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Stewardship and Tithing (1)

M Browne, Bath

Tithing was a known practice before the Mosaic Law period

The practice of giving a tenth of one’s income or property as an offering to God or His representatives (the Priests and Levites) was practised long before the time of the Mosaic Law. The first recorded instance of tithing in the Bible occurs in Genesis 14.17-20 when Melchizedek, "king of Salem and priest of the most high God", met Abram after his victory over the four kings, gave him bread and wine, and blessed him with the blessing of "God Most High" (RV). It was then Abram gave Melchizedek a tithe of all the goods he had obtained in battle. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in recounting this episode, considered the Levitical priests who descended from Abraham and who appeared centuries later as having paid tithes to Melchizedek through Abraham, and this he used to prove that Melchizedek’s priesthood was of a superior order to that of Aaron’s (Heb 7.1-17). There is no recorded demand of Abraham for a tenth, and neither is an explanation given as to why Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek – it was clearly a well-known and established practice at that time. Jacob also, long before the law of Moses, promised that he would give to the Lord a tenth of all he received (Gen 28.22).

Argument that tithing is supradispensational and so applicable to the Church Age

Thus tithing was a known practice in the worship of God centuries and generations before the Law was given. When the practice was formally included in the Law of God during the time of Moses, one tenth was regarded as God’s absolute right, before any question of further offerings or spontaneous free-will gifts! The tithe was sacrosanct as God’s indisputable entitlement. Our argument therefore is that if tithing predated the Law then it is supradispensational and so not wholly inapplicable for the Church Age in which we live today. Not that tithing is obligatory in the New Testament where liberality is rather urged, but that would be the least God expects from His much more privileged people in this New Testament age. If it was God’s right under Law how much more is God entitled to a specific portion of His people’s wealth or income today under this far more privileged dispensation of grace!

1. Leviticus 27.30–32 stated that the tithe of the land would include the seed of the land and the fruit of the tree. In addition, the Hebrew people were required to set apart every tenth animal of their herds and flocks to the Lord. Every tenth animal that passed under the herdsman’s staff was to be given to the Lord as a tithe offering whether it was good or bad, thus preventing the selection of low-grade animals. The rule was clear: "One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed" (Lev 27.33, ESV). If a substitute were chosen for any reason then both the substituted animal as well as the one originally chosen was to be given as the tithe – there could be no cheating! This tithe was given to the Levites (Num 18.21) who served the Lord in the tabernacle and had no other means of income, and they in their turn were to take a "tithe of the tithes" and offer it as a heave offering to Aaron for the priests (Num 18.25-32; Neh 10.37-39). Thus the whole of Israel was involved in the ministry of the tithe.

2. When the people left the wilderness they had become lax and careless in their worship, having no crops to tithe and being limited in the way of cattle increase, and were doing "every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes" in respect of tithes and offerings because they had not come as yet into their rest and land inheritance (Deut 12.8-9). Thus, when they did come into the land a second tithe of all produce was to be taken to Jerusalem "unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there" (Deut 12.5-12, 17-18). If the distance up to Jerusalem was thought to be too far to carry their tithe then they could "turn it into money" and on arrival in Jerusalem purchase what they desired and eat with rejoicing together with their children, servants, and any Levite who was present with them (Deut 14.22-27).

3. Every third year (known as "the year of tithing", Deut 26.12) a third tenth was given which was not taken to Jerusalem but was used "within thy gates", i.e. at home, and shared out to the Levites, the stranger, widows, and orphans. It was to meet the material needs of these three classes within their society that the tithe was instituted by God. Its spiritual significance was the acknowledgment of God’s ownership of everything in the earth (Deut 14.28-29; 26.12-15).

Three times over a tithe was required from the Israelites

First, the tithe of the land, including every tenth animal of the flock and herd, was to be given to the Levites. Second, a tithe of all produce was to be taken to Jerusalem and there used for a sacred celebratory and memorial family meal, not forsaking the Levite within their gates who had no other portion than their tithe, in which they rejoiced in all God’s goodness. At the same time they would also offer such additional sacrifices, both obligatory and freewill, as their love and gratitude to the Lord motivated them in their visit to Jerusalem. Third, every third year within their own gates at home, they were to share out a further tithe to the needy "that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest" (Deut 14.29). There were to be no uncared for, or forgotten and hopelessly poor in the nation of Israel. The tithe became Israel’s national insurance against poverty.

The tithe was but a part of the total offerings and sacrifices of Israel

In addition to the tithe, the children of Israel were expected to give further offerings to the Lord. Deuteronomy 12.6 mentions, over and above the tithe offerings, "your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices…heave offerings…your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks". The redeemed people of Israel were taught the necessity of being grateful and thankful to the Lord for all His loving-kindness towards them. They were to understand that all they were and all they had belonged to the Lord on the basis of their national redemption from the house of bondage in Egypt, and therefore He had first claim upon their possessions and disposable wealth!

These offerings of Israel belonged to God as of right

The fact was repeatedly made by Jehovah that all Israel’s offerings belonged absolutely to Him! God said of the first-born both of man and beast, "It is mine" (Ex 13.1-2). In like manner the first-fruits of the land belonged to the Lord, and without delay had to be rendered to Him. God had to have His portion before ever Israel had theirs (Ex 22.29). From these Scriptures it is evident that the first-born, the first-fruits, and the tenth, were the Lord’s and that the rendering of these to Him was not giving at all, it was tithing, presenting to the Lord that which did not belong to them anyway, but which always belonged to Him. Withholding any part of the tithe therefore was, in God’s estimate, robbery! "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Mal 3.8-10).

Are we today prepared to give the equivalent of the tithe to the work of the Lord, or even to distribute it to poor believers in Third World lands?

To be continued.


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