The penitential assembly at Mizpah (1 Macc 3:46-49)

“Then they gathered together. They went to Mizpah, opposite Jerusalem, because Israel formerly had a place of prayer in Mizpah. They fasted that day. They put on sackcloth and sprinkled ashes on their heads. They tore their clothes. They opened the book of the law to inquire into those matters about which the gentiles were consulting the images of their gods. They also brought the vestments of the priesthood, the first fruits, and the tithes. They stirred up the Nazirites who had completed their days.”

The troops of Judas Maccabeus assembled at Mizpah, where Samuel had gathered the Israelites for repentance in 1 Samuel, chapter 7. Mizpah was close to Jerusalem. Like at the time of Samuel, they fasted, put on sackcloth, and tore their clothes in repentance. The Jewish people consulted their book of the law rather than the images of the divine oracles of the Greek gentiles. They had a cultic experience by bringing the vestments of the priests, even though there was no mention of any Levite priests here. They also brought first fruits and tithes. It is difficult to see what they did with these things since the Temple at Jerusalem had been destroyed. They also stirred up the Nazirites who had finished their obligations. Obviously this revolutionary group was inspired by the Nazirite movement as outlined in Numbers, chapter 6.

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Judith reveals the situation of the Israelites (Jdt 11:9-11:15)

“As for Achior’s speech in your council,

We have heard his words.

The people of Bethulia spared him.

He told them all he had said to you.

Therefore, lord and master, do not disregard what he said.

Keep it in your mind.

It is true.

Indeed, our nation cannot be punished.

The sword cannot prevail against them,

Unless they sin against their God.

Now, in order that my lord may not be defeated

That his purpose may not be frustrated,

Death will fall upon them.

A sin has overtaken them,

By which they are about to provoke their God to anger,

When they do what is wrong.

Since their food supply is exhausted,

Their water has almost given out,

They have planned to kill their livestock.

They have determined to use all

That God by his laws has forbidden them to eat.

They have decided to consume

The first fruits of the grain,

The tithes of the wine and oil,

That they had consecrated.

They had set aside for the priests

Who minister in the presence of our God in Jerusalem.

These are things not lawful for any of the people,

Even to touch with their hands.

Since even the people in Jerusalem have been doing this,

They have sent messengers there,

To bring back permission from the council of the elders.

When the response reaches them

They will act upon it.

On that very day,

They will be handed over to you to be destroyed.”

Judith revealed that the people of Bethulia knew everything that Achior had said to him. What he said was true. Only God can defeat them if they sin. However, because of the famine and thirst, they are about to sin. They were going to eat the forbidden foods. They are going to take the first fruits and tithes of wine and oil that had been set aside for the priests, and consume it. They are going to break the law of God. It was forbidden to even touch these things. Now they have sent messengers to Jerusalem to get permission from the elders there. As soon as their response reaches them, they will act on it and destroy themselves.

The tithing Temple obligations (Neh 10:32-10:39)

We also lay upon ourselves the obligation to charge ourselves yearly one-third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God. This was to pay for the rows of bread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed festivals, the sacred donations, and the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God. We have also cast lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, by ancestral houses, at times appointed, year by year, to burn upon the altar of Yahweh our God, as it is written in the law. We obligate ourselves to bring the first fruits of our soil and the first fruits of every tree, year by year, to the house of Yahweh. We will also bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God, the first-born males of our livestock, as it is written in the law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks. We will bring the first of our dough, and our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the wine and the oil, to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God. We will bring to the Levites the tithes from our soil. The Levites will collect the tithes in all our rural towns. The priest, the descendent of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes. The Levites shall bring up a tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers, to the storehouse. The people of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of grain, wine, and oil to the storehouses, where the vessels of the sanctuary are. That is where the priests that minister, and the gatekeepers and the singers are. We will not neglect the house of our God.”

The Temple in Jerusalem will be the center of worship. They are each going to give 1/3 of a shekel, the Temple tax, about the equivalent of $2.00 USA. The bread and the burnt offerings come from Leviticus, chapter 24, and Numbers, chapter 26. The bringing of wood is a new idea here. The first fruits concept comes from Deuteronomy, chapter 26. The offering of the first born male of the livestock comes from Exodus, chapter 13. However, the first part of dough, wine, and oil was not in Exodus. The Levites would collect the tithes in all the rural towns, based on Numbers, chapter 18. There is a clear procedure of how the tithes are to be brought from the rural areas to the Temple. The priests, the gatekeepers, and the singers should not be neglected. The house of God should not be neglected.