“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6.38.
According to James Neil, in a very old book of his called Peeps into Palestine, middle-eastern householders would buy sufficient corn in July or August to last them for the following twelve months. When the corn was delivered, a professional measurer would attend to certify the contents of each sack of grain. He would use a wooden drum called a timneh, and carry out a procedure that Jesus was clearly very familiar with and which James Neil describes in this way:
“He seats himself cross-legged on the ground, and upon the grain being turned out in a heap before him, begins to scoop it into the timneh with his hands. Next, he seizes the measure, when it is partly full, and gives it two or three swift half-turns as it stands on the ground, thus shaking it together and so making it occupy a smaller space. He again scoops in more grain and repeats the shaking as before, and does so again and again until the measure is filled up to the brim. This done, he presses it all over with the outstretched palms of his hands, using the whole weight of his body so as to pack it still more closely. Then, out of the centre of the pressed surface, he removes some of its contents, and makes a small hollow … With more handfuls of corn he now raises a cone above the timneh. With much skilfulness he carries this cone up to a great height, until no more grain can possibly be piled on its steep sides and that which he adds begins to run down and flow over. Upon this, the interesting and elaborate process is complete, the measure is regarded as full weight and is handed over to the buyer.”
Where James Neil says “handed over to the buyer” Jesus says “poured into your lap”; but the word is kolpos which means “the bosom” – the front of the body between the arms. What happened, in fact, was that the person buying the grain would pull his robe up through the girdle round his waist to form a large pouch into which the grain was poured.
All very interesting; but is there a point? Yes, indeed. We often take this verse to mean simply that God is committed to recompense us when we give to those in need. “God is no man’s debtor” said Thomas Aquinas. And that’s true. We can be absolutely certain that God will never leave us “out of pocket” when we give. But by using the metaphor of the professional measurer to describe how God recompenses us, Jesus is (it seems to me) assuring us of something much more. Whatever the timneh is that we use to measure out our money, time, hospitality or whatever it is we are giving; God will take the same timneh and fill it up too, says Jesus – but not as we filled it. God will work like a professional measurer in preparing our recompense.
Experiments have shown that the professional measurer’s procedure added a massive 30 percent to the weight of grain a purchaser would otherwise have received had the grain been merely poured into the timneh. Thirty percent! So, says Jesus, God will not merely reimburse you for what you give; he will generously reward you too!
In point of fact, that promise was not new. In the book of Proverbs we are told: “Honour the LORD with your wealth, with the first-fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine” (Proverbs 3.9-10). In Malachi we are told: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it'” (Malachi 3.10).
In short: we cannot ever out-give God. We will always get back more than we give away. That is a principle I began putting to the test more than forty years ago and it has never failed me.
Perhaps the very thought of looking at what we get back in return for what we give makes us uncomfortable. If so, then we are more squeamish than God. Well over a hundred times in the Bible, God directly and unashamedly dangles the promise of reward in front of us to persuade us to do the kind of things that he wants us to do; and he indirectly promises to reward us a great many times more. And that, I believe, is just what Jesus – if we understand him aright – is doing here in Luke 6.38.