Chapter 4 -


These are the statutes and the judgments which you shall careful­ly observe in the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess as long as you live on the earth. (Deuteronomy 12:1)

The laws of the Sinai Covenant applied to Israel once they arrived in Canaan. They are still valid for anyone who wishes to live in the Promised Land, become a "son of the covenant" (a physical Israelite) through circumcision, and tithe to support tem­ple worship when it is revived. The Law is not done away or abol­ished; it simply is not a requirement for salvation. Salvation is the inheritance of spiritual Israel.

When the Sinai Covenant was given, the LORD did not intend for the tribes to wander for forty years in the wilderness. He had original­ly planned immediate conquest and habitation of the cities of the dis­possessed Canaanites and Amorites. But Israel rebelled in sin.

In the Bible the desert wilderness is symbolically a purifying envi­ronment. There is an absence of evil, for there is an absence of any tempting abundance, which so readily nourishes a forgetfulness of God and righteousness. The relative abundance of food and other good things of material life is one reason why the Israelites forgot God in Egypt. Many were reluctant to leave Egypt before Passover, and several times afterwards, the hardships of the desert inspired a popular desire to return to Egypt.

Festival Tithes and Offerings

In fact throughout her history Israel got many of the idols that ensnared her from Egypt. In the desert there were fewer idols. There certainly was no great abundance or increase. The wandering tribes lived from day to day, manna fall to manna fall, as God provided their sustenance. All that would change, and did change, once they entered the Promised Land. In Canaan there would be false gods, idols, and multiple places of worship and sacrifice. And there would be increase and abundance.

Continuing in Deuteronomy 12, the text distinctly lists several kinds of gifts. Our focus is on the tithes, first fruits and offerings in general, but there is much more to study not covered here:

But you shall seek the LORD at the place which the LORD your God shall choose from all your tribes, to establish His name therefore His dwelling, and there you shall come. And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your free will offerings, and the first-born of your herd and your flock.

There also you and your households shall eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you. (5-7)

You shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you. Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every cultic place you see. (12-13)

You are not allowed to eat within your gates the tithe of your grain, or new wine, or oil, or the first-born of your herd or flock, or any of your votive offerings which you vow or your freewill offerings, or the contribution of your hand.

But you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and daughter, and your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all your undertakings.

Be careful that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land. (17-19)

The payment of tithes and the gift of offerings to the Levitical priesthood was an act of faithful worship towards God. One thing that is often overlooked in all the discussion about tithes and offerings is the fact that the giver, the Israelite paying the tithe or bringing the offering, took an active part in its consumption. He ate it together with his whole household, which included more people than we think of making up a household today. It was a community household that included the Levite, the widow, orphan and stranger.

This worship rightly occurred only at the place of worship with the priest - not at home, or "within your gates." Anciently, most of the meat people ate was sacrificial meat: unlike today, they did not usually eat meat otherwise. This is the primordial source of modem traditions to say grace or give thanks over a meal. The Israelites offered most of the meat they ate to God in sacrifice. However, God did allow them to eat meat at home that was not sacri­ficed. (See verses 15-16 and 20-28.)

Most unsacrificed meat was killed in hunting. These statutes provided a practical solution for those who wished to eat meat but who did not live close to the central Temple. In any case, the tithe or obligatory offerings were not to be eaten at home.

The Third Tithe

In Deuteronomy 14 tithing is summarized and special pro­visions are made for its use in the third year. This is the chapter most ministers quote when they wish to teach more than one tithe. The idea is that the first tithe is for the Levite (read the preacher), the second tithe is for observing God's Holy Days (split between the preacher and the worshiper), the third tithe is for the stranger, widow and orphan and is only collected every third year (the short end of the deal).

How then, did some come to think that there were three tithes? This idea was based on a very narrow resolution of variant scriptural instructions about the tithe. In other words, the big picture was over­looked as words and sentences were compared.

The doctrine of three tithes is a product of narrow, exclusivist thinking without the balance of also considering a broader, more inclusive approach in trying to resolve apparent scriptural contradictions. The conclusion of whether there was, or is, more than one tithe seems to be linked to the potential tithe recipients' attitude towards their economic need. Let's look at the scriptures.

In Numbers 18 the right to the tithe is presented clearly as the substitute for landed inheritance.

The tribe of Levi is taken in the place of the firstborn sons of every tribe. The tithe is the compensa­tion for the Levitical priesthood. Just as the other tribes were given the rights to land that had to be worked, Levi was given the right to a tithe of the land's production for wages. As the Israelite worked his fields, so the Levite worked at the tabernacle or temple. In both cases, the rights to an inheritance did not mean a free ride. Those inheri­tances had to be worked to produce food.

If anyone will not work, neither let him eat. (II Thessalonians 3:10)

And to the sons of Levi,

…behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting. (2-1)


…for it is your compen­sation in return for your service in the tent of meeting. (31)

The other dispossessed, the widow, orphan, poor and alien, are not mentioned because they are not substituted for the first born. Furthermore, they are only temporarily without an inheritance due to their temporary inability to work it. They do no service to God for the tribes of Israel to justify receiving wages from them.

Misfortune does not give to its sufferers an eternal right to the tithe, the Levites' promised inheritance, because they are only temporarily experiencing a lack of access to a fair share of the rightful inheritance, but suffering did warrant the consideration of a merciful Lawgiver. The poor were allowed to share in the collective inheritance of all Israel through eating some of the tithe.

God promised all Israel an inheritance. Widows and orphans could not fully benefit from their land since they could not work it. God then took the role of husband and father to them. He took from His work and supported them out of the wages of His first born, the Levites.

As a result, the Levite may not have had all of the use of his income, but he was never without and he did not share or give up any of the right to the tithe. It is wrong to conclude that there was more than one tithe simply because it served more than one purpose.

Poor people are forever present in a nation, but with God's social program it would not always be the same ones. The laws regarding Israelite slavery, the sabbatical year of release and the great Sabbatical Year of the Jubilee took care of that. (See Deuteronomy 15 and Leviticus 25.)

Trust and Obey

Tithing in ancient Israel was an act of continuing trust in God as the guarantor of their inheritance. This obligatory act of worship also overlapped with the observance of independently sanctified feast days. Israel's worship was only legal through the mediation of the Aaronic priesthood which the Levites and all the tribes supported with their offerings. As a symbolic type of the ultimate mediator between God and man, only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies or consult God by the Urim and Thummim.

It was not possible to actively worship God apart from the cen­tral tabernacle or temple and its priesthood under the Sinai Covenant. That's what priestly mediation is all about.

Therefore, tithing directly supported temple worship and indirectly the priests through the Levites' offering (determined by a "tithe of the tithe"). Sharing the inheritance with the poor was an act of worship, too. This principle is reflected in the letter by Jesus' half brother, James. James was the leading elder of the Jerusalem church, which observed all of the Sinai Covenant in addition to the New Testament.

This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep one­self unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

Righteousness starts a cycle of ever increasing goodness and mate­rial prosperity grounded on spiritual faith and obedience. Disobedience, which derives from a lack of faith, leads to poverty. First the Israelites would suffer, then there would be less for the Levites, and finally there would be more poor with whom increasing scarcity had to be split. With scarcity there comes human inequality and strife, and eventually, the humility that can lead to repentance.

Scarcity finds its origin in abundance where human greed multiplies in the pride of the power of wealth. It is a never ending human cycle due to the changeableness of each man's willingness to love in the face of God's unchanging eternal purpose of making love a part of every man's being.

The same ministers who teach that there is more than one tithe rely on Deuteronomy 14 for proof. To them verses 22-27 refer to the second tithe or festival tithe which the Israelite hypothetically used to celebrate by feasting at (or, keeping the) festival holy days of God listed in Leviticus 23.

For some, the Bible supposedly talks of a third tithe in verse 28 because of its different treatment every three years (the third and sixth years of the seven year cycle).

You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. And you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the first­born of your herd and your flock, in order that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.

And if the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you, then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses.

And you may spend the money for whatever your heart desires, for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. '''Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you. (Deuteronomy 14:22-27)

Note that the Levite is mentioned in the provision or description of this second tithe.If the Levites received the entire first tithe, their inheri­tance, as the proponents of three tithes contend they did, then why the mention of not forsaking and neglecting the Levite who is in your town because he has no inheritance?

Should he have more than his fair share? A double inheritance? (The one tenth they got is already more than a one twelfth or thirteenth share of the Promised Land due them based on an equal division of the land.) Simply read, this must be same tithe and responsi­bility is mentioned in Deuteronomy 12:12, 19.

Spiritual Purpose for Tithing

Clearly, the context shows that the individual Israelite substantially determined how he used God's tithe. That is how it should be if the spiritual purpose for tithing is to build righteous character.

How each person determined his increase and portioned out his tithe was a test of his heart, an exercise in obedience that both teaches love and comes from love. God was concerned first with the heart of the individual Israelite and after that with the material welfare of the Levite, so freedom of choice played a role in administering the tithe.

God could take care of His Levites. The question for them was whether they shared His concern for the welfare of the people. Jesus' parables and condemnation of the religious hypocrites of His day demonstrates this divine concern as well as Ezekiel 34.

The tithe was consumed at festivals in national celebration of God's deliverance - His gift to them of the Promised Land. The Israelite had to work his inheritance in order to receive its benefits as God granted the increase. The Levite had to work for the Israelite in serving the priests at the temple in order to receive the benefits of his inheritance, too. Both were consuming the fruits of their labors. Note also that the servants and all the relatives were to eat of this tithe at the festivals as well. (Deuteronomy 12; 12, 18; 14:26)

Deuteronomy 16 gives a repetitive description of rejoicing and con­suming the tithe in the observance of the feasts of the LORD. The Passover does not talk about the dispossessed because of the strict cul­tic requirements to participate: only circumcised males and their fam­ilies could eat the Passover. However, the other two seasons, the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles do not have these restrictions. They were open to all of the community:

And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite who is in your town, and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your midst, in the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name. And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes. (11-12)

And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns. Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the LORD your God in the place which the WRD chooses, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and all the work of your hands, so that you shall be altogether joyful. (14-15)

In actuality then, a careful reading of these scriptures shows that God planned to accomplish all of His religious services with the one tithe in addition to the various, previously mentioned sac­rifices. The one tithe supplied one need: food in general to the unlanded Levite and poor and food for feasting in celebration of the fulfillment of God's promise.

One Tithe Not Three

The threefold mention of the Levites in each of the three sup­posed tithes is a strong indication that there was only one tithe. The other landless people were not mentioned in Numbers 18 because the Levites were the only ones granted the inheritance rights to the tithe. They were the God ordained landless tribe taken in place of the first born of all Israel. For that reason, they were the primary beneficiaries of the tithe.

If there really were three different tithes, God would have more clearly differentiated the purposes for each of those tithes by specifi­cally categorizing who received which one - just as the ministers who today preach multiple tithes spell out how each is to be spent. The Old Testament is full of rather specific statutes and ordinances - many of which are expressed and/or repeated for the sake of clarity.

In fact there aren't three tithes. There is only one. It is just that who receives what and when overlaps. The choice is largely left in the hand of the giver who shares according to how God has blessed him. (Read Deuteronomy 12:5-19; 14:22-28; 26:122-15; Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-32 and Nehemiah 10:34-39 for a review.)

If God had spiritually blessed him through the Levite, then sure­ly the Levite would have been materially blessed in return by the Israelite. The variable was not· God's will but the will of the men involved, both Levite and Israelite.

God's overriding moral objection was to develop a right spiri­tual attitude in both the giver and the receiver. The right attitude was important, whether it was a Levite or an Israelite. Both had to learn by sharing and giving.It was a behavioral method of training right character into the hearts or psyche of the people. It was an exercise with the objective of conforming a nation of diverse and conflicting human wills and ideas about what is right and wrong to God's one will and definition of righteous love.

This is why the choice was always in the hand of the giver. He had to choose to obey and how fully he would obey. Beyond obedience, lies the need to grown into generosity and genuine concern for his neigh­bor who was defined as anyone in need: the Levite, poor, widow, orphan and alien.

The fact of history remains, however, that community pressure or the king's army, could enforce the payment of the tithe. Obedience to the law of tithing did not necessarily mean that the tither was generous or righ­teous in his heart. Eternal life is only given to those who truly give of themselves. All of us are exceptionally wealthy in the western world - even those who think they are poor. Just travel to some of the less advantaged places or see them on TV. All of us need to listen to this lesson of Jesus:

“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother…'”

And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth."

And when Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess, and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

And when he heard these things, he became very sad; for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

And they who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But He said, “The things impossible with men are possible with God." (Luke 18:18-27)

Why God Legislated Only One Tithe

There were several reasons why God did not legislate more than one tithe:

  1. a mandatory levy of multiple tithes was less effective than one tithe to mold human attitudes;
  2. the tithe was already in addition to previously existing thank and first fruit offerings as well as to some newly ordained offerings pertaining to the tabernacle (and later the temple);
  3. and any additional tithing of the land's increase was considered by God to be oppressive as stated in relation to the King's Second Tithe covered next.

God's promised economic support of His work and the poor could be accomplished on a single tithe of ten per cent; therefore, the LORD commanded only one tithe. As there was only one inheritance, so there was only one tithe. God provided for the poor directly from the inheritance by commanding that the comers of the fields be left, and indirectly through additional support from the Levites' inheritance - the tithe.

Thus, there was no First Tithe only for the Levite. There was no Festival or Second Tithe for the feast goer and the poor, and there was no Third Tithe for the widow, orphan, stranger, and dis­advantaged collected every three years. There was only one tithe for all three purposes.

What functionally happened was a change in how the one tithe was distributed during the third year to emphasize the need to support the Levite, alien, widow and orphan. It was a check on human greed, and it was an exercise in faith and generosity. It was insur­ance that adequate support would be available for those God had com­mitted to support.

The Land Sabbath Cycle

This program applied to the third and sixth years of the seven-year land sabbath cycle. During the seventh year, only what grew of itself was picked as needed to live. This gave the land rest. The tithes were obviously less in these years. (See Deuteronomy 15 and Leviticus 25.)

At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of the produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of our hand which you do. (Deuteronomy 14:28­-29)

This third year of tithing is why Amos 4:4 refers to the tithes being brought in every third day or year. Deuteronomy 26:3-15 also records a statement the Israelite was to make when paying his tithe.

In this declaration the payment of the entire tithe in the third (and sixth) year made it "the year of tithing" because this was the only year that the entire tithe left the Israelite's household. During these two years of the seven year cycle, an Israelite did not have any legal discretion over how the tithe was spent.

When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.

And you shall say before the LORD your God, 'I have removed the sacred portion from my house, and also have given it to the Levite and the alien, the orphan and the widow, according to all Thy commandments which Thou hast com­manded me; I have not transgressed or forgotten any of Thy com­mandments. (Deuteronomy 26:12-13)

The rest of the time the Israelite and his household consumed a fair portion of the tithe at seasonal feasts. The head of a household had at his discretion how much of his family's tithe was to be used by the household at the feasts and how much was to be given to the neigh­boring Levite and the needy in his community. Often the poor lived on the fringes of the more prosperous households and farming vil­lages. The book of Ruth records some of these customs as they were practiced.

Tithe = Tithes

A final note to those who may have at one time been confused about the number of tithes God commanded in the Bible. It is incor­rect to assume that the English word "tithes" indicates more than one category of ten per cent, or decimation, because it ends in an "s" and seems to be plural. Any plurality can only be read into the scriptural content because the Hebrew word used for "tithe" or "tenth" is singular in every case.

Check any analytical concordance. The Hebrew word ma'aser is translated into English as "tithes." The Hebrew can be properly rendered in either the singular or plural based on the translator's discretion of what would be the best English usage, but it means one ten percent portion: If more than one tithe has been meant, it probably would have been written in the original Hebrew as "ma'aserim" instead.

The Bible never quotes God discussing, "My Three Tithes." There was only one tithe of ten percent, but that one tithe was taken from several different sources: grain, herds, flocks, fruit, wine and other agricultural products.

This is the only way in which a single tithe could be considered plural: because the tithes were one ten per cent each of several differ­ent sources of animal and plant agricultural production. The tithe was single donor family’s collection of multiple one tenths from varied categories or agricultural areas of production.

There is no reference to tithing on monetary income from trade, mining, professional skills or investment in real estate, which was separated from the tribal inheritances and allowed in cities but not on the fam­ily farms. In fact, city property was not subject to the land Sabbath, debt forgiveness or Jubilee restoration.


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