I’m so glad tithing was put into my heart at a young age. It has been for the most part natural to do. It’s been tough, really tough recently, and I’ve been asking more and more questions on titihing. But let’s look at it here, with some surprising twists.
What is a tithe?
Tithe literally means “tenth.” There’s really no question about that as it’s the meaning of the Word. And God asks us to bring Him a tithe with a “tenth” or 10%.
What types of Tithes were There?
Most people don’t realize that there were multiple tithes. Tithes were a natural part of worship to the Lord and honor to another. We see that Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizadek, the greater king (Gen 14:18-20). Jacob promised a tithe to God if he blessed him (Gen 28:20-22). But then there were other tithes.
1) The Tithe of the 10% of the Harvest
This is the tithe that is the 10% of the harvest of grain or fruit (Lev 27:30) and one out of every 10 animals that were born (Lev 27:32). This was to be brought as a part of worship to the Lord by the Israelites.
The tithe in this case was an act of worship to the Lord. It also made provision for the Levites who ministered before the Lord. The Levites were not given an inheritance and the work of ministry was their work. So this was the way they were provided for (Num 18:20-21).
The Levites were also expected to tithe on this. It was the tenth of the tenth. And this went to Aaron and his family (Num 18:26-29).
If a family wanted to give money instead of the animal, they could do so but they would need to add 20% to the value of the animal (Lev 27:31). But generally speaking, every tenth animal belonged to the Lord. The herd would pass through the gate and every tenth animal was selected whether it was good or bad. They couldn’t inspect it first or make a subsitution (Lev 27:33).
2) The Tithe for the Levite, Foreigner, Widow and Orphan
This tithe, also a tenth, appeared to be an additional tithe taken only every third year. Much like many churches have a special offering, this was a special offering for the poor.
Everyone was to give that additional tenth and it was to be gathered in a community area.
“Then the Levite, who has no portion or inheritance among you, the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow with your gates may come, eat and be satisfied. And the LORD your God will bless you in all the work of your hands that you do” (Deut 14:29).
Who could benefit from this fund? The Levite, the foriegner, the orphan and the widow. It was a community food bank for those individuals, supplied by everyone tithing every third year to fill it up. It was probably administered by the Levites and disbursed accordingly.
3) The Tithe for the Celebration
This tithe is perhaps one of the more surprising. Every year there were annual feasts that were to be held in Jerusalem. Everyone was expected to go and to bring a tithe to help in the celebrations.
The tithe was to be from a person’s grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of the herd and flock. Notice it wasn’t every tenth animal, but the firstborn of the herd and firstborn of the flock. It was enough for they and they family to celebrate as well as others with the very best of the land.
If the distance was too far to travel with animals, then those in the distant part of the country could exchange their goods for money, and then travel with that. And once there, they could
“…spend the money on anything you want: cattle, sheep, wine, beer of anything you desire. You are to feast there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice with your family. Do not neglect the Levite within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance among you” (Deut 14:26-27).
Yes, alcohol was there. It wasn’t a drinking to get drunk (as is condemned in other Scriptures), but to enjoy and celebrate appropriately. Food, wine, dance, worship, etc…
This was to celebrate the Lord’s goodness, enjoy one another, be spiritually renewed at the feasts, have fun with your family and more. It was of spiritual, religious, social and celebratory significance. It was a mandatory vacation and fun with purpose and purity.
God is a God of celebration.
The Questions This Brings Up
Of course this brings up a number of questions. So let’s answer a few:
1. Were these three distinct tithes?
This is a question that isn’t really clear in the Biblical account, although it is a little more clear historically. Josephus is perhaps one of the most well-known Jews who was a Roman historian that was born in the first century. He was born of a priestly family and he had this to say:
“In addition to the two tithes which I have already directed you to pay each year, the one for the Levites and the other for the banquets, ye should devote a third every third year to the distribution of such things as are lacking to widowed women and orphan children.”—Antiquities iv. 240; Loeb ed.
It seems Josephus, who was born from a father of priestly descent, makes clear that these were three separate tithes. The general tithe, the celebration tithe, and every third year the tithe to widows and orphans.
2. Are Christians to tithe?
Yes. There are several Scriptures about this. Jesus said we are to tithe and not neglect it, but to remember the more important matters of the law such as justice, mercy and faithfulness (Mt 23:23).
Additionally those who work in the ministry of the Lord need provision as well. We see this when Paul tells them not to muzzle the ox while treading the grain (1 Tim 5:18).
Furthermore we are told to be generous and remember the poor. We see this modeled in Corinthians were Paul admonishes them to give not under compulsion or grudgingly, but as one has purposed in his heart to give, cheerfully (2 Cor 9).
The principles and purpose set aside in the tithe are still present in the New Testament. Yes, we are now under grace and not law. But the law was not for us to live to it rigidly, but to see and grow in the ways of God. In fact, we should be more giving under grace than even Law.
3. Do we tithe before or after taxes?
This isn’t so clear in Scriptures because Israel was working under a different social system. They were to tithe based on their increase. For them, we don’t see a heavy tax though we surely know it was present. We read about that in Kings. So it isn’t discussed.
What we do know is that tithing was not about giving left-overs if you had that left, but rather the first-fruits. It was about giving God our very best.
So most of my life I’ve given off the gross amount, the amount I’ve made prior to taxes. And I’ve trusted the Lord for the rest. He has always provided. But am not going to lie, I’ve been sorely tried in my spirit about this lately. And you know what, I still want to tithe off the gross amount. He is worthy of the Firstfruits first.
What tithing is Not About
Tithing is not about…
- Whether you like the preacher or not
- Whether you liked his sermon or not
- Whether you go to church every now and then or not
- Whether the church has need or not
- Whether it “works” or not
We tithe as a way of honoring God. We do so out of joyful heart to Him. We are not giving to a church (although practically speaking we are), but we are giving our tithe to God. No strings. Just worship.