12 Feb 2017

Money to God vs. the State

Religious 8 Comments

This was an interesting section from Guzik’s commentary on Exodus 30:

  1. ([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.”


  1. 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.

8 Responses to “Money to God vs. the State”

  1. Tel says:

    Does God have a lot of use for money?

    If it ever became an issue… I suppose He could just print more gold, as required.

    • Craw says:

      A nice way to show the claim about “same price” is fatuous. God does not need money, so the “price” is the experienced loss to the sinner. Which, by the logic of Jesus’s comment about the woman, is higher for the very poor.

  2. Harold says:

    I did not really have a feeling for how much half a shekel was. Are we talking the coppers the poor woman put in or the riches the wealthy put in? Was this a really punitive tax for the poor? Apparently this was the equivalent of 8g of silver, or about $5 in today’s money.

    Other comments from the web: ” This is symbolic, a commemoration of the biblical mitzvah, and therefore it is only necessary to give one half (or some give three halves) of the local currency—e.g. a half a dollar.”

    I gather that this really was a symbolic offering, and as such the same amount for everybody does seem reasonable. It was not terribly difficult even for the poor. However, I conclude that this would not be enough to actually fund the temple. I imagine that the funding would have to come from a different source, where the rich would be expected to offer more. Is this a reasonable assessment?

    ” Far from being unfair to the poor, I think this actually gave them dignity.” Again, this depends on whether this is purely symbolic or intended to actually raise significant funds.

    As Jesus said of the poor woman ” Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.””

    If Jesus thought that the woman had dignity by giving much less then I am not going to disagree.

    • Craw says:

      Why a silver shekel? There were several kinds of shekel, gold, silver, brass, iron. Maybe more. Why not a cheaper kind?

      • Harold says:

        No idea, I only know what I read on the internet.

  3. Andrew_FL says:

    I try to avoid calling a head tax a “poll tax” because this leads to confusion in an American context with taxes used as a precondition for voting rights.

  4. Craw says:

    Book of Kings says God punished David for taking a census.

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