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Tithing in Scripture

Tithing, giving to God, offering, financial support, alms, tithe, first tithe, second tithe, third tithe, poor tithe

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Tithing has been a hot issue in Christianity for centuries.  All sorts of ideas abound as to whether or not God expects people to tithe.   At the risk of being simply another small voice in the cacophony, I would like to address this subject.   I would not do so if I thought others had done a thorough and reasonable job.



I think I have something to add to the discussion.  Unfortunately there has been much discussion and I fear I've probably missed some of it.  Consequently I might not address every concern.  However, better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.


The most important factor in understanding the mind of our Creator on tithing is to understand the difference between the Law of God and the Law of Moses.  If you are under the impression that they are really one and the same, consider Genesis 26:5. Abraham "kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws".  Yet Abraham never tithed to Levi and never brought his offering before the tabernacle of meeting.  This is absolutely required by the Law of Moses (Num. 18:24, Lev 17:3-5, Deu 12:5-6). 


In a nutshell the Law of Moses was put together after the episode of the Golden Calf of Exodus 32.  Instruction before this time should generally be considered the Law of God.  After the golden calf, God put Levi between Himself and the rest of Israel (Num. 1:52-53).  The Law of Moses established Levi as the representatives of God.  It also added clarifying detail to the already established law of God.  If this is new to you, I would recommend you break here and examine a brief description of the difference between the Law of God and the Law of Moses.  That page sheds a significant amount of light on how we are to apply scripture, particularly in the Old Testament.


One must be able to identify the location and understand the relationship of these two bodies of law to be able to put things in their proper perspective.  To a large extent this is why there is so much confusion and differing opinion in the church today.


To start the examination of tithing consider Exodus 22:29 from the New Living Translation, "Do not hold anything back when you give me the tithe of your crops and your wine.  You must make the necessary payment for redemption of your firstborn sons.  How is 'tithe' justified here?  The word typically used for tithe does not appear in the Hebrew original.  The word in question here is Hebrew “m’lehah”, Strong’s 4395.  The primary meaning is ‘fullness’ or 'full produce' and usually refers to a whole, full or the complete thing.  A literal translation of this word inserted in the New King James Version would read, "You shall not delay to offer the full produce and your juices."


In the RSV, the context is translated "You shall not delay to offer from the fulness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses."  Certainly it does not make sense that God was intending Israel to pay Him everything they produced.  However, this is not a freewill offering.  It is not to be delayed.  It is a required offering.  But it doesn't say what portion.


M’lehah is also used in Deuteronomy 22:9, which instructs us to not mix different kinds of seeds, i.e. grapes or herbs and wheat.  "…lest the yield [full produce] of the seed which you have sown… be defiled"  One possible reason for this prohibition is that the crops would be difficult to harvest without damage.


The only other use of 'fullness' in the Bible is in Numbers 18:27.  And your heave offering shall be reckoned to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor and as the fullness of the winepress.   This is talking of the heave offering that the Levites gave to the priests, the sons of Aaron (vs. 26, 28).  This heave offering was a tenth of the tithe (singular in the Hebrew) that Levi received from Israel for their service in the Tabernacle (Num. 18:21).  A tenth of what they received from Israel, Levi gave to Aaron’s sons, the priests.


Numbers 18:27 is saying this heave offering of a tenth of the Israelites tithe was accounted to Levi as though it were the grain of the threshing floor and as the fullness of the winepress”.  What grain of what threshing floor and what fullness of what winepress?


The only 'fullness' mentioned before this is that of Exodus 22:29.  In other words this heave offering was the Levites equivalent of 'the full produce and your juices' that were required of all Israel in Exodus 22:29.  So instead of Levi bringing in 'the fullness' of their crops, they paid a tenth of Israel’s tithe to Aaron’s sons.  This was accepted as their equivalent 'fullness'.  (Remember, Levi was given a relatively small amount of land and they were not in a position to be self-sufficient.)


It makes sense that God did not intend Israel to give their entire crop to Him.  The equivalent fullness was required of Levi.  This was clearly a tenth (Num. 18:26).  That was considered Levi's fullness, equivalent to the fullness God required of all Israel.  With that in mind the New Living Translation is very well justified in its deduction and translation of Exodus 22:29.  The portion of the 'fullness' intended in Exodus 22:29 is a tithe, just like the Levite's tithe, their equivalent 'fullness'. 


Exodus 22 was given and confirmed as law before the Levites were given their job as priests (Ex 24 3-8, Num. 1:49-53).   It is part of God's original instruction and a fundamental judgment of the Law of God.  It continues regardless of what happens to the tribe of Levi.


Statutes and Commandments


Also fundamental to understanding the Law of God, is understanding the statutes of God.  Exodus 21:1 just indicates the Judgments to be in the following three chapters.  However the account of this event in Deuteronomy 5:31 indicates statutes were included as well.  Typically at least, the annual festivals are more closely associated with statutes.  Also there was some instruction given after the Ten Commandments, but before Exodus 21:1.  Scripture doesn’t really seem to make a clear distinction between what is a statute and what is a judgment.  They weren’t quite as concerned with technicalities as we are.


Additionally a scan for "My statutes" shows this phrase in the Law only in Leviticus 18-26.  Notice also Exodus 34:32.  "Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai."  Statutes, commandments and curses of at least Leviticus 25-27 were included in the instruction Moses received during his second 40 day stay on Mount Sinai immediately after the episode of the golden calf. (Note also Lev 26:46, 27:34)


The tithe was mentioned in the form of ‘the fullness’ required in Exodus 22:29.

“‘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 to the LORD.” (Lev 27:30)  It seems that this instruction is just clarifying what was intended in the Sinai covenant.  It follows immediately after detail about the handling of firstborn (vs. 26-28) which is also included in Exodus 22:29. 


Whether or not Levi is available, the tithe is holy to God.  This instruction was given roughly six months before Levi was confirmed as assistants to the priests.  It could be that based on Deuteronomy 10:5-10, Levi was actually chosen to stand between God and Israel about this same time on Moses second forty-day stay on Mt. Sinai.  Even if this were the case, the purpose of the tithe is not connected to Levi at all in Leviticus 27.  The tithe is holy to God and no connection to Levi is made.  It was apparently not given to Levi for some time after they were designated assistants to Aaron (Num. 18:21). 


Leviticus 27:30 is worded in an interesting way.  It does not really command or request a tithe be saved; it simply indicates to whom it belongs.  Considering the personal affect this is going to have on everyone, it seems a rather curt statement.  What tithe of the land?  How do we separate out a tenth of the land for God?


This verse assumed familiarity with a tithe, but it is not a command to save a tithe.  It is instruction making sure everyone understood that ALL the tithe was dedicated to God.   It was not theirs to do with as they saw fit.  Everything was covered, "…all the tithe of the land".


Besides the instruction in Exodus 22:29, it is likely they were familiar with tithing. A number of historical sources indicate that it was not unusual for the ruler of a nation to collect a tithe from the people of the land. In Christianity Today ( http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/juneweb-only/6-2-512.0.html The Ancient Rise and Recent Fall of Tithing, By Collin Hansen | posted 06/05/2003), Mr. Hansen states: "Many non-Jewish and pre-Christian societies also practiced tithing-like giving. Some ancient sources describe how kings imposed a type of first-fruits tax to maintain holy shrines and support clergy.  From Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonia to the temples of Apollo in Delphi and Athena in Athens, pre-Christian centers of worship collected tithes for their gods. Ancient cultures as disparate as the Greeks and Chinese—including the Arabians, Phoenicians, Romans, and Carthaginians—gave in ways mirroring the tithe."


“Esretu” for instance, is the word for tithe from the ancient Akkadian language spoken in the region where and when Abraham grew up.  God also warned Israel when they requested a king that the new king would expect a tithe (1Sam 8:15).  This was not unusual practice and as their sovereign, God had just as much right to the tithe, rather more so, than any other ruler.


However, since Exodus 22:29 is apparently telling Israel that they will be required to pay up to their King, the wording in Leviticus 27:30 should have been no shock at all.  It simply reinforced and clarified what was intended in Exodus 22 and what could well have been common practice in government.  They already knew that a tithe was to be collected.  Included in the Law of Moses, Leviticus 27 was added as a witness against them (Deu 31:26).  They should have understood what was intended in Exodus 22:29, but apparently to leave no doubt this was added in the Law when it first began to be compiled, immediately after the episode of the golden calf.


Indeed the Jews did seem to understand the meaning of 'fullness' in Exodus 22:29.  In the Mishnah, Terumot 3.6 note 3, talks of the meaning of 'fullness'.  "'Fullness' and 'harvest' are respectively interpreted as referring to the first fruits and to terumot [Hebrew, offerings] and First Tithe."


In Numbers 18:21, God gave His tenth to the Levites.  This doesn’t mean He is no longer concerned about it.  Will a man rob God?  Yet you have robbed Me!  But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. (Mal 3:8).  As of the time of Malachi God seems to still be very personally interested in the tithe.  Of course Matthew 23:23 indicates it is of secondary importance, but should not be ignored. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier [matters] of the law: justice, mercy, and faith.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the other undone.” (Mat 23:23)


Of course there are Jesus famous statements:  "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law" (Mat 5:17a).  "Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Mat 5:19a).  If the temple were still standing and the Levites were still officiating, both Leviticus 27:30 and Numbers 18:21 would still apply.  There are obvious difficulties with Numbers 18:21.  Even though the temple no longer exists, Leviticus 27:30 can still be upheld.


Hebrews 7:5 indicates that as of that time, the sons of Levi “have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law”.  Lacking some other direction, it is still “Holy to the Lord” (Lev 27:30).  Jesus reinforced that we are to “render to God the things that are God’s”.  (Mat 22:21).  Specifically in this context, money is the center of the discussion, although what is God’s is not necessarily exclusively money.


The Creator apparently expects prompt payment and/or to be paid first.  This is reflected in Exodus 22:29, “you shall not delay”.  God also required the first born.  The first fruits are God’s.  The tithe comes out of the rest of the goods.  They are both to be paid promptly.  If we wish to truly honor God we need to keep this in mind.


From where comes wealth?


"Then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.'  And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day." (Deu 8:17-18)


Any wealth we might acquire comes from God.  In recognition of that 10% is a small price to pay.  Certainly most governments today take significantly more.


"The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me" (Lev 25:23)


Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.” (Ex 19:5)


"If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world [is] Mine, and all its fullness." (Ps 50:12.  Fullness here is from the same root but a slightly different word than that used in Exodus 22:29.  The meaning is obviously similar.)


"This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will…"  (Dan 4:17)


Jesus answered, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above."’ (John 19:11)


God expects us to understand that this is His planet, every grain of it.  He created it.  He maintains it.  He sustains it.  He heats it.  He cools it.  He waters it.   He gives it to whomever he pleases.  No wonder God seemed to take lack of tithe paying so personally in Malachi 3:8.  One literally steals from God if one appropriates what is Gods without the appropriate compensation.


God's way is the way of asking. "And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight." (1John 3:22). "So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." (Luke 11:9) 


Of course we can ask for the wrong reasons.  God may not honor that request.  "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures." (Jas 4:3)  Our purpose for asking should be for the honor and glory of God or for basic necessity, not for our own pleasure, desire or ego. "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" (Mat 7:11)


We should not take things on our own.  If we want what is good and we ask, God will provide.  When we do receive, we should show the appropriate appreciation.  God doesn't ask our whole produce, only a tenth.  The tithe is holy to the Lord.  We should treat it as such.




Many will examine the account of Abraham's meeting with Melchizedek in Genesis 14:17-20 and claim there is nothing there that really justifies or recommends a regular practice of tithing for believers.  Indeed this seems to be so.  However this story is dealt with in Hebrews 7:4-9.  Hebrews is using this incident in a manner that indicates, or assumes Abraham paid 10% because he was following the principle in the law.  Hebrews is generally believed to have been written by Paul to Jews living around Judea.  Their concept of tithing was based on the instruction in the law.  The highlighted areas below clearly show that Hebrews was talking to this understanding and was treating Abraham's tithe as an example of Abraham fulfilling the law.

"Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. 5And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; 6but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. 8Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. 9Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak," (Heb 7:4-9)

Hebrews is clearly equating Abraham's action with tithing, as the audience understood it, "according to the law" as Levi had ‘a commandment to receive tithes'.  Hebrews is not allowing that Abraham was simply giving a freewill offering, but Melchizedek "received tithes from Abraham" even though in Paul's time Levi had the right.  So how does Paul know Abraham was tithing as opposed to just giving an offering or special gift?  It makes no difference if we consider Hebrews inspired scripture.  This is how it is recorded for us.  Paul considered that Abraham was tithing as he and his audience understood it, but Abraham was setting an example of sorts in that he did not tithe to Levi, but nevertheless he "paid tithes" according to Hebrews just like the Hebrews paid tithes according to the law.


This points up another difference between the Law of God and the Law of Moses.  Paul is actually leading into an explanation of the difference between the eternal covenant and the Old covenant.  The difference in the law is apparent "because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws." (Gen 26:5).  Abraham didn't keep the Law of Moses because He never tithed to Levi. The Law of Moses dictated the tithe go to Levi.  The judgment given in Exodus 22:29 did not allocate the tithe to Levi, neither did Leviticus 27:30.  The Levites had no responsibility in association with God's priests at the time Exodus 22 was confirmed or Leviticus 27:30 was spoken.


There were designated priests before Levi was set in that position (Ex 19:22, 24; Gen. 14:18).  At the beginning of the Exodus, the priests were probably some of the firstborn consecrated in Exodus 13:2.  These were later exchanged for the Levites (Num. 3:12).  This was done over a year after Israel left Egypt, about ten months after the confirmation of the Sinai Covenant, over eight months after the golden calf and a month after the tabernacle was set up in the wilderness (Num. 1:2; Ex 40:17, Ex 19:1)


Abraham "paid tithes' to the priest of God who lived at Salem during his time. (Heb 7:9).  Although there is no indication this priest was the recipient of all Abraham's tithes, Hebrews seems certain that Abraham was fulfilling an obligation to tithe equivalent to that in the Law of Moses which requires the tithe go to Levi.  Hebrews is not threatened at all by Melchizedek, a non-Levite receiving tithes.  It obviously is under no illusion that tithing started with Levi.




Genesis 28:19 records Jacob making a deal with God.  As part of that he promises to give a tenth, literally "tithe a tithe to you".  This form of repetition was to convey emphasis in the Hebrew original and Jacob absolutely was promising to follow through with this.


Some dismiss Jacob's example of tithing because it seems to be his idea.  He is not directly told to tithe.  So where did he get this idea?  How did he know to pick this amount?  It seems it could have come from a number of sources.  First he may well have known that rulers and kings, often required a tenth.  If the approach in Hebrews is correct, he probably also knew that his grandfather Abraham tithed.


Consider I Chronicles 16:15-18.  'Remember His covenant forever, The word which He commanded, for a thousand generations,  16 The covenant which He made with Abraham, And His oath to Isaac,  17  And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, To Israel for an everlasting covenant,  18 Saying, "To you I will give the land of Canaan As the allotment of your inheritance,"'


God made "His covenant" with each of these patriarchs.  This is the same covenant He made with Israel (vs. 18, see also Deu 4:13, 8:18).  As part of this covenant God promised the land of Canaan to the children of Israel.  Genesis 28:13-15 is confirming with Jacob what verse 18 above summarizes.  God will give the land of Canaan to Jacob's descendents.  Genesis 28:20-22 is Jacobs promise to participate in this covenant.  This is the same covenant spoken by God in Exodus 20 and then detailed somewhat in Exodus 21-23.


Based on the description of Jacobs's wealth it seems certain that God did bless Jacob.  Can Jacob, this prevailer with God, remember God performed His half and yet ignore his own half?  Yet there is no account that specifically describes Jacob as tithing.  Why are we so surprised that there is so little about it?  The practice was assumed among those to whom the law was written, i.e. ancient Israel.


Not only did Jacob understand the need for a tithe, but Isaac must have too or he wouldn't have kept His covenant and God would have rejected him. "And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power," (Deu 4:37).  "So it shall be, when the LORD your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build” (Deu 6:10).


We need to keep in mind the historical setting when the law, including Genesis, was written.  Moses wrote it specifically to ancient Israel of his time. "Know today that [I do] not [speak] with your children, who have not known and who have not seen the chastening of the LORD your God, His greatness and His mighty hand and His outstretched arm–“ (Deu 11:2).  "but your eyes have seen every great act of the LORD which He did." (Deu 11:7, see also Deu 31:9)  Deuteronomy in particular, but the whole Law as well was specifically written to the generation that went into the Promised Land.  It assumes the reader was knowledgeable of their experience.


It was not Moses’ purpose to record sufficient detail to convince a modern, - the law is done away – Christian, that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob kept the Law of God.  Moses does make some statements to that effect, sufficient for those who could remember walking out of Egypt and seeing the mighty works of God.  His purpose was to show his peers and the next generation that the law could be kept and that the patriarchs had been faithful.  It was because of their faithfulness that Israel was then a free people.  The Patriarchs were obviously faithful because God loved them.  He was not upset with them the way he was upset with the evil generation that did not obey.  Surely not one of these men of this evil generation shall see that good land of which I swore to give to your fathers". (Deu1:35)


It was not Moses purpose to detail each of the patriarchs observing every aspect of God's law.  He detailed sufficient so ancient Israel would understand that nothing unusual was being required of them.  We must read these historical accounts from the perspective of the people to whom they were written.  We should not assume that Moses wrote to our confused perspective today.


When reading the account of Jacob in Genesis 28 ancient Israel would have immediately connected his tenth with their tenth given to Levi and the offering required in Exodus 22:29.  The same connection would have been made with Abraham and Melchizedek.  Israel gave their tenth to Levi.  Abraham gave his to Melchizedek.  This is not a difficult connection to make.  Hebrews made this same connection.   "he … received tithes from Abraham" (Heb 7:6a).


The account with Abraham and Melchizedek may have specifically been recorded to show ancient Israel that giving the tithe to a priest was a reasonable thing to do.  Until that time if someone wanted to give to God they were just as likely as anything to simply offer it in a burnt offering.  Before the law was explained, as long as the altar was constructed properly this was perfectly acceptable. (Ex 20:24-26; Deu 12:8-11, Deu 29:1, 9, 12-15)


Some want to think God is limiting the tithe in Leviticus 27:30 to "seed of the land or fruit of the tree".  Jacob's example strongly indicates that all the tithe, it doesn't matter what, is included.  Jacob promised "of all that you give me I will surely give a tenth unto you".  Leviticus 27:30 is not attempting to limit what is tithed on either.  It is being inclusive not exclusive.  It is not limiting to seeds or fruit, because neither "seed of the land or fruit of the tree" would typically bring to mind cattle, but two verses later He assumes cattle are included.  Neither did Jacob limit on what he would tithe.


Note the wording of 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 to the LORD.”   Now note Exodus 34:21, "Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest."  Do we think the Sabbath only applied during plowing time and harvest, not the rest of the year?  Why then do we think that only edible goods are holy?  Leviticus 27:30 is being inclusive not exclusive.


Jewish History & Mishnah


There is a book in the Jewish Mishnah, Maaserot, that deals primarily with tithing and how it worked.  Other books touch on the subject as well.  I refer to these occasionally and they can be helpful.  However one must remember that these are not inspired by God.  The Mishnah was written around 200 AD/CE.  Remember the temple had been destroyed in 70 AD/CE and the last generation that really lived under the Levitical system was gone by 150 CE or so.  The Mishnah was written to a large degree because the Jews recognized that they were losing a lot of the knowledge of how their systems worked.  Even those who had received it second hand were dying off and almost gone.


The loss of the temple made a profound difference in how the Jews practiced their religion.  The Levites no longer worked at the temple.  This changed the tithing system.  The people had not gone to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festivals for about 130 years.  The festival tithe could not be used in the way specified in the Law.


Clearly Maaserot indicates that tithing was on produce and animals.  However when Jesus depicted a stereotypical Pharisee He indicated the Pharisee gave "tithes of all that I possess." (Luke 18:12).  Jesus does indicate the Pharisee was self-righteous, but that doesn't mean that his practice was wrong, only that his attitude was wrong.  In any case the stereotype Jesus pictured does not agree with Maaserot.


Because of Maaserot and a misunderstanding of Leviticus 27:30 many claim that one need not tithe on manufactured goods.  They say we tithe on what God makes, not on what we make.  However clearly tithing is to be done on wine and oil (Deu 12:17, 14:23, Neh. 13:12).  These are manufactured.  Obviously the manufacturing process was not as sophisticated as a petroleum refinery, but they were manufactured nevertheless.


Again one needs to keep in mind the culture, society and resources extant at the time.  Israel had no great manufacturing ability in the wilderness.  It is apparent they had some specialists from the building of the tabernacle, but even after they moved into the Promised Land, their primary support came from growing food and raising animals.  Even by the time of David the country as a whole was living in tents (2 Sam 11:11).  Perhaps some people made an occupation of making tents.  More than likely families made their own.  The same would have applied to sandals and other articles of clothing.  The components would have come from animal hides, wool and other locally available materials.  The hides and wool would have been tithed on products.  We'll examine other miscellaneous items later.


As of the time of Saul, Israel had no ability to manufacture weapons or farm implements, (1 Sam 13:19-20).  So major manufacturing was not an issue even hundreds of years after the law was given.  Because all sorts of white-collar jobs were not mentioned in tithing instructions, doesn't mean the wealth that comes from them is independent of the hand of God and therefore exempt.


Maaserot also seems to claim that tithing only applied to edible goods.  However the first fruits that were offered to the priests included even the first fleece of already tithed on sheep (Deu 18:4).  If they included this in the first fruits, surely they tithed on it as well.  Again Maaserot does not reflect an accurate understanding of the Law... at least not when read in modern times. 


What would be the difference between someone who grew cedar trees as opposed to someone who grew wheat?  It seems only the time between, and the effort required to harvest would be different.  Lumber is not really edible, but it comes from the same process and the same God that produces the wheat.  Why would we register our gratitude for wheat, but not the wealth that would come from the harvest and sale of lumber? 


Maaserot is not the only Jewish source available.  The Encyclopedia Judaica has the following: "However, in a general context the tithe appears to embrace all kinds of property… In Mesopotamia, there is evidence of tithes from agricultural produce, cattle and sheep, slaves, donkeys, wool, cloth, wood, metal production, silver, gold, etal.  It seems, therefore, that the specification in the Priestly and deuteronomic codes refers only to the most common objects of tithing in Israel." (see Tithe, p. 1158, Vol 15)


The bottom line is that in reality everything comes from God.  This earth is His.  We are just passing through.  Ten percent of what He supplies is a small price to pay.  This requirement was intended in His Covenant before Levi was set up as priests and given the tithe.  If they are out of the picture that does not change the status of the tithe as "Holy to the Lord".


How one tithes to God today is another part of this study.  We would do well to approach that without any preconceived ideas.


Was there just one tithe?


After God instructed Levi to give the best tenth of Israel's tithe to Aaron's sons the priests, the next place tithing is mentioned is in Deuteronomy 12.6. "There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks.


Until this time there is indication of only one tenth or tithe.  That was given to the Levites.  Here and in verse 11 tithe (Heb. ma'aser) is plural.  New here as well is the concept that they were to eat the tithe (singular vs. 17) themselves.  They were not to eat it at their own home, but "before the Lord" at the tabernacle in the place where God chose to reside (vs.18, 11).


There is no indication that God had taken any part of Levi's tithe from them.  They were still doing the work of the tabernacle.  That had not diminished.  Technically the Levite's tithe was due and payable at the temple or tabernacle (Deu 12:5-7, Num. 18:24). 


This instruction to eat the tithe themselves is repeated in Deuteronomy 14:22-23  "You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year.  And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always".


Interestingly the Hebrew word for tithe used here ('asar) is different than that used previously.  It is a verb and means to take a tenth.  Nothing less will do.  So God has either suddenly and completely abandoned the Levites, or this tithe is in addition to what Israel was already setting aside for them.


Considering that even Maaserot recognizes that the Levites tithe was separate from what they called the second tithe.  It seems apparent that Deuteronomy 14 is indicating a second tithe designated for celebration at the house of God.


This certainly would explain why Israel was to bring their tithes (plural) to God's special place and eat their tithe (singular) before Him (Deu 12:6,11, 17).  Perhaps if a family lived close to God's house they would make a special trip to deliver the Levite's tithe.  If not, they would bring it along with their own festival tithe when they came to celebrate before their Creator. The people who put together the Talmud considered that there were three seasons of tithing.  They corresponded to the three pilgrimage festivals.  Throughout the season people collected their tithes.  At the end of the season the tithes were presented to the Levites at the temple.  At least in concept that's how it worked


The Levites tithe could also have been collected locally (Neh 10:37-38). There is evidence in other places too that God had not withdrawn the tithe from the Levites.  At the restoration of Hezekiah and Nehemiah, accounts describe the resumption from neglect of tithing to Levi according to the law (Neh 12:44, 2Chron 31:12-21, Mal 3:8-10).


We should note that this 'second' tithe is first instructed just before Israel went into the Promised Land.  Between Deuteronomy 12:6 & 11 is verse 8. "You shall not at all do as we are doing here today––every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes––"  There was a change being implemented here.  It reflects a transition between the Law of God and the Law of Moses. 


The Law of Moses required them to offer their offerings before the House of God, at His designated altar.  This was not required by the Sinai covenant (Ex 20:24-26).  Until the giving of Deuteronomy, Israel had been camped together.  They were under the watchful eye of the Levites even though they were evidently permitted to offer sacrifices without them.  Once in the Promised Land they would start to scatter and based on history, could not be trusted.


So the Law of Moses required them to focus their worship toward the House of God.  Also they were supposed to gather together again at each of the pilgrimage festivals.  They had always been camped together before God in the wilderness.  There was no need to go anywhere.  God was directly providing for all of them on a daily basis.  Once Israel entered the Promised Land the manna would stop.  They needed to plan for these celebrations and assemblies.  Consequently, it makes sense that God instructed that a second tithe be separated so they would have the wherewithal to appear at the festivals.


Tithe for the poor


Deuteronomy 14:28-29 describes a tithe that is kept locally. "At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates.  And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do."


Maaserot indicates that this is the same tenth as the festival tithe.  For two years the Israelites were to use this tithe for the festivals and then every third year they were to make it available as described in Deuteronomy 14:28-29.


As it turns out Josephus has something to say about this too.  Josephus predates the Mishnah by at least 100 years.  These years are during a very critical period of time.  During most of Josephus’ life the Temple was still standing.  Those who wrote Maaserot were decades removed from the actual workings of the temple.


Josephus’ account is quite clear except in defining what ‘fruits of the earth’ are.

"And besides this, he appointed that the people should pay the tithe of their annual fruits of the earth, both to the Levite and to the priests." (Antiquities 4.4.3)

"Accordingly he commanded the Levites to …. Set apart for them the tenth part of all the tithes which they every year receive of the people…….. With these Moses contrived that the priests should be plentifully maintained." (Ant 4.4.4)

"Let there be taken out of your fruits a tenth besides which you have allotted to give to the priests and Levites.  This you may indeed sell in the country, but it is to be used in these feasts and sacrifices that are to be celebrated in the holy city."(Ant 4.8.8)

"Besides these two tithes which I have already said you are to pay every year, the one for the Levites, the other for the festivals, you are to bring every third year a third tithe to be distributed to those that want." (Ant 4.8.22)


The book of Tobit predates even Josephus by another 100-250 years.  It generally agrees with Josephus in its description of how Tobit tithed.


"But I alone went often to Jerusalem at the feasts, as it was ordained unto all the people of Israel by an everlasting decree, having the first fruits and tenths of increase, with that which was first shorn; and them gave I at the altar to the priests the children of Aaron.  [7] The first tenth part of all increase I gave to the sons of Aaron, who ministered at Jerusalem: another tenth part I sold away, and went, and spent it every year at Jerusalem:  [8] And the third I gave unto them to whom it was meet, as Debora my father's mother had commanded me, because I was left an orphan by my father". (Tobit 1:6-8, www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/tobit.html)


 Tobit was a relatively well-read book from the second temple period and afterward.  The Jewish Encyclopedia in their article on 'Tobit", dates it between 50 and 200 BCE.  It is actually included in the Catholic Bible, set as part of the canon by the Council of Carthage (397 CE) and Trent (1546 CE).  Copies were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  There are a number of different versions in different languages.  The following is verse 8 from the New American Bible.


"The third tithe I gave to orphans and widows, and to converts who were living with the Israelites. Every third year I would bring them this offering, and we ate it in keeping with the decree of the Mosaic Law and the commands of Deborah, the mother of my father Tobiel; for when my father died, he left me an orphan."


Deuteronomy 26:12 also refers to this third year tithe that is given locally to those in need. "When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year––the year of tithing––and have given [it] to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled." (Deu 26:12)


Here this year is designated a "year of tithing".  If this tithe for the needy were just an alternate use for the festival tithe, why would this be any more a special year of tithing than any other year?  The festivals were commanded for every year.  If the provisions set aside for the pilgrimage festivals were diverted for another purpose, how could God expect that all the males would appear before Him?


Deuteronomy 26:12 is very interesting in that the last instance of tithe, masar, is translated deuteron epidekaton in the Septuagint.  This would then indicate an additional or second (deutero) separating of a tenth over and above that specified in Deuteronomy 14:22.  This is how the Septuagint translators understood this tenth in Deuteronomy 26:12 about the third century BC.


Some have tried to say that epidekaton designates a second tithe.  Indeed the prefix epi in some cases does indicate a second occurrence or repeated thing.  However the Septuagint also uses epidekaton in Numbers 18:21, 24, 28 and three times in verse 26.  This area is clearly talking of the tithe God designated for the Levite. “I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance” (Num. 18:21a).  However Liddell and Scott’s Greek English Lexicon has four definitions for epidekaton.  The first three specify a tenth in one form or another.  The fourth definition is, “additional, extra payment of one tenth”.  So the appropriate meaning in any particular place must be derived from context.  If one is to believe that there is no conflict between Deuteronomy 14:22-23 (festival tithe) and 14:28-29 (third year tithe), then ‘deuteron epidekaton’ (third year tithe) would be talking of a different tithe than that mentioned in verse 22 & 23 and would be translated ‘second additional tithe’.

It seems apparent that God intended Israel to celebrate the pilgrimage festivals every year. (Ex 23:14-16, Deu 16:16)  It also seems He wanted them to have sufficient to really celebrate and invite the Levites to join them (Deu 12:12, 18).  That being the case, the tithe held locally for the needy would be a third tithe, which would make it a special year of tithing since it would be an additional tenth available to those in need.

This agrees with the earlier historical records of Josephus and Tobit in opposition to Maaserot written 130 years after the temple was destroyed and the Levitical system had dissolved.  It also agrees with the Septuagint translation of Deuteronomy 26:12 which would have been in existence some 200+ years by the time of the destruction of the temple.  It also allows for the pilgrimages to the House of God every year as instructed.  All in all the evidence does not agree with Maaserot.


How did tithing work?


So God expected to be acknowledged by Israel in the transfer or giving of a tithe.  Deuteronomy 12:22 & 26:12 indicate this is to be on the 'increase', i.e. the net amount over and above expenses or investment that went into production of the crop or whatever.  So any payment for feed, labor, water, etc. would be deducted from the total produce before the tithe was calculated.  Of course most of these things would not have been an issue in ancient Israel since the animals probably foraged on the land, which was watered by rain (Deu 11:11).  God supplied much for free anyway.


Harvesting a crop might be different.  Boaz had helpers with his harvests (Ruth 2:21).  They could have been slaves or hired hands or both.  He would have been free to pay the hired workers somehow and deduct that cost from his increase.  More than likely hired helpers were paid in produce from the crop.  So they would have tithed on their portion and Boaz would have tithed on his.  The end result to the Levite should have been about the same.


On the other hand, if Boaz' 'young men' were slaves he was certainly required to feed and cloth them.  That would have been a business expense too.  For that matter since slaves are an extension of their master, wasn't the produce Boaz ate himself a type of business expense?  If someone passed by and ate some of the produce the owner of the field was not obliged to tithe on that (Deu 23:24).  If Boaz had eaten casually from the field no note needed to be made of what he consumed either.  That being the case, 'increase' was the produce left not including whatever incidental quantity he had consumed. 


The same would be the case if a crop is the basis for some manufactured product or if travel is involved in the sale.  If someone grows a crop, he would typically be expected to tithe immediately (Ex 22:29).  However, if he knows there is a significant advantage to selling the crop two weeks distance away, he could take that option.  In that case he could deduct travel expenses to arrive at his final profit.  He would then be expected to promptly pay the tithe on that net.  "You shall not delay to offer the first of your ripe produce [fullness] and your juices.” (Ex 22:29a)


According to Terumot, a tractate, or book of the Mishnah that deals with offerings, the first fruit amount was not specific.  However they generally deemed it to be about one fiftieth ( 1/50 ) of a crop (see Intro to Terumot).  The account of the first enemy that Israel destroyed on the way into the Promised Land is interesting.  One fiftieth of the booty allocated to the average Israelite was sanctified and given to the Levites (Num 31:47). 


The next enemy Israel came against was Jericho.  In that battle Israel was to take nothing (Jos 6:18-19).  Only metal objects were saved and were kept for the use of the tabernacle.  The rest was burned (Jos 6:24).  After that there is no special designation for any of the spoil.


It seems that in the invasion of the Promised Land, God received His first fruit and His tithe without delay.  If this is indeed what was taking place we would like to see other cities where Israel was not to take any booty.  This is not recorded.  The account mentions little about any booty after these first two.  We don't know for sure what happened.


Certainly Abraham's example should have dictated that appreciation should have been shown.  Perhaps it was.  After the first conquest involving Midian the officers and captains gave a special free-will offering (Num 31:48).  It appears their heart was in the right place.  Perhaps they gave other offerings as well, which were simply not recorded.  Little is recorded of Abraham’s giving either.  


It is curious that the amount taken from those that participated in the battle was one tenth of that taken from those who did not.  Also, it was given to the high priest as an "offering to the Lord"(vs. 29).  That taken from the general population was given to the Levites "who keep charge of the tabernacle" (vs. 30).  Again if this is intended to be a first-fruit offering, which seems plausible, then God is somewhat flexible as to exactly how much that should be.  Also the first fruits were typically given to the priests.  They were not for the Levites in general.  Perhaps since this was such a windfall and a direct gift to those who did not participate and the priests ended up with plenty, God included the Levites as well.


A complete examination of the first fruit is another study.  In any case once the first fruits are paid the tithe should not be delayed very long.  There are a few examples we could examine. 


"Come to Bethel and transgress, At Gilgal multiply transgression; Bring your sacrifices every morning, Your tithes every three days." (Amos 4:4)


In this case it seems some in Israel were being zealous in regard to tithing, but yet ignoring other aspects of the law.  In particular they were not helping the poor or the needy (vs. 1).  This doesn't necessarily recommend against frequent paying of tithes.  Rather it recommends the weightier matters of the law.  Certainly they should have done the one without leaving the other undone (Mat 23:23).


"But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go.  6 "There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks." (Deu 12:5-6, see also 11, 26)


Here God instructs Israel to bring the tithes with their other offerings to His dwelling, which became Jerusalem during the time of David.  Needless to say those living on the northern and southern border of Israel could not practically bring their tithes to Jerusalem every three days.  The implication here in Deuteronomy 12 seems to be that when they come for a celebration they will also bring their tithes.


Although the people were to come at the pilgrimage festivals three times a year there was nothing to prevent them from going to Jerusalem more often.  In practical fact though, three times a year was probably the norm unless someone lived close by.  Neither Deuteronomy 12 or 14 specifically mentions the annual pilgrimage festivals. 


However, God is practical, not rigid.  For those who lived some distance from Jerusalem the Levites evidently collected the tithes locally.  In some cases taking the festival tithe to Jerusalem was a problem (Deu 14:24-26).  It only makes sense that if it was too far to bring their produce to eat at the Festivals it would not be easy to bring their tithe. "…and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities. (Neh 10:37de)  So it was sometimes collected locally and the Levites took just the priest's portion, one tenth of the tithe to the temple.


There are other areas we should consider for rigidity. "When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the LORD your God." (Lev 23:22) 


God is attempting to teach His people generosity and the need to share with those less fortunate.  The corners of the field and the gleanings of the harvest would not be tithed.  It is also highly unlikely the poor would tithe on what they ate.  There is never any condemnation of the poor for not tithing.  It seems that if someone were going to neglect this matter the poor would be the ones.


but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.  5 What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land.” (Lev 25:4-5)


If Israel could not reap in the sabbatical year, they could not tithe on that produce.  Yet they were allowed to eat what grew in the field.  And the Sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, 7 for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land––all its produce shall be for food." (Lev 25:6-7)  So they could take what they would eat probably that day or maybe the next, especially on Friday, but they were evidently not to gather up any significant quantity.  No tithe would have been paid.


This is probably similar to what was allowed in Deuteronomy 23:24.  "When you come into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes at your pleasure, but you shall not put any in your container."  If they weren't to take any in a container, they couldn't tithe on this benefit.  Again, God seems more interested in teaching mercy and sharing than in receiving the last grain of His tithe.


Festivals in the year of the land Sabbath.


In the year of Jubilee there would have been two land Sabbaths in a row, the 49th year and then the Jubilee the 50th year.   In this case God promised to produce a triple harvest in the sixth year of the last cycle, the 48th year. (Lev 25:21)  We have to assume there was an appropriate blessing to support the people and the Levites during all the land Sabbaths.  There still would have been some things on which to tithe or give an offering.  The animals undoubtedly continued in their reproductive cycle during the Sabbatical year.  Consequently, there still would have been offerings to make and celebrations during the festivals.


Because of the timing of the festivals, there was probably ripe produce in the fields along the way to Jerusalem that they were free to eat.  Also, they could have had some remaining produce from the previous years crops.  It seems that God would have been very interested in making sure that there was sufficient at this time.  What better way to teach the lesson that He was really their provider?  By the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, they would have gone a full year without work in the fields caring for crops.  Yet if He provided, they would still have had sufficient.  Assuming Israel did their part, He undoubtedly did His.


Levite's and additional tithes 


"And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you." (Lev 12:12)


"When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year––the year of tithing––and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled". (Deu 26:12)


The Levites got a tenth of all the produce of the land.  This actually may have worked out to more than what the average Israelite would have received.  Why then does God indicate they were somehow in need?


"Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine." (1 Tim 5:17)


It is God's intention to bless all those that properly represent Him.  "But you shall be named the priests of the LORD, They shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, And in their glory you shall boast.  7 Instead of your shame you shall have double honor, And instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; Everlasting joy shall be theirs." (Isa 61:6-7)  This is undoubtedly what He had in mind for ancient Israel as well, but they failed to live up to their part.


It is not a great stretch to understand that God wanted to provide plenty for the Levites.  The priests would have received extra during the festivals because they were given a portion of each offering (Deu 18:3-4).  However, the average Levite was not entitled to this.  Since during the festivals God provided extra for the Priests, He evidently intended extra for the average Levite too. 


Consider what this requirement of sharing with the Levite could have done.  If Israel was obligated to share, the Levites would have been obligated to join them.  This should have resulted in a forced mixing of Levi with the rest of the people.  It would have also put Levi in a position of being heavily dependent on the other tribes for their food during this time.  As they ate together hopefully the conversation would have been about more than the latest horse race.  Questions regarding the law could have been brought up and discussed freely.  Also the people of Levi should have been appropriately humble and appreciative of the provision God supplied.  All this should have worked to break down any caste system that might have formed.


Levi was also allowed to take from the poor tithe.  This does not mean they were free to abuse the privilege.  If they had sufficient, the great preponderance of scripture would indicate the last thing a godly person would want to do is take what was intended for the poor. (Ex 22:21-24, Deu 10:18, 24:17, 19)  However, ancient Israel did not always provide for the Levites the way they should have. (2 Chr 31:6, 10)  Evidently God foresaw that this might be a problem.  Levi was not required to take of the poor tithe, but it was available to them if the need arose.


Tithe loopholes


There seem to be a number of loopholes where people go uninstructed or uncondemned regarding the tithe.  Although Jesus agreed that people should tithe their mint, anise and cumin there is no comment regarding the poor tithing.  God expected his people to give the gleanings and the corner of the field to the poor (Lev 23:22).  Would he then not freely give Himself, or would He require reimbursement in the form of tithe from the poor? 


As was mentioned earlier, anyone passing a field with ripe produce was entitled to pick and eat, but not to carry anything away.  If nothing could be carried away, the tithe could not be carried away.  So the loss of a little produce due to this was not of any particular concern to God.  In the same way no tithe was required on what Israel ate from the field in the Sabbatical years.  To do so would have required a significant harvest.  This was not allowed.


Although the Levites did not receive anywhere near the land allotment that the other tribes received, they did receive some land (Num. 35:4-5).  It was designated specifically for their herds.  Would this have precluded them from growing fruits and vegetables on it?  As long as the herds were cared for, why would it? 


The common land appears to be just that, common or shared land for the Levites.  Did they tithe to themselves on whatever produce came from a little plot someone may have tended?  Again, certainly the principle applies, but the net result would have been almost nil.  They would have taken a tenth and given it to themselves.  It seems if this was done it would have been noted somewhere.  I've not found any reference to it.  However, it seems as though we ought to be grateful for even a small plot and be anxious to share.


It is highly unlikely that God has a large staff of angel accountants checking up on everyone to be sure they tithe their mint, anise, cumin, corners and gleanings.  However, one should always keep in mind the source of wealth and provision, not to mention protection, peace and safety.


Now what?


Since Levi is no longer doing their service at the temple, a case can be made that they no longer should receive the tithe.  Indeed it seems God has disinherited them.  Not only do they not work at the Temple they have more or less melted into the general population.  They are almost indistinguishable from any other 'Jew'.  Many Jews are indistinguishable from the rest of the population where they live.


It should also be noted that the Law in general and Numbers and Deuteronomy in particular, were written specifically for Israel in the Promised Land. "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD.’” (Lev 25:2)  On this side of the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses began to explain this law, saying,” (Deu 1:5)  "Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you.” (Deu 4:1)  "But as for you, stand here by Me, and I will speak to you all the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I am giving them to possess.” (De 5:31)


Not that all these things were only for Israel, but they were written specifically for and to Israel of that time. "Know today that I do not speak with your children, who have not known and who have not seen the chastening of the LORD your God, His greatness and His mighty hand and His outstretched arm––(Deu 11:2)but your eyes have seen every great act of the LORD which He did.(Deu 11:7)  Moses did not attempt to write to us.  It is up to us to understand the mindset of those to whom Moses spoke and their perspective, then translate that to apply to us.


"Also the sons of the foreigner Who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, And to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants––Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, And holds fast My covenant–– Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." (Isa 56:6-7)


Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”’ (Deu 4:6)  The intention was that Israel would be an example to other nations of the benefits of following the way of God. “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Ex 19:6)


So even though the record we have may be couched in terms specific to ancient Israel, it is apparent that the principles and especially the Law of God applies everywhere.For the LORD Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth. (Ps 47:2)  ‘“But cursed be the deceiver Who has in his flock a male, And takes a vow, But sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished––For I am a great King," Says the LORD of hosts, "And My name is to be feared among the nations.”’ (Mal 1:14)


The whole earth is God's and all it produces.  The tithe, "it is holy to the Lord" (Lev 27:30d).  "You shall not delay to offer from the fulness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses" (Ex 22:29a RSV).  Both of these statements were made before Levi was designated as the recipient of Israel's tithes.  What happens to Levi does not change their worth as instruction to us.


Note that the original instruction said to "offer" of the full produce.  This word is not really in the Hebrew text, but it does seem to be the intention of the thought.  The second half of the verse specifically commands "give unto me" the firstborn.  The entire thought is to 'not delay the full produce and juices and the firstborn sons give to me'. 


The translators probably chose "offer" because that is the example from earlier accounts of how things were given to God.  Genesis 4:3-4 briefly describes Cain and Abel offering to God.  The implication is generally understood that these gifts were burned on an altar.


Of course there is the account of the near sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22:1-13).  As Abraham said, God provided an offering for Himself (vs 8).  It was done at His request and to honor Him.  The most important thing about this story is Abraham's attitude and state of mind.  He was committed to obedience and honoring the will of God.  However it also illustrates that God ultimately provided the offering for Himself.  It was simply burned up. 


After Jacob left Leban, he apparently stopped briefly in Succoth, but settled first in Shechem.  One of the first orders of business was to erect an altar. (Gen. 33:16-20)   Certainly a purpose for this was to make offerings to God in gratitude.  The tithe should be offered in gratitude.  We can't divorce this altar from the possibility that it was used to give God His tenth.


Jacob next moved to Bethel.  When he originally passed through there he made his covenant with God (Gen. 28).  In the Genesis 35:3 account Jacob remembers that God kept his part of the bargain that he had made with Him in Genesis 28:20-22.  This is where he had promised to tithe.  Can Jacob, this prevailer with God, remember God performed His half and yet ignore his own half?  At this point in Bethel Jacob also erected another altar (Gen. 35:7).


'There is some belief in the scholarly community that any eating of meat involved a religious aspect for the ancient Hebrews.  In the ancient world every killing of an animal for food was viewed as a religious act. And it was done publicly with the children watching as prayer was offered. They all knew that "This animal is dying so we can eat." The original religious meaning of sacrifice is still retained by Jews for the kosher killing of an animal.' (Model Theology: An Introduction to Post-Modern Explanation, by Robert C. Brow, Chapter 5)


Abraham is frequently noted to have built altars or returned to the location of altars, which he had previously built (Gen. 12:7,8, 13:4, 18).  Would it be a surprise that these altars figure so prominently in the patriarch's lives because their habit of gratitude included a regular practice of tithing?  If the patriarchs gave in this way, would it be unacceptable for us to do similarly?


Giving to God today


Many church organizations that claim the law is "done away" still cling to the concept of tithing.  Somehow this seems like a self-serving conflict of interest.  Understandably many people have recognized this conflict of interest and Christianity has gotten another black eye because of it.  However, because some use tithing in self-interest does not mean tithing is invalid. 


In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul discusses how he supported himself. Do we have no right to eat and drink?” (1 Cor 9:4) Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?” (1 Cor 9:6)  Paul was obviously dealing with how he was to provide for himself.


His conclusion is unmistakable. “Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?” (1 Cor 9:7). “Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also?” (1 Cor 9:8)


For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain." Is it oxen God is concerned about?’ (1 Cor 9:9)


If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?” (1 Cor 9:11)


If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.” (1 Cor 9:12)


The Greek word translated 'right' here is 'exonsia'.  Thayer defines it as: "Power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases: leave or permission".  It is the same word used in verse 6 where Paul wonders if they think he has no permission, authority or right to marry. 


What others are there of whom it could be said they sowed spiritual things and had "this right" to reap the physical things?  It seems apparent that the others are the Levites.  What many miss is that the Corinthians were evidently supplying the Levites with their physical things.  Others were partakers of that right!  Even gentile believers were evidently supporting the local Levite representative in Corinth.  Of whom else could it be said that they had a right or authority to take from the Corinthians like Paul had the right or authority to marry?


Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar?” (1 Cor 9:13)  Obviously the Levites ministered or worked with the holy things, which included the tithe.  We saw earlier that it is the "Levites who keep charge of the tabernacle of the LORD" (Num. 31:30).  The tithe was to be brought to the temple storehouse (Mal 3:10).  Aaron's sons served at the altar and ate of the offerings, but only a small portion of the tithe.  The bulk went to the rest of the Levites, not Aaron’s sons.


Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” (1 Cor 9:14)  In verse 12 (above), Paul claims to have more right than the "others" do.  It is apparent he is referring to the Levites and the priests who were exercising their right.  Who else in any way sowed spiritual and reaped the physical?


It is also apparent Paul recognizes that this is a very sensitive subject.  He shows himself to be noble, if anything, in how he has handled the matter.  Just because many have not been so noble, doesn't mean those who truly sow spiritual things have no right to reap the physical.  It is only those who truly sow spiritual that have any claim against the physical.


Paul chose not to exercise his right.  Verse 16 explains that he didn't want anyone to "make my glorying void".  This is a reference back to the beginning of the chapter where he claims to be an apostle and the Corinthians are "the seal of my apostleship".  If someone could say Paul was just doing it for the money, his boast of apostleship could easily be clouded and made void.  He didn't want to give anyone that opportunity.


Paul makes another statement in verse 18 that in some translations seems to indicate he didn't request the tithe because it would be an abuse.  Actually the Greek word translated 'abuse', katachraomai, would be better translated 'use to the full'.  Requiring support would not abuse his authority, but would stretch it to its absolute limits.  This word is similarly translated in Rotherham's Emphasized Bible, the ASV, NASB, RSV, Darby, NIV, Wycliffe, NLT and the ASV. 


Levi had a command to take the tithe in the Law of Moses (Num. 18:21, Heb 7:5).  Paul did not.  He would have been overriding the Law to require the tithe in place of Levi.  He had that authority, but he felt it would have been absolutely the outer limit of his authority.  However, his main reason for not requiring physical support was so no one could say he was just out for the money, or gift or whatever it was he might receive.


What is really worth more, eternal life with the creator, or the possessions of this world? “Let the elders who rule (preside) well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1Tim 5:17).  Here Paul is not necessarily referring to the tithe, but the principle applies that those who properly handle the word and its interpretation, should expect to be shown appreciation and support.  It is the duty of those who are the benefactors of their good service to provide the honor.  It is not the responsibility of those that do the good service to extract it from them.


Paul's commendation of the Philippians shows his approach.  The provision from the Philippians shows the responsibility of those who benefited from Paul's message. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.  18. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet–smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (Php 4:17-18).  Providing for those who sow spiritual understanding and truth is certainly one way we give to God.


Supporting those who teach the word of God is not necessarily the only way to give to God.  Some think that the "work of God" is especially teaching or preaching the word. "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  7  "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." (Deu.6:6-7)  Every parent is responsible to teach their own children.  This is not the work of God.


Actually preaching or teaching the word of God to adults in ancient Israel was delegated to Levi. (Lev 10:9-11, Deu 4:4)  They were to be the teachers and often judges "And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge [there] in those days, and inquire [of them]; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment." (Deu 17:9)  Handing down judgments and decisions in difficult disputes often fell to them.  Actually God delegated governance, oversight and teaching of everything to the people in some form or other.


There was one exception to this. "You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  22.  You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child.  23.  If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry;  24.  and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless." (Ex 22:21-24)


God reserved to himself the matter of supporting the poor.And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts” (Mal 3:5).   Of course we should respect and treat everyone as a brother or sister, but with those who have no one to support them we should take special care.  Not doing this is a clear indication that we don’t really fear God.  We are hypocrites.  We think neither He nor anyone else will see, so we can get away with it.


The real intent of this judgment is clearer in Leviticus 19:9-14.  We are to help and support the underprivileged.  Israel was to leave the corners of their fields and the gleanings and deal in an honest and straightforward way, not taking advantage.  Perhaps we should translate that into providing employment when we can and paying a generous wage.  Pay promptly as agreed upon when the job is done.  Fairness and honesty in all dealings should go without saying.


This subject was also addressed frequently by Jesus Christ. "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  38  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  39  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  40  And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Mat 25:37-40).  


Is this giving to the poor on behalf of our creator different than giving to God by supporting those who sow spiritual understanding?  Both the poor and the Levite were included in the poor tithe of Deuteronomy 26:12 and 14:28-29. 


But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.  14.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you: for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:13-14). 


So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing.  Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me.”’ (Luke 18:22)  This doesn't mean that everyone who believes is expected to sell everything they have and give it away.  This was a special invitation to one particular individual.  However, consider that the kingdom of God is like a pearl that is worth expending all to attain. (Mat 13:45-46)


Of course this teaching didn’t stop with Jesus’ death: “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?(1 John 3:17).  Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit (help) the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (Jas 1:27). 


Even before Moses, Job knew God would be aware of any wrong in this area.  If I have kept the poor from their desire, Or caused the eyes of the widow to fail, 17 Or eaten my morsel by myself, So that the fatherless may not eat of it.  18. (But from my youth I reared him as a father, And from my mothers womb I guided the widow);  19.If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, Or any poor man without covering;  20.If his heart has not blessed me, And if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;  21.If I have raised my hand against the fatherless, When I saw I had help in the gate;  22.Then let my arm fall from my shoulder, Let my arm be torn from the socket.” (Job 31:16-22)


A directly associated principle involved here is that as we do to others so shall it be done to us.  This applies to punishment, but it applies on the positive side as well.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mat 5:7).  “36. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.  37 Judge not, and you shall not be judged.  Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.  For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:36-38).


Scarce New Testament teaching


Many have noted the lack of direct teaching on tithing in the New Testament.  They take this as an indication that it was somehow purged from God's consciousness.  Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 9 do not support this.  Even the largely gentile Corinthian believers were tithing, but to Levi.  Convicted believers should recognize the needs of others, take their cue from the Philippians and willingly give.  There should be no need to establish the right of those who sow spiritual understanding to reap of our physical things. 


A true follower of Jesus Christ will not be stingy when it comes to giving. "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Mat 6:24).  Most people understand this is talking of degrees of love, not absolute hate.  However the bottom line is that believers will recognize that their support comes from God and He expects them to share.  If they expect Him to provide for them, they will help others if it is within their power. 


Jesus added additional weight to the importance of understanding what our relationship to money ought to be.  Luke 16 talks of an "unjust steward" that seems to give away his masters due in order to buy friends for himself.  Actually once one understands the historical setting the steward is more likely giving away his own commission in order to buy his friends.


In any case the point Jesus makes is that one can apparently buy ones way into eternal life.  How can this be?  "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home." (Luke 16:9)


God gives us the power to gain wealth.  This is a gift direct from Him. "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" (Luke 16:11)  If we don't handle money wisely and properly how can we expect to inherit even greater power?


Remember that this is God's earth.  He created it.  It's His. "And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?" (Luke 16:12)


The true believer recognizes that he will answer to God for how he handles God's wealth.  It is ours to share, not ours to keep.


"And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did [it] to one of the least of these My brethren, you did [it] to Me” (Mat 25:40).  It seems apparent that we give to God, not only by supporting those who sow spiritual things, but by sharing with our brothers and sisters that are less fortunate than ourselves.  Scriptures reinforcing this throughout the Bible are pervasive.


"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit [help] orphans and widows in their trouble, [and] to keep oneself unspotted from the world." (Jas 1:27) 


"Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith." (Gal 6:10) 


"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those [who live] according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit." (Rom 8:5) 


If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (Jam 2:15-17)


"But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (1 John 3:17)


"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:34)


If we have to be coaxed or prodded into sharing, our mind is not of the same spirit as Jesus Christ.  We are loving mammon more than God.


Paul set the example for those who handle the word.  He would rather have died than to have someone claim he was seeking the gift or even fully using his authority (1 Cor 9:15, 18).  Those who think they are due the tithes of the congregation ought to seriously consider this.  Paul did not limit himself just in this matter of tithing. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” (1 Cor 10:23)  If one is truly interested in uplifting the congregation, one will not be overly concerned about making sure they themselves get their due. 


There is no indication in the New Testament that the tithe given by the Law to Levi is now given exclusively to preachers.  Certainly the tithe can be used to support faithful servants that are positive examples and teach spiritual truth and the ways of God.  This is a good use for the tithe that is holy to the Lord.  However it is not the only acceptable use and just because someone claims to represent God doesn't mean they really do.  If you give it to even the least of God's children you give it to Him.  Giving the tithe directly to God is certainly acceptable too.  The creator of the universe will not neglect his messengers.


Those who claim they are spiritual Levites and therefore are the New Covenant recipient of the tithes don’t fully understand the Old Covenant, let alone the New.  The Old Covenant that established Levi and the sacrificial system was not intended to exist.  It was added to the Law of God to deal with Israel’s transgressions of the Law of God.  Believers are to have the Law of God written on their hearts such that they do it.  Believers should not need Levi to keep them in line.  Therefore the function of Levi is redundant under the New Covenant.  It is dissolved with the sacrificial system.


Tithes of the Old Covenant


The festival and poor tithes are only mentioned in Deuteronomy.  This book of the law was written especially for ancient Israel and their tenure in the Promised Land (Deu 6:1, 12:8-11, 26:1).  In fact, this is the Old Covenant.  How does it apply now?  Since most of us do not live in the Promised Land and the creator no longer has a designated place on earth where He dwells is the festival tithe still necessary?


The covenant made in the book of Deuteronomy (Deu 1:1-5, 26:16-18, 29:1) is no longer the absolute authority (Gal 3:19).  However it still reflects the mind of God.  It was written to a carnal nation that had difficulty obeying.  As such it is still a witness against those who step out on their own and decide for themselves what proper conduct should be (Deu 31:26). 


The law ought to be our consultant as the Greek paidagogos was to his adult charge (Gal 3:24-25, See further: “Novum Testamentum”, vol 29, 1987, “Paidagogos: The Social Setting”, by N.H.Young p174).  Because of the people to whom the law was written, the law represents a minimum standard of conduct.  Those who truly wish to honor their creator will not be satisfied with adherence to only the letter of the law.


The tithe set aside for rejoicing before the Lord at His dwelling was to be shared with others, in particular with the teachers of the law and those that sow spiritual things (Deu 12:18-19).  I'm sure it would please the Creator that any poor would also be included as well.  If those who claim to teach you the mind of God do not have a tradition of joining in your personal festival celebrations that is unfortunate and a loss for you both.  If you feel those to whom it was given have abused the tithe, you probably ought to look for someone else to give it or some other way to handle it.


An interesting thing about the "festival" tithe is that it is never specifically connected with the pilgrimage festivals.  Attendance at the pilgrimage festivals is required by Exodus 23:14-17, Deuteronomy 16:16 and Exodus 34:18-23.  The "festival" tithe is explained in Deuteronomy 12 and 14.  It is certainly hard to miss the connection, but the festival tithe was apparently for whenever one went to the house of God to celebrate anything.  It was not limited to just the pilgrimage festival occasions. 


One could conclude that whenever we gather together to rejoice before our creator we could use the festival tithe.  However it seems self evident that God especially intended it to provide a joyous celebration during the pilgrimage festivals and that those from whom we learn of God should be included.


Poor Tithe

The poor tithe set aside every third year has always raised a question or two.  It is easy to understand that the Sabbatical year interrupted the three-year cycle.  One cannot tithe when the crops are not to be harvested.  So in agreement with the Jews we can understand that the poor tithe was set out for them in the third and sixth year of a seven-year cycle. 


Many have wondered what the poor did in the other years.  Certainly they were permitted to eat from the corners of the field and glean after the harvest.  They could also eat from unharvested fields as long as they didn't take anything with them.  Of course they could eat of the produce in sabbatical years too.  It seems the poor tithe was a special blessing God established in Israel because of His desire to teach sharing and concern for the underprivileged.  Perhaps it gave the poor an extra boost that might allow them to rise to the next level.  Another option is that in those years God had determined to provide a larger crop.  This is indicated for the sixth year. (see discussion of jubilee year above)


It should be noted that generally, the poor tithe was to be eaten within the gates of the providers.  This would seem to mean within the property of those who gave it.  It was therefore not collected or taken elsewhere by the poor.  Perhaps this also helped people identify exactly who was in need of help.  Our society has radically changed from the agrarian society for which Deuteronomy was written.  How do we apply this to our society?


Evidently we do have a fair amount of freedom in this.  Any regulation that is unique to Deuteronomy was likely added in the Law of Moses.  It should serve as a general guideline, but is not absolutely binding in the detail of the letter, especially on those living outside the Promised Land.  So there is not necessarily one particular right way to administer a poor tithe.  However, based on God's obvious concern for the poor, it seems that something should be done. 


If I understood for sure why this tithe was saved only once every three years, I might feel more confident about translating the practice to our culture.  Since I can only guess at that, anything I would come up with would also be a guess.  So this is something on which we can ponder.


Some organizations have determined that contributing 2/7ths (approx. 28.6%) of a tithe every year to a poor fund would be a reasonable way to handle the poor tithe.  2/7ths of a tithe each year would be the equivalent of a tithe given two years out of seven.  This may indeed be acceptable.  However it ignores the yearly variation that God built into the original regulation.  Since the sabbatical year was the same for everyone throughout Israel everyone was contributing poor tithe the same year.  Surely the Creator recognized the inequality from year to year.  Surely He had a reason for it.


Most modern implementations of a poor tithe are handled centrally.  The Biblical regulation would tend to indicate local even individual control.  It may happen that one area contributes more to the fund whereas a different area is more in need.  Certainly it is reasonable that the needy areas are cared for.  However, it is also possible that what is considered poverty in one area may not be considered poverty in another.  A poor person living in a wealthy area may require more to maintain sufficiency.  A centralized distribution system might take this into account, but a localized system surely would.





A tithe was holy to God before Levi was set apart as judges and assistants to the priests.  The destruction of the temple and dissolving of the Levitical system reduced or eliminated the obligation to tithe to Levi even in the Promised Land, not to mention outside of it.  Those who assist others in understanding the will of God are at least as deserving of the tithe as Levi was.  However, when we help the poor and disadvantaged we are giving to God just as much as if we give to those who work with the Gospel.


The annual festivals were established long before Levi was established as the priestly tribe.  We need to provide enough to really celebrate and include others as well.  Don't just consider your own family.


God created just one earth and He expects us to share with our brothers and sisters.  He reserved for Himself the dispensing of justice for the underprivileged.  Everything else was delegated in some way or other.  He is obviously very interested in their welfare.  We need to be as well.




The complete works of Josephus, by Flavius Josephus. translated by William Whiston ; foreword by William Sanford LaSor.  Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids:, MI. ©1981

Emphasized Bible, translated by J.B.Rotherham, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. 49501 1994.  (Original translation done between 1868 & 1902.)


Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing House Ltd. Jerusalem, Israel, 1971.


English Septuagint Version of the Holy Bible translated by Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton &
Paul W. Esposito.  Available at  "http://www.apostlesbible.com" from: The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament and Apocrypha with an English Translation, by Sir L.C.L. Brenton, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids Mi. and Samuel Bagster & Sons Ltd., London 1976.


Greek English Lexicon, compiled by Henry George Liddell & Robert Scott, 9th Ed., with revisions by Henry Stuart Jones,  Clarendon Press, Oxford. 1940, Supplement added 1996.


Greek - English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm's Wilke's Clavis Novi Testamenti, Translated Revised and Enlarged by Joseph Henry Thayer, D.D. 4th edition, Sixth printing, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI. 1967.


“Novum Testamentum”, “Paidagogos: The Social Setting”, by N.H.Young. vol 29,  p174, 1987.


Terumot, Maaserot from Babylonian Talmud, London : Soncino Press, Chief editor I. Epstein. 1935-48.