We spoke about the three different scenarios of tithing that is represented in the Old Testament last time and discussed what Abraham did. This time we will take a closer look at what Jacob, the grandson of Abraham did and what we can learn from him concerning the tithe.
As you will well know, the patriarchs of Israel was Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but of Isaac there is nothing said concerning tithing, so we will jump right to Jacob. Jacob is not the most attractive man to read about in the Bible, since he dealt deviously with his brother, and he certainly did not fall into the David category who was something of a hero. But deep down in his character God saw someone that will eventually be the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Bible says that God loved Jacob, but hated his brother, Malachi 1v 1-3, so if the brother was pleasing to man from the outside, he was certainly not pleasing to God on the inside.
After Jacob stole the blessing of his father from his brother, he had to flee for his life and went out on his own for the first time in his life as far as we can determine from the Bible. Up to then Esau was the one who was the hunter and could do anything he wanted to do and Jacob was happy with just tending sheep and staying at home. The Bible calls him a ‘plain man’, actually the Bible says that Jacob was his mother’s favorite son and Esau was his father’s favorite son, Genesis 25v 28. Of course such favoritism amongst parents is not good even though it is recorded in the Bible.
However, as Jacob went out on his own for the first time, He did something you will not expect of him, since by then you would have thought of Jacob as a backstabber and not think he would amount to much. But somehow he remembered God, actually God reminded Jacob of Himself. But be that as it may, this is what happened:
(Gen 28v 12-22 KJV) “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”
God came in a vision to Jacob one night and made promises to him, but Jacob felt that he wanted to give from his side also so he made a vow to God in return. This vow or covenant like I see it was not initiated from God’s side as far as we can gather from the portion of scripture we quoted, but from Jacob.
The reason I believe Jacob made a covenant with God that day is because if you go to Genesis 31 this happens, (Gen 31v 44-48 KJV) “Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee. And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar (just like he did with the vow to God). And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap. And Laban called it Jegarsahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed. And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed” This was a covenant between Jacob and his father in law and Jacob did the same sort of thing at Bethel where he took a stone for a pillar and made a vow to God.
Some people does not like Jacob’s attitude when he made the vow he made to God. But if we read the quoted section we will see that these are God’s words, “I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac:” note, not the God of Jacob or your God. This was because Jacob did not have a covenant with God at that time. If we read the Bible and the story of Jacob, you will see that it does not describe an encounter with God up to the time of his encounter we quoted before. Note Jacob’s words, “then shall the LORD be my God” what does that tell you? God will not be his God until that time he makes God his God. Just because you are born into a believing family does not make you a believer; each one has to consciously make God his/her God, like Jacob did, his father and Abraham before him.
Let us look at Jacob’s words:
(Gen 28v 16-22 KJV) “And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”
With ‘seeing’ God and experiencing God at Bethel, Jacob was moved to make a vow to God. He saw that the literal place where he was; was not just a city called Luz, but a place where God chose for His house to be that is why he called it Bethel, which means the house of God. Jacob was so touched by God’s presence and His words that it prompted him to covenant with God there. I say covenant because this is what happened, Jacob, took a stone, this would be for a memorial of what happened there. Then he poured oil on the stone, this would be for a covenant sacrifice, and then he made a vow or promise to God, like God made a vow or promise to him the night before. Some people might have thought that they were just dreaming, but Jacob’s faith in what he saw is very apparent that he believed beyond a doubt that God actually spoke to him the night before.
Jacob was not the type of man we think he was, he was a man who understands covenant. By this I mean that he heard what God said, and interpreted it as promises of a covenant and so he bound himself into a contract to give of himself also. Suddenly Jacob does not look like a backstabber after all. Besides there is no covenant where one gives only and the other receives only, covenant is where both parties work together for the betterment of both. How many of us will do what Jacob did? After someone tells us they will give us things without having to do anything, we insist on doing something for them in return? It was not like God needed Jacob’s tithe was it? It was Jacob wanting to be in partnership with God and wanting to be part of God’s plan. God did not specify anything He wanted when He gave Jacob the promises, but Jacob apparently felt that he wanted to add some stipulations to the promises God made to him, for himself to keep.
What we can say is that Jacob accepted the promises God made to prosper him, and then said what he was prepared to do from his side to prosper God and this would be:
1. The Lord God Almighty will be his God.
2. That he will establish a house, temple or family for God, this would be what the word for house in the original language means, amongst other usages.
3. That of all God gives him he will tithe on.
Why anybody would freely bind himself to be taxed would only be explained much later, after God shows us His purpose for the tithe that Jacob vowed to give, but we will discuss that in the next article. I believe that God would have been good to Jacob without him doing much in return for Him. The fact is that if you read the life story of Jacob, you will see that he does not really do much for God until very late in his life. What he certainly did was to rely on God to do what He promised at Bethel. And when you come to the end of Jacob’s life in Egypt, as he spoke of the goodness of God, you will notice what an outstanding man of God he became in the end. This was because of his covenant relationship with God. The Bible does not say if Jacob ever tithed of what he promised to tithe, or if he did how he did it. But one thing we know is that he was certainly a very rich man after leaving Laban his uncle. Not only was he blessed, his uncle became a blessed man also just because he, Jacob, worked for him, Laban. This is of cause to be expected seeing that God told Jacob, “and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed”, that would of course include his uncle Laban who saw that he was a blessed man because of Jacob, (Gen 30v 27 KJV) “And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the LORD hath blessed me for thy sake.”
Coming back to Jacob’s promise, if you read the Bible you would know that God holds us to our promises, (Eccl 5v 4 KJV) “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.” And (Eccl 5v 5 KJV) “Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.” The Bible actually states that God remembered Jacobs vow, (Gen 31v 13 KJV) “I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.” Therefore I would think that somewhere along the line Jacob would have paid his vows if he had a close relationship with God, which he indeed had at the end of his life. And if you would read what God caused Jacob to receive while working for his uncle, you would see that God also kept His promises, and now in the third quoted section above, God was about to take Jacob safely to his parents house just as Jacob wanted God to do in the stipulations which he Jacob wanted God to perform for him.
I must say that we must not think that God’s blessings can be bought by giving Him a tithe. God says that He blesses whoever, He says in, (Exo 33v 19 KJV) “And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” We should not tie God into our little formulas; He does whatever He wants to do and will bless people who you think do not deserve blessing. Have you ever thought that unbelievers, who do not believe what the Bible says, also receive blessings from God? If you do not believe in the Bible, you certainly do not believe in the tithe, and yet God says, (Luke 6v 35-36 KJV) “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” What does that mean, it means that God does not curse and cause those who do not believe in Him to be failures just because they do not believe in Him.
After Jacob have died and many years have passed, God said this to Moses, (Exo 3v 6 KJV) “Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Note that God says that He was the God of Jacob also; therefore Jacob certainly kept his vow to God and made God Almighty his God. We will not read that Jacob tithed but he certainly made God his God and established the twelve tribes of Israel, which was God’s ‘family’ and he was a very blessed man.
Many years later God gave Israel this commandment, "And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation." (Num 18v 21 KJV) Why do you think God says as an inheritance? You can only inherit from somebody who put you in his will, and the one whose will it is must own the things given as inheritance. Therefore God owned the tithe in Israel if He gave it as an inheritance. Do we have to ask why He owned it? Did not Jacob vow to give to God a tithe of all that God would give him? Now comes the interesting part, what did God give Jacob? Answer; let us quote a scripture, (Gen 28v 12-13) “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;”
God gave Israel the land on which Jacob slept that night; this land was part of the land that would be called Canaan in the time when Israel left Egypt. However because Israel was given the land God promised to Jacob, who of course become Israel, He, God would also be entitled to the tithe of that land, because He was promised a tithe of everything that He would give Jacob. Notice God’s words, “the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;” the land was Jacob’s first and then many, many years later, his descendant’s. God did not have the right to ask the tithe because He is God; He had the right to ask the tithe because He was promised a tithe, not only of the land, but also of everything else that He would give to Jacob who became Israel.
Is it not unfair for the descendents of Jacob to be asked to tithe? No, if you are the father who made a covenant with God, your family will also be taught to do what you vowed to do and then they will teach their families and so on. Not only will your family be taught to do what you vowed, but also if you have a covenant with God, He never excludes your family does He? If you are in a covenant, your family will be part of the covenant with God. Let us quote the same scripture again, “the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;” the children of Israel was included in the covenant. That is why God says boldly these words, “I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel”. God had the right to give the tithe to whomever He wanted. Did He keep it for Himself, no, He asked the tithe of the Israelites, only to give it back to the Israelites, why? Because there was twelve tribes and only eleven got an inheritance of land that was promised to them by God. Why is it that only eleven tribes got an inheritance? Well actually all twelve tribes received an inheritance, eleven got the land and one got the tithe of that land, that would seem fair don’t you think. The Levites were to work as priests before God and because God did not want them to work for Him while also maintaining a regular job, He gave them the tithe of the produce of the land of the other eleven tribes.
God kept His promises to Jacob, right to the last one, even though Jacob would not live to see them all fulfilled. But God did not only keep what He promised Jacob, He also did what Jacob asked from Him. And when the Israelites went into the land of promise, they were under an obligation to do what their Father Jacob promised, and because he kept at least two of his promises, they as they entered the Promised Land, were made to keep the last one which was the promise to tithe of what God would give them.
What can we learn from the life of Jacob concerning the tithe? It would be this, that after he mentioned it once, it will not be mentioned again just like in the case of Abraham. It does seem though that it was an aspect of lifestyle at that time because why did Jacob brought it up in the first place and his grand father also practiced it at least once with no explanation given. It seems that it was not so important that it had to be mentioned again by God. Jacob’s life shows you more the goodness of God than how important the tithe was. The tithe certainly played a role since Jacob deemed it necessary to mention it in the first place though. But the tithe does not dominate Jacob’s life, as it did not Abraham’s as far as we could gather from the Bible.
Did it play a major role in their prosperity, if the Bible’s silence about it is anything to go by, it does not look like it did, but to be fair the Bible does not say it was or was not part of their prosperity. It must also be noted that the tithe is not mentioned in the life of Isaac. It certainly shows that there was no overbearing focus on the tithe at that time. But as we will see in the life of the nation of Israel, the tithe played a much bigger role as opposed to what happened in the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and where the Bible does not mention the tithe much in the lives of the patriarchs, it is certainly not silent about it in the lives of the nation Israel.
Like I said last time, Abraham gave a tithe out of a heart to give, Jacob on the other hand, would tithe after God does what He said He would do and after He would do what Jacob asked of Him to do. You might not like Jacob’s way of tithing, but God did not have a problem with it, because He did all, which Jacob demanded of Him. You have two examples of tithing now, which you can apply if you want to. One; give a tithe with no strings attached, and the other with definite stipulations. I would counsel you to give to God freely though and not vow anything easily, because we have a knack not to keep our promises.
You might not realize this, because religion has a way to get your focus away from God and on to ritual, but you can still vow to God to give anything to Him you want to give including the tithe. Yes you can still give one tenth of your income to God if you want to, but do not let other people decide for you! If you do not tithe now, do not feel like an outcast. If you have a relationship with God, you two work it out, and ask those who pressurize you just to relax, until you and God have sorted the issue out.
Life is about relationship with God and not about pleasing people.
We will take a look at the tithe and the Law next time.