Christ Era Tithing: Part Two Teaching at the Temple

Many of Jesus’ teachings are centered around and taught around the Temple to reach not only the religious, but the religious teachers as well. He most often used parables as a way to call out the religious leaders without putting himself in danger, while more direct teaching was used when teaching groups who did not have that authority. We see both in Mark 12, where Jesus has set himself up outside the Temple and teaches several lessons. In the first, he tells a parable of a father sending his servants to a vineyard to bring back a harvest, but the tenants of the vineyard beat and kill them. Finally, the owner sends his son to the vineyard thinking surely they wouldn’t kill his son, but they do. In this, he is able to point out the treatment of the chief priests and the teachers of the law. For the second story of interest to us, a group comes to ask Jesus if they should pay Caesar’s Imperial Tax in order to trap him with the law. But He asks them whose face and words are on the coins, and says to give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to give to God what is God’s. The most well-known story of Mark 12 however is the widow and her two coins. At the end of the chapter, Jesus watches several people come and go, paying their portions, which for the rich is quite significant. In watching them however, the first person that is worth remarking on to Him is a poor widow who gives the only two copper coins she has to her name. Jesus as we all know says that she has given more than the others, because they gave from their wealth, and she gave everything. He is pointing out that her heart is in it, that this is a willing and freely given offering. This presents a stark contrast to those who were living in wealth and gave the required percentage according to the law, whereas hers was what she wanted to give. Throughout both Moses’ time and in the return from captivity with Ezra, there is a marked attention paid to the willing and freely given tithes and offerings, not just fulfilling the requirement. We can look back to the time in Exodus 36:3-7 where the Jews gave so much that they began to turn away offerings. This poor widow gave everything willingly, knowing that no one would notice her two coins, but knowing that she had given everything she could.

Christ Era Tithing: Part One (A Living Example)

When the New Testament picks up, the Jews are under Roman rule, which is sustained throughout the remainder of the Bible. In both the entire New Testament and in many references scattered through the Old Testament, the centerpiece of all of it is the Messiah, first predictions and then in person. In close resemblance to the Prophets of the return from captivity, John the Baptist represents a new voice, teaching that they must follow the Word but also that there was a Messiah to come. There is a great distinction between the old ways and the new ways that markedly separates those who live by grace and those who continue to live by the law. Jesus Christ was to be the one final blood sacrifice, the fulfillment of all the payments and fees that God was collecting, to restore forgiveness to His people, and the law ends when He fulfills it.

Jesus’ teaching begins at the young age of twelve when his mother finds him at the Temple listening and speaking with the teachers of the law there. It is there that he demonstrates his knowledge and understanding of God’s laws for the first time recorded and refers to the Temple as his Father’s house. Following his baptism by John, he made a pattern of healing and studying on the Sabbath, which was have been considered work by the law. In Mark 2:23-28, He and his disciples collect grain from fields in their passing because they were hungry. A Pharisee accuses him of doing what is unlawful, but he answers that because they are hungry and in need that it will be permitted, as it was in David’s time. In Mark 3:1-12, he is being watched to see if he would break the law and heal someone on the Sabbath, which he does. He asks them if it is lawful to do good or evil, as though the good outweighs the idea that the Sabbath is for resting. Early on, in these small interactions, he shows the grey areas around the laws, where intention and good deed and necessity can be more important than follow every letter of the law. In some cases, however, like Luke 4:14-30, as he goes to study the scriptures at the Temple, there are people nearby expecting to be healed, because they know he is able. He tells them of moments in Jewish history when a Prophet did not heal just because they were able or was sent to save one person rather than the hundreds who needed it. While they are pleased to hear him speak of fulfilling scriptures, He is chased out of town because of their expectations.

It is this new method of teaching, of kindness and grey areas that gives us a new path to follow, rather than the letter of the law. While many thought he was abusing or even destroying the traditions of their people, he was trying to show them the love and grace God has always intended to be there from the start. That loving God, loving others, and loving yourself was to be a keystone to seeing the purpose of the law without it being a burden to all trying to live it. Jesus was doing away with the traditions, and just like today, many could not let go of the letter of the law.

Between the Halves: From Ezra to John the Baptist

Following the books of the Prophets, with the Jews once again reestablished in their Promised Land, there is a significant gap of about five hundred years that separates these stories from the coming of Christ in the New Testament. In some cases, these are referred to as ‘The Silent Years,’ but we would like to fill in some of these blanks with what we do know of the Jewish people and the faith that they clung to as they waited for this Messiah. While this period is not as closely tracked with a play by play of Biblical texts, the area was long plagued by shifts in regional owners and warring borders, as it had been for many years. During this time, the Jews could only cling to the laws that were still being carried out from Moses’ time and the newly rebuilt cities, even as the world continued to shift around them. From this, we will be entering the New Testament with much the same rules and regulations as we left off, but with a firmer understanding of their experiences and how they hung onto their faith.

Shortly after the end of Ezra and Malachi’s glimpse of life in Jerusalem, the Persian lost ownership of the territory to the invading Greeks. Alexander the Great was coming through spreading his Grecian Empire, leaving much of the local cultures intact as long as taxes were paid and they adapted to the Greek language. After his death, the land was governed by the Ptolemies over Egypt, using the area primarily as a buffer between the warring factions of the splintered Hellenistic Nations. The Library of Alexandria commissioned, with the approval of the Jewish High Priest at the time, a Grecian translation of the Old Testament, giving us the Septuagint.

The area today known as Syria was seized from the Ptolemies by the Seleucids, who forced much stricter Hellenistic integration. These new rulers sacked the temple, forbidding the people from practicing their offerings, circumcisions, and sabbaths. This spurred the people into what would be known as the Maccabean Revolution. An attempt by the Seleucids to bring about a quick end to the rebellion by executing anyone in defiance and building fortresses to enforce their rule resulted in the development of a more determinedly traditional group taking root. It is thought that this is the beginning of the group we will see in later lessons as the Pharisees, those that would risk their lives to hold to the Mosaic law. This revolution secured them 79 years of independence, in part due to the life or death dedication that the Jews had long put towards protecting their traditions. This ended when the Romans moved in and demanded vassalship, installing their own rulers over the region. Herod was appointed King of the region through the favor of the Emperor in the Senate. This half-Jewish King ruled tyrannically, which only further distanced the People of Judea from accepting their latest owners. Herod commissioned yet another Temple, hoping to quell the rebellious nation.

Despite the 500 year gap between the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible, we know quite a bit about the historical background and the power struggle over the Jewish people and their land. As ownership passed between hands, the Jews had their first translation of the Old Testament into a new language, the Septuagint, wrapping up the end of this section as it was passed along as a finished product. We have several other books and texts from the time, but these were determined much later by the Catholics to not be included in today’s standard compilation. We left off in Malachi with preparations for the Messiah and a look into what he will bring for the Jewish people. So, next week, we will jump ahead, as the Bible does, to the birth of Jesus Christ.

Post-Captivity Tithing: Part Three (God’s Prophetic Warnings)

Continuing our work through the prophets, we come to the last few mentions of tithes and blessings in the Christian Old Testament. Following in Ezra and Nehemiah’s paths, we find Haggai and Zechariah, who each served as a guide to the Jewish people in returning to the faith and dedication that they had prior to exile. Ezra mentions Haggai and Zechariah as the prophets that will lead and direct God’s people early on in Ezra 5, vouching for their importance and leadership before we even get to their designated books in the Bible. They, like the many other major figures working in Jerusalem, served to rebuke and restore the people to good standing according to the covenant they held with God, which was renewed in Ezra and Nehemiah. The restoration of the city as well as its people through the covenant and God’s protection would take several more generations before completion.

Haggai first reprimands them for the paneled houses that they have built for themselves while God’s house, the Temple, is in ruins. He tells them that for their neglect, they will face poor harvests, eat without getting full, drink but always thirsty, be clothed but still cold, and be unable to keep the money they earn. The only way to correct this, to restore the natural order, is to restore the house of the Lord, and from this, they will be blessed, once again. In Haggai 2:3-9, Haggai points out that those who remember the Temple recognize that its current state is nothing to God. He then tells them that he will bring his glory into this Temple to be greater than the Temple before.

Much of Zechariah is spent in prophecy, predicting not only a savior to come but also glory for the Jews as they will be blessed beyond Israel’s borders. In the midst of many of these stories, Zechariah pauses to call out the people who have been fasting in the fifth and seventh months. God tells Zechariah that despite their participation, they were not using it as a true dedication to the Lord. He states that they are fasting for their own reasons and that they should execute true judgement, showing mercy and compassion, not oppress those they have power over. They must stop thinking evil of their brothers and remove themselves from those doing all of the above.

Malachi starts by reprimanding the Jews once again, as the former prophets had. This time, he points out the blemished sacrifices that are being given to God, whether blind, sick, or lame. God points out that this is disrespectful to Him, just as it would be to a father, a master, or a king. Then Malachi calls on them for their treatment of marriage, by marrying foreigners of different faiths and cheating on their wives. Then God tells them that they have robbed him by withholding tithes, leaving no food for the house of the Lord. He tells them that if they give freely, that He will bless them freely, just as He has done before. There is a small and faithful remnant that will follow, but Malachi ends on the note that a savior is coming who will change the tide of the Jewish people.

We find tithing in a list of corrections, among blind animal sacrifices, marrying foreign women who worship other gods, and neglecting the Temple of the glory that God deserves. The Jews have returned from exile to their land, but they must restore not only the land and the city, but their hearts must be once again promised to God, in order to receive the blessings and protection that their ancestors were given. He asked them to take care of each other and to show mercy in all manners. For the Jews the Mosaic Law was their path to God, and tithing was one example in a list of so many others in which the Jews had failed their end of the covenant. The only way they would be blessed was through the love and dedication that God demanded of them.