Now we are getting into the meat. Tithing is fully developed in the pages of the Law God gave to Moses. In the pages of the law we will find that there were two tithes for two specific purposes. Neither of which is applied by tithing proponents today. In fact, tithing proponents promote tithing based on a faulty understanding of the Mosaic tithe. This faulty understanding is not limited to Pentecostals and Word-Faith adherents, but has also been taught by some highly respected pastors and Bible teachers. In this post we will examine what the purposes of the tithe were under the Mosaic Law. The reason we go to the Mosaic Law is that the Law made tithing mandatory, and that the Law gives us the passage of full mention regarding the tithe. The tithe must be understood in light of the Mosaic law, and it is this lack of understanding that plagues modern evangelicals today in their misunderstanding of the tithe.
The first misconception that is commonly tossed about concerning the tithe is that it was a way for the nation of Israel to support the Levites. Rather it was designed to support the Israelites during their celebration of the Festival of Tabernacles (Exodus 23:16; 34:22). As one studies the tithe in the Law, one finds that the tithe was on a three-year cycle. In two of the three years, the tithe was consumed by the tither and his household. The tithe was enjoyed during the family’s trip to Jerusalem for the Festival of Tabernacles. The third year tithe was the only tithe that was to be given away. This understanding of the Mosaic Law tithe is confirmed by modern Jewish scholarship. The ma’aser ri’shan, or first tithe was given to the Levites. The ma’ser shani, or second tithe, was consumed in Jerusalem. These tithes were not simultaneous. This is important because there are pastors who have and are teaching this misconception (more on this in a future post). In modern vernacular the primaray purpose of the tithe was “vacation pay.” Deuteronomy 12:5-19 gives us the details of the proper use of the tithe during the Festival of Tabernacles. According to Scripture, the tithe was to be brought to Jerusalem and consumed by the tither and all in his house as well as shared with the Levites and the poor.
Deuteronomy 14:22-27 gives us an even clearer picture of the use of the tithe. It addresses the issue of Israelites that live too far away from Jerusalem to transport their tithe of the harvest to Jerusalem. According to verse 26, they were to sell the tithe of their crops, go to Jerusalem, and buy whatever their hearts desire (this is so important that it is stated twice)! They are then to consume the goods purchased with the money from the tithe of their crops in the presence of the Lord, and rejoice! The Israelites were not just to consume their tithe alone, but they were mandated to share their tithe with local Levites, widows, orphans and strangers (verse 27).
The Festival of Tabernacles (Booths)
Essentially, this feast served two purposes. First, it was to commemorate the 40 years between their exodus from slavery in Egypt and their entrance into the Promised Land which Israel wandered in the desert. The Israelites were to make booths out of the foliage of the beautiful trees of creation. It was done in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar (which corresponds to our September/October) at the end of the harvest. It also served as a time of relaxation, rejoicing and enjoyment of all the hard work that went into the harvest (Deuteronomy 16:14-15). The Israelites were given the opportunity to indulge themselves in whatever their heart’s delighted in. As I have mentioned before no one was left out of the celebration.
This feast was another way in which Yahweh distinguished the worship of Himself from those that worshipped false gods in the nations surrounding them. Those feasts, usually dedicated to the fertility gods and goddesses were marked by greed, drunkenness and immorality. As I have mentioned before this was how the Israelites were to use their tithe during two years of the three-year cycle mandated by the Mosaic Law.
The Third Year Tithe
According to Deuteronomy 14:28-29, the entire third year tithe was not taken to Jerusalem and consumed by the family, but was left at the city gate. This tithe was to be consumed by the Levite, widow, orphan, and those that had no harvest. This law was repeated in Deuteronomy 26:12-13. Verse 13 calls this portion “the sacred portion”, in other words, this tithe belonged to the Lord. This tithe was significant because it was designated for those that looked after the spiritual lives of the Israelites. Yahweh had graciously seen to the needs of those that looked to Him for their sustenance.
This is important because God promised the Levites sustenance (Numbers 18:20). God also promises to care for the widow and orphan (Psalm 146:9). Therefore only they that looked to God as their sustenance could partake of “the sacred portion.”
The Sacred Portion
The reason why the Levites only received one-third of the nation of Israel’s tithe is because they, as a tribe, represented, at best, 1/30th of Israel’s population. Therefore if the Levite’s received an annual tithe they would receive an unfair portion of Israel’s inheritance. Further, this tithe was also subject to a further tithe. The Levites were to pay tithe to the priests that were working in the temple of Yahweh. Interestingly, it is this tithe that is subject to the curse in Malachi chapter three, but that is for another post.
The other purpose of this third year tithe was to benefit the widow, orphan and alien resident in Israel, i.e., people without an inheritance. This tithe, however, was never to be the main source of substance for these people. Their share of “the sacred portion” was to supplement them so that they too had a time of abundance. The Law made two ways of support for those without a provider. One way was gleaning at harvest time (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:19-22). We see Ruth and Naomi make use of this provision to provide for themselves (Ruth 2:2, 23). This provision, however, was temporary, and also demonstrated that those without support were not to sit around and get hand outs, but were to put forth some sort of effort to support themselves. The permanent measure laid out in the Mosaic Law was the kinsman redeemer (Ruth 3:1-2, 9 & 13). Yahweh loving provided a way through which relationships could be formed and inheritance reincorporated back into a household (Psalm 68:5-6).
In summary, there were two separate tithes mandated by the Mosiac Law. The first was as a provision to Israelites as the celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. During this feast, the tithe was to be consumed by the tither and his household as well as shared with the Levites, widows, orphans and those with no harvest. This was done for two years. The second tithe or “sacred portion” was taken to the city gates where it was consumed by the Levites, widows, orphans, and aliens. The purpose of this tithe was to insure that these people had a time of abundance.
It is important to repeat that the main purpose of the tithe was not to support the Levites, but for the enjoyment of those that worked for their harvest. This element of tithing is something that is consistently ignored by tithing proponents. I firmly believe that most tithing proponents are not motivated by greed, but are simply parroting traditions that they have learned. Sadly, these tithing proponents have made giving to the church an obligation rather than a joy. It is my hope and prayer that those who continue to promote tithing would look at scripture and make the appropriate changes in their fund-raising activities.
Next time on the Jude3blog, Tithing and the Malachi Curse.