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Old Covenant Tithing

Israelite farmers and ranchers were the only ones given instructions in the Old Covenant that they must give 10%. Following are two examples: Deuteronomy chapter 14 verse 22 and Leviticus chapter 27 verse 30.

In a nutshell, the were three tithes from some of the Israelites and a 4th from the Levites to the Levite priests.

1)The Levitical tithe required those who raised crops (not everyone and not all professions - just those who raised crops) to give 10% of that to the Levites. This tithe only occurred 6 years out of the 7 year cycle. It also required those that raised 10 or more animals to give each tenth animal that passed under the rod to the Levites. If a person raised less than 10 animals, they were not required to tithe.

2) From what was given to them, the Levites in turn had to give a tenth of the very best to the priests.

3) The festival tithe required that those who raised crops or animals to set aside 10% for the annual festivals. It was for the people to have a party and consume the food joyfully and alcoholic beverages (strong drink) if they wanted.

4) The Poor tithe occurred only in the 3rd year of the seven year cycle. This was set aside for the poor. 

All tithes were always food and NEVER money and yes, they did have money and silver back then. Everybody did not raise crops for a living.

 

Tithing advocates often attempt to elevate tithing by calling it a principle but it clearly is not.  It was not something required of all Israelites and even if it did, that alone would not make it some timeless never-changing practice that all believers in Jesus Christ would need to continue to practice.  As detailed and complicated as some of the laws were, Jesus Christ clarified the most important parts of the Law in Matthew 22:36-40.  In addition, there are prophecies concerning many things especially concerning the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is fulfilled prophecy for one thing, that sets the Bible apart from every other teaching on gods. It is beyond the scope of this instruction to explain all the wonderful teachings in the Old Testament.

It is the Old Covenant Laws that were given to the Israelites that is the issue. No Christians that I am aware of are taught to perform animal sacrifice today. I believe Bible teachers are correct in not teaching animal sacrifice. However, the Israelites were directed to do that in the Old Covenant. Examples can be found at Leviticus chapter 3 verses 1-5 and Leviticus chapter 4 verses 1-12.

They were instructed to perform animal sacrifice for fellowship offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings as well as other reasons. We are not taught that we should be performing animal sacrifice today so why are we taught that we should still be 'tithing'

All the laws God gave to the Israelites were important for their survival. I have only given examples of some of the harshest ones. Deuteronomy chapter 11 verses 13 through 15 is one example of what God promised to do for the Israelites if they obeyed his laws.

God promised many other blessings for their obedience as well as curses for their disobedience.

So why don't we try to follow ALL of the laws God gave to the Israelites? Is that something we should be doing? Absolutely not! There are plenty of scriptures in the New Testament that explain very clearly about this. (Rom 6:14-15, Rom 10:4, Gal 2:16, Gal 3:10 -13, Col 2:13 -14) Some try to separate the 'nice' ones from the ones that are not so nice and just try to obey the 'nice' ones like the laws concerning tithing. That is not correct. Here's an excellent example of the point I am making - Deuteronomy chapter 12 verses 4 through 7 instructs the Israelites that they are to bring their tithes and their burnt offerings to the Lord. It seems that some are willing still to obey part of that sentence about giving a tithe but not the part about burnt offerings. Something is wrong with that. Either we obey all of the laws God gave to the Israelites or none of the laws God gave to the Israelites. It is not a menu that we just get to pick out the ones we want to obey.

There are a whole host of things we would have to start doing differently if we really wanted to start obeying the laws God gave to the Israelites.   Read some of them for yourself and you'll see what I mean.  The biggest problem is that the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ would have no benefit for you since you would still be trying to obey the laws that all point to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.  ( Matthew chapter 5 verse 17).

Old Covenant Giving

In the section titled "Robbing God" I stated that tithing was not God's 'best'.   What I mean is that tithing was not God's choice when it came time for the important task of building first the tabernacle and later the temple.  Tithing was started as the way for the Levite tribe to have income as they maintained the tabernacle (also for strangers, widows and orphans) and later the temple and serviced it since they were only given towns to live in.  The Israelites failed God often and their willingness to tithe changed just as often.  

So what does the Bible teach is God's best as far as giving money is concerned?  Freewill offerings is what I maintain is God's best way of having his people give.  Not tithing.  This is demonstrated on at least  two very significant occasions in the Old Testament and is the only way demonstrated for giving in the New Testament. 

What is freewill offerings?  Freewill offerings is simply giving what you are willing to give.  It means that there is no certain percentage involved.   You just give what you are willing to give.  The leadership does not set an individual target at all.  You give the amount that you can cheerfully give.  You give the amount that you can enjoy giving.  That's all there is to it.   I'll explain more of that in the section titled 'New Covenant Giving'.

The first example of freewill offerings I want to point out is demonstrated in Exodus 35 and 36:1-7.    Moses asked the people for offerings of all kinds including people using their skills to help build the tabernacle, make the decorations, weave the material, and set the precious stones that were donated.  The people gave and gave and gave.  They gave so much that Moses had to ask them to stop giving because the craftsmen had more than enough to finish the job!   The people were giving cheerfully!

The other incident I want to mention has to do with preparations for building the temple.  The temple was to be the most important building in all Israel yet God did not count on tithes to build it.  King David was gathering building materials and gifts so his son Solomon could get started building the temple.  First, King David contributed, 1 Chronicles 29:2-5.  Then he invited others to give 1 Chronicles 29:6-9 and the people gave willingly and rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders.  King David and the people were not giving tithes.  They gave freely and wholeheartedly.  Like the first incident I mentioned, the people gave cheerfully.  The fact that they gave cheerfully is important.  In the New Testament, 2 Cor 9:7, we are directed to give cheerfully too.  As I study tithing and compare it to giving freely, the cheerfulness comes with giving freely.  Freewill giving is the way God wants Christians to give now.

Robbing God

Robbing God! (Malachi Chapter 3 verses 8 -11) To me, this was the most intimidating scripture about tithing in the whole Bible. I had my doubts in the early 1980's about whether to 'tithe' or not but when my pastor quoted those scriptures I immediately started 'tithing'. It wasnít 'tithing' for the right reasons but God blessed me anyway. I had sat down before I started 'tithing' to try to determine how much I could give to the church. I determined there was no way that I could afford to give 10% of my income - or so I thought. After having Malachi explained to me I started 'tithing' not out of respect for God but rather because I was afraid God was going to destroy all my stuff. 

 I made the same mistake I believe a lot of people make and that is to think that it is our faithful 'tithing' that brings us his blessings. It is our faith in him that brings some of his blessings. Some we get just because we are alive. The Bible teaches that the rain falls and the sun rises on the good and the bad so there is a certain amount of blessings everybody gets no matter if they 'tithe' or not. (Matt 5:44-45)

Just like the other scriptures that provided the law for the Israelites, the writers include a phrase or sentence indicating to whom they are speaking. The same is true about the scripture in Malachi. The command about tithing and the blessings too were not directed to New Covenant believers! Letís go back to Malachi chapter 3 starting at verse 6 and read carefully. ".... descendants of Jacob,..... Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees".  That tells that God is talking to the descendants of Jacob.  New Covenant Christians are descendants of Jacob in a spiritual sense but God through Malachi was speaking in a literal sense meaning he was speaking to the people right there at the time not many many generations later.  Verse 9 continues in the same thought "You are under a curse - the whole nation of you...." New Covenant Christians are not a nation in the same sense.  New Covenant Christians are referred to in 1 Peter 2:9 as a "...holy nation..." which people become a part of by rebirth (by being born again) and not by natural birth.

New Covenant Christians do not have to 'tithe' in order to please God.  For those of you that still have some questions about this passage then read on.  Here's more evidence of what I have already stated that God is not directing any of the laws he originally gave to the Israelites to New Covenant Christians.

Short explanation of Malachi 3:8-11

He wasnít talking to you.

Longer partial explanation of Malachi 3:8-11

He wasnít talking to you. God didn't have the prophet Malachi write those things down to threaten us.  God wasnít talking to you to obey all the other Laws he gave to the Israelites either. Many times the Israelites failed to obey Godís Laws. God repeatedly sent prophets to remind the Israelites how they were supposed to be living and the Laws they were to obey. The prophets reminded the Israelites about Godís worship requirements, Sabbath Laws, all sorts of different offerings and every other Law that the Israelites failed to keep. This occasion is just one more time where God sent a prophet to tell the Israelites essentially the same thing. For some reason, this admonishment is treated as the Ďholy grailí of financial blessings from God by some church leaders. It absolutely is not. Tithing no longer the cornerstone of anything. It was another one of the Laws the Israelites were supposed to keep.

God through his prophets told of a time when people who were not Israelites (Gentiles, meaning the rest of us) would be given the (gospel) good news also. We were to receive a better covenant than what he had for the Israelites. We were not to be bound by the law. Galatians chapter 3 verse 13 tells us we have been redeemed from the law. Weíve been given freedoms that the Israelites did not have. For example, each one of us can have a relationship with God ourselves without going through a priest as the Israelites had to do under the Old Covenant. The average Israelite person did not have the freedom to have a relationship with God themselves. God was only active in the lives of prophets, priests, judges, and some kings. In addition there were a few special occasions where God would be with someone like Gideon (Judg 6).

In verse 10, God talks about opening the windows of heaven. In order to open the windows of heaven they first have to be closed! That is not the situation that New Covenant believers find ourselves in now. Ephesians Chapter 1 verse 3 says "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ."   Many Christians either donít realize what this means or donít know how to have more blessings of God in their life. Thatís a separate problem. The point I want to make is that the windows of heaven are not closed to New Covenant believers.  A similar verse is found in 2 Peter.

2 Peter 1:3-4
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. NIV

Participating in God's 'divine nature' is NOT dependent on a person's 'tithe'!!  God is NOT sitting around waiting for Christians to 'tithe' before blessing them.

We should be generous with the poor but we are not robbing God if we do not tithe. You sin if you are selfish towards those truly  in need.

Before the Law

Ok, so maybe you agree that Christians are not supposed to 'tithe' because of the law God gave to the Israelites.  Maybe you think Christians should still 'tithe' because 'tithing came before the law'!  Let's take a look at that reasoning.  There certainly are a couple of recorded incidents in the Bible where the term "tithe" was used that occurred before the law was given to the Israelites.  One was Genesis 14:17-20 where Abram, after rescuing his nephew Lot from Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, gave Melchizedek king of Salem a tenth of everything that he plundered (Hebrews 7:4).  Abraham did this one time.  If it is OK to use this as an example of some universal never-changing truth that Christians should be practicing today then on that premise, today's Christians should be practicing everything that occurred before the law!  I really don't believe that makes sense and neither does it make sense for teachers today to just cite one thing that Abraham did before the law was given to the Israelites and attempt to make that some sort of 'God wants everyone to do it forever law.' 

The Truth About Abram's Tithe

OK. So you finally accept the fact that tithing is not required because we are no longer under the Law, but, you still believe we should tithe because of Abram's tithe.  You've been taught that Abram modeled or gave us an example of what we should be doing as far as our giving. When we study everything about the incident we will see that Abram's actions are not an example for us. 

If you haven't already, you need to stop and read the story about Abram's tithe now. (Gen 14:11-24). Even if you think you already know the story, you still ought to read it for yourself.

For some of you, just reading the story for yourself allowed you to notice some things about the story that you did not notice before. Verse 12 gives us the reason that Abram went after the four kings. His nephew, Lot, was carried off with all the lawless people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Lot was not guilty of the sins that the people of those two towns were committing.  Lot is referred to as a 'righteous man'. 

2 Peter 2:7-8
7 and if he rescued Lot , a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 8(for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)ó NIV

Abram immediately made up his mind to go rescue his nephew Lot.  As a side issue, I have listened to very effective preachers preach about  Abram's victory over the 4 kings with only 318 men.  Those were very moving sermons and I got excited just like everybody else.  Very exciting, but, his getting the victory with only 318 men was absolutely wrong!!  It wasn't just 318 men that went after the four kings to rescue Lot.  Verse 13 tells us that Abram had some allies.  These allies and their men went also.  The allies are referred to the same way that the kings are referred to in verse 11 and earlier.  The Bible  tells us that 'four kings seized all the goods ...'  It wasn't just 4 guys on horseback with robes and crowns.  It is talking about their armies. The same is true of the 3 people named in verse 13.  There were those three and their armies or the men in their households. This is supported in verse 24.  Abram's allies went with him into battle against the 4 kings and Abram wanted to make certain  that they got the reward they were due.  So how many men went with Abram to rescue Lot?  I don't know.  It was more than 318 and it was certainly more than 321.  The actual number is not important.  It was a stunning victory regardless of the actual number that took part in the battle.

Back to the main issue.  On Abram's return from victory over the 4 kings he was first met by the king of Sodom.  It seems like it may have been a 3 way meeting including the priest Melchizedek.  Whether the three of them were standing in one place at the same time is  not important. What is important is what was said by each person.  Melchizedek blessed Abram in verse 19 as he recognized that Abram's victory was because God had '..delivered your enemies into your hand.'  Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth or tithe of everything he got from the 4 kings.  The word 'everything' is explained further in the book in Hebrews.

Heb 7:4
4 Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! NIV

Abram gave him a tenth of everything he plundered back from the 4 kings that had plundered Sodom and Gomorrah and had taken all the people and Abram's nephew Lot.  The tenth or tithe was a portion of what Abram had at the time.  It was not a portion of everything that he owned.  There is no evidence of this tenth-giving as being a normal part of Abram's giving.  It was a one-time event.  Was God speaking to Abram in some unrecorded mysterious way?  Absolutely not!  Abram was free to do basically whatever the local traditions would allow or require.  According to the King of Sodom, it was OK - verse 21 - for Abram to keep all the goods and valuables for himself.  

At that point, Abram shared with the king of Sodom about the oath he (Abram) had previously taken - verses 22-24. Abram had already decided that he personally was not going to accept anything at all from the king of Sodom.  Abram didn't consider the plunder to be his own.  So from what he did not even consider his own, Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of that amount.  Abram insisted that his allies get the portion they deserved and that was the end of it.  The Bible doesn't tell us where the balance of the plunder went.  It seems it went either to the king of Sodom and/or back to the people who were originally plundered. 

Here's a few things you need to consider:

  1. Abram's gift to Melchizedek was simply a gift.  God had no written Law in effect and there is no evidence that God whispered 'pay a tithe' in his ear to set a standard for the New Testament church to follow.
  2. Abram's gift was clearly a one-time spoils-of-war event.  Abram and Lot both were already prosperous. 
  3. Abram did not tithe his way into prosperity.  He was prosperous because God said he would bless him (Gen 12:1-3).  Abram did not have to pay God to get the blessings promised. God told Abram that he would '... be a blessing'.  According to Gal 3:13-14 that same blessing is available for us now.  Unfortunately the church has believed for too long that we have to somehow pay our way into getting God's blessings by tithing or by sowing. We get some of God's blessing in our lives by having faith in Jesus Christ and NOT by having faith in our 'tithing' or faith in our sowing.  
  4. Abram's gift to Melchizedek did not come from money or resources that Abram claimed for himself.  In other words, he gave away 'other folks money'!  His personal valuables were safely at home. There was nothing wrong with what he did. Remember that the king of Sodom said that Abram could have all the valuables and also remember that Abram refused to accept anything from the king for himself.
  5. Melchizedek merely reminded Abram that God gave him the victory.  The 'preacher' in this instance did not give a sermon about how much Abram was to give!
  6. Some try vainly to prove that Melchizedek was actually Jesus and claim that is why we should tithe.  I won't get into that debate because whether it was or was not Jesus does not dictate what amount of giving God would be pleased receiving from you and I now. 

Yes, Abram's gift to Melchizedek is an example for us to follow, but, NOT an example of how we are to tithe.  Instead, it is an example how to give a gift.  He was free to do anything he wanted and he decided on his own to give a tenth.  

Abram's gift appears to be an excellent example of what Paul wrote about in the New Testament.

2 Cor 9:6-7
7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give , not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. NIV

Abram decided on his own how much he wanted to give.  YOU should decide for yourself how much you want to give. Pray and ask God to help you set aside all the sermons you have heard that make you feel guilty for not 'tithing'.  Forgive the people that taught you that you will be cursed if you don't 'tithe'.  Not all of them were trying to mislead or plunder you.

Jacob's Vow

The other incident is recorded in Genesis 28:20-22 where Jacob made a vow or promise to give God a tenth of all he has if God will be with him and watch over him on this journey.  I have not heard anyone teach that Christians should give God a tithe only if various things work out right.  By the way, I also believe it is right not to teach that. 

God had just given Jacob a promise in a dream which was the basically the same promise he had given to his father Abram - with no strings attached. (Gen 28:10-20) On his own, Jacob decided to add something to what God had already promised.  God did not require a vow.  God had stated his intentions and the fulfillment of what God promised to Jacob did not require a tithe or a promise from Jacob. Jacob's vow was simply a "fine sounding prayer" or "religious act".

Summary

Some believe 'tithing' is the right thing to do simply because it came before the law God gave to the Israelites.  It certainly did but why stop there?  If we want to settle this issue on the basis of time - what came first - then we have to continue to go back in time.  The first time an offering to God by humans is mentioned is in Genesis 4:3-7.  Cain brought some of the things he had grown from the soil as an offering to the Lord while Able brought fat portions from some of his flock.  We are told that God was pleased with Abel's offering and He was not pleased with Cain's offering.  God said to Cain in verse 7 "...If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?"  For sure both Cain and Able knew what they were supposed to do and that was to sacrifice the fat of firstborn animals to God.  So I maintain that if we want to settle this issue on the basis of what came first then we're back to sacrificing animals.  I just don't believe that's what God is looking for from us right now.  I believe that what he wants from us now is clearly outlined in many New Covenant verses that I teach about in New Covenant Giving.

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