Biblical Tithe: It’s More (and Less) Than You Think It Is
- Monday, October 28, 2013
Just to clarify, I do not interpret these verses to mean that God strikes people dead if they get too rich, or if they’re bad sharers. The context of these verses contains multiple parables which highlight that humans have no control over the hour of their deaths, and that time and nature happen to us all without our consent.
The crucial part of the parable is the shock value; the rich man’s death is unexpected. Instead of “and he lived happily ever after, enjoying his immense wealth” – the story became, “and he died suddenly in the night, leaving a barn full of riches for nobody to enjoy.” The man had more than he needed, and he knew it. Instead of giving his excess wealth to help the community, he decided to build a bigger barn, and perpetuate his own wealth. (Kind of like when we see celebrities buying ridiculously impractical houses, or more cars than they could ever keep in use.)
Jesus shows us that God hates extravagance, and that God hates selfishness. Yes, God wants to bless us. But according to Jesus, blessings from God must then flow outward into us blessing other people.
Our freedom is one to excel in goodness and generosity. It’s not freedom to live selfishly and sinfully.
Will God Really “Throw Open the Floodgates” If We Tithe?
Maybe. Maybe not.
A wisdom principle evidenced most clearly in the book of Proverbs is that “if you perform A+B, the result is C.” A good example of this is the oft-quoted verse to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). And there is, of course, an obvious wisdom principle at work here. When one observes the world, people, and patterns, one can see that this has the ring of eternal truth to it.
But we must admit that, sometimes, children do depart from godly training – however diligent their parents have been. We must admit that these wisdom snippets are not sure-fire solutions to everything life throws at us.
The recognition of this harsher reality doesn’t undermine God’s promises to us – because Proverbs 22:6 was never an unqualified promise from God to us in the first place! The book of Proverbs contains wise sayings, godly advice, passed down from fathers to sons in the Israelite community. Were those principles they observed based on God’s truth, and inspired by his spirit? Yes. But the books of Ecclesiastes and Job (which appear right next to Proverbs in canonical arrangement) explain to us that the world is a far more complicated, far less formulaic place. Job shows us that sometimes you do A+B and you don’t get C, you get D! Ecclesiastes says that God just wants us to do A+B and not worry about C at all.
With this principle in mind, as difficult as it is to swallow, let’s look at the verse in question that tends to get people so confident that the result of tithing will be boundless wealth and blessings:
“You are under a curse--the whole nation of you--because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it" (Micah 3:9-10)
This oracle was not made as a blatant promise to all Christians for all time.
This was God speaking through the prophet Micah to a rebellious, post-exilic Israelite community which was struggling to reclaim identity as Jewish people in God’s Promised Land. They were ignoring God’s laws on money, sexuality, and proper worship. God wanted to bless them and restore them – but in return he wanted their love and obedience.
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