“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’s; it is holy to the LORD.”
What is the tithe, and what is its purpose? One thing I have learned in over 30 years of ministry is to avoid assumptions! Sometimes we use terms in church that we have heard for so long that we take it for granted that everyone understands them. I know in my own life, I only began to learn about tithing in my mid-twenties, and even then, I really didn’t understand much about it. So, let’s take a few minutes to consider the tithe together.
First, what is it? The word tithe simply means tenth, so a tithe of $100 would be $10 and so on. That is simple enough of course, but it is the application of the tithe that often becomes the hard part. So, what is the purpose of the tithe? Well, Leviticus 27:30 (among many other places in Scripture), tells us that the tithe is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord. That means that it is set apart for Him alone!
The book of Leviticus was written to teach the Levites how their ministry was supposed to function. We often think of this book as being full of rules and regulations that don’t apply to us as New Testament believers in Christ. However, there are many very valuable principles in God’s Law that we can learn, even in Leviticus! As we read chapter 27, it becomes clear that whatever belongs to the Lord does not belong to us. It is no longer under the power of the worshipper. It is God’s to use for His purposes.
“And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the LORD. One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.”
The Israelites lived in an agrarian culture. They didn’t work a 40-hour week and receive a paycheck on Friday. So, most of them gave their tithe from the “currency” of the livestock or crops that they produced. For example, an Israelite shepherd would have his sheep pass under his staff, and every 10th one belonged to the Lord. It was no longer under his ownership. He relinquished all rights to control that sheep to the Lord. It was the same process with anything that was the product of a family’s labor, the tithe belonged to the Lord.
“To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting,”
So, why did God require the tithe of His people back then? Well, God required it of the children of Israel for both practical and spiritual reasons. The practical side was that this was the way that He designed to provide for worship. The tithe was given to support the tribe of Levi as they ministered to the Lord. The worshipper would give the tithe to the Lord, and the Lord would give it to those who carried out the ministry.
The Levites included the priesthood, but it also included all who were responsible for the things related to the worship of the Lord. It covered everyone from the high priest to the people who cared for the utensils used to offer sacrifices in the sanctuary. As a matter of fact, the tribe of Levi did not receive any land in the inheritance like the other tribes. Their inheritance was the tithe given by all the other tribes.
On the spiritual side of things, God was teaching His people to trust Him and not themselves. He even challenged those Jews who had returned from captivity in Babylon to put Him to the test by bringing all the tithe to the storehouse and see if He would not open the windows of heaven to them (Malachi 3:10).
In Malachi’s day, they had come back to the promised land and were in great need. They had homes to rebuild and a wall to restore for the security of the city. The problem was that they were putting their own “needs” before God. So, God sent prophets to remind them to put Him first by tithing and to trust Him to be their provider.
What about today? Does the Lord want us to tithe? Let’s consider three things as we think about the answer to that question. First, the tithe was a principle that existed long before the Law. Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, and Jacob committed to give God a tithe of all that He would give him. Second, the Law teaches the principles of how God uses the tithe to provide for His worship and to teach his people to rely on Him. Lastly, Jesus said we should tithe.
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
We are so used to thinking of how Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees for their hypocrisy that sometimes we miss this. The problem was not that they tithed, it was that they had the wrong attitude about all of their acts of worship. They had an outward appearance of righteousness without a genuine love for God and His image-bearers. There were certainly “weightier matters” that they were missing. However, Jesus said that they should continue to tithe.
Why, then should God’s people tithe today? Well, the reasons really haven’t changed since Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils of battle to Melchizadek. Abraham was exercising faith in the Lord as his Provider and he was giving support to the worship of the Lord, just as the Israelites and other believers have done through the ages since His time. In the same way, putting the Lord first by honoring Him with the first tenth of our increase gives us an opportunity to grow in our faith and experience God in amazing ways. It also provides for the ministry of the local church, to expand the reach of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, how about you? If you are not already practicing this act of faith, let me challenge you to take a step of faith and experience God in ways that you cannot even imagine. He truly is Jehovah – Jireh!