Chapter 5 -


How did tithing fit into the civil government of ancient Israel? What was actually done? Who had control? How many tithes were collected and for what reason?

The Israelites under Joshua invaded the land of Canaan. They did not completely conquer it and drive all of the nations out. As a result, a number of the cities remained in the hands of the Amorites and Canaanites. These cities were ruled by kings. The Philistine cities were ruled by a confederation of lords or brother kings.

God used these foreign powers to punish His people when they disobeyed Him. The Israelites never learned the lesson for long. Obviously, during an actual period of servitude to foreign powers, the children of Israel would cry out to the LORD, their King, for deliverance. God would then send a savior, a judge, to deliver them in His name. But too often, the now freed Israelites, still faithless, looked to the human agent of their deliverance rather than to the LORD God, their Savior.

Jacob's descendants then came to a very human conclusion. Being blind to the cause of their problems, their sin, these patriarchs of old, sought to neutralize the effect of their sin. Instead of repenting and changing their lifestyle, they changed their government. In their human eyes it was the lack of kingly organization that led to their defeat at the hands of the Canaanites, Amorites, and Philistines. To them, that was the cause of their problem and not their sin. Their answer was to have their own king to lead them in battle.

Give Us a King!

So the children of Israel rebelled against the LORD, their Savior King. First, they tried to make their own king without consulting God. They asked Gideon to rule over them.

Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son's son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.” (Judges 8:22-23)

So some of the Israelites and their allies, the Shechemites, con­spired with Abimelech, a son of Gideon by a concubine, to make him king. To that end they killed all the other sons of Gideon but one, Jotham, who escaped. (Judges 9) After three years of rule over Israel, Abimelech was betrayed and killed in the civil wars he started.

After a few more years of difficult times - primarily at the hands of the Philistines, the Israelites tried again. This time they went to Samuel to ask a king of their own people from God. (I Samuel 8:4-6) They still had not recognized God as their deliverer through a man chosen for the purpose, or that their sins were the cause of their slavery, misery and oppression. Samuel recoiled from the request as it would put a man in the place of the LORD God, much as the Pope is in the place of Christ according to Catholic tradition, but::

The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.

Like all the deeds which they have done since the day I brought them up from Egypt even to this day - in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods - so they are doing to you also.” (I Samuel 8:7-8)

No longer were the children of Israel to be directly ruled by their God King, but by an intermediary, human king, albeit an Israelite who ruled in the name of God. God allowed this arrangement as a teaching type of His future Messiah King, Jesus, who as a man begotten of God, is the mediator between God and man.

Since just the existence of a human kingship would be oppressively costly, God knew that this oppression would also be politically intensified by at least some of the human kings. It was all a part of teaching man that he is incapable of ruling himself -whether it be on a personal or national level.

God revealed His thoughts by instructing Samuel to tell the Israelites the manner and custom by which they would be ruled. In short it would be oppressive, a chosen slavery by their own people instead of the liberty of faith in God as their Deliverer. The human king would also take a tithe of the best of the produce. This was considered by God to be one of the oppressions of human rule or administration.

And he will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. And he will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards, and give to his officers and to his servants…

He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you your­selves will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day. (I Samuel 8:14-18)

This is the only mention of a second distinct tithe in the Old Testament. It was the tax taken by the civil government, the kingship demanded by the people. God called it oppressive because it would forcibly take more than ten per cent of the people's increase.

Second Tithe = Civil Tax

The Israelites became the servants, or slaves, of their kings because they spent many long working hours to pay for their royal security blankets, the king and his army. There is no mention of a third tithe.

This second tithe was not commanded by God, but by a human king who used it to support himself, including his governmental, political and military, power base. It had nothing to do with the Kingdom of God but with the Babylonish practice of human kingship, which is a form of idolatry because it places a human government between, or before, the people and their God. This is why God calls kingship the worship of false gods. Thus, this second tithe is linked to Babylon, idolatry and slavery - not to the Feast as some claim.

The clear implication here is that the king's taking of a second tithe, over and above what was already going to the Levites, would be seriously oppressive - oppressive to the point that the peo­ple would eventually rebel against their own chosen kings. It was natural that the king would take the typical ten per cent tax. It was unnatural that the king's normal ten per cent tax was added on top of the first tithe paid to the Levites for the Temple service. Thus, the king's tithe became a second tithe.

In actuality what happened was that the king used the Levites to fill much of his administration and took practical control of a full twenty per cent of a nation's agricultural production plus whatever else he wanted. The Levites became part of the civil administration to preserve access to their income. As a consequence, they now served two masters: God and mammon, which led to spiritual compromise. Jesus addressed this continuing issue in Matthew 6:24:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth [KJV - Mammon].

The king could do this because he had a permanent army. This professional army was a new innovation for Israel. Under the judges, a volunteer militia was the sole military force available to fight outside invaders. With a voluntary militia there was no power base to fight over, making it difficult for one man or tribe to oppress another.

Often the king's palace guard, would be made up of his relatives, friends, and hired mercenaries owing no loyalty to anyone but to the king who, of course, paid wages for their loyalty. In David's case the army was commanded by his half nephew, Joab; his other half nephews, Abishai and Asahel were heads of "the mighty men"; Benaiah was over the Cherethites and Pelethites (both terms for clans of Philistines); Zadok was the head of the priests, who as a group are listed as part of the David's kingly administration. David's sons were chief ministers.

The Levites were the tax and tithe collectors, for both king and God. They kept the stores in their cities scattered throughout the trib­al inheritances. Since these cities were not part of any regional tribe, they were a natural extension of the king's central administration. The tithes were used to build and keep the Levitical cities for both king and God. Comparison with other ancient kingdoms shows that the primary use of these cities and their stores was for monarchical gov­ernment including the support and quartering of the king's armies and chariots.

Read II Samuel 8:15-18 and I Chronicles 11:1-47 and note how many of the professional guard were foreigners, the best known being Uriah, the Hittite in verse 41. See also I Chronicles 26:20-28 where the Levites are shown to have the administrative function of keeping the king's treasures. No doubt they kept a catalog and the accounting necessary to effect the distribution of the tithe produce.

Additional insight comes from the reign of Hezekiah, King of Judah. Here the role of the king as enforcer of the Law is demonstrat­ed. The implication is that for most of their history the Israelites did not tithe except as a particular king enforced the collection. Read all of II Chronicles 31. N ote the separate references to tithes and first fruits. Hezekiah:

…commanded the people who lived in Jerusalem to give the portion due to the priests and the Levites, that they might devote themselves to the law of the LORD. And as soon as the order spread, the sons of Israel provided in abundance the first fruits of grain, new wine, oil, honey, and all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of all.

And the sons of Israel and Judah who lived in the cities of Judah, also brought in the tithe of oxen and sheep, and the tithe of sacred gifts which were consecrated to the LORD their God, and placed them in heaps. (4-6)

The rest of the chapter describes this bureaucracy at work. The number of Aaronites had grown so that not all of them lived near the Temple, but they all served at the Temple in rotating shifts of service. Interestingly, the schedule was set up and enforced by the king.

The king had military control of the Temple and its storehouses of wealth. Since this wealth was de facto the king's, who was the state, it is obvious that he protected it as his own, though dedicated to God. Often the Temple was plundered to payoff invaders. (See I Kings 15:18; II Kings 12:18; 18:15.)

Nehemiah’s Reforms

In Ezra's and Nehemiah's time there were only a few thousand Jews and Benjaminites, so the tithes were not enough to support the Temple service. (The other tribes were lost to history.)Nehemiah's solution was the levying of a temple tax of one third shekel yearly per head of household. (Nehemiah 10:32)

The temple tax came in the place of the ten per cent tax the kings of Israel had formerly exact­ed. Note that Hezekiah provided for the king's portion of offerings (II Chronicles 31:3), which were identical to the offerings paid for by Nehemiah's one third shekel temple tax. (Nehemiah 10:33) The offer­ings supported the Aaronic priests, and the tithe supported the Levites.

Nehemiah 13:10-14 relates the historical restoration of the tithes to the Levites as well as demonstrating that the tithe(s) of Malachi 3:10 were really offerings. Again it is enforced by the civil leader, though the actual tax, and tithe collectors were the locally situated Levites. (10:38 previously quoted) This is the challenge referred to in Malachi 3:8-9:

Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me!

But you say, “How have we robbed Thee?”

In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you!

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.

The Encyclopedia Judaica and other Jewish sources relate that in the Persian and Maccabean periods, the Jewish religious assembly or Sanhedrin, began to teach that the entire first tithe should go to the Temple. The sources often quoted by the commentaries and ministers that teach the existence of multiple tithes usually date, or have their roots, in, this period of history before Jesus.

The teaching of more than one tithe came out of the religious leaders' monetary necessity.

The small group of Levites and priests who returned to Judea from Babylon was in need of cash. Even the area of the freed inheritance had shrunk, not just the size of the popu­lation working it. One tithe of such a reduced base did not seem suffi­cient to support a proportionately large number of priests and leaders.

A greatly reduced population base was all that was left to support a proportionately more numerous religious leadership. Also by this time the number of Aaronic priests had grown so large in relation to the number of Levites that for the Levites to keep ninety per cent of the entire tithe was ludicrous. This situation led to further distortions in tithe administration.

By Jesus' day the distinction between Levite and Aaronite priest seems to have practically disappeared when it came to distributing the tithes. Many of the religious leaders were not even Levites, much less sons of Aaron. The tithe was allotted to Levite, Aaronite and others based on individual need and station instead of by strict clan affiliation. In practice the offering called the Levites' "tithe of the tithe" grew to swallow up or include the entire tithe.

Tithing in Second Temple Times

In order to justify keeping the entire first tithe, the assembly of priests (Sadducees) and righteous separatists (Pharisees) came up with a sec­ond tithe to be used for celebrating the Feasts. This precedent is sometimes cited by ministers who believe in such a festival tithe.

Throughout the last two thousand years, attempts have been made to scholastically justify this second tithe as a solution to the appar­ent contradictions of the tithing provisions discussed above. The problem rests in confusion between the rights to the tithe and those who were blessed by consuming the actual meat and pro­duce.

In Deuteronomy 14 the consumption of the tithe was shared between worshiper, the poor and the Levite. In Numbers 18 it seemed that the entire tithe went to the Levites and Aaronites. That's because Numbers 18 discusses the permanent legal right to the tithe as the Levites' inheritance and the payment for their service at the temple. It does not deal with temporary aid to the poor at all. That is simply not the subject of that chapter, so it is not mentioned.

Since it is not possible for one man to known the motives of anoth­er for sure, it is best to assume that all those who have in the past or who currently teach multiple tithes do so out of sincerity. That's the way they saw or see it. Regardless of motive, in the Second Temple

Period from about 500 BC to 70 AD, the human, rationally devised solution to meet an increased economic need was “revenue enhance­ment" by restoring the double tithe of the civil kingdom period instead of maintaining the single tithe of God's originally ordained and divine kingship as provided by the original constitution, the Sinai Covenant.

The Sanhedrin's teaching of two tithes was in fact an interpre­tive custom or stipulation designed to materially benefit a theo­cratic government dominated by a powerful few - both Pharisees and Sadducees. It was oppressive, so the people mostly ignored it as God had anticipated.

During His ministry on earth, Jesus condemned the religious lead­ers' greed and lack of concern for the common man. In Luke 10:30-37 the priest and the Levite pass the Jewish man beaten by robbers on the road. He is saved by the Good Samaritan.

Today the words, Good Samaritan, leave a favorable impression on the English speak­ing mind, but to the ancient Jews the most detestable race of men on earth were the Samaritans. In His parable Jesus effectively communi­cated God's negative opinion of the priests' and Levites' too common lack of love for their neighbor.

In Matthew 15:1-9 Jesus specifically comments on how the Pharisees and scribes profited by voiding one of the Ten Commandments, "Honor your father and your mother.”

Based on nar­row and twisted logic, they had worked out a legal way to get money into the temple treasury instead of into the pockets of needy parents. Money in the treasury benefitted those who controlled it, that is, those who made the interpretive human traditions that effectively circum­vented God's plain commandment. As Jesus said:

Woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the other. (Luke 11:42)

God had commanded a single tithe to the Temple and its Levitical priesthood. That one tithe was to be compensation for the Levites' loving ministry to the people in the name of God, but they failed to uphold God's name because they were human, fleshy and imperfect in every way. The Jewish elders had by and large earned the condemna­tion of God because of their additions to His Holy Law, which trans­formed it from a way of teaching love to pointless legalism. However, any changes man may try to make will only last for awhile; then God intervenes.

Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit. (Matthew 15:13-14)

The Pharisees of old judged themselves and earned their own sentence. So it's not surprising to see modem religious leaders who do likewise. Men rise and fall in accord with the blessings of their ways or the curses of their self-inflicted destruction derived from vari­ous human weaknesses like hypocritical greed or convenient Biblical ignorance.


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