Outdated Law Or
Many years after Jacob’s death his family, still living in Egypt, grew to be a very large nation. Pharaoh considered their size to be threatening and made them slaves hoping to reduce their numbers. God, however, had other plans and through a series of well-known miraculous events He delivered Israel from slavery and made them a free an independent state.
At the time of deliverance God also gave this nation what we commonly refer to as the “Law” (Exodus through Deuteronomy). These books included regulations for both civil and ceremonial law and one item included in the law was the tithe. A careful study of this material will highlight two very important truths regarding the use of tithes in the Old Testament.
One, all the tithe belonged to the Lord. Leviticus 27:30-32 says,
And all the tithe of the land, whether the seed of the land, or the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD. And if a man will keep the tithe, he will give an offering equivalent to 120% of its value. And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD.
This is a powerful statement. Not only was ten percent of all produce stipulated as the property of God but it was the actual produce that belonged to God and not just the value of the produce. If you wanted to keep the actual produce (seeds, fruit or animals) you could do so only by giving one hundred and twenty percent of the value of the tithe.
A second truth is the fact that the tithe went, not to the priests, but to the Levites. The Levites were one of the Tribes of Israel but were not allowed to inherit land as the other tribes did. They inherited forty-eight cities throughout the nation and these cities were strategically located to place the Levites in close proximity to the people for spiritual teaching and leadership (pastoral functions). In the following passage the Levites received tithes from the nation and the priests received tithes from the Levites. There are several verses that stress the Levitical ownership of the tithes.
Numbers 18:23-29 says,
But the Levites shall do the service of the tabernacle…the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance…Moreover, you shall speak and say to the Levites, ‘When you take from the people of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present a contribution from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe…you shall give the LORD’s contribution to Aaron the priest.
Note: The entire Tribe of Levi had the responsibility of teaching and leading the nation spiritually. The service of the Tabernacle was to be tended to by the family of Aaron. Deuteronomy 33:10 says, “They (the Levites) shall teach Jacob thy law…” (2 Chron. 17:8-9; 30:22; Neh. 8:9).
Another passage that supports this understanding is Nehemiah 10:37-38 which says:
…Bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor. And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes. And the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse.
The New Testament states this same truth:
And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham. (Hebrews 7:5)
Two other observations from the Old Testament, which are important to understand come from the writings of two prophets (Haggai and Malachi) who ministered to the post-exilic nation of Israel. Their ministries are separated by approximately 100 years and their messages are motivated by different circumstances but the problem they addressed was the same – spiritual neglect. Haggai ministered before the Temple had been rebuilt. Malachi ministered after the Temple and the wall were reconstructed.
In Haggai’s case the Temple foundations had been started but the worked stopped shortly after and it had been fourteen years since any further work had been done. Haggai did not accuse the people of being lethargic. They were very busy building their own houses and lives while God’s house was neglected but they were learning the hard way that you cannot make progress if you do not obey God’s principles for financial management. Haggai teaches us that it was more expensive to withhold the tithe than it was to pay it.
Haggai 1:5-6 & 9-11
Now, therefore, here is what the Lord says: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes…Here is what the Lord says: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because my house lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.
Obviously Haggai was dealing with more than just the tithe but his complaint focused on the financial aspect of their neglect.
Malachi speaks to a different set of circumstances altogether. The people are not only in the land but the symbols of their national heritage are well secured. The Temple is in place and under Nehemiah’s leadership (a contemporary of Malachi) the wall of Jerusalem had been reconstructed. These were the conditions under which spiritual growth and stability should have flourished but instead they were spiritually slack. Malachi reminds us that God’s truth never changes.
Tithing was emphasized even in the last book of the Old Testament.
Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:8-11
Tithing was in force from the beginning to the end of the Old Testament. There was never a time when it became obsolete or outdated. In the Old Testament they never had to wonder how to manage their finances. In the New Testament it has become a free for all. One part of the Old Testament which we still believe and practice, relative to tithing is, “everyone does what is right in his own eyes.”
Tell us what you THINK!AboutIt?
In Tithing, Douglas Leblanc provides much more than a narrow discussion on a traditional issue. It isn’t the same old arguments presented the same boringly technical way.
Instead, and probably because he is “no theologian or exegetical writer,” Douglas has found an intriguing way to cut to the real heart of the issue – compassion and concern for others. He shares the experiences of twelve different homes, mostly couples with the exception of one lone Monsignor, all of whom endorse tithing for a very similar reason: selflessness.