Chapter 2 -


The routine practice first clearly appears with the founding of the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. The original King of Israel (YHVH or YHUH, the LORD in the English text) is spirit, a literal God-King. He did not directly receive, nor did He need to per­sonally consume, any of the offerings or sacrifices burned on His altar.

The ancient Israelites were required to offer the first fruits and continual offerings for the atonement of sin. They were encouraged to offer sacrificial gifts of thanks and repentance. Both were teaching mecha­nisms for their own edification and eternal benefit. It was not for God's.

I do not reprove you for your sacrifices, and your burnt offerings are continually before Me. I shall take no young bull out of your house, nor male goats out of your folds.

For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all it contains.

Shall I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of male goats?

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High; and call upon me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and You will honor Me…

He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God. (Psalm 50:8-15, 23)

The Levitical Priesthood

The Levitical Priesthood was established shortly after the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. It came about in conjunction with the constitu­tion of the tribal kingdom of Israel out of a horde of ex-slaves from Egypt. The foundation of the tribes’ legal relationship with each other is the covenant Torah with the Lord God given at Mount Sinai. The provisions for tithing were stipulated after God took one of the tribes, Levi, into His service, but the full application of the Torah’s provisions did not take place until after the Israelites had settled in their new land.

During the Israelites' wandering in the desert, God miraculously and equally supplied everybody's food and water. There was no increase from the land, which was barren. At any rate, these people were on the move with no certain schedule. When God - as a pillar of fire or smoke – moved, they followed. He didn't always give them much warning. There was no time to plant crops and wait for a har­vest. It was a nation-army on an invasion campaign.

It is possible that the first born of the herds and cattle were offered in sacrifice along with other thank and sin offerings, but no tithes were taken from the herds or flocks. These offerings must have been infrequent or the people would not have complained about a lack of meat. God provided that need by sending quail. (Exodus 16:8-13)

During the wanderings in Sinai, there was no economical differ­ence between the set apart or sanctified tribe of Levi and any other tribe. As far as living conditions or possessions were concerned, all of the tribes were equal. They were all dependent on God's miraculous provision of manna and quail rained from the heavens. Their drinking water supernaturally flowed from a detached boulder.

Once the tribes of Israel inherited the land, however, there would be a significant difference between the tribe of Levi and the rest of them. The Levites, including the priestly clan of Aaron, never received any provincial inheritances, only settlement villages (cities) scattered geograph­ically throughout the land. From God's perspective the Levites were poor since all wealth ultimately derives from the combination of land and labor.

Instead of land, the Levites were granted by God the absolute rights to the tithe of the entire Promised Land’s production.

Their inheri­tance was the right to receive a variable ten per cent portion of the rest of the tribes' agricultural production. They did not receive a specific annual stipend. For example, the tithe was unlike the redemption of the first born (covered below) where the Israelite paid five shekels, once, at the birth of his first born son. He did not have to pay five shekels each year; nor did he sometimes pay one shekel or sometimes seven shekels. Tithing was the right to a specific percentage of the nation’s annual increase. Each year's tithe yielded a variable amount of fruit, grain and edible or "clean" animals. (Deuteronomy 14:1-21)

Widows, Orphans and Aliens

The other effectively unlanded peoples: the widows, orphans and aliens, were considered poor for the same lack of land inheritance reason.

In the case of the widows and the orphans, they had limited or perhaps no ability to farm any land they might have a claim on. An alien didn't have any inherited claim to land unless they converted to the religion of Israel and were adopted into one of the family-tribe social units. Such adoption could come through a marriage contract, too.

The lack of access to a landed inheritance is why these groups of people were provided for from tithe even though they had no natural rights to it. The assumption is that they all worshipped the God of Israel and sought His protection and provision. God promised Abraham that all his descendants would receive an inheritance in the Promised Land when He brought them out of slavery. Possessing the Promised Land was the central plank of their covenant or agreement. Provision for the alien was basic support hospitality until they became integrated into Israel’s tribal social structure.

A parcel of land was of limited value if it could not be worked effectively. Widows and orphans were limited in the amount of work they could do. They did not choose to become widows or orphans. It was not their fault that their rightful inheritance could not properly support them as God intended. To support them out of the tithe was not stealing from the Levites since the widow and orphan had just as much right to an inheritance as they did.

The LORD legislated compassion and support for these temporarily "unlanded" or incompletely landed people. They were to share the benefits of the collective inheritance of the nation with the Levites until they were able to functionally benefit from their own inheritance. God had mercy on the alien in hope, perhaps, that the extension of this practical love would lead the stranger into the citizen fellowship of His nation Israel by being circumcised.

A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows. (Psalm 68:5)

And you shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your chil­dren fatherless. (Exodus 22:21-24)

For widows and orphans, the use of their inheritances would pass to the nearest relatives who could work the land. They were expected to join the household of these next of kin, who would support them by working the widows' and/or orphans' parcels, if any, as well as their own hereditary fields. Once the orphan males were old enough, they would work their own fields and keep their own flocks and so return to economic independence.

Sometimes the widows were under legal obligation to marry their husband's brother so that the land would stay in the tribe and she could eat. (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) Orphaned daughters who could marry and produce children also had rights of economic independence through land. (Numbers 27:1-11)

The aliens were non-Israelite strangers in the land. They were aliens only so long as they did not accept the religion of Israel by being circumcised and eating the Passover. Unless they lived in the few cities that existed at the time, the aliens next had to be integrated into the tribal structure through marriage or social adoption. The result of marriage or adoption would be the legal right to a piece of land, an inheritance.

These economic ordinances put everyone into a family-clan-tribe structure which provided for their economic and social support. They were the Old Testament legal expression of the New Testament admo­nition found in I Timothy 5:8:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.

What were Tithes?

The tithes were paid from the production of the entire Promised Land of Canaan, renamed the Land of Israel. The Bible relates how, except for Levi, each tribe received a territory or province of its own. In exchange for receiving these inheritances, the eleven, non-priestly, tribes were to pay tithes on them to the relatively land-poor Levites. The Levites only had home garden plots in their villages and labor obligations on God’s behalf; therefore, they had legal rights to ten per cent of the entire nation's pro­duction instead of what could be grown from a specified fair share of the land itself.

In order to pay a tithe, an Israelite had to have an inheritance. Only those tribes with landed inheritances could pay tithes. The unlanded poor were not required to pay tithes: they received tempo­rary support from the tithe as an expression of God's mercy and care. As will be discussed in detail later, the ten per cent offering taken from the tithes received by the whole tribe of Levi were redistributed internally between the priestly sons of Aaron, who served at the altar due to their even greater time obligations on God’s behalf for their nation.

Besides operating as a variable mechanism of economic compensation, the tithe doubled as the social safety net of ancient Israel. It pro­vided a share in the produce from the Promised Land, God's guaran­teed inheritance, for the needy. It was how God chose to fulfill His promises of support to the Levitical priests, the widow, the orphan, and the alien. It was a part of His program for a balanced distribution of wealth among those who had no inheritance within the agricultural­ly based socioeconomic system of ancient Israel.

The Levites never had a provincial inheritance; they had an eternal, binding legal right to the tithe instead. The widow, orphan, poor and alien would only temporarily be without the production of an inheritance. The provision from the tithe was to aid them until they could realize its benefits.

Sharing in the tithe was not the only provision of the Law for the unlanded. Another ordinance prohibited harvesting the "comers" of the field. This allowed travelers and the poor to harvest what they could eat as they passed by. (Deuteronomy 24:17-22)

Tithing was an act of active worship and one purpose for the tithe which is sometimes overlooked was to enhance the obedience to God's Law given through Moses. Israel was commanded to celebrate various annual feasts to the LORD. Festival celebration requires something to feast upon. That something came from the tithe. Israelites could consume produce from their tithes as long as they did so at the festival and not at home, or "within your gates."

Only on the third and sixth years of a seven year cycle did God command the full payment of all the tithe to the Levites, widows, orphans, and poor. The seventh year was a year of land sabbath or rest in which only that which "grows of itself' was available for har­vest. This seventh year of rest applied to the cultivated ground but not to fruit trees or herds. Slightly different rules applied to tithing on these sources of "increase." (See Exodus 23:10-11 and Leviticus 25:1­7)

The tithes received by the Levites were in tum "tithed" upon. The Levites' "tithe of the tithe" was sent to the Aaronic priests at the Tabernacle or the Temple. A "tithe of the tithe" was in God's words, "an offering to the Lord" and not a tithe. God specified ten percent of the Levites' tithe received from all Israel as a means of identifying the first fruits since this "produce" was not actually harvested by the Levites. The first fruits are required offerings to God.

The Aaronic priests never received a tithe. They received only offerings, and only they received the offerings.

You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread, nor is the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover to be left over until morning. You shall bring the very first of the first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God. (Exodus 34:25-26).

In the Levites' offering, the Aaronite priests received the best tenth of the entire Promised Land’s produce. Israel's other offerings or gifts such as the offering of the first fruits, provided the remainder of the priests' economic support.

Let's review the scriptures in context.

In the first five books of the Bible, referred to as the Torah or the Teaching Law of God, Moses recorded the original provisions for the support of the Levites and the priests, as well as for the disadvan­taged. Tithing was founded on God's promise of an inheritance to every son of Abraham.

First Fruits – First Born

Tithing is distinctly separate from God's right to Israel’s first fruits and first born sons, but these sacrificial offerings are related to the establishment of the Levitical system.

The LORD's right to the first born sons was renewed, confirmed, and established forever when He delivered Israel from Egypt. At the time of the Exodus the LORD set aside for Himself all first born sons. The type is plain: God saves through the sacrifice of His first born, His only begotten Son, Jesus. This is important because God identifies Himself to Israel as her Deliverer, her Savior in the first of the Ten Commandments:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me." (Exodus 20:2-3)

Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me, I, even I, am the LORD; the there is no savior besides Me. (Isaiah 43:10-11).

There is no savior but God. He saves through the sacrifice of His only begotten Son who was, is, and will ever be One with Him. God's gift to the world was the sacrifice of his only begotten son. Salvation is defined in its fullness by the example of Jesus who is now eternally

…the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:4)

Paul writes,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1: 16)

And Peter spoke, "There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.“ (Acts 4:12)

God delivered Israel from Egypt through the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, which was a type of Christ, the Lamb of God (Revelation 5:6-14). It is through Jesus' sacrifice that God delivers us from the slavery of sin and death today.

Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacri­ficed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (I Corinthians 5:7-8)

Feasts, Tithes and Offerings

In the New Testament, God continues to link the celebration of His feast days with salvation. The festival worship of God is integrally entwined with questions on tithes and offerings. Tithes and offerings are two very autonomous aspects of worship which are often consid­ered to be the same thing; however, they are different. They do not serve the same purpose.

Offerings supported the Aaronic priests; tithes supported non­-priestly Levites and provided all Israel with an economic means to celebrate the feasts in a grand style.

Tithing is how God chose to distribute to the Levites their share of a national inheritance.

It is integrally tied to the temple and its service for and by the physical nation of Israel. The temple was and is the symbol of Israel's independence as a nation under God. It repre­sents Israel in possession of her earthly inheritance, the Promised Land, in accordance with her constitution, the Sinai Covenant.

The temple represented, and will represent at Jesus' return, the interim ful­fillment in Israel of God's promise to all mankind. That promise is mankind's eternal possession of the earth as symbolized by New Jerusalem and the spiritual temple of God. (Matthew 5:5; Revelation 21:1-4, 10-24)

The national aspects of the Promise began with the deliverance of Israel from Pharaoh and Egypt:

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Sanctify to Me every first­born, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.” (Exodus 13:1-2)

... you shall devote to the LORD the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to the LORD…and every first-born of man among your sons you shall redeem. (Exodus 13:12-13)

And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, “What is this?” Then you shall say to him, “With a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. And it came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed every first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man and the first-born of beast. Therefore, I sacrifice to the LORD the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every first­ born of my sons I redeem.” (Exodus-13:14-15)

In Exodus 23: 14-19 God states:

Three times a year you shall cel­ebrate a feast to Me. You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I, at the appointed time in the month of Abib, came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed.

Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of First fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.

You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; nor is the fat of My feast to remain overnight until morning. You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God. You are not to boil a kid in the milk of its mother.

The above instruction was repeated with a few additions in Exodus 34: 18-26. For example, verses 19-21:

The first offspring from every womb belongs to Me, and all your male livestock, the first offspring from cattle and sheep. And you shall redeem with a lamb the first offspring from a donkey; and if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. You shall redeem the first born of your sons. And none shall appear before Me empty handed.

Leviticus chapter 23 lists the Feasts of God which focus on the var­ious harvests in the ancient land of Israel. In particular verses 9-14 refer to "the sheaf of first fruits" which was a type of God the Father's acceptance of Jesus' sacrifice at His resurrection from the dead. (I Corinthians 15:20-24)

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