Tithing - part 2
Post By Jonathan Fox
The Historical Journey of the Tithe
I want to give you some historical reference for three specific areas: pre-law tithe, law tithe and post-law tithe. This may seem a bit confusing, but hopefully I can guide us through some simple examples to communicate my point and have us on track for this blog series.
I want to make sure I am prefacing all that I am writing by stating that this is by no means an in-depth study or analysis of tithing in the Bible, but rather a simple and concentrated look at a few roadblocks in the tithing conversation.
Let’s start with Pre-Law Tithe. Where is an example of tithing before we see it required in the Law of Moses? The answer to that would be Abram. This is the account.
“‘And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Genesis 14:20
Without going into intricate details, here is the skinny on this text. Abram had just taken 318 men and helped defeat the armies of a collection of kings. When he came back, he was met by this mysterious character, Melchizedek king of Salem, priest of God Most High (Remember him. I will bring him back into play later in this series). Abram gives this Melchizedek 10% of all that he recovered from this battle, but there really isn’t much else from the text. It is what it is. Many scholars believe that this was a pre-law tithe based on cultural laws that may have been in affect but not mentioned by Moses, the author of Genesis. The main point is that Abram gave 10% of what he had just earned through this battle. The first tithe. And the one thing we can clearly see is that this tithe was out of honor. We know this because of the preceding verses,
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’” Genesis 14:18-20
Abram responded to what God did for him in the battle by tithing. So there it is, before God required a tithe through the law, we see a tithe given as honor and a response to God’s provision.
Let’s turn our attention to the Law Tithe. This is the tithe that became an institution of giving among the people of God, Israel. Here is just one of the scriptures that give us prescriptions on tithing as a law.
"A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.” Leviticus 27:30
There are 13 Old Testament scriptures that include the word tithe (I will include all the OT and NT references in the lower section). Five of these scriptures are instructional and the other eight are a mixture of God correcting those who are not tithing and people reinstituting the tithe after a time of disobedience. In fact, one of these scriptures are used by many to pressure people into tithing using the threat of curses or the promise of blessings.
“‘Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’” Malachi 3:8-10
As we will see shortly, Jesus has come to be our curse and fulfill ALL THE REQUIREMENTS of the Law. But what we should easily pick up from this text is God’s desire to use the tithe as a means of spiritual provision in Israel (that there may be food in my house) and trust in him for everything (and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it). In the next part of this series, we will walk through the purposes of the tithe, which directly correlates with these verses.
The Law Tithe is like every other prescribed law that Moses gave. These laws were systematic, orderly and regular. Many of the laws were about distinguishing Israel from the surrounding people and nations. Laws like, what animals they could and could not eat, wearing blended material clothing, tattoos and ceremonial cleansing in everything from mold in your house to diseases you may contract. But other laws seem to have this basic human connectivity; laws that would benefit ALL MANKIND. The Ten Commandments are laws that fit this category. Murder, Idol Worship, Covetousness and Stealing are all good laws for mankind to obey and good for a righteous God to require. They are good for the individual and good for the group. So it is with tithing. A consistent law that requires the community to give a percentage of their earnings that facilitates transformation in their own heart and in the lives of their neighbors. Again, we will really get into this in the next part of this series.
Lastly, let’s look at Post-Law Tithing. Well, there really isn’t such a thing - it’s a term I made up to discuss where we are now - that Christ has come and fulfilled the law. Jesus mentions tithing, but not as a prescription per say. Check out what he says,
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Matthew 23:23
Jesus isn’t giving a full breakdown and analysis of tithing. He is also not refuting tithing as important, just not as important as matters like justice, mercy and faithfulness. He even says you should do both. This is where most of the tension lies concerning tithing. Jesus does not, at any point in scripture, teach us to tithe. He does not, at any point in scripture, tell us not to tithe. What he does teach and accomplish is the fulfillment of the law.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17
Just a quick interjection here, the law was being used by the people of Israel to achieve righteousness. If you obeyed the law, you were seen as right before God. The only problem with this is that the law would eventually be broken by every person who attempted to obey it.
“For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are…for all have sinned (broken God’s law) and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:20, 23
There is only one way to be justified, made right, and it’s through Jesus.
“and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:24
So tithing doesn’t make you better, or more right, or give you a better place before God. Jesus is the one who does ALL OF THE LAW PERFECTLY, and he then transfers that perfection and right standing with God to us through faith by his death on the cross. The question is this: Just because Jesus fulfilled the law does that mean we no longer obey the law? Many would say that we are not “UNDER THE LAW” anymore. I would completely agree with this statement as long as we can also say that this doesn’t mean the law is bad or that we shouldn’t obey. It simply means the law is not the way we find a righteous place before God.
I’ll go back to Matthew 5:17, “I did NOT come to abolish the law…,” Jesus did not come to get rid of the law. He came to abolish the way the law was used. We are not to stop obeying the law, we are to stop trying to use the law as a way to be righteous before God. Now, Jesus makes us right before God and out of that we obey commandments. God has never wanted his law disobeyed. It’s always been God’s desire to have obedient people. If you read into Matthew 5 you will see Jesus make remarks about the law and how he is inviting us even further than the law would require (Matthew 5:17-48). It’s good to keep the law: don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t covet, etc. Jesus would never lead us to ignore the law or disobey it, he is inviting us to a life of grace-infused obedience. Out of who we are made by Jesus, we can obey the law without pressure and condemnation (we are already in right standing through Jesus). We can obey out of love and as a response to God’s faithfulness.
Scripture References: Genesis 14:20, Genesis 28:20-22, Leviticus 27:30-32, Numbers 18:20-32, Deuteronomy 12:5-1, Deuteronomy 14:22-29, Deuteronomy 26:12-15, 2 Chronicles 31:5-12, Nehemiah 10:37-38, Nehemiah 12:44, Nehemiah 13:5-12, Amos 4:4, Malachi 3:8-10, Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42, Luke 18:12, Hebrews 7:5-9