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.

Post-Captivity Tithing: Part Two (Nehemiah’s Reinforcement)

The Book of Nehemiah begins to show us an additional perspective of those living near Jerusalem trying to reclaim their heritage and struggling to survive. The Jews were forced to work against corrupt officials, opposing nations, and their reputation as a rebellious nation that was loyal to their God rather than the nations who owned them. All of this weighs on Nehemiah, working as the King’s cupbearer, and he feels a responsibility to change it. His position historically meant that Nehemiah had the King’s utmost trust, as he was in charge of the drinks for the entire royal table, so he prays for favor before asking for the King’s permission to go. Nehemiah’s part in the return of the Jews to their land is to rebuild the wall and defenses of Jerusalem, to secure them while Ezra’s people can renew the Temple in its dedication to the Lord.

In Nehemiah’s prayer, he recognizes that the Jews were told if they turned away from God that they would be scattered, and only through obedience and following the Lord would their land be returned to them (Neh 1: 8-9). When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he helped Ezra in the purging and cleaning of Jewish ancestry as the heads of families were brought together to properly recommit to the covenant as a whole community. As we saw in Ezra’s story, the Law was read to all of the people, and a celebration was thrown in accordance with the Feast of Tabernacles to strike a revival of spirit and faith.

In this return of faith, they renew their covenant with the Lord for many of the priests, the Levites, and leaders of the people to sign, as listed in Neh 10.  In it, they vow to not mix with the other nations, to follow the Law that was set out with Moses, to dedicate their offerings, firstfruits, children, animals, and to reconfirm the yearly collection that would support the Temple of the Lord and the Levites who tended to it. (Neh 10:33, 36). In bringing back this annual collection of money and resources for the Levites and the descendants of Aaron, they once more promise to give one-third of a shekel, a culmination of the different 10ths during the Mosaic Law we spoke on before, in their contributions.

Following their rededication, they worshipped daily, reading the entire book of Moses to the people, beyond simply the Law, and the corruption of leadership is weeded out.  At this time, those that worked in the Temple, the Levites, were not being paid their part to support their families and their livelihoods, as the collections were being stored as treasures. Nehemiah is forced to correct this, bringing the Levites back from outside work and paying them what they are due, pulling them again away from intermarriages with other peoples. They try again and again through multiple situations to be steadfast and demonstrate God’s power in their lives, rather than giving up.

Ezra and Nehemiah worked from different directions to rededicate an entire people to the Lord, restoring first their faiths and then their obedience. As each part came together, the people, the Temple, and the wall, the Lord blessed and protected each piece. The Jews had been living so far from the law, that it was through the efforts of both of these major players that they were continually able to pull the Jews back towards God, again and again, each time they turned away. In the midst of all these changes, they returned also to a time when they had to commit more than their hearts. The Jews were required by Mosaic law to give offerings, firstfruits, firstborns, and separate from this, the annual collection of all things as a third of their harvest, not just a tenth, to support the Levites who served the Temple and were paid for their work with this monetary collection. Again, we see this contribution collected in a long list of other requirements that started first with obedience and blessing, then the maintenance of the responsibilities to the Levites and the Temple of the Lord.

Post-Captivity Tithing: Part One (Ezra’s Efforts)

Following the 70 years of exile from their lands, the Jews were granted permission by Cyrus, king of the Persians, to return to their land and rebuild their temple and walls. Their cities and land had been destroyed when they were taken away by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and then overtaken by the Persians as well, dispersing the people of Judah and Israel. The book of Ezra opens by telling us that in order for Jeremiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled, the Lord stirred the spirit of Cyrus to rebuild His Temple. He calls for all those willing to go and for others to contribute to the cause of their brethren. The  Jews give willingly and freely to Ezra and to the people who will be returning with Cyrus’ blessing as they re-realize their faith and return to God. These people had a burden to restore not just a sense of nationalism but also the worship and godliness that had been lost, causing their situation in the first place. All in all, a force of 42,360 people return alongside Ezra and Joshua the High Priest.

Fulfilling the words of Haggai and Zechariah, the prophets, Joshua as High Priest had great influence and support during the reconstruction of the Temple because of his position. It began the return of the order of the High Priest to the promised land. With Ezra acting as the politician to keep favor up for their efforts in the King’s court and Joshua as the spiritual leader, they began to rebuild the Altar and started laying the foundation for the new Temple. Their first step in restoration was to separate out the Levites of true heritage to work there and to set up the offerings upon the altar.

In fear of the hostile countries around them, the Jews offered up burnt offerings morning and evening. They kept also the feast of the tabernacles as it is written and offered daily burnt-offerings by number according to custom as the duty of every day required. Afterward they offered the continual burnt offering both of the new moons and of all the set feasts of the Lord that were consecrated, everyone willingly gave the freewill offering,” (Ex 23:16/Lev 23:33-43/Num 29:12). The people then gathered to keep the Passover for the first time since diaspora. In celebration of the Lord changing the attitude of the King of Assyria towards them, they feasted for seven days as the Assyrians came to help them build the Temple. Once more, as they restored themselves to God, He extended blessings and protections over His people.

When Ezra comes to join them, following his time in the King’s court, he brings even more people with him but finds the people there continuing to break the laws set forth by God through Moses and reinstated by Joshua the High Priest. Ezra finds the people having issues though following some of the ordinances and has to call for a time of confession. The people had failed to fully separate themselves from the neighboring nations and had once again taken wives from them, so they are forced to confess and separate themselves once again.

The Jews had been restored to their land by the efforts of Ezra and Joshua and began to rebuild the Temple and their walls with God’s protections over them. They began again the long journey to restoring the covenant between them that marks them as the chosen people, through festivals, offerings, and obedience to God’s laws, with the Levites again tending to the Temple. Though they sinned again and again, God forgave them and gave them another chance to restore their land and their covenant as they followed his laws and commands.

Exile from the Promised Land

As the kings of both kingdoms turn away from God taking their nations with them, they fell into the captivity and the reign of neighboring nations. The northern kingdom of Israel was taken by the Assyrians around 740 BCE after strong resistance. The southern kingdom of Judah remained until around 600 BCE, at which time it was overtaken by the Babylonians. In both situations, the conquering forces took the educated and skilled families from the Jews and left behind the poor laborers. Part of the assimilation of the Judeans was to feed and educate this next generation of advisors in a particular manner, there were some that chose not to follow those rules. Daniel 1:1-7. Through the simple act of not defiling themselves with the diet chosen by the king or worshipping the idols, God blesses Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah and gives them wisdom and favor beyond anyone else in this program. Because of their obedience here, and in the situation of the Golden Image, they were saved from burning in front of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. When the king sees this miracle, he decrees that no one is to speak against their God (Daniel 3:29).

Just as He had done during their wandering in the wilderness, they would find blessings from God through obedience to Him and his statutes.  We all know the story of Daniel, who like his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, his faith was questioned and tested, and he prevailed, earning the protection of the Lord.  Esther and her cousin, Mordecai, later encounter prosecution for their Jewish faith, despite the success and favor with the King, and only through their good faith and dedication do they earn protection for the Jewish people in his lands.

These accounts are there to show us that although the Kingdoms had fallen due to apostasy that God was still there for his people. By a simple act of obedience or prayer, these people could be in contact with their Jehovah in the midst of a heathen nation. There were many Prophets speaking out and calling the people back to proper worship of the one true God and their responsibility as a community of godly people. The disobedience had to be punished and brought to an end, to show that it was not okay, but God never once left his people without an answer. He required them to show their faith through their actions, to love no other god but Him, and we find no real mention of yearly tithing or the offerings that were previously given to the Temple. Those that found favor with God and were blessed and protected by Him had only to give their love and faith, without any monetary or animal payments towards Him.

The Exile would come to an end as it had been foretold along with their exile from the promised land. The children of Judah knew that God would not leave them, and their land would be restored. While the prophets foretold their exile for disobedience, they also told that God would forgive them and keep watch over them in spite of their sins (Hosea 14).

Casting Pearls Project

The Casting Pearls Project was created as a place of healing for abused women (the Pearls) who’ve left the “Message”, and it is a place for them to share their story. Matthew 7:6 gives the account of Jesus’ warning, “Do not give to dogs what is holy, neither cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you”. What the “Message” has oppressed and cast down as “byproducts”, we recognize as Pearls worthy of lifting up, encouraging, and supporting.

Many women who were former members of the “Message” will attest to the emotional turmoil they faced after recognizing William Branham’s true hostile views and derogatory statements directed towards the female gender. The first time they learned that these views applied to all women, both members and non-members of the “Message”, it was unsettling. Did all men in the “Message” share these same misogynistic views? Will my sons be raised to view my daughters and other women in the same way?

The extent of William Branham’s misogynistic views was never openly discussed in the “Message”. They were never discussed in our local communities. Our friends and neighbors had no idea we were teaching our children these things, or that when an unsuspecting person wandered into our church they would receive recordings with these views. This information was concealed so discretely that many members of the “Message” were not aware. Only the cult leaders, those who studied and promoted Branham’s recordings, had full awareness. Instead of portraying him for what he openly stated, they portrayed William Branham as the type of man who would never make such statements.

The majority of members have accepted their portrayal as fact and are not aware that William Branham made these statements. Instead, members remember the heart-warming stories of his first wife, Hope, and his undying love for her. Branham described her to his audiences with deep love and admiration. He referred to his second wife, Meda, as “Darling” and “Sweetheart”. He always acknowledged the ‘sisters in Christ’ when greeting the congregation and spoke respectfully of the women present in his meetings. Followers of the “Message” have been convinced that his statements about his wife and his greetings during opening statements were the full extent of his views, unaware of what has been concealed.

Because of this, women genuinely felt protected by the “prophet’s” teachings of headship, submission, and dress-code. William Branham used scriptures from the Bible, and the way he arranged them seemed to justify his doctrine of “women being the psychologically weaker vessel”. Eve was created last and was deceived in the Garden of Eden. Lot’s wife coveted the world. Sarah laughed in the face of God. Female members of the “Message” were unaware of the additions William Branham gave to each of these stories, twisting the words to cast blame on the female in each story.

William Branham also “justified” these instructions to show disrespect for women who didn’t follow his teachings, again twisting scriptures. Branham referred to non-cult women — both Christian and non-Christian — as filthy, dirty, immoral, “dog meat”, and devil-possessed, and worse. He claimed that heroes of the Bible, such as Elijah and John the Baptist, were “woman haters”. Women in the “Message” were so convinced Branham viewed them with the same respect as he claimed to have for his wives that they shouted “Amen” to his misogynistic quotes about the female gender. We actually praised William Branham for insulting us!

God opened our eyes. All the deception and outright lies within the Message have been exposed. As the layers of deceit are peeled away, the “protection” we felt while feeding on William Branham’s horrific views of women suddenly becomes clear. We see it for what it was. It was unbiblical, severely oppressive, and destructive. Branham twisted scriptures to justify his own personal issues with women. He manipulated women into believing they were unworthy vessels instead of glorifying them as also being created in the image of God — just like men were.

The women that Branham taught his following to condemn were the same type of women that God blessed to be in the lineage of Jesus: prostitutes and women who weren’t afraid of challenging the customs of their day. Tamar. Rahab. Ruth. Uriah’s wife. Mary. It was Jewish custom for a prophet or elders to anoint kings with oil, yet, God selected a prostitute to anoint Jesus’ ministry and body with oil. While Branham would have condemned as “dog meat”, Jesus uplifted as precious in his sight.

In the “Message” women were second class. They were trained to believe that they could not participate in major decisions, discussing their views on doctrine, or spreading the “Gospel” (the good news of Branham). Yet the Bible is filled with courageous women who led men: Esther prevented genocide, and literally saved the Jewish race. Deborah was a prophetess and a judge of Israel. Jael was a heroine who delivered Israel by killing their enemy’s commander with a tent stake. Phoebe was a deaconess. Junia was an apostle. Euodia and Syntyche were evangelists. Priscilla ministered to others with her husband Aquilla. According to Branham’s “Message”, all of these women should be condemned!

Sadly, almost all religions that oppress women have one thing in common: abuse. Throughout history, we have example after example of women being abused in religions that have oppressed them. It is a scar upon humanity. Religious leaders oppressed women, and either instructed or commended men for abusing them. The “Message” is no different. William Branham challenged men, claiming that they weren’t doing their “godly duty” if they didn’t beat their wives or daughters who weren’t submissive. Many “Message” churches teach members that female rape victims are the guilty party because their attitude or dress was what enticed their abuser.

The scripture in the Bible referring to the “weaker vessel” is describing the physical weakness of women, not mental weakness. The Bible is very clear in its instruction that women are to be treated with love and respect. Most scholars agree that to “honor their wives as the weaker vessel” was commanded to give women protection against husbands who might otherwise abuse them. It was for protection, not discrimination.

The Casting Pearls Project offers specific Bible studies of God’s view of women. It examines God’s view from a scriptural standpoint. The site has opened its door as a platform for those who were abused (whether sexually, physically, verbally, or spiritually) in the “Message” to share their story. By sharing with each other, we are strong. Others suffering abuse can read the stories and also become strong. We stand together as one strong voice, united together to protect our “Pearls”.

If you are interested in more information, you can find it on our website:

Kingdom Tithing: Part Two

            In the years of Jehoiada, in 2 Chron 22-24, following the takeover of the Kingdom of Judah by Athaliah and the murders of the royal family, he makes a covenant with the commanders to gather the Levites from among the Israelites and the heads of households. He took the Levites to protect and serve the Temple of the Lord first, observing all restrictions of who may enter and how to care for it, following the covenant with the Lord from the time of Moses. They put Athaliah to death, being careful to keep the murder outside of the Temple and then in a covenant with all of the Israelites, he proclaims that their people will be the Lord’s people again. In this, they destroy all of the altars and idols and the priest of Baal to destroy the god that was separating them from the Lord’s protection and blessings. Ahaziah and Athaliah had done evil in the eyes of the Lord and led them astray, for idols of Baal and following the house of Ahab were disobedience to the Lord. It is after the new covenant is made that Jehoiada collects up an annual tithe from all of Israel to repair the temple (2 Chron 24:5).

         Following Jehoiada’s death, each king fails the Lord in his own way (2 Chron 25:7-8; 26:18; 27:2; 28:2-3). After Ahaz, the final king of 2 Chron 25-28, his son, Hezekiah, takes the throne and immediately turns back to God and caring for the Temple. His first act is to purify the temple as a rededication, assigning Levites and priests to serve the needs of the temple according to the law. He then calls for a celebration of Passover, which had not been possible due to the small number of priests. This causes them to destroy the idols to other gods. Finally, Hezekiah sends out a  collection of all tithes of the Israelites in 2 Chron 31:4-12 that support the Levites as their inheritance in their work for the Temple. This rededication of the Temple and of His people to the covenant of the Lord and the promises and duties of the Israelites is to put them back in good standing with the Lord, not just in fearful obedience but in celebration and praise of His glory in their lives. Hezekiah and his reign are then marked by prosperity, because he sought to do everything precisely to God’s instructions and to obey Him faithfully (2 Chron 31:21). In the closing of Chronicles, we see the fulfillment of God’s promise in the establishment of a king over Israel, that all will be good if they and their king follow the Lord. However, the many kings who do evil in the eyes of the Lord set His hand against them (1 Sam 12:13-15).  The kings of Israel and their people fail the Lord so horribly, that they lose their kingdom as we will see in the next section following exile from their lands (2 Chron 36:14-23, 2 Kings 25, Jeremiah 39).

          Each time that we see the mention of tithes during the kings, the disobedience of the Israelites is called out. The people worship other gods, neglect their responsibilities to the Levites and the Temple, and marry and bear children with women of other nations, neglecting the unique heritage that God had given them. He turns away from His people only after they have turned away from Him. The use of tithing and offerings is a way of keeping their attention to God and sacrifices to Him that are given willingly and freely. The grains and animals serve to support the Levites which supports the Temple which houses the Lord, as Mosaic law dictated. Any failure of the Israelites to give of their harvest, which was blessed first by God, undermines the appreciation of what He has done for them and promises to do, if only they obey Him.

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.