Kingdom Tithing: Part One

Having grown up with Eli as a mentor, Samuel begins to speak for the Lord to all of Israel but doesn’t speak against Eli or his children. Samuel is well respected and listened to during his ministry, but as Samuel reaches old age, he appoints his two sons to stand as judges over Israel. They accepted bribes and corrupted their power as Eli’s sons had before them, forcing the people to cry out that they needed a king to rule and lead them. Samuel is told by God to inform them that a king over them will take a tenth of their grain and their vintage and a tenth of their flocks, among many other things (1 Sam 11-17). This carries the same tenths that were required of the Israelites, of their animals and of their fields, because God was to be their king, and they are rejecting Him as well (1 Sam 8:7-8). Samuel then finds and anoints Saul to be their king, explaining all of his rights and duties and placing him over Israel. Samuel then warns the Israelites that if they and their king serve and obey the Lord then they will be taken care of, but if they rebel or do not obey his commands, God will be against them. It is their disobedience and their rebelling against God that loses His favor and works against them during the Kingdom of Israel.

We know that in the time of the Kings of Israel there were annual tithes collected with some kind of consistency, because in 1 Sam 20:6, David is able to use the annual sacrifice of his people when speaking to Jonathan. David uses this custom of the Israelites as an excuse for his absence in the presence of King Saul, because it would be known at the time that they Israelites had to travel to the temple for this tithe to be submitted and the celebration to follow. Additionally, we know that during the reign of King David, he vows to repair the Temple of the Lord using the riches of the kingdom. This is collected in large part from offerings and from offerings of David’s own personal treasures (1 Chron 29). Throughout both Saul and David’s reign, we see burnt and peace offerings given to the Lord according to required law, especially following great battles with the riches gained therein. When Saul wins the battle against the Amalekites and their king, Agag, he destroys them and takes their best sheep and cattle to sacrifice this to God. But, Samuel tells him that the Lord would much rather have his obedience than the fat of their sacrifices. He calls rebellion the sin of divination and arrogance like idolatry, saying that the Lord hates these sins much more than he likes a sacrifice made to Him (1 Sam 15:22-26).

Even during the time of kings, God makes it very clear, both to Saul through Samuel at the start and to the later kings through his protection over Israel and His people, that obedience and faithfulness to him determines whether he will care for them and defend them from their enemies. The tithes and offerings come and go with acknowledgement of His laws and inclusion in their lives throughout battles and harvests when they turn to the Lord for blessings. It is the fulfillment of their covenant of obedience to him, however, that continually shows direct improvements in the lives of the Israelites.

Pre-Kingdom Tithing

As Joshua takes command of the Hebrews and leads them into the promised land, he follows Moses’ words and examples to renew the covenant and their commitment to God through circumcision of their children. Joshua gathers them all and circumcises them to submit themselves and their future generation to God’s promises for the Israelites (Joshua 5). The removal of the flesh would serve to separate the Hebrews once again from the people that they would encounter. He follows this in Ch. 8 with an altar of unhewn stones and burnt offerings and peace offerings as well to remind them of the offerings and tithes that were due to God. With this and the reading of the Law to all the people we know that Joshua did not let them forget the rules nor the blessings that should come to them in this land with obedience. Joshua divides the land to each of the tribes as instructed leaving the Levites out of this as they received their portion apart from the rest. Later, in Joshua 21:2, the Levites request land and cities in order to receive the tithes and offerings of the Israelite people and to live on the land with their families. Because of the quantity of offerings and tithes promised to them, they inherited forty-eight towns in total from different tribes which was portioned out to specific descendants within the tribe of Levites. The Hebrew people won and fought many battles during Joshua’s time, following the Lord’s laws and fulfilling their part of the covenant. As he was nearing the end of his life, he called the leadership together, elders, leaders, judges, and officials, and told them to keep their covenant with God, because He would protect them and bless them. He tells them directly that if they serve other gods that they will perish from the land given to them.

Following in Judges, as the generations that had known Joshua and had known the works of the Lord died off, the Israelites began to worship and follow other gods, with the hand of the Lord against them (Judges 2:10-15). Throughout Judges, chapter by chapter, each of them are tested in their faith. Their obedience directly affects their victories and defeats as the Israelites turn away from God and are killed by the tens of thousands in battles.  Throughout the book of Judges, we see a clear cycle of Sin bringing suffering, which led to crying God, to deliverance leading to peace, followed by more sin. Idolatry caused a vast majority of their falling away from God. Judges 17, for example, tells how Micah made images to worship, making his son a priest over it, knowing he was not a Levite as all priests were to be. So he paid a passing Levite from Bethlehem to stay with them and to serve as priest over the image, knowing that that was what God would prefer from them. The Bible states that in this time men did what they saw as best because they did not have a King to lead them.

While some were keeping the traditions more on a thanksgiving or requesting basis (Judges 2:2-5, Judges 11:31, Judges 13:16, etc) We have confirmation in Judges 21:19 and again in 1 Samuel 1:21 that the annual festivals and tithes were continuing to be paid by at least some of the Hebrews. While the priests were still inheriting their portions of the offerings and tithes, they took to their own rules of skimming from the animals offered in contempt for the Lord’s offerings (1 Samuel 2:12-17). At the time of Eli and his sons, there were accusations of them taking too much and making themselves fat from the offering. In 1 Samuel 4:21, the Ark of the Covenant is taken by the Philistines because the Glory of Israel had also been lost. The Ark inflicted sickness upon the Philistines because they did not take care of it according to His instructions and sent it back to the Israelites with a guilt offering to atone for their theft. Even as the Israelites welcomed it back, another seventy of them died because they looked upon it. It was Samuel who interceded with the Lord with offerings and prayers on the behalf of Israel who brought protection back to them. (1 Samuel 6:19; 7:8-11). Again we see that blessings and protection for the Hebrews came with a complete devotion to God with recognition and dedication to all the promises and the covenant between them, including the removal of their idolatry. Tithes and offerings, alongside reverence of the Lord as the one and only God, were given to God since he always fulfilled his side of the covenant.

Mosaic Tithing: Part Two

The Bible consistently makes a distinction between tithes and offerings. In the Abrahamic lessons, we discussed different types of offerings and tithes, showing thankfulness or marking a covenant, though these were exclusively voluntary and never mandated by God. These were given of a willing nature in response to God’s fulfillment of the Covenant between Him and Abraham’s family. As the covenant was being fulfilled with Israel as a full fledged nation and moving towards the promised land, law was instituted. This law formed a new relationship between God and his Chosen people. As God separated the tribes of Israel, He gave the Levites to Aaron with special purpose to fulfill the duties of the tabernacle and priesthood in service of the tent of meeting.

The law stated first and foremost in Leviticus 27:30 that a tithe of everything from the land and the herds and flocks belonged to the Lord. In Numbers 18, the Israelites are ordered to also redeem the first offspring of every human and unclean animal and sacrifice the clean animals at the tent of meeting, because all of these belonged to Him. These are “redeemed” to Him, meaning that they are traded out for their monetary equivalents to the priests in place of offering up the child, paying to keep them from God’s service.

It is important to note that eleven of the twelve tribes paid the tithes; the Levites were exempt from having inherited no part of the land or the animals in order to make a living for themselves and their families. The tithes which the Israelites give to Him are to be given entirely over to Aaron and the Levites as their wages to support them and their families for their work in the tent of meeting. In exchange, the priests were not allowed to work the land, raise animals, or serve the community or themselves for any other compensation. To serve the Lord in their priestly duties was their portion. From the tithes given to them, the priests were also required to pay a tithe themselves to the Lord. This meant that for their service they were allowed to keep 9/10 of the tithes paid by the other tribes to support themselves and their families.

There are two other primary tithes described in Deuteronomy 14:22-29: the Festival Tithe and the Poor Tithe. The Festival Tithe was the annual collection of a tenth of the produce of the fields and the firstborns of their flocks and herds and to eat them in celebration and rejoicing in the Lord. They were to eat and celebrate like this in the presence of God in order to learn to revere Him. This tithe could also be redeemed, given in coin instead of goods, but this had to be spent on something the individual would still be able to enjoy at the festival with the others. The Poor Tithe was the tenth collected every three years and stored in the towns, for the Levites, the fatherless, the foreigners, and the widows. This was to ensure that they too had food in order to share God’s blessings even with the less fortunate.

There are two very different interpretations to these three tithes in how they were enacted by the Hebrews. One school of thought is that these tithes were a singular tithe that was given to a different use each year, cycling every three years.. In this theory, the annual tithe could have supported the celebrations and still had more than enough to support the Levites year-round alongside the firstborns and the offerings and their portions. The Festival Tithe and the Poor Tithe would have interchanged in order to follow the cycle as needed, giving up celebrations in favor of caring for those who were likely struggling every third year. This would infer a constant 10th given by eleven tribes with different purposes annually.

The other main interpretation of these scriptures argues that they didn’t replace one another but stacked. This means that the Levitical and Festival tax were both levied yearly, totalling 20%. The poor tithe would be added to that for a total 30% tithe paid out on every third year. This is the position held by Jewish scholars and historians like Josephus and many others. However, it is not pronounced as such in the scripture directly. The tithes during the era of Levitical law serve to support either the priesthood or the community’s less fortunate. These funds and gifts to God as required by the law maintained the dwelling of the Lord among them and maintained the people of Israel in a manner that God asked of them, in fulfillment of His covenant with them.

Mosaic Tithing: Part One

As Israel’s children became a nation under God, He fulfilled His promise and covenant to bless them and make them numerous and fruitful. God’s people grew and expanded in the land of Egypt, under the ruling of pharaoh until they became so numerous a new pharaoh felt threatened and began to afflict them, fulfilling what God had told Abraham. The line of Abraham and their descendants were enslaved there for many generations, until God heard the cries of the Israelites and sent Moses to free them.  Once free of Egypt they continued to multiply, exceeding Moses and Aaron’s governing abilities as just two people, even with God’s help. So the Law became the provision of God’s covenant to them as a nation. God gave instructions for His people through Moses which they are to obey fully, demonstrating his power and support. Among them there are 603,550 men in the census required by God, distinguishing the twelve tribes, each with their own duties from the Lord. These laws are to be the ultimate authority and direction of the Israelites in their lives, to govern all of their decisions, sins, atonements, offerings, and judicial rulings.

Immediately following the well-known Ten Commandments, God breaks down every detail of the laws that the Israelites must follow to live under God and with God among them in the Ark of the Covenant. In order to keep the ark holy and clean for God’s presence, he required burnt offerings be made morning and evening to him and for all the people. They had to remain clean enough to come before Him and live around Him. There are several chapters dedicated to cleanliness, whether unclean through animals eaten, bodily discharges, or coming into contact with a carcass. All of these things make them unclean to be in the presence of the Lord, because He is Holy beyond their understanding and they had tobe separate from the unclean world. There were five primary types of offerings given to the Lord and his priests to be redeemed: Burnt Offering, Grain Offering, Peace Offering, Sin Offering, and Trespass Offering. The burnt, grain, and peace offerings were given voluntarily and willingly to God to both mark the days in recognition of him to express their devotion, and to atone for unintentional sins. The Grain Offering and Peace Offering (which included the vow offering, wave offering, and heave offering) were an expression of thankfulness to the goodwill and livelihood that God provided.

The mandatory offerings to God consisted of the Sin Offering and the Trespass Offering. Any sin which went against the laws of God that compose primarily Exodus 20 through the end of Leviticus in Chapter 27, with additional laws in Numbers and Deuteronomy, must be paid for or atoned according to the specific instructions that God required therein. God’s commandments for the Israelites at this time number 613, which outline almost every part of daily life. Many of these included rituals and sacrifices made at the Tent of Meeting and led by Aaron and his sons as priests and servants of God who were clean and set aside for this duty. God gives the Levites to Aaron in Numbers 3 to assist him in the extensive duties of preparation and maintenance of the Tent of Meeting. All of these offerings which the Israelites agreed to as their half of the covenant with God were given according to his instruction and wholly separate from any tithe or monetary commitment. These were the Mosaic laws that structured their daily lives and the devotion that they gave to Him as His chosen people.