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The Hebrew Meaning of Generosity

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November 20th, 2020
Hebrew Word Studies / By

When someone is described as generous, we equate them as being profoundly kind. We see them as going above and beyond normal expectations, giving abundantly and unselfishly. 

Typically, finances come to mind first, and reasonably so. Scripture is filled with teachings on money because of the connection between finances and our priorities. So then, what about generosity as it relates to our time and our words? Can we be generous with the skills and talent we have? God uses money as a tool to speak to us about issues of the heart.

The Jewish community takes the responsibility of giving with great pride. The concept known as tzedakah finds its origins in the Torah. This Hebrew word literally means righteousness, but Hebrew speakers use it in reference to giving and charity. 

THE HEART OF GENEROSITY

There are multiple passages in the Hebrew Scriptures where God instructs the Jewish people to perform acts of tzedakah. God is specifically commanding the Israelites to consider the poor among them, as recorded in Leviticus 19:9-10 and Deuteronomy 15:7-8. 

We can also see a prime example of living in the spirit of generosity in the life of Abraham. He often gave of his time and wealth whenever he was showing hospitality to travelers. Forgoing his own comfort, he gave his nephew Lot first choice in selecting property. And what is more, Abraham was generous with his knowledge of God, residing among paganistic tribes.

Can we be generous in the way we love and serve others? The common denominator is this: generous people are generous because they don’t hold on to anything too tightly, whether money or status. It is all about the posture and condition of our heart. 

Are we clinging onto that which we believe will give us security? Or are we at peace, confident in the truth that God knows what and when we need? Is He our provider? Jack Hayford describes it this way: “learning to be a giver is rooted in clarifying who we perceive as our ultimate source in life – ourselves or God.”

If your delight and confidence is in the Kingdom of God, you will no doubt be generous with all that God has entrusted to you and blessed you with on the earth. 

GIVE TO RECEIVE

Let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say on generosity. Proverbs 11:24-25 says, One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”

Solomon, the author of these words, contrasts the generous person with a tightfisted one, and warns against the wrong patterns. It seems counterintuitive that the one who gives more away will actually have more. However, when we view this through God’s wisdom, we see that being generous demonstrates our faith. We trust God with what He Himself entrusted to us.

I love the play on words here. One way we demonstrate our trust in God is by faithfully stewarding what He has entrusted to us. In turn, He can trust us with more. 

SHARING IS TRUSTING

This begs the question, is it wrong to be a follower of Jesus and also be wealthy? 

Consider wealth as a test of heart and mindset. Wealth and possessions are not inherently bad things. But do we desire wealth and “stability” more than we desire the presence of God? Do we trust money more than we trust God? Where does our confidence lie? 

Can’t we look to both earthly and heavenly treasures? Apostle Matthew describes and warns us against this very thing: “For your heart will always pursue what you value as your treasure.” (Matthew 6:21)

In Luke 21:1-4, Jesus describes a widow with not much to her name who deposits two small copper coins into the offering box at the Temple. She gives to God out of obedience and with a generous heart, even though there’s clearly not much to give from. She is possibly jeopardizing her very livelihood by giving at all, but Jesus acknowledged her. 

AN ACT OF GRATITUDE

The story of the widow reminds me of someone I met while volunteering with a local Jewish organization a few years ago. Each year, on the weekends leading up to Passover in the spring and Rosh Hashanah in the fall, the organization assembles holiday care packages for members of the local Jewish community. Some are ill, others are isolated, and many benefited from this sweet gesture. 

I was making a delivery to a lady in a low-income apartment complex that housed mostly immigrants and senior citizens. Many who receive these care packages are truly touched by the gesture and offer enthusiastic words of thanks. This lady was no exception. 

I handed over the goods to her and ended our courteous exchange by wishing her a “chag sameach” (happy holiday). As I was walking away, I heard footsteps and shouting behind me. The lady wanted to thank me yet again, and with tears in her eyes she forced some chocolate bars and kiwi fruits into my hands. 

I realized this lady impacted me not because I left her home with treats of my own. It was because she wanted to express her gratitude with her own act of generosity. She was living in low-income housing and was on the organization’s list of those in need. She was fit to receive a holiday care package, and yet, she was moved to give of whatever little she had. 

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BY GOD’S GRACE

I hope this story inspires you as much as it inspired me. Generosity is a state of the heart, not of one’s wallet. We rest in the knowledge that God is the provider of all things. He is gracious and loves to bless His children. Confident in His provision, we give liberally out of it. 

We are generous, because God has been and continues to be generous with us. He lavished His love on us, and this should cause us to respond in kind, in every aspect of life.  

See how God used one generous pastor to spark a global movement to lift up the name above all names:

 

 

Bibliography

  1. Hayford, Jack. “Profit, Property and Possessiveness.” Jackhayfordlibrary.com, 25 Feb. 1979. 
Avital Snow
Avital Snow is a second-generation Jewish Believer, and is joyfully married to her husband Travis. She serves as the Coordinator of Messianic Jewish Studies at The King’s University and relishes the opportunity to play hostess, dabble in floral arranging and conduct baking experiments in her free time. Avital and Travis live in Dallas, Texas.
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