Biblical Tithe: It’s More (and Less) Than You Think It Is
- Monday, October 28, 2013
Read the passage below to see an example of the process of Israelite tithing:
“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 14:22-29).
Some interesting things to note:
1. The Israelites offered foodstuffs as tithe, so that the food could be distributed to those with no land (foreigners, widows, orphans, Levites). This action symbolized how God had given land to the Israelites when they had none of their own.
2. The Israelites participated in the feasting of their own tithes! The sacrifices were presented and then eaten joyously by everyone present. This feast represented the goodness and bounty of the land God promised to the Israelites.
3. The whole tithing process (like essentially all Jewish feasts and celebrations) was enacted in remembrance of the LORD’s goodness.
These passages, by inference, also insinuate a few more things that might not initially come to mind:
1. Because of how often the Promised Land is repeated as the location for those who are commanded to tithe, it really only makes sense to deduce that those living outside the Promised Land were never under an obligation to participate in the system of the mandatory tithe. Many times, Mosaic Law dictates that the tithe was instituted as a Law because the people lived in the Promised Land.
2. Because the text so clearly specifies that tithe is meant to come from produce and livestock (because the end result of the tithe system was a great feast and other food distribution) we can infer that merchants, artisans, and other Israelites who didn’t have flocks or fields were exempt from the tithe. No instructions are given about the tithe except as it relates to animals and grown food. The Mosaic tithe is explicitly a food-based system, not an income-based system. Monetary giving, while a Scriptural concept, is totally different from the institution of tithing.
We’ve discovered some interesting ideas so far. Looking closely at the Old Testament Law, the mandatory tithe seems to be a distinctly Jewish system, for a specific time and place (the Promised Land) as a way of remembering God’s goodness and of keeping poorer members of society nourished and cared-for.
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