Jul 19, 2010
A Brief History of the Tithe
by Stephen Alexander
Under the Old Covenant God made with the children of Israel, he commanded various ordinances pertaining to the institution of the temple with its attendant Priests and Levites. One of these ordinances was the tithe. The tithe consisted of 10% of what the land produced as crops of grain and fruit and what the Israelite herds produced as offspring.
The nation of Israel was roughly 180 miles long and 60 miles wide and was divided between the tribes with the tribe of Levi being excluded from the land inheritance. In order to provide for the Levites, one tenth of what was produced on the other tribal homelands was given to them so that they would have food for themselves and their families in the Levitical cities where they lived. Likewise, each year one in ten of what was born to the Israelite herds was given to them. After the Levites received their annual share, they selected the best tenth of what they received and gave it to the descendents of Aaron who were the Priests. The tithe of food is the way God provided for the Priests and Levites who had no way to keep sustaining crops or producing herds.
The tithe went into effect after the Children of Israel entered their promised inheritance, the land of Canaan. As they wandered in the desert wastes prior to their entry into the land God had promised them, the Priests and Levites ate manna like everyone else.
When considering the Old Covenant tithe it is important to remember that only those people who owned producing land and herds paid the tithe of food. There was no such thing as a tithe of money. Poor people, even if they owned producing land and herds, did not tithe the increase of their land since everything they had was necessary for their survival. In fact, poor people were included along with the Priests and Levites as recipients of the tithe. Jesus was a carpenter, Peter was a fisherman and Paul was a tentmaker and though they paid the two drachma temple tax, they did not tithe. Jesus was not subject to the tithe ordinance for two reasons. He was a carpenter and he was poor.
Tithing as God commanded it belongs exclusively within the Old Covenant context. The whole Old Covenant system is no longer in force today. Even if the Levites and the descendents of Aaron could be identified, there is no Temple in which they can perform the Old Covenant rituals. But this system of meeting with God is no longer necessary. Through the person and work of Jesus, a better Priesthood has been established in the New Covenant.
Jesus is the New Covenant High Priest who, on the basis of his perfection and indestructible life, serves perpetually in the holy place, not just once a year. And while the children of Israel could not approach their temple without forfeiting their life, all believers in Jesus constitute a royal priesthood based on their union with him as brothers and sisters and can freely approach and meet with God. Indeed, believer's bodies are the temple of God in which he dwells by his Spirit.
Using the resources God has given us we have the blessing of helping those in need. We also have the blessing of furthering the spread of the Gospel through the shrewd use of money.
Not every ministry is properly grounded or is using money effectively. Some ministries promote a questionable lifestyle with unsound doctrine. Some ministries are more spiritually effective than others, producing a tremendous spiritual return for the resources spent. Jesus tells us to be shrewd with worldly wealth, using it wisely to win for ourselves friends for eternity. Financially supporting an obviously God initiated and empowered ministry is our joy. In this way we lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven.
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