Tithing (Part 2) – Tithing Under the Law


This is Part 2 of the teaching on the subject of tithing. (If you missed Part 1, click here to read). In Part 1 of this series, we established that tithing did not begin under the dispensation of the Law of Moses. Tithing began with Abraham the father of faith (Romans 3:16). The first recorded tithe was in Genesis 14 when Abraham gave tithe to Melchizedek. Tithing was incorporated into the regime of the Law. But it was a much more complex system as we shall soon see.

Why was tithing decreed under the Law of Moses? It had to do with the laws of inheritance. You see, the tribe of Levi from which Aaron the High Priest came from was designated to produce priests unto the Lord. Aaron was the great grandson of Levi. Levi was the third son of Jacob after Reuben and Simeon. Levi means “attached”. Word was his mum Leah sought attachment to her unloving husband. The Levites were not given any landed inheritance in the promise land. The Lord was their portion. ‘God said to Aaron, “You won’t get any inheritance in land, not so much as a small plot of ground: I am your plot of ground, I am your inheritance among the people of Israel” (Numbers 18:20 ).

Joseph had been divided into two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh. He took up Levi’s allocation. Ephraim and Manasseh were allocated lands in the Promise Land in accordance with the blessing of Jacob in Genesis 49. Though the Levites had cities scattered throughout Israel to dwell in. Forty-two in number. They also had cattle, herds and common land for their animals to graze. (Numbers 35:1-3). In addition they had 6 cities of refuge for those fleeing charges of manslaughter. But they had no contiguous land allocation, “province” or what we’ll call “state” today. God made up for their inheritance disadvantage with these words: “As for the tribe of Levi I will compensate them for their service in the Tabernacle. Instead of an allotment of land, I will give them tithes from the entire land of Israel.” The Levites will receive no allotment of land among the Israelites, because I have given them tithes, which have been presented as offerings to the Lord… This the Levites will share. That is why I said they would receive no allotment of land among Israelites.” Numbers 18:20-24 Thus tithing under the Law was conceptualized as an equitable compensatory system for the Levites, though plus more.

Note however that the Levites also paid tithe. They were expected to remit 10% of the tithes to the house of God: “And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when they receive tithes, and they shall bring one-tenth of the tithes to the house of God, to the chambers, into the storehouse” Nehemiah 10:38.

There were three tithes under the Law. The first is the Levitical or sacred tithe. (Numbers18:21,24). Like the Abrahamic tithe given to Melchizedek, it was given to the priests for their service in the temple. Technically, this is the class of tithe given under the priesthood of Melchizedek in the New Testament.

The second tithe under the Law is the tithe of the feasts or pilgrimage. (Deuteronomy 14:22-27). It was a yearly tithe incorporating a pilgrimage but for the pilgrim rather than the priest. “You must set aside the tithe of your crops – one tenth of all the crops you harvest each year. Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship –  the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honoured – and eat it there in his presence. In this way you will learn to live in deep reverence before God, your God as long as you live” (Deuteronomy 14:22-23). This pilgrimage tithe-feast was thus designed to inspire reverence for God, as the benefactor. If the place of worship was too far to transport the tithe for example, it can be converted to money (Deuteronomy14:25), which is then reconverted through produce purchase at the location or area of the temple. This money can be spent on whatever the appetite craves – oxygen, sheep, new wine, stronger drink… “Whatever you desire; and you shall eat it before the Lord your God and you shall rejoice, you and your household.” Deuteronomy 14:26.

The third tithe under the Law was the social justice tithe. This tithe was given every three years. “At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town. Give it to the Levite… as well as the foreigners living among you, the orphans and the widows in your town so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all your work.” Deut. 14:28. So there you have the three tithes under the Law: 1). The sacred tithe 2). The pilgrimage tithe 3). The social justice tithe

[Flavius Josephus the Jewish historian also recorded the three types of tithe. (Antiquities iv. 240; Loeb ed.)]. And so the concept of tithing under the Law took into cognizance the imperatives of a theocratic state. Church and State were merged in ancient Israel and the tithing under the Law took cognizance of this. The tithe system catered for the priest, the citizen and the socially and economically disadvantaged. You can only understand tithing under the Law within the context of a theocratic state. That is why you have emphasis on social justice apart from social security for the priests. The citizen wasn’t left out. Again we come across instruction on social justice tithe in Deuteronomy 26:12: “Every third year, the year of the tithe, give a tenth of your produce to the Levite, the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow…” Tithe in the Old Testament was thus a complex economic and social security system incorporating religious rites. But we clearly see the essence of tithing under the Law: to provide for the clergy, to facilitate the (spiritual) well being of the citizenry, to take care of the disadvantaged.

In exchange for their tithes God promised to bless his people abundantly. But not paying tithe under the Law attracted a curse. It had terrible consequences. In the Book of Malachi God laid a complaint against the Israelites about disobeying his commands. For the amendment of their relationship with God, God did certain analyses and made prescriptions: “Begin by being honest. Do honest people rob God? But you rob me day after day. You ask, ‘How have we robbed you?’ “The tithe and offering – that’s how!” (Malachi 3:8). Because the people didn’t pay their tithes or give offerings, God said they robbed him. In other words, even though the tithes were given to priests, those offerings were deemed given to God. “And now you’re under a curse – the whole lot of you – because you’re robbing me. Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provision in my Temple.” (Malachi 3:8-9). God promised that if the Israelites paid their tithes he would bless them abundantly. “Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams. I will defend you against marauders, protect your wheat fields and vegetable gardens against plunderers. You’ll be voted ‘Happiest Nation.’ You’ll experience what it’s like to be a country of grace.” (Malachi 3:11-12 MSG).

Of course we’re not under the Law, but there are principles we can glean. And we see complex progression of Abrahamic and Jacobian tithing. But the principles remain the same. What about tithing and the New Testament? Is it still relevant? We will continue our studies next week but before we look at tithe and the New Testament, we shall look at first fruits.

See you soon.

© Leke Alder | talk2me@lekealder.com