Many seeds of biblical principles of utmost importance, including tithing, are germinated in Genesis, the book of beginnings, and are developed throughout the Scriptures.
The child of God in studying a subject must compare Scripture with Scripture that “we might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9 KJV). If the whole subject is not viewed properly, a text taken out of context may become a pretext for error or misuse.
Tithing is generally seen as the giving of a tenth of one’s income. The gesture is first mentioned in Genesis, and although not seen in Exodus, the subject is developed as part of the Law in the other books of Moses. Then, throughout the Old Testament we see its uses, abuses and people’s excuses – mainly for not giving to the Lord the mandated tithing demands. The Old Testament ends with God’s complaint regarding the failure of the children of Israel to bring Him tithes and offerings (Mal. 3:8). He uses the strongest of condemnations: “You have robbed Me.”
In the New Testament the practice is recorded only in the Gospels (a period still belonging to the pre-Church era) and in Hebrews 7, where it is mentioned to prove the greatness of the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. While this Old Testament requirement is not mentioned in the Acts or Church epistles, 1 Corinthians 16 may provide some help to Christians grappling with this subject. It does not mention a tenth or any specific percentage, but it gives a guide and an encouragement to practice grace.
The first mention of tithing is in Genesis 14:18-20: “And Melchiz- edek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.” This passage provides a number of insights:
The tithe was given to the priest of the most high God.
It was in response to a blessing.
It was offered in recognition of a great mercy.
It was apparently given from the spoil (Heb. 7:4) gained from the enemy, not from Abram’s regular income or earnings.
The tithe was a voluntary offering.
The next mention of a tithe is a sad one because it recorded a promise made but apparently not kept, at least for the first twenty years. In Genesis 28:22, Jacob promised, “Of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee.” Unfortunately, there is no record of Jacob’s ever giving the Lord this promised gift even though he had experienced God’s mercy and blessing. We should recognize that when making a vow to God, it should be kept; God has no pleasure in fools (Eccl. 5:4). A vow becomes a debt that must be paid: it is better not to vow, than to make a vow and not pay (v.5).
Tithing was part of the Law which the LORD gave Moses for the children of Israel (Lev. 27:34). The first instructions, as recorded in Leviticus 27:30-33, suggest two interesting principles that they were to follow. First, a tenth of all the produce of the land was to be given to the LORD. This could imply that one tenth of a family’s annual produce was to be dedicated to the LORD. Second, one-tenth of all the animals counted when assessing a family’s assets, was also to be set aside for the Lord. This addressed the total value of a family’s livestock holdings, not just a tenth of that part of their income.
While Numbers 18:20-24 records the next instructions, most help on this subject may be gained from the last words of Moses in Deuteronomy 14:22-29 and 26:12-14. From a careful examination of all the verses it appears that there was not just one required tithe but three! Each allowed the faithful Israelite to meet a specific need while experiencing the graces of giving, communion and hospitality. Looking at the three tithes individually we may gain some important lessons that Christians should apply to their giving.
Required Giving Under The Mosaic Law
Firstfruits of all produce (Ex. 23:19; 2 Chr. 31:5; Neh. 10:35-37).
Redemption of the firstborn males and the firstborn of all animals (Ex. 13:12-13).
Tithes: First (Lev. 27:30-33); Second (Dt. 14:22-27); Third (Dt. 14:28-29, 26:12-13).
Produce from the corners of the field and the gleanings of these fields and of their vineyards (Lev. 23:22).
Fruit of new trees for the first four years (Lev. 19:23-25).
Temple Tax (Ex. 30:13).
Sacrifices for sins and trespasses (Lev. 4-5).
TOTAL: approximately 30 to 40% of the income.
This does not include any voluntary gifts (burnt offerings, peace offerings, etc.)
or the taxes imposed by the king for government expenses (1 Sam. 8:10-17).
The First Tithe
“And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation” (Num. 18:21). The entire first tithe was to be given to the LORD’s servants. Their service was probably not limited to the work of the Tabernacle (and later in the Temple). They would also instruct the people throughout the land in the ways of the Lord, especially around the 48 cities set apart for them among the tribes of Israel (Num. 35:7). When the priests and Levites lived in their cities they could work their own fields, but while they served in their sanctuary duties the tithes provided their livelihood. In this way the LORD allowed the Israelites a special grace of supporting those who taught them God’s ways and who lifted up His name in worship.
The Second Tithe
“Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the place which He shall choose to place His name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always. And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the Lord thy God shall choose to set His name there, when the LORD thy God hath blessed thee: Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose: And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household. And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee” (Dt. 14:22-27).
This may be seen as a second tithe because its purpose and use differ greatly from that of the first. This tenth of the family produce and the firstborn of their animals were not dedicated to God to supply for the needs of the priests and Levites. The Lord intended this offering to encourage His people to revere the awesomeness of His being and ways. And the best place that this could be learned or experienced was in His presence with others of the faithful in Israel. The family was to bring the tithe, or turn it into money to buy any goods desired, and enjoy a communion feast in that place which the LORD was to choose. They were to rejoice together in the house of God, sharing with each other and with the Levites who would be invited to join them. The Lord is ever so wonderful to encourage His people to enjoy the grace of feasting with others in His presence.
A Third Tithe
“At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest” (Dt. 14:28-29; see also 26:12-13).
This was another tithe with yet a very different purpose. Here the tenth of one’s income of every third year (or in the third of every seven year cycle, making it every seventh year) was neither to be given for the upkeep of the Lord’s servants nor to feast in His presence with others. It was to be stored up at home and shared with the needy. This tenth was set aside to teach God’s people the grace of hospitality: the joy of sharing with others in caring for the poor and destitute among them.
The purpose behind the laws of tithing in the Old Testament was generally two-fold: for God’s glory (Ps. 96:8) and for the blessing of man, including the giver (Mal. 3:10). Does the Lord need anything from His creatures? Of course not: He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10). Can He care for His servants and for the poor? Of course He can (Ps 68:10, 132:15)! But our gracious God seeks to bless His people by allowing them to give something back to Him while providing for the needs of others.
Next month we will look at tithing as seen in the New Testament, comparing and contrasting the tithe and its application to the grace of Christian giving.
By Hank Blok
We Are Stewards
Since we are purchased with the precious blood of Christ, it becomes us to yield all to the Master (Rom. 6:13). The apostle led by the Spirit beseeches each redeemed one to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). “Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). According to these Scriptures all that we have and are, or shall be, belongs to the Lord and we are stewards. We are love slaves to our Lord Jesus Christ although God’s freeman. If this principle is learned then all questions pertaining to giving will be settled.
—G. A. Weise
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