Saturday, September 27, 2014

I Chronicles 29

In  I Chronicles 29, King David encourages leaders in Israel to support his successor, Solomon, in the task of constructing the Temple, and to donate materials to the project, as David did.

I generally listen to sermons about the chapter that I am studying for my weekly quiet time.  In the sermons that I heard about I Chronicles 29, there was a lot of emphasis on God loving a cheerful giver, a la I Corinthians 9:7.  More than one preacher said that, if we do not want to give, then God does not want us to give, for God desires that our giving be willing.  Throughout I Chronicles 29, we read that the Israelite leaders gave willingly, freely, or joyously.

I am a bit ambivalent about the pastors’ statement that we should not give if we do not want to do so.  On the one hand, I am against trying to force or guilt people to do things that they do not want to do.  If I absolutely do not want to go to a Christian small group, for example, then forcing myself to do so out of “obedience to God” will not help me, and it probably will not help those in the group.  On the other hand, when it comes to giving, especially charitable giving, then I believe that the focus should be on the need of the recipients rather than the attitude of the giver.  The attitude of the giver is still important, but that is because being a cheerful giver can lead to more giving and helping of those in need, not because it meets some legalistic requirement of what counts as legitimate giving in God’s eyes.

In I Chronicles 29, however, we are not dealing with charitable giving, but with giving that relates to the construction of the Temple.  But is not the Temple necessary for Israel to prosper?  Remember the Book of Haggai, where God criticizes the post-exilic Israelites for taking care of their own needs while neglecting their religious duty to build God a Temple?  According to Haggai, that neglect resulted in economic dearth for the Israelites, as their crops were consumed by blight, mildew, and hail (to draw from the NRSV’s rendering of Haggai 2:17).  Israel needed God in her midst in order to prosper.  When post-exilic Israel recognized that and undertook the duty of building God a Temple, then things got better for her economically.

But I am doubtful that Israel in the time of David and Solomon really needed a Temple in order to have God’s presence in her midst and to prosper.  God already dwelt in Israel’s midst through a Tabernacle, and, according to I Chronicles 17, God was satisfied with that.  It was David who decided that this was not good enough for God, that it was improper for David to dwell in a great palace while God dwelt in a lowly tent.  David decided to build God a Temple, and God signaled his approval of that, or, more accurately, his approval of David’s son Solomon undertaking the project.

That being said, David and the leaders of Israel were not donating willfully to building the Temple because they believed that God needed a Temple to dwell in Israel’s midst and to bless and prosper her, for God already dwelt in Israel through a Tabernacle.  Rather, they were eager to donate out of a conviction that a great God deserved a great Temple.  This was worship.  This was something that could not be compelled.  God wants for our love of him to be joyful, free, and willing.

At the same time, there was a temptation: people who try to do something for God may start to exalt themselves.  “Look what I am doing for God!”  That may be why David in I Chronicles 29 is exalting God at the expense of humans, saying that all came from and belongs to God, that humans are temporary, and that no one really deserves to give God anything.  Moreover, while one may point to one’s piety and become proud of it, David highlights the need for God to preserve a person’s piety, so that it is not just a passing fad or whim but becomes a defining factor in one’s life.  Human beings are inconstant and can be fickle, and so, rather than congratulating themselves for whatever piety or goodness they may have, they should depend on God to preserve that piety or goodness such that it becomes a defining part of their character.

I wonder also if David was also exalting God at the expense of the human as a way to convince people to give.  Maybe he was telling the Israelite leaders that their time on earth is temporary, and they cannot take their wealth with them, so what better way is there for them to use their wealth than to use it to honor the great God?  I suppose that one can think of other good uses they could have made of their wealth, even if they would die some day and could not take their wealth with them.  They could leave it to their children, and that would be laudable.  But David wants them to do something even more significant with it.

Giving is not always easy for me.  I have given in the past.  But it is not easy.  Somewhere in my mind, there should be a sense that—-in addition to saving up my money—-I should use at least some of it for something significant, such as helping those in need, or promoting the worship of God.

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