attention in unusual. Besides exceptional women like Miriam and Deborah, this is a male-oriented world.
One might wonder: Where did these ex-slaves get all that stuff? They’re traveling through a desert, and even water and food are big problems, so where does all this jewelry and cloth come from? You’ll find the answer in Ex. 12:35-36: The Egyptians gave them these things just because they asked.
Fast forward about 1,200 years, and once again the people of God have a chance to be generous. This is not your weekly Sabbath offering. Paul has big plans. Our short text is part of a two-chapter fundraising letter (2 Corinthians 8-9) from Paul to the house churches he founded in Corinth.
Here’s the situation: Paul’s success in evangelizing Gentiles on his missionary trips has made the all-Jewish Mother Church at Jerusalem somewhat nervous. Are they losing control?
But now a drought has caused famine in Jerusalem. So Paul is on a mission to raise money from his churches for relief for the Jerusalem believers. He argues that, since the gospel came originally from the Jerusalem church, it is only fair that these majority-Gentile churches show their gratefulness by providing material support (see Rom. 15:25-27).
Our text is a good example of Paul’s persuasive — perhaps manipulative — skill in getting the Corinthians to give to his collection. Two questions to discuss: What exactly is Paul’s persuasive technique in this text? How similar does it sound to the “prosperity gospel”?
Just before the snow last March, my renter picked a bouquet of my daffodils and brought them into the house. Inside, they perked up and blessed our kitchen for a week with their perfect golden petals. They were the first fruits of my yard.
I don’t make plans in January to pick daffodils in March. But looking at our Leviticus text, God and Moses are planning ahead. The Israelites have not yet entered the Promised Land, and already God expects them to be grateful, down to the last detail. (I suspect the precise form of these laws came much later; see Neh. 8:1-8.)
Note that these offerings of grain and lamb have to be burnt. Like other ancient peoples of this region, the idea was that the deity could smell the pleasing odor and thus receive the gift.
More relevant to the community at large was the law of gleaning for the poor: Do not reap to the edges of your field (Lev. 23:22). Rather than starve the poor and deport the alien, let them eat.
Are there different first fruits we can offer today? How can we help immigrants at risk of deportation?
Since retiring from Messiah College, Reta Halteman Finger teaches part-time at Eastern Mennonite University, writes a Bible study blog at eewc.com/category/retas-reflections and is a contributing editor at Sojourners.