Topic(s): Bible Study, Worship
The custom of giving a tithe, which means a tenth, to priests and kings is a very ancient custom. Genesis 14 gives the first Bible reference to a tithe. After a great military victory Abram [Abraham] gave a tenth of the plunder, or a tithe, to Melchizedek, the king of Salem. Years later, Abraham’s grandson Jacob promised to give God a tithe:
If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee (Genesis 28:20-22).
These patriarchs gave a tenth, the same percentage that the Lord required when tithing began under the law of Moses.
Leviticus 27:30-34 gave specific instructions concerning the tithe as given to the priest. The tithe, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD. The tithe included a tenth part of the seed of the land, the fruit of the tree, the herd, and the flock. As the herd or flock passed under the rod, every tenth animal was counted as holy to the Lord. The owner could not search among the animals to determine if the animals of the tithe were better or worse than the rest of the flock. He simply had to accept things as they came. A second tithe was also set aside to be enjoyed by the people in the place which he shall choose to place his name there [Jerusalem] (Deuteronomy 14:23).
Deuteronomy 14:28-29 mentions a special tithe every third year for the Levites, strangers, fatherless, and widows. Some count this as a third tithe, while others count this as a special use of the second tithe every third year. Despite the many difficulties they faced, the Jews, including the poorest, almost always paid their tithes, except for the period immediately following the return from Babylon.
Jesus spoke only one time about tithing. He condemned the Pharisees, saying, Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone (Matthew 23:23). Their hearts were not right before God, so Christ condemned their attitude.
Jesus never taught directly on tithing. It was an accepted and important of the Mosaic law, under which Christ lived. The Levitical priesthood was still in place, and the old law was in effect. Christians today, however, do not live under the old law, but the new law of Christ as revealed in the New Testament.
Under the New Testament law, there is no command for the Christian to give exactly a tenth, as was required of the poorest of the Jews. Christians must give, however, and frequently can give much more than a tenth. Paul expounded the principle of giving that God expects of the Christian: He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).