Today, we’re going to look at one of the most topical issues in Christianity -tithing! Its topicality is understandable. It is an economic issue. It has its proponents and opponents. But what does the Bible say? That ought to be our yardstick and nothing else. The Bible is our arbiter.
The first mention of tithe in the Bible is in Genesis 14:20. Tithe simply means “a tenth”. Hebrew word is “maser”. Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils of war to Melchizedek, priest of the Most High, king of Salem (later called Jerusalem). The priesthood of Melchizedek is the typology of that of the New Testament. Christians are priest-kings (Revelation 1:6). Abraham’s tithing is founded on two principles from Melchizedek’s narrative: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of Heaven and Earth… And blessed be God Most High, who has defeated your enemies for you.” (Genesis 14:19-20 NLT).
Here are the two principles: a). God is the Most High, the Possessor and Maker of Heaven and Earth. b). Abraham’s conquest was an act of grace. It was God who gave him the victory over his foes. It was in acknowledgement of these facts that Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils. And we see two key principles established in the Melchizedek invocation: the principles of God’s sovereignty, and grace. These two principles will be transposed into the New Testament in the establishment of the Church. We are saved by grace based on the mercy proceeding from the sovereign will of God! The writer of the Book of Hebrews will later reference Melchizedek and take us deeper in understanding.
In Hebrews 6:20, we see the significance of Melchizedek. The priesthood of Jesus is after the Order of Melchizedek. And in Hebrews 7:1-10, we see specific reference to the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek. As king of Salem Melchizedek is a typology of Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace. Salem means peace (Hebrews 7:2). His name also translates as king of righteousness. Hebrew: Malki se eq – “my king is righteous(ness)”. We reign as kings in life through the free gift of righteousness in Christ Jesus (Romans 5:17). Grace, grace, grace. [You’ve got to study the Book of Hebrews. It’s one of the sweetest books in the Bible!] “Resembling the Son of God”- Melchizedek is the perfect typology of Christ: no recorded beginning or ending. (Hebrews 7:3). The priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to that of the Levitical priesthood under the Law. To the extent to which Melchizedek blessed Abraham he was greater than Levi who was in the loins of Abraham (Hebrews 7:10). The one who blesses is greater than the one who is blessed (Hebrews 7:7).
This principle ought to be a lesson to Christians who struggle with the counter admonitions of Jesus. When God asks us to bless those who mistreat us it is a consequential spiritual assertion of superiority (Hebrews 7:7). As it were Levi in the loins of Abraham paid tithe to Melchizedek, and so the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater. As Christians we must come to a salient understanding of the priesthood of Melchizedek. The New Covenant is anchored on it. Our rights as Christians as well as our political access to God are predicated on it. It follows therefore that tithing PRECEDED the Law of Moses though it was adopted under the Law. The fundamental principles of tithing are thus three: 1). Tithing is an acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God. 2). Tithing is an acknowledgement of grace – we do not accomplish by our strength, it is God at work. 3). Tithing is an acknowledgment of the priesthood of Christ. He’s constantly interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25). Just like the priests under the Law paid tithe, we also pay tithe to our High Priest, Jesus the Christ (Nehemiah 10:38). These are the three FUNDAMENTALS of tithing: the sovereignty of God, the grace of God, the priesthood of Jesus. The three we can term the Abrahamic fundamentals of tithing. We will soon see the Jacobian extension. When we understand these fundamentals we will stop quibbling over tithing, and we’ll stop quibbling over net or gross.
When we tithe in acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty we submit to his claims over earth and its resources: Exodus 19:5: “All the earth is mine.” Haggai 2:8: “The silver is mine, the gold is mine, says the Lord of Hosts.” Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lords and the fullness of it, the world and they who dwell in it” (1 Corinthians 10:26). Psalm 50:12: “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are Mine” And you’re not doing God a favour: “Who has first given me anything that I need to repay back.” (Job 41:11). “Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid.” (Romans 11:35). In other words, all that you have including you belong to God. He is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth. Hebrews 7:4 is however instructive. Young’s Literal Translation gives us some insight: “And see how great this one [is], to whom also a tenth Abraham…did give out of the best of the spoils…” (Hebrews 7:4 YLT). Note the phrase, “best of the spoils”. It is corroborated by the Amplified translation: “Now observe and consider…this…to whom…Abraham…gave a tenth [the topmost or the pick of the heap] of the spoils.” In other words, Abraham gave God the best of the best as tithe. He considered any less unworthy of God.
This attitude ought to guide our giving. If we must give anything to God, let it be the best and nothing but the best. Quality matters to God. (Hebrews 7:4 AMP). Jacob had an understanding of two of the fundamentals of tithing: the sovereignty of God, the grace of God. Probably learnt tithing from the oral tradition passed on from Abraham down his lineage. In Genesis 28, we see Jacob in a predicament. He was going into exile from the threat to his life by Esau. At Bethel he had an encounter with God and for the first time entered into his own personal covenant with God. This covenant was distinct from those of his father or grandfather. Those were initiated by God.
Jacob on the other hand drafted his own terms of the covenant. He drew up the legal papers, proposed the terms. At some point, life will demand we structure our own relationship with God and not rely on that of our parents. We can initiate a covenant with God. We can draw up terms, just like Jacob. Genesis 28:20-22 NLT: “Then Jacob made this vow: “If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. And I will present to God a tenth of EVERYTHING he gives me.” Jacob thus established tithing as a basis of protection, prosperity and personal relationship with God.
Next week we will look at tithing under the Law as well as the issue of first fruits. Don’t forget the Abrahamic fundamentals of tithing and the Jacobian extension of the principle of tithing. We tithe in acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty, grace, and the priesthood. And for protection, prosperity and covenant. See you next week for continuation.
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