We looked at the life of Jacob the father of the twelve tribes of Israel concerning the tithe, last time. His descendants will this time be our focus. After Jacob went to Egypt because of the Pharaoh and his son Joseph who wanted him to come and live there, his descendants grew and multiplied exceedingly in the land. Four hundred years later, the Pharaoh of that time was not so accommodating to the Israelites and so they were made slaves. God remembered them and it was time for them to go to the Promised Land, which He promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But before they got to the Promised Land however, they first came to a mountain called Sinai.
If you read the accounts of the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you would see that every time before God started what would turn out to be a life long walk with them, He called them away from what they were familiar with, He would reveal a characteristic of Himself and then He would give promises to prosper them. This is what God also did with the nation Israel, only this time the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was given a much more comprehensive part to do than their forefathers had to do. It was because they were about to be taken to the Promised Land, the long awaited promise was about to be fulfilled now, and God wanted them to know what He expected of them in the Promised Land. In other words, the instructions, which they received, were for application in the Promised Land.
So at the foot of mount Sinai, they were confronted with a proposition from God and it was this, (Ex 19v 3-11 KJV) “And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.”
Like with their forefathers, God first made contact with the people He wanted to make a covenant with. This time there was not just promises but clear conditions, “if ye will obey my voice indeed”, so Israel will get to know what they were letting themselves into. Nevertheless this was their response, “And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do” It seems that Israel without even thinking about the offer long accepted everything God wanted from them, unlike with Jacob, God said what was His requirements for His promises. Therefore since our focus is the tithe let us see how God brought the tithe into the lives of the Israelites. This time unlike with the patriarchs, Israel would not bring up the tithe in the discussion, but God will.
The Tithe in the Law:
Unlike with the patriarchs, where the tithe is mentioned only two times, the tithe is mentioned about 19 times in the law (Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) according to the Bible. We discussed why that should be very briefly, but now we will take a closer look into the tithe as from the perspective of what it meant in the lives of ordinary Israelites.
(Lev 27v 30-34 KJV) “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD'S: it is holy unto the LORD. And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof. And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD. He shall not search whether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it: and if he change it at all, then both it and the change thereof shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed. These are the commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses for the children of Israel in mount Sinai.”
I found it strange to think that God kept the tithe, which we think is such a big issue, to the end of a rulebook of twenty-seven chapters and then not say much more than, the tithe of this and that is holy unto Him. It almost looks like the Israelites knew exactly what the tithe was, because unlike the range of offerings that is described to the very last detail in the book of Leviticus, the tithe is not explained in such detail. The above quoted scripture is the first time the tithe is mentioned in the Law of Moses. The tithe as understood from the quoted section would also only come into effect when they enter the Promised Land, “the tithe of the land”, the quoted section says. Because they were before mount Sinai at that moment the laws was spelled out to them, there could not have been any produce of the land and many of the laws they got, could only have an application for the land they were going to, like the law of the tithe. By the way as it would turn out, they would only see the land forty years later.
What did God say with the first mention of the tithe in the Law? Let us look at the context surrounding the mention of the tithe this time around. The context is that Israel is at the foot of mount Sinai, and God already gave them the Ten Commandments. He gave them some social laws and we will find out that Leviticus is more about ceremonial laws to keep. Nevertheless Leviticus twenty-seven, which is the last chapter of the book of Leviticus, speaks exclusively about the laws of things that Israelites vow and devote to God. Therefore the mention of the tithe in the Law for the first time concerns things that was vowed or devoted to God.
The scripture we quoted is invariably read out of it’s context, by most and nobody I have listened to, saw or took any notice of why this clause in the book of Leviticus is actually written where it is. In this part of the Law of Moses concerned with things vowed and devoted, we can learn two things.
One, anything an Israelite vowed to God was holy unto Him not just the tithe. The word for vow in the original text is the word ‘neder’ which means a promise or vow, especially to God. If anybody vowed something to God, but later wanted it back for whatever reason they had to literally buy it back from God at the price they and the priest agreed upon before they vowed it. However they also had to pay 20% interest on the original price of the vowed thing.
Two, if anybody devoted something to God; they would never be able to get it back. It was not redeemable like in the case of the vowed thing. The word for devoted in the original text is, ‘cherem’ which means a shutting in, usually a doomed object, dedicated thing. Therefore it was something that you will never get back again.
It is in this context which God put the tithe in the Law. The tithe was vowed to Him long before the Israelites came to be a nation. Jacob vowed that he would give the tithe to God, and like we saw in the last message, it was a covenant that included his descendants. The tithe falls under things that were vowed to God and as a thing, which were vowed to God, the person who gave the tithe could redeem it. Here is also a common miss conception, where it is taught that if somebody uses their tithe, they should give double a tithe the next month and add one fifth to the tithe they did not give.
What actually happened is this, in the time of the Israelites if it came to be that someone had a harvest and he did not want to give the tithe of the harvest, what he did was not to withhold the tithe and give it the next time that would have been against the law. What they did according to the Bible was actually to buy the tithe from God.
Yes, they just simply calculated what the tithe of their produce was worth, and then paid that in money terms instead of the tithe, and of course like you know by now, to redeem a vowed thing means that you should add one fifth to the price of the thing. So if you bought the tithe you did not want to give, you were actually redeeming your tithe, but if you redeem anything vowed, like the tithe was vowed, you had to add 20% of the value of the tithe to it. That was the law of redeeming your tithe.
When you redeem something you do not withhold it to give it back double the next time you can afford to do so, when you redeem a thing you give something instead of the thing you should be giving with twenty percent added to it according to the laws God gave Moses.
What is interesting about the Law of the tithe as it stands in Leviticus is that there is no penalty given if someone did not tithe, except that it would have been a direct violation of a command from God. This would of course not be a good thing to do. There was also no particular blessing coupled to it at that time either.
It is clear in the quoted section that the tithe is holy unto God because it was a vowed thing to Him. Even if the thing tithed just happened to be the bad one of the lot, if it was the tenth one, it was holy unto God. It is also clear up to now that God is only speaking to Israel as a nation and to no one else. These are the words of God as He spoke to Israel, (Lev 1v 1-2 KJV) “And the LORD called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them” Moses did not speak unto us, but unto Israel, but we will get to tithing and the Church in due time and see what is expected of us.
Let us look at another time the tithe is mentioned in the Law of Moses.
This time around the Israelites are not in front of mount Sinai, but on the move to the Holy Land. Some problems did occur though; they so sinned before God by moaning and complaining about all things including food that there was anger against them and a plague broke out amongst them and many died. Then they rebelled against God by believing the bad report from the spies they sent out to spy out the land, and this meant everybody of 20 years and older would not go into the land and the penalty was 40 years in the desert for them, also the ten men who spread the bad report was struck down and died of the plague. Then they started to moan against Moses, a certain man named Korah and others, but God struck them down, Korah and about 250 people in all died. Some time after the death of Korah and his gang, the Israelites accused Moses of his death; the Lord’s wrath was already burning against Israel at that time, so 14700 Israelites died by a plague breaking out amongst them. By this time the Israelites knew they would die in the desert and that their children younger than twenty will only enter the Promised Land. Even Moses sinned against the Lord and he could not enter the Promised Land. But God were still giving them instructions to keep and the verse we will quote next concerns our topic.
(Num 18v 21-32 NIV) “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting. From now on the Israelites must not go near the Tent of Meeting, or they will bear the consequences of their sin and will die. It is the Levites who are to do the work at the Tent of Meeting and bear the responsibility for offenses against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites.
Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the LORD. That is why I said concerning them: 'They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.' The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Levites and say to them: 'When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord's offering. Your offering will be reckoned to you as grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress. “In this way you also will present an offering to the LORD from all the tithes you receive from the Israelites. From these tithes you must give the Lord's portion to Aaron the priest.
You must present as the Lord's portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.' Say to the Levites: When you present the best part, it will be reckoned to you as the product of the threshing floor or the winepress. You and your households may eat the rest of it anywhere, for it is your wages for your work at the Tent of Meeting. By presenting the best part of it you will not be guilty in this matter; then you will not defile the holy offerings of the Israelites, and you will not die.”
The previous time the tithe was mentioned in the Law, God told Israel that the tithe is holy unto Him. This time He gives it away as it were to the Levites. The Levites did not receive any inheritance in the land so they inherited the tithe from God. It was not just their inheritance, but also their wages for working at and in the tent of meeting. A tithe of the tithe went to Aaron or the high priest as the Levite’s gift to God.
The Levites was indeed in danger of defiling Israel’s ‘holy offering’, which the tithe is called, if they did not tithe. They could die if they did not give the tenth of the tenth to God, according to our quoted section. This would be then the first consequence concerning the giving of the tithe, and it was a negative one expressly directed at the priests of Israel. It is also clear that the tithe was indeed seen as a sort of offering, and if you offer something, it must mean that it was yours first. Therefore the teaching of today is then in accurate when it is said that the tithe is not yours, of course it is an offering if you get wages which you worked for and then had to give one tenth to God. Not that it is a bad thing though, is it bad to give to God? We should just not be so ‘spiritual’ and make as if it is an easy thing to give one tenth of an income away when it could have been so easily used somewhere else.
So what can we learn from the tithe in the time of the first mention of it in the Law of Moses?
It was a holy thing to God and unto God, even though He wanted it for the Levites to use. According to the context it was written in, the tithe was holy more because it was vowed to God than what we are taught today that it proves your faithfulness with your finances. Faithfulness with finances does not feature here, the simple fact is that the Israelites simply had to give it; it was a command direct from God to them. The tithe also had a very specific recipient who had to receive it, and they were the Levites. Nobody else was given the instruction to receive tithes in the Name of the Lord. It can also be said that the paying of the Levites and priests was a holy thing to God, because they were paid with a holy thing.
Something else that is striking is that the Levites could die if they did not tithe their portion to God by Aaron or high priest, but yet again as in the previous time the tithe was mentioned in the law, there was no penalty given to a normal Israelite if they did not tithe at that time.
What I can say from the perspective of the Church is this; if you or I ever would vow to God anything including tithing, we should not try to keep our promises; we should rather just keep them and be done with it. To vow something to God is not to be legalistic, but it is something personal, and God will see your vows to Him just as important as what the tithe was to Israel, because the tithe was once a vowed thing, which became a law.
We will go on further into the tithe and the law next time.