This week marks the commemoration of Tu Bishvat, a Jewish holiday associated with trees, nature, and tithing. While it’s likely not a holiday familiar to most Christians, it does provide a good opportunity to delve into some lesser-known Bible passages about an important topic: generosity with our resources.
Tu Bishvat finds its roots in Old Testament passages like Leviticus 19:23-25:
After you enter the land, you will plant fruit trees, but you are not to eat any of their fruit for the first three years. In the fourth year the fruit must be set apart, as an expression of thanks to me, the LORD God. Do this, and in the fifth year, those trees will produce an abundant harvest of fruit for you to eat.
Although God’s commands to ancient Israel regarding agriculture and harvests seem at first glance to be too culture-specific to have relevance to Christians today, they tell us something important about the character of God and the ways he expects His followers to use their possessions and resources. In Deuteronomy 14:22-29 (another passage associated with Tu Bishvat) we find, amid regulations about olive oil and cattle, a command that makes sense in any cultural context:
Every third year, instead of using the ten percent of your harvest for a big celebration, bring it into town and put it in a community storehouse… You must also give food to the poor who live in your town, including orphans, widows, and foreigners. If they have enough to eat, then the LORD your God will be pleased and make you successful in everything you do.
God speaks many times about the importance of both giving generously to Him and to the less fortunate—see Leviticus 27:30 and Malachi 3:8-10 for just a few examples—and so in New Testament times, despite the different economic circumstances, both Jews and Christians would have seen generosity with their “harvests” as critical to the practice of their faith. Jesus praised the widow who gave up everything she owned, Paul condemned two churchgoers for lying about their offering, and freewill generosity is praised through the New Testament.
Most Christians today don’t consider Old Testament regulations about tithing to be spiritually binding under the New Covenant ushered in by Jesus Christ. But most branches and denominations of Christianity place a high value on being generous with your “harvest,” whatever it is—whether it’s giving 10% of your income to the local church, supporting worthy causes, or donating time and money to helping those less fortunate. I’ve always seen a special grace in Christians who share food and other simple necessities with those in need—a grace that’s very in keeping with Tu Bishvat’s interest in trees, fruits, and harvests.
How do you and your church put this into practice? As this new year unfolds, how can you use your “harvest” to make a difference in the lives of people in need?