In this day and age of televangelists who are constantly asking people to send them money, it would appear that a look at what the Bible says about tithing might be a good idea. We know that the instructions given in the Old Testament have often been superseded by further instructions in the New Testament, however it helps us to understand the new instructions better if we understand the old ones first. To that end, let us take a look at the Scriptures and see what they say. In the end however, it is up to every individual to decide how they want to deal with the matter of their finances.
Beginning with the Old Testament laws we will look at what God required, and what was done with those tithes and offerings. A definition would probably be a good place to start. A tithe literally means a tenth. So a tithe is a tenth of all your wages or the increase of things such as crops and animals that you have for the year. God did not speak of the tithe as being a tenth of the money, but a tenth of their crops, flocks, etc., although as some people ceased to be farmers/husbandrymen and went into trades, this no doubt meant a tenth of the trade income. Offerings on the other hand were things that were given above and beyond the tithe. God considered that a tenth of all that He gave Israel belonged to Him to dictate how it was used. Leviticus 27:30 “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree is the Lord's: it is holy unto the Lord.” Remember to make it holy to the Lord means that God tells us how to use it. That is very important to remember, for the way that God commanded to use it is not quite what people think it was.
Before embarking upon all the laws concerning tithes, it is important to also consider some other things that occurred or were commanded by God. We need to look at the tabernacle for our first glimpse into how giving to God commenced.
Exodus 25:2-8 “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering. And this is the offering which ye shall take of them; gold, and silver, and brass, And blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats' hair, And rams' skins dyed red, and badgers' skins, and shittim wood, Oil for the light, spices for anointing oil, and for sweet incense, Onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod, and in the breastplate. And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.” This command was given again in Exodus 35:4-9 “And Moses spake unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD commanded, saying, Take ye from among you an offering unto the LORD: whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, an offering of the LORD; gold, and silver, and brass, And blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats' hair, And rams' skins dyed red, and badgers' skins, and shittim wood, And oil for the light, and spices for anointing oil, and for the sweet incense, And onyx stones, and stones to be set for the ephod, and for the breastplate.”
We see that to gather the supplies that were needed to construct the tabernacle, God asked that the children of Israel give to the project as they felt led. There was no demand, there was no requirement, simply as they felt led in their heart. A list of supplies was given out, and the people were to contribute from their supplies as they wanted to. The people who felt led responded as follows:
Exodus 35:21-29 “And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the LORD's offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all his service, and for the holy garments. And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing hearted, and brought bracelets, and earrings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels of gold: and every man that offered offered an offering of gold unto the LORD. And every man, with whom was found blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats' hair, and red skins of rams, and badgers' skins, brought them. Every one that did offer an offering of silver and brass brought the LORD's offering: and every man, with whom was found shittim wood for any work of the service, brought it. And all the women that were wise hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, both of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine linen. And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun goats' hair. And the rulers brought onyx stones, and stones to be set, for the ephod, and for the breastplate; And spice, and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the sweet incense. The children of Israel brought a willing offering unto the LORD, every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all manner of work, which the LORD had commanded to be made by the hand of Moses.”
One might wonder where they got all these treasures from, being in the middle of a barren wilderness. God had seen to it that they would have the needed supplies when they left Egypt. Exodus 11:1-3a “And the LORD said unto Moses, Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether. Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold. And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians.” Exodus 12:35-36 “And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.” The Egyptians were anxious after all these plagues to make nice with the Israelite's God and get them out of town so that the plagues would stop. So anything that would hurry them along to offer to their God was fine with the Egyptians. The idea when they left was that they were only going for three days, not forever, so the people probably thought their things would be coming back, and even if not everything made it back, it was worth it to stop the plagues. Now we see that something happened that would never occur in today's churches.
Exodus 36:5-7 “And they spake unto Moses, saying, The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the LORD commanded to make. And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing. For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much”
Moses told them to stop giving. There was not only enough, there was too much. When was the last time you heard a minister say from the pulpit, we don't need any more money this month, please don't give as we don't want more than we need? Yeah, like that's going to happen. They simply say, “Oh good, we have some extra to spend and I'm sure we can find someplace to spend it.” Then they look for something they don't need to spend it on. God does not want people being burdened to give beyond what is useful for His purposes. The problem becomes, what does God consider necessary, and what does man simply want when it comes to their churches?
Now we also see that God required a minimal amount of money as a sort of life insurance policy while they were in the wilderness. They are required to give a half a shekel for the ransom of their soul so that there would be no plagues among them. This was a sanctuary shekel which was a specific amount. It is estimated that in today's terms, it would run possibly from twenty-five to thirty-one cents from what I was able to discover. That means that once a year people would have to give the equivalent of us giving a quarter (in U.S. money). A real burden, right? This money was equal across the board to rich and poor alike. It was to be used for the service of the tabernacle.
Exodus 30:1, 10-16 “And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it......And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the LORD. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD. Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the LORD. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls. And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls.”
The tabernacle did not have electric bills, heating bills, telephone bills, and etc. They needed oil for the lamps, and wood for the burnt offerings, so a half shekel from everyone would more than suffice to cover the costs of necessities. While I will not disagree that in today's world we need those modern things, how much could we really do without? Do churches really need the biggest, best sound systems available? How about all the media equipment? Until a few years ago, I attended a small rural church. During the winter to save money, instead of heating the church for a dozen people, we used the small trailer that years ago had served as a parsonage. The trailer was heated by a woodstove. Just as we will see that the people contributed wood to the temple, so people in the church contributed wood to the woodstove. The church also had an outhouse, rather than modern indoor plumbing. Now I will admit that these facilities are probably far more uncivilized than a lot of people in America would like to endure, but really, it served the purposes just fine. We had no sound system, those who had trouble hearing sat up front. We used an old piano for music and different ones took it upon themselves to clean as needed. We recycled an assortment of silk flowers with various vases, candles, and such as flower arrangements for the front of the church instead of spending a lot of money on flowers each week. In short, we were very frugal, and needed to be as the church had few people to support it. It did not seem such a horrible thing to us. We were there to hear the Word of God and fellowship with each other, and all the luxury items did not seem so vital as so many churches think they are.
At the time of the temple that Nehemiah was trying to rebuild, the elders decided to tax the people a yearly tax of a third of a shekel for its upkeep. That was actually less than the tabernacle required.
Nehemiah 10:32 “Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God;”
Above it was mentioned that the tabernacle needed oil and wood. From where did these two items come? Leviticus 24:1-2 “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamps to burn continually.” People were simply to bring oil as an offering. No amount, no requirement, just a command to bring some. As for the wood, the only method seen used to acquire it is found in Nehemiah.
Nehemiah 10:34 “And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the law:”
They cast lots to assign times of the year to people to bring it in year after year. So now the two main elements that were needed to run the tabernacle (and temple) were seen to be gotten by people simply donating it as an offering in amounts as they felt led.
When David desired to build the first temple, he did not look to the people of Israel and ask for them to donate things. Just as the Israelites had plundered the Egyptians and really it was their wealth which built the tabernacle, so David in his conquests of the surrounding nations became a very wealthy king. He would leave these treasures and wealth to his son Solomon to build the temple. And who did the work? Not the Israelites.
2 Chronicles 2:17-18 “And Solomon numbered all the strangers that were in the land of Israel, after the numbering wherewith David his father had numbered them; and they were found an hundred and fifty thousand and three thousand and six hundred. And he set threescore and ten thousand of them to be bearers of burdens, and fourscore thousand to be hewers in the mountain, and three thousand and six hundred overseers to set the people a work.”
So the first temple was built by people who were not Israelites, and funds from outside the nation of Israel were used to build it. What about the second temple? The one that Nehemiah put a tax on the people for upkeep?
Ezra 1:2-7 “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem. And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered. Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods;”
King Cyrus was responsible for the command to rebuild the temple, and he sent all the treasures that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the first temple back to Jerusalem. He also put forth the command that the people from Judah were to return to rebuild the temple, and that the men who were their neighbors (including Persians) where they lived were to help them by giving them silver, gold, goods, beasts, and freewill offerings. So again, the supplies to build the temple were coming from people other than the Israelites, although this time, as with the tabernacle, the children of Israel did do some of the work, but not all of it. Ezra 3:7 “They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.”
So what has been the purpose of explaining all this, and what does it have to do with tithes? It shows that the Lord does not want His people overly burdened by the upkeep of a house for Him. Many of today's churches have become mega churches, and many ministries are television ministries who are constantly crying for more and more money, telling people that they need to give more and more.(which often goes into the pocket of the leader of that ministry). This is not how God works. Most of the time it was freewill offerings, other than extremely minimal “taxes” (the half and one-third of a shekel). God never meant for this to be a burden on people, and often took from the heathen to provide for His house, so that His people wouldn't be burdened.
Now we need to move on to what God did require from people in the way of material possessions as sacrifices, tithes, etc. We see that one of the first things God required was the firstborn male of all things, including people, and the first of the harvest.
Exodus 34:19-20,26a “All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male. But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.......The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.”
The firstlings belonged to the Lord (except those things which were required to be redeemed). It will be seen later what becomes of these firstlings and firstfruits. As for the firstfruits, exactly how much did that constitute? Well, Deuteronomy 26:2-4 gives us an idea. “That thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring of thy land that the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt put it in a basket, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name there. And thou shalt go unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him, I profess this day unto the LORD thy God, that I am come unto the country which the LORD sware unto our fathers for to give us. And the priest shall take the basket out of thine hand, and set it down before the altar of the LORD thy God.” According to this, the firstfruits should fit in one basket. Now it doesn't say that they had to bring a basket of every single kind of fruit, but just one basket. From this, (although I could be mistaken) it would appear that God was simply asking for a (or a few) representative of each kind of plant they were raising from the first ones that ripened. As they had to travel to Jerusalem to do this, and it says only one basket, one assumes that they brought whatever ripened in the spring in the spring, whatever ripened in the summer in the summer, and whatever ripened in the fall in the fall, etc. They may have had to make several trips, but I don't think it was required that they come with a basket full of each plant every time something ripened. That would have been an excessive burden, and it would have supplied more fresh food than the priests could eat before it spoiled, as they did not have refrigeration and this was required of everyone in Israel.
So here we have the requirements other than tithing which have to do with the upkeep of the House of the Lord. As a church is considered a House of the Lord, it was important to see how this was handled in the Old Testament to see how we should handle it now.
Naturally sin, trespass, guilt offerings and offerings of this nature were to cover the sins and as repentance, so they do not fall under the same statutes as tithing and freewill offerings. There were also peace offerings (for thanksgiving and praise), vow offerings, burnt offerings and all sorts of offerings for all sorts of reasons, but that is for another study. We need to move on to tithing, as sacrifices are no longer a part of the worship of God.
Probably the most misused verse by those who preach and want people giving them their money is Malachi 3: 8-10 “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
From a quick look at these verses taken out of the chapter, we would assume that God considers us to be robbers if we are not giving the top 10th of our income to Him. And most preachers will insist that it means your gross income, not what you actually have to live on after taxes have been removed by the government. But as in most things that are taught with an agenda, these verses are taken slightly out of context, because the previous verse sheds a little more light on the matter. Malachi 3:7 “Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?” So the crux of the matter is that they have gone away from God's ordinances concerning things, and in particular they have not followed the ordinances that God established regarding tithing. To look at the verses it would seem that it is obvious that the ordinance is that they have not been giving their tithes to the storehouse, presumably the temple. Is that what is really meant? That they should be giving the top ten percent of all their increase for the year to the temple?
Let's see what God has commanded about tithes.
Lev. 27:30-33 “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD's: it is holy unto the LORD. And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof. And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD. He shall not search whether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it: and if he change it at all, then both it and the change thereof shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.”
These verses tell us that they were to take of the seed, and the fruit, and the herds and flocks and take a tenth of it. It did not have to be the best of everything, it simply had to be a tenth. In fact they were forbidden from searching to make sure that it was the best (or not the best). If they did try to change it out, then both the original and the change-out were lost to redemption. Speaking of redemption, if someone wanted to redeem some part of the tithe for some reason, he had to pay the value of the seed, fruit, animal, whatever, and then another fifth of that cost above that. It is presumed that the money would be given to the Levites in place of the things which were redeemed.
Now we come to the part that very few people know about or understand. This will probably surprise and amaze most of you.
Deuteronomy 12:5-7,10-28 “But unto the place which the LORD your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come: And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks: And there ye shall eat before the LORD your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto, ye and your households, wherein the LORD thy God hath blessed thee........But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the LORD your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the LORD: And ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God, ye, and your sons, and your daughters, and your menservants, and your maidservants, and the Levite that is within your gates; forasmuch as he hath no part nor inheritance with you. Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: But in the place which the LORD shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee. Notwithstanding thou mayest kill and eat flesh in all thy gates, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, according to the blessing of the LORD thy God which he hath given thee: the unclean and the clean may eat thereof, as of the roebuck, and as of the hart. Only ye shall not eat the blood; ye shall pour it upon the earth as water. Thou mayest not eat within thy gates the tithe of thy corn, or of thy wine, or of thy oil, or the firstlings of thy herds or of thy flock, nor any of thy vows which thou vowest, nor thy freewill offerings, or heave offering of thine hand: But thou must eat them before the LORD thy God in the place which the LORD thy God shall choose, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates: and thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God in all that thou puttest thine hands unto. Take heed to thyself that thou forsake not the Levite as long as thou livest upon the earth. When the LORD thy God shall enlarge thy border, as he hath promised thee, and thou shalt say, I will eat flesh, because thy soul longeth to eat flesh; thou mayest eat flesh, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after. If the place which the LORD thy God hath chosen to put his name there be too far from thee, then thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock, which the LORD hath given thee, as I have commanded thee, and thou shalt eat in thy gates whatsoever thy soul lusteth after. Even as the roebuck and the hart is eaten, so thou shalt eat them: the unclean and the clean shall eat of them alike. Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh. Thou shalt not eat it; thou shalt pour it upon the earth as water. Thou shalt not eat it; that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the LORD. Only thy holy things which thou hast, and thy vows, thou shalt take, and go unto the place which the LORD shall choose: And thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, upon the altar of the LORD thy God: and the blood of thy sacrifices shall be poured out upon the altar of the LORD thy God, and thou shalt eat the flesh. Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the LORD thy God.”
We see that the Lord has told them that they are to take the tithes of all they have raised, animals and food, and take it to the designated place to eat it. He tells them that when they enter the promised land, there will be a place in one of the tribes where He will put His name, but at this time He does not tell them exactly which tribe or where it will be. We now know what that place is. It is Jerusalem. They are to bring all their tithes to that place, or Jerusalem, along with all their servants, and the Levites that live in their towns and have a banquet or party. They are forbidden from eating their tithes any other place. (This rule also applies to vows, freewill offerings, heave offerings, burnt offerings, firstlings and sacrifices). All of these things were to be brought to the temple to be eaten. While in the wilderness, all animals had to be brought to the tabernacle to be slaughtered and offered as a sacrifice before being eaten. (Leviticus 17:3-6). Now because of the distance involved, meat for the daily table that is not designated as offerings or tithes, but simply for food as nourishment may be slaughtered at home rather than having to be slaughtered at the temple, just as wild game could be.
God also included a caveat for those who lived far away from Jerusalem and would have difficulty in transporting all of their tithes of flocks, herds, and crops to the city.
Deuteronomy 14:22-29 “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. 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.”
Now we see that God had a reason for the redemption process outlined in Leviticus. If Jerusalem were too far away, people could exchange the items for money and take the money to Jerusalem where they could buy whatever their hearts desired to party. They could even (and this may offend some people) buy wine or even stronger alcoholic beverages for the party. Whatever they lusted after they could buy for the party. As before, they were to take the entire family, the servants, and the Levites in town to this party. Now they were given more instructions about this. They were to do this for two years running, but on the third year, instead of taking it all to Jerusalem to party, they were to have a storehouse within their town where they were to put their tithes for that year. The third year there was no party. There were to be, as part of this storehouse area, some meadows for the flocks, as these were not given as slaughtered animals, but live animals. This supply of animals and food were to be for the Levites in town (because they were not given an inheritance of land as the other tribes were, as they acted as the priests of the temple in their turns, so only had houses in the various tribes), as well as the fatherless (this does not mean they are necessarily orphans, but the mother may not be able to supply their needs), the strangers (who also had no inheritance by virtue of not being a member of the tribe), and the widows. As it is estimated that there were at least 30 or possibly more members of other tribes to every Levite, giving a tenth of all their flocks, herds, seeds, fruits, etc. would be a fair amount of food to feed the others for three years. It does not say that everyone's three years would begin at the same time, as while the initial group entering the promised land would start counting the years at the same time, the younger people would not. As the young people came of age and the masters of their own households, it would have fallen upon different years that they would have started counting their own tithes, which should have kept the storehouses supplied every year with fresh fruits and vegetables. Even at the beginning, the amount of flocks and food stored would have been enough to carry those who needed it through until the next tithe year, as they could dry the fruits and vegetables to preserve them. Plus the Levites would be invited by everyone in town to participate in their tithe banquet, so they would not have to go to the storehouses much of the time as they would be eating from everybody's banquet in Jerusalem.
There are those who would argue that this tithe that people were to party with was really a second tithe and that their tithe every year was to go to the Levites, but considering the percentage of people as compared to Levites, that would have produced an abundance of food that they could not have dealt with. If as estimated there were thirty (or slightly more) people per Levite, that means that they would have 300% of the increase of the land. Every person giving a tenth would mean that every ten people would constitute 100% of an individual's worth. Thus ten people's tithe would give a Levite the same amount that every person would have for the year. But they outnumbered the Levites by 30 to 1, so a Levite would receive three years worth of increase in one year. Thus the law as understood above would be correct. To verify this we have some other Scriptures.
Deuteronomy 26:12-13 “When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled; Then thou shalt say before the LORD thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all thy commandments which thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them:”
Amos 4:4 “Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years:”
These verses verify that the tithe to the Levites was only given once every three years according to God's commandments. Now it can be seen and more easily understood why God was angry about them not following His ordinances and bringing the tithes into the storehouses. The Levites, strangers, fatherless, and widows were dependent upon this tithe to survive. If people didn't bring the tithes, these people starved. It wasn't as if God were taxing them a tenth of their income every year to just lose it and never see anything from it. Two out of the three years God gave them a vacation and threw them a party from what they were to set aside as holy. That makes God look like a real mean God doesn't it? People who complain about God's laws being so onerous need to study them. It's the same with the Sabbath. What a horrible God to tell people He is insisting that they take a day off once a week and do nothing except rest. (For those who read my blog for whom English is not your first language, this is called sarcasm. I am not serious.) They were to follow these commandments regarding tithing as all other laws. However, just as they neglected the other laws, so they neglected these. God then called them robbers in Malachi. How ironic and sad that they were robbing themselves of a vacation and party two thirds of the time, and causing people to starve the other third. And what an incredible God to say that if they set aside two thirds of their tithe for a vacation and party, and give the other third to basically what was charity, He would pour out multitudes of blessings and increase what they were producing, so that they could have even bigger parties and live even more wealthy lives.
Neither were the Levites let off the hook from providing tithes from what they received. Think of it as a tithe of a tithe.
Numbers 18:21, 23-31 “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......But the Levites shall do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear their iniquity: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they have no inheritance. But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the LORD, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up an heave offering of it for the LORD, even a tenth part of the tithe. And this your heave offering shall be reckoned unto you, as though it were the corn of the threshingfloor, and as the fulness of the winepress. Thus ye also shall offer an heave offering unto the LORD of all your tithes, which ye receive of the children of Israel; and ye shall give thereof the LORD's heave offering to Aaron the priest. Out of all your gifts ye shall offer every heave offering of the LORD, of all the best thereof, even the hallowed part thereof out of it. Therefore thou shalt say unto them, When ye have heaved the best thereof from it, then it shall be counted unto the Levites as the increase of the threshingfloor, and as the increase of the winepress. And ye shall eat it in every place, ye and your households: for it is your reward for your service in the tabernacle of the congregation.”
The Levites were given a tenth of all of Israel's produce and animals as their inheritance. From this they were to tithe a heave offering unto the Lord. It would be from the tithes that they received from the people. They were to take the best of everything that they had been given for this particular tithe. This tithe was then given to Aaron for the priesthood. Then after they removed the tithe from it, they were free to eat the rest in any place they chose. It did not have to be eaten in Jerusalem as the tithes of the people were. The tithes of the people were the reward for their service at the temple, especially given that they had no inheritance in the land and it provided their daily food.
Now we continue up the chain and see what the priests did with all the firstlings, burnt sacrifices, vows, freewill, heave offerings, and etc. that were given to them.
Numbers 18:8-20 “And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Behold, I also have given thee the charge of mine heave offerings of all the hallowed things of the children of Israel; unto thee have I given them by reason of the anointing, and to thy sons, by an ordinance for ever. This shall be thine of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every oblation of theirs, every meat offering of theirs, and every sin offering of theirs, and every trespass offering of theirs, which they shall render unto me, shall be most holy for thee and for thy sons. In the most holy place shalt thou eat it; every male shall eat it: it shall be holy unto thee. And this is thine; the heave offering of their gift, with all the wave offerings of the children of Israel: I have given them unto thee, and to thy sons and to thy daughters with thee, by a statute for ever: every one that is clean in thy house shall eat of it. All the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine, and of the wheat, the firstfruits of them which they shall offer unto the LORD, them have I given thee. And whatsoever is first ripe in the land, which they shall bring unto the LORD, shall be thine; every one that is clean in thine house shall eat of it. Every thing devoted in Israel shall be thine. Every thing that openeth the matrix in all flesh, (firstlings) which they bring unto the LORD, whether it be of men or beasts, shall be thine: nevertheless the firstborn of man shalt thou surely redeem, and the firstling of unclean beasts shalt thou redeem. And those that are to be redeemed from a month old shalt thou redeem, according to thine estimation, for the money of five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. But the firstling of a cow, or the firstling of a sheep, or the firstling of a goat, thou shalt not redeem; they are holy: thou shalt sprinkle their blood upon the altar, and shalt burn their fat for an offering made by fire, for a sweet savour unto the LORD. And the flesh of them shall be thine, as the wave breast and as the right shoulder are thine. All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer unto the LORD, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters with thee, by a statute for ever: it is a covenant of salt for ever before the LORD unto thee and to thy seed with thee. And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel.”
So now we see that the priesthood, the descendants of Aaron, were to receive everything else. They got the firstlings, (except the firstborn of men and unclean animals were redeemed), the oblations, the meat offerings, the sin offerings, the trespass offerings, the heave offerings, the wave offerings, the best wine and oil, and things devoted to the Lord. All of this was given to the priests. They got the cream of the crop. A priest's family had the best of everything offered, as most of the offerings of this nature were required to be without blemish.
Nehemiah 10:38 “And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house.”
We see that while the people would take their tithes to the storehouses in their gates for their own Levites, widows, fatherless, the strangers, and the poor, the Levites would take their tithe to the storehouse at the temple for the priests.
As time went by, not everyone would have huge flocks or lots of land. Some people took up trades to make their livings. These people would be expected to use the money they earned to buy the animals they needed for sacrifices, rather than culling from herds as farmers did. (This explains why Jesus upset the tables in the temple calling them a den of robbers and thieves. They were selling animals for sacrifice and offerings at exorbitant prices) They would also buy what they needed for their tithe parties. They may have given money to the Levites also, instead of animals and crops, as the Levites needed more to live than just food. In times past, the Levites would have sold some of the tithe they received to pay for other staples.
So we see the laws that God established about tithes for Israel. But what about the example that preachers are always holding up about Abraham, when he gave a tenth to Melchizedek? Well, in case you hadn't noticed, Abraham only did this one time, and he didn't give anything of his own. He gave Melchizedek a tithe of all the goods that he had recovered of Sodom's and Lot's stolen possessions. Abraham didn't keep any of the recovered goods for himself, but he wasn't tithing any of his own goods either. So to point to Abraham's tithing to Melchizedek as an example we should follow would mean that we need to go and do like Robin Hood. Rob from the rich who are stealing from others, and give to the poor. I don't think we're supposed to do that. Our preachers and pastors need to rethink that one.
So, this then is the Old Testament tithe. Not what you expected, was it? Now we have to see how this applies to the New Testament. First of all, as in a great many of the laws of the Old Testament, tithing is linked to the temple (for the purpose of feeding the Levites and priests), so by virtue of that, we cannot observe it in practice as God commanded. But does the principle remain? Well, if we want to look at the principle rather than the actual practice, it would appear that one third of ten percent of our income should be given to our ministers/ministries so that they can maintain an equal lifestyle to our own, and as charity to the widows and orphans and strangers in need. (This of course was based upon the ratio of Israelites to Levites, which is not always the same as congregants to pastors. A pastor would need at least thirty congregants to make this work. As many churches have many more than thirty congregants, it begs the question as to why many churches are not able to pay for their expenses.) Then we should take the other two thirds of the ten percent and spend it on our family in special celebrations/vacations/parties in thanksgiving to the Lord or in buying whatever our heart desires as mentioned in Deuteronomy 14 as a memorial to the Lord. That is the principle behind the tithing in the Old Testament.
Does this principle work in practice in our churches today? No. First, we are not just giving money to a minister to support his household, or helping widows pay their bills. We are paying for bigger and better buildings, sound systems, multi-media equipment, airtime on the radio and television, musicians for the worship service, and sometimes even missionaries. I know of no church that has a program for orphans or widows to supply their needs. Some churches do have outreach programs of food pantries, used clothing stores, and soup kitchens, but that seems to be the extent of reaching out to the needy and poor. More and more I see missionaries struggling to get churches to support them. I have seen churches turn away strangers that come to them in need. They maintain that what they do have is for their own. I have even seen churches refuse to consider prayer requests, because the individuals that need prayer are not part of the congregation. I cannot even bring myself to comment on this last one, which I witnessed first hand. It is beyond comment. And how do we think God feels about the use of this money? Are we accountable for how this money is spent when we give it, or are we free from responsibility once the money passes out of our hands, as long as it goes to the church? I hate to break the bad news, but we are responsible for how our money is spent, so we need to be very careful to whom we give our money when we give it for the Lord's service. Some churches let you designate where you want the money applied, but some do not. Are you really giving to the Lord's work or are you giving to the building of the pride of the church? Are you giving to a ministry where the minister has a private jet and gold faucets on his bathtub? Or are you building a small humble church in some third world country? If we are going to insist upon tithing according to the Old Testament, then we are obligated to do it according to God's principles. Quite honestly, I like His principles of tithing. They are certainly more generous to us than our religious leaders' are.
What exactly does the New Testament teach about tithing or giving? Well, first, it doesn't directly say anything about tithing as a New Covenant teaching. It simply gives us principles of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:8-15 “I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.”
Paul is advocating, but not commanding, that we see to the needs of our fellow Christians and supply their wants when we have plenty and vice versa. We are to be aware of others needs and help each other out. We see this again enacted in Acts 4:32-35 “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.”
This is not necessarily the first in importance, but we will call it the first principle, as in ordinal numbers for a listing. The second is that the laborer is worthy of his hire, or in this case, we should give a recompense to those who spend their time studying God's Word to teach it to us.
Christ told his disciples that where they went and were accepted, that they should accept whatever was offered to them, for they would have earned it by preaching the gospel. They were to not feel it an imposition to remain at the same house, in fact they were instructed to do so.
Luke 10:3-7 “Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.”
Paul gives the same principle as Christ. That the laborer is worthy of his hire.
1 Corinthians 9:1-18 “Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the alter are partakers with the alter? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.”
Paul is asking the Corinthians, does he not have the right to get a wage (whether of money or other) for what he is doing? If one plants a vineyard, doesn't he eat the fruit? Well, Paul is planting the gospel, which is a full-time job, and so it is rightful that he should make a living from it. He points out that God taught that even the ox should not be muzzled when treading out the corn, so that it could eat what it needed to be strong enough to work. But because he does not want people saying that he only does it for the profit, he would rather preach for nothing, so that this charge could not be laid at his door, and in fact Paul did often make tents to support himself while he remained in locations.
1 Timothy 5:17-18 “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.”
Again Paul is saying that not only the shepherd, but the elders who rule are worthy of being recompensed by the church for their labor on behalf of the church. And then we see again that we are to share with those who teach us the Word of God. (The Greek word for communicate below means share).
Galatians 6:6 “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.”
The third principle is similar to the principle that is taught in Malachi, that if the tithes are brought into God's storehouse that He will pour out His blessings, but with a slightly different command. We are still promised blessings for our giving, but there is no command as to how much we are required to give. God's blessings are proportionate to our giving.
1 Corinthians 16:1-2 “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.”
2 Corinthians 9:6-7 “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”
Luke 6:38 “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”
We find this principle also in Proverbs.
Proverbs 3:9-10 “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.”
In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells them that they are to set aside offerings as God has prospered them. There is no amount specified. They are to do this on the first day of the week. That is because they were not to handle money on the Sabbath, which was still being observed. As the Sabbath began Friday night, a person would not have time after closing shop to see what his finances were. They would wait until after the Sabbath was over, then do their accounts for the week. They would set aside what they intended to give to Paul, or whomever, at that time. This verse is often used to make a case for Sunday worship. It does not, as if it were, they would be doing their accounts on the day of worship, which they should not be doing. Therefore this shows that they were worshiping on and observing the Sabbath, and doing their work or accounts on Sunday which was their first work day.
We are told that if we give liberally, God will give back liberally to us. We can see that just as God asked people in the Old Testament to give, as they wanted, of freewill offerings to the tabernacle and temple, that He uses the same principle here. Every person can decide privately without having to answer to anybody how much he wants to give. He is not required to give a tithe, because God says he is not. He is to give whatever he purposes in his heart to give. And he is not to give because he is being told he must give a tenth (or be a bad Christian), because God is not requiring a tithe. He is not to give grudgingly, because if that is the attitude with which he is giving, it is worthless as far as God is concerned, as it doesn't come from the love of his heart, so if it doesn't count with God, why bother. He is to give what he decides to give simply from a desire to give it, from a generous, willing, and cheerful heart. Those who give bountifully will reap bountifully, and those who give sparingly will reap sparingly.
A fourth principle is that we are to not look to get something back when we give, for it is better to give than to receive.
Luke 6:30 “Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.”
Acts 20:35 “I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive”
A fifth and very important principle that we are given is that we are to give to the poor. Taking care of the poor is a display of our faith.”
James 2:15-17 “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”
Matthew 19:21 “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
Luke 12:31-34 “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Galatians 2:10 “Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.”
Romans 15:25-27 “But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.”
This taking care of the poor was a command given in the Old Testament, and God still commands us to do so. I think it is probably much harder in this day and age to do that than it was years ago. There are all sorts of charities set up to do this, but so much of the time very little actually goes to the poor. Instead it goes to pay the bills and wages of the people connected with running the charities. Unless you know a charity well, the better thing to do is give to your local town's soup kitchens, pantries, and similar set-ups. Of course if you can simply give directly to a family, that is even better, but often we are not in positions to know where the need is and do that. The thing to do is always be willing to give where you see the need, as God gives you the opportunity.
Deuteronomy 15:7-8,11 “If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth..........For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.”
There are blessings attached to giving to the poor that should not be ignored, especially as the Day of the Lord approaches.
Psalm 41:1-3 “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. The LORD will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The LORD will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.”
Proverbs 19:17 “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.”
Proverbs 22:9 “He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor.”
There are also warnings for ignoring the needs of the poor.
Proverbs 21:13 “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.”
Proverbs 28:27 “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.”
Proverbs 22:16 “He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.”
We are even told to give to our enemies in need, for in so doing we shall reap a reward.
Proverbs 25:21-22 “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.”
The sixth and last principle is that we should not only give anonymously, but not even keep track of what we are giving and to do it in a simple non-ostentatious manner.
Matthew 6:3-4 “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
Romans 12:8 “Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.”
Note in all of these verses that while we are to see to the needs of the body, our shepherds, and the poor, nowhere are we told to support an institution, which is basically what the churches have become. We have turned the church into social clubs, schools, entertainment centers, and some churches have become literal businesses. But did God ever indicate that we were to support this with our offerings? No. If we want to spend our money that way, I guess we can spend it any way we want, but those who preach that God tells us to spend our money this way are misrepresenting God's Word and sometimes outright lying. The verses above tell us what God wants us to do regarding giving.