TITHING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Bible is our source of guidance through the challenging financial times our country is facing. It's unnerving to feel our security resting on a Godless world economy. It's time to meditate on God's promises. There's little we can do to influence governments' decisions, but we can follow God's assurances. Let's invite Him to partner in our financial life.
We’ve been drawn recently to re-study what the Bible teaches on the storehouse, tithing, charity, and offerings. We want to share it with you in two sendings this week: Part I-Tithing in the Old Testament and Part II-Giving in the New Testament.
When the economy tightens, gas prices are high, and some say we’re heading into a recession. These are precious promises for those who don’t put their trust in "uncertain riches" but in the timeless principles of God working with us in our daily economic lives. Our trust is in Him, our God, our rock, our salvation.
Command those who are rich in this
present age not to be haughty, nor to
trust in uncertain riches but in the
living God, who gives us richly all
things to enjoy.
(1 Timothy 6:17)
Old Testament Stories: Abraham and Melchizedek
The idea of giving back a portion of what has been given us predates the law, going back to Genesis, chapter fourteen. Abram returned from a successful raid to take back his nephew, Lot, kidnapped in a battle between several kings. Not only did Abram get his nephew back, but he defeated the army and captured all the spoils of the war. Abraham was viewing his spoils of war and potential wealth. Then Abram has a strange visitor, Melchizedek, an unusual king and priest in Genesis 14:8.
Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:
Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into
your hand. And he gave him a tithe of
Melchizedek reminded Abraham through his carefully worded blessing that God delivered his enemies into his hand, and this spoil was a gift of God and not his own doing.
Then Abram (soon to be Abraham) chose to give him a tithe of what he had gained in battle. Later, under the Old Covenant law, God commands the Israelites to tithe, but Abram was long before the law; he gave a tenth out of his own free will.
Tithing Required of Israel
Before crossing the Jordan River and receiving the promised land, the Lord instructed the Israelites to return all tithes to Him (Leviticus 28:30-32). He spoke of the offering "as precious to Him.
And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord.” (Leviticus 27:30)
In the Law, God requires three distinct kinds of tithing for Jews. First, Jews were required to tithe to support the Levite priests (Numbers 18:21-24). Since the priests were devoted entirely to serving the Lord in the temple, tithes were collected from the other tribes to support the priests.
Secondly, the Jews were required to give an additional tithe to support the three festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 12; 14:22-26). The tithes of the Jewish community funded these three key festivals.
Finally, Jews were instructed to give another tithe every third year for the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Taken together, all three tithes totaled between twenty to thirty percent of a Jew's income, depending on the year.
Where did a Jew give their tithe? In Malachi 3:8-10, a Jew was taught to tithe to the "storehouse," which meant the Temple coffers. The Jew brought his gifts to the Temple, and the Temple authorities distributed the funds according to God's Law and direction. Under the Law, the Jew was not free to decide for himself where to direct his tithing but always had to give it to the Temple.
Before crossing the Jordan River, the Lord instructed the Israelites to return all tithes to Him (Leviticus 27:30,32). He would "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" (Numbers 18:21). The Levites also were instructed to tithe (verse 28).
Imagine the Levites looking over into the promised land, knowing those who entered would have great prosperity and riches. Yet, they and their children would have nothing.
The Levitical priests—indeed, the
whole tribe of Levi—are to have no
allotment or inheritance with Israel.
They shall live on the food offerings
presented to the Lord, for that is their
inheritance. They shall have no
inheritance among their fellow
Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance,
as he promised them.
The entire lives of the Levites was an offering. God was the focus of their service, the source of their sustenance, and the significance of their calling. After the conquest of Canaan, the Levites, given the fact that they were to "have no allotment in their land," nor "any share," lived in scattered areas, usually near one of the forty-eight specially designated cities (Numbers 35:6).
For the Israelites, the temple was sacred. Heaven and earth united there. It was a visible symbol of God's desire to live among them. They wanted to support the priests and others who worked to provide them with a physical sign of God's presence. They believed the natural world came from God, and their material and spiritual concerns were balanced when they brought their offerings and tithes each year.
Multiple verses in the Bible talk about elements of nature stored up in God’s storehouses. For example, rain is one weather element in God’s “storehouses,” impacting Israel’s crop production ability. For instance, Deuteronomy 28:12 mentions God opening the storehouses of heaven to give rain to the Israelites if they obeyed His commandments. However, if they disobeyed His commands and turned away from Him to chase after other gods, the Lord would “shut” His storehouses, and drought would come upon the land of Israel. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 23-24).
Then all peoples of the earth shall see
that you are called by the name of the
Lord, and they shall be afraid of you.
And the Lord will grant you plenty of
goods, in the fruit of your body, in the
increase of your livestock, and in the
produce of your ground, in the land of
which the Lord swore to your fathers to
give you. The Lord will open to you His
good treasure, the heavens, to give the
rain to your land in its season, and to
bless all the work of your hand. You
shall lend to many nations, but you
shall not borrow. And the Lord will
make you the head and not the tail;
you shall be above only, and not
be beneath, if you heed the
commandments of the Lord your God,
which I command you today, and are
careful to observe them. So you shall
not turn aside from any of the words
which I command you this day, to the
right or the left, to go after other gods
to serve them.
Curses on Disobedience
When you read the remainder of Deuteronomy 28 after the blessings come the curses. We see there were strong motivations for the Jews to tithe. But God had made his requirements clear, and they all agreed and said, “All this we will do!”
There is no surprise, then, that God would often send drought upon the land of Israel when they disobeyed Him and chased after idols. For example, a three-year drought impacted the land during Elijah’s ministry under the reign of the wicked King Ahab and his pagan wife, Jezebel.
Because God was withholding rain, Israel suffered from famine since their crops could not grow. Many Israelites worshiped Baal during this time, who supposedly had control over storms and rain (1 Kings 18:2;18-19).
While He has set natural laws into place, God does and can act in His creation by opening and closing His “storehouses” of rain, snow, hail, wind, and waters of the deep. What He has done in the past will be done in the future. (Revelation 6:12-17; 11:3-6; 16:21)
Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, God spoke of their neglect of the temple and their robbing of God. Ironically Malachi was the last Old Testament prophet God spoke through, and his last words were of tithing. It would be four hundred years before God would speak through the gospels.
Warnings in Malachi
Between Nehemiah's two terms as governor, the people lapsed into apostasy and stopped returning the tithe. Upon his return, Nehemiah remonstrated with leaders and people for neglecting the house of God. They repented and re-instated the tithing system. (Nehemiah 13:11-12).
God was particularly outraged and spoke during this time through the prophet Malachi, calling on His people to reform corporate and individual lifestyles.
“Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, 'How are we robbing you?' In your tithes and offerings". (Malachi 3:8)
Where was the storehouse? Clearly, it was the Temple in Jerusalem. God then speaks about the tithe through his last Old Covenant prophet Malachi and reveals two huge promises attached to the spiritual act of tithing. Listen to what he says.
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And try Me now in this,
'If I will not open for you the windows
of heaven and pour out for you such
blessing that there will not be room
enough to receive it. And I will rebuke
the devourer for your sakes, so that he
will not destroy the fruit of your
ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear
fruit for you in the field,’ says the Lord
of hosts, (Malachi 3:10-11)
It’s as if God says when we tithe, it unlocks the spiritual realm that enables God to start taking action on our behalf. The first thing that happens is that God can open up the windows of heaven and begin to pour additional financial blessings into our lives if we’re willing to receive them. Then God steps in and actively rebukes the devourer to keep our finances from being drain