This was an interesting section from Guzik’s commentary on Exodus 30:
- ([verses] 13-16) How to take a census with ransom money.
“This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel is twenty gerahs). The half-shekel shall be an offering to the LORD. Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the LORD. The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves. And you shall take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.”
- Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the LORD: The census was to include everyone aged twenty and over. This seems to be the Israelite age of full adulthood in this sense. Everyone also had to give an equal amount – one-half shekel.
2. This ransom money spoke clearly: everyone owes God; everyone is obligated to Him. “The Lord commanded that every male over twenty years of age should pay half a shekel as redemption money, confessing that he deserved to die, owning that he was in debt to God, and bringing the sum demanded as a type of a great redemption which would by-and-by be paid for the souls of the sons of men.” (Spurgeon)
3. “Later, the ‘half-shekel’ became an annual temple tax (Matthew 17:24).” (Cole)
4. The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less…to make atonement for yourselves: This was not a request for a free-will offering, nor was it a proportional tithe. This was more like a flat tax, where everyone paid the same amount, rich or poor – because this was to make atonement. It wasn’t that the money was the atonement, but it marked the ones who were atoned.
5. In this sense, it is not a pattern for our giving under the New Covenant. New Covenant giving should be proportional, under the principle that we should give in proportion to our blessing (1 Corinthians 16:2).
6. Instead of a pattern of our own giving, this money was a picture of the cost of our own redemption. “The rich were not to give more, the poor not to give less; to signify that all souls were equally precious in the sight of God, and that no difference of outward circumstances could affect the state of the soul; all had sinned, and all must be redeemed by the same price.” (Clarke)
Note that Guzik uses the wrong term (in the context of modern policy discussions)–the atonement payment was a poll or a head tax, not a flat tax, which is what the tithe would be. (You tithe ten percent of your income.)
I am sharing because I thought it was interesting that the atonement payment was not tied to wealth; it was a flat fee (which of course is why Guzik described it as a “flat tax”). Far from being unfair to the poor, I think this actually gave them dignity, for the reason described in the quotation above. Their souls were just as valuable.
Part of the broader spiritual message here, of course, is that Jesus will eventually pay the ultimate redemption price for all of us.
I don’t have it in this excerpt, but elsewhere Guzik explained that in general God didn’t want human rulers conducting a census, because this signified that the human ruler “owned” the subjects.