A CLOSER LOOK AT TITHING
By: Victor T. Stephens
"People often claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it's served up."
~ George R.R. Martin
The Temple and Tithes
In the church today, pastors make use of the tithe to pay wages to themselves, pay administrative costs, and construct larger buildings. As we recently learned, the tithing system under the Mosaic Law was not employed in like manner; nor did the tithe consist of money. Rather, tithes consisted of certain food products that were used for festival celebrations; and used for supporting the Levites, the fatherless, strangers, and widows. By comparison, the Old Testament temple was supported by generous freewill offerings and the temple tax (Exodus 30:12-16). Let’s examine the following verses:
1. "And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem." (Ezra 1:4)
2. "The children of Israel brought a freewill offering to the Lord, all the men and women whose hearts were willing to bring material for all kinds of work which the Lord, by the hand of Moses, had commanded to be done." (Exodus 35:29)
3. "Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and they brought the Lord's offering for the work of the tabernacle of meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments." (Exodus 35:21)
4. "Some of the heads of the fathers' houses, when they came to the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem, offered freely for the house of God, to erect it in its place: According to their ability, they gave to the treasury for the work sixty-one thousand gold drachmas, five thousand minas of silver, and one hundred priestly garments.” (Ezra 2:68-69)
5. "and whereas you are to carry the silver and gold which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem; and whereas all the silver and gold that you may find in all the province of Babylon, along with the freewill offering of the people and the priests, are to be freely offered for the house of their God in Jerusalem." (Ezra 7:15-16)
These verses of Scripture (and there are others) clearly illustrate that support for the temple came from people who gave freely, cheerfully, and willingly. They made their own decisions as to the amount they were going to donate. Unlike today, there were no tithing schemes; and there was no high pressure, manipulative, fund-raising tactics involved. Moreover, there were no competitive contests among the people to see who could raise the greatest amount of money. Rather, they were motivated by love for God and His people.
The temple was also funded by a tax taken during a census registration (Exodus 30:12-16). This tax was a half shekel, which was equal to two days wages. During the time of Nehemiah, the temple tax was paid yearly and was equal to one third of a shekel (Neh. 10:32). These taxes were paid by every man 20 years of age and older.
In summation, there were two categories of giving for the support of the temple: Free will giving and the mandatory temple tax. As aforementioned, the tithe was only associated with festival celebrations and supporting the Levites, fatherless, strangers, and widows with food. These people never received monetary tithes, nor were monetary tithes ever utilized for sustaining the temple. Let's also take into consideration that the temple no longer exist; but has been replaced by the body of each believer (Matthew 26:61; 27:40; 1 Cor.3:16).
Firstfruits and Tithes
Many false teachers behind the pulpit will employ coding tactics to various scriptures to secure an incessant cash flow. Another aspect of their monetary control agenda involves the interchangeable use of firstfruits and tithes. They attempt to form a link between the two terms in order to extricate the first ten percent of one's gross financial income. Their beloved verse is as follows:
"Honor the Lord with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase; ...." (Proverbs 3:9)
Reading into the verse what it does not say, tithing advocates render Proverbs 3:9 as:
"Honor the Lord with your money, with the first ten percent of your gross financial income." (Twisted Version)
While money can be classified as wealth, the meaning of "wealth" from a biblical perspective can be defined as “all possessions of value”. In addition to paying tithes from herds, flocks and produce as required by law, the ancient Israelites honored God by giving him an array of various offerings. Thus, honoring the Lord with one's possessions are separate deeds apart from tithing laws. Similarly, the concepts and statutes regarding firstfruits are distinct from the legislations of Mosaic tithing. For example:
1. In ancient Israel, firstfruits were some of the choicest first ripened crops and fruits offered to God. There were no specific percentages attached to the giving of firstfruits. (Deut. 16:10; 26:2).
2. Tithes were paid to Levites, the fatherless, the stranger, and the widow whereas firstfruits were paid to the Levitical priests. The Levites who received tithes paid a tithe (tithe of the tithe) to the Levitical priests. Bear in mind that all priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests.
The only similarity between firstfruits and tithes is that they are both food substances. Likened to the tithe, nowhere does the Bible state or illustrate that money was paid in the form of firstfruits.
Let's examine the following passages:
"And it shall be, when you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground, which you shall bring from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide. And you shall go to the one who is priest in those days, and say to him, 'I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the country which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.' Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God." (Deut. 26:1-4)
Take note that Deuteronomy 26:2 says "some of the firstfruits" rather than "a tithe" or "a tenth". And it was the priest, not the Levites, who received firstfruits.
"to bring the firstfruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities." (Neh. 10:37)
"The best of all firstfruits of any kind, and every sacrifice of any kind from all your sacrifices, shall be the priest’s; also you shall give to the priest the first of your ground meal, to cause a blessing to rest on your house." (Ezekiel 44:30)
These two verses demonstrate other examples where firstfruits were given to the priests, not the Levites.
"And at the same time some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions specified by the Law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who ministered." (Neh. 12:44)
"Moreover he commanded the people who dwelt in Jerusalem to contribute support for the priests and the Levites, that they might devote themselves to the Law of the Lord. As soon as the commandment was circulated, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain and wine, oil and honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything. And the children of Israel and Judah, who dwelt in the cities of Judah, brought the tithe of oxen and sheep; also the tithe of holy things which were consecrated to the Lord their God they laid in heaps."
(2 Chr. 31:4-6)
Notice that Nehemiah 12:44 makes a distinction between tithes and firstfruits. If firstfruits were already synonymic with tithes, there would be no need to allude to tithes in this verse. Appropriately, the Israelites were to bring their firstfruits to the priests, whereas, their tithes were payable to the Levites. Similarly, in 2 Chronicles 31:4-5, the portions due to the priests and Levites were the firstfruits and tithes respectively. The Israelites gave their firstfruits to the priests and their tithes to the Levites.
Subsequently, as previously mentioned, the Levites were required to pay a tithe (the tithe of the tithe) to the priests. Thus, according to Numbers 18:29, it was the tithe given to the priests by the Levites that was considered the "best" of the tithe. In this case, the "best" of the tithe was not referred to as firstfruits.