This is another chapter from Lies of the Shepherds, one that every Christian should read.
Chapter Eleven: Tithes
God owns everything. The deed to one’s home has their name on it, but the property belongs to God. He owns the Earth and all that resides in it. He owns our souls. He owns the stars.
As He said to the prophet Isaiah, recorded in the 66th chapter of the book of Isaiah, “Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool.” And as Moses says to Pharaoh in the ninth chapter of Exodus, verse 29, “…As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands to the Lord; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.”
God owns all things and we owe everything to Him. But of Christ, Paul says the following in the first chapter of his letter to the Colossians:
“16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”
All things were created for Christ. And God owns everything. But there also exists what is known as stewardship, a relationship in which something is placed in the charge of another for safekeeping, administration, disposition, and development.
This chapter will deal with tithes, the tenth part of one’s income which certain doctrines teach is to be paid from each of us into the hands of those who hold positions of responsibility in the church of Jesus Christ. We will look at each of the texts that has something to say about tithes, and strive to correctly evaluate the message of God on this practice.
As far as I am able to discern, the first mention of a tithe is found in the 14th chapter of the book of Genesis. We read there that Abraham (then still known as Abram) becomes involved in a war that takes place between a certain group of kings in Canaan. Abram is victorious and, immediately after the war ends, Melchizedek appears to him, about whom we read the following:
“18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said:
“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
And he gave him a tithe of all.”
We do not know with certainty whether Abraham had previously met or known about Melchizedek, but it is possible that he had already known him who, as the scripture points out, was a king and a priest of God. It seems reasonable, in any case, that he might already have known such an illustrious figure. Nevertheless, very little is revealed about Melchizedek in the Old Testament. I see Melchizedek mentioned there only one other time, by King David, in the 110th Psalm, where David writes this:
“4 The Lord has sworn
And will not relent,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”
Despite how little we are told about Melchizedek, we see that Abraham paid to him a tenth of all. This took place, as far as scripture reveals, on one occasion, and involved a tenth of all. We hear nothing more about it, or about the practice of tithing by Abraham, as far as God’s word is concerned.
The apostle Paul does mention Melchizedek in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Hebrews where, while speaking of Jesus Christ, he writes this:
“9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, 10 called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” 11 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.”
So we can see that much is known about Melchizedek, only not by us, even though Paul speaks more about him in the seventh chapter of his letter to the Hebrews, saying things that I must confess not to fully grasp.
We see that Abraham paid the tithe once to Melchizedek, but that there is no mention of a repetition of the practice by Abraham. The next mention of tithing is found at the 28th chapter of Genesis, in a passage where we are told of a dream in which God revealed to Jacob that to his descendants God would give the land in which Jacob was lying, that Jacob’s descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth, and that all of mankind would be blessed through Jacob’s seed. Jacob was greatly impressed by the dream, as anyone would be, and the passage goes on to say:
“18 Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. 19 And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. 22 And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”
So there we see that Jacob made a vow to pay the tithe to God upon fulfillment of God’s promises to him.
The next mention of tithes that I found is in the 27th chapter of the book of Leviticus, where we find this among the commands that the Lord gave the children of Israel at Mount Sinai:
“30 And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord. 31 If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. 32 And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord.”
I do not see further details there about tithes, but in the 18th chapter of the book of Numbers we see more. There the Lord explains to Aaron which of the sacrifices made to God in the sanctuary will belong to Aaron’s sons, the priests, after which He goes on to explain that the tithes will be given to the Levites as their possession. In verse 21, He tells Aaron, “Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.” The Levites, says the Lord to Aaron, will perform the work of the tabernacle of meeting (later at the temple in Jerusalem) but are to have no other inheritance in Israel, except the tithes, which belong forever to them. In verse 24, He says to Aaron:
“For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, ‘Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.’”
And then he goes on to say the following to Moses:
25 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 26 “Speak thus to the Levites, and say to them: ‘When you take from the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them as your inheritance, then you shall offer up a heave offering of it to the Lord, a tenth of the tithe. 27 And your heave offering shall be reckoned to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor and as the fullness of the winepress. 28 Thus you shall also offer a heave offering to the Lord from all your tithes which you receive from the children of Israel, and you shall give the Lord’s heave offering from it to Aaron the priest. 29 Of all your gifts you shall offer up every heave offering due to the Lord, from all the best of them, the consecrated part of them.’ 30 Therefore you shall say to them: ‘When you have lifted up the best of it, then the rest shall be accounted to the Levites as the produce of the threshing floor and as the produce of the winepress. 31 You may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward for your work in the tabernacle of meeting. 32 And you shall bear no sin because of it, when you have lifted up the best of it. But you shall not profane the holy gifts of the children of Israel, lest you die.’”
We will come back to this and consider it further in a little while. Note, for now, that the manner of dealing with the tithes included specific requirements that were not to be taken lightly, the variance from which had fatal consequences, as the Lord points out in verse 32.
Additional insight into the matter of tithing comes in the book of Deuteronomy, where in the 12th chapter the Lord reveals in what way the people of Israel are to dispose of the tithes. After warning Israel to destroy all the objects of worship of the nations that they will displace in Canaan, and to avoid any of their detestable practices, the Lord tells them, beginning in verse 5:
“5 “But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. 6 There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the Lord your God has blessed you.”
Jehovah there has told them to go before the Lord to eat the tithes in the place where He has chosen. But in case we find this surprising, He then goes on to repeat the instruction, beginning in verse 8, where we read this:
“8 “You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes— 9 for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you. 10 But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, 11 then there will be the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the Lord. 12 And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you.”
The Lord Jehovah there clarifies that the people are to eat the tithes before Him in the place of his choosing, rejoicing in his blessings to them. As a friend of mine expressed it to me, “God has ordered them to party.” There is no doubt that this assessment is correct, as the Lord again clarifies his requirement, beginning in verse 17, where we read the following:
“17 You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or your new wine or your oil, of the firstborn of your herd or your flock, of any of your offerings which you vow, of your freewill offerings, or of the heave offering of your hand. 18 But you must eat them before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord your God chooses, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all to which you put your hands. 19 Take heed to yourself that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land.”
So the Lord’s intention was for his people to celebrate and rejoice before Him, while consuming the tithes and bringing their portion to the Levites. He adds in verse 28, “Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.”
I am going to quote directly more passages of scripture than I have done in other chapters of this book, as I believe this subject warrants our careful consideration of what the word of God says about tithing, in order to remove any confusion or doubt about what He intended for the practice to involve. For example, the Lord once again sheds light on tithing in the 14th chapter of Deuteronomy, where He reiterates for clarity what He had already commanded. Beginning in verse 22 we read the following:
“22 “You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. 23 And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 26 And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. 27 You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you.”
The Lord seems to have viewed tithing as sufficiently significant to merit several repetitions of the explanation of how to carry it out correctly. And as you can see from verse 26, He even commanded the people of Israel to drink “wine or similar drink” as part of the festivities. He clearly intended the practice to be a joyous occasion for the people. Then to end the chapter, the Lord adds a new detail, which is this:
“28 At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. 29 And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.”
God there reminds the people to remember the Levites, who have no other inheritance, and the stranger, poor, fatherless, and widows, and to share with them the blessings that God has showered on his people. But even though by now the requirements He has placed on them with respect to obeservance of the practice of tithing should be clear, the Lord once again repeats his requirements, with additional commentary, in the 26th chapter of Deuteronomy, where He says this:
“12 “When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year—the year of tithing—and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, 13 then you shall say before the Lord your God: ‘I have removed the holy tithe from my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. 14 I have not eaten any of it when in mourning, nor have I removed any of it for an unclean use, nor given any of it for the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the Lord my God, and have done according to all that You have commanded me. 15 Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the land which You have given us, just as You swore to our fathers, “a land flowing with milk and honey.”’
Do you perceive how important it was for the Lord that tithing be practiced according to the requirements He laid out? Tithing was not to Him merely a celebration by which the people of Israel were to rejoice before Him, but instead bore great significance in connection with recognizing his holiness and his goodness, as well as serving as a constant reminder to care for the needy among them. Tithing was not to be carried out in any way that might seem good to them, but was to be strictly adhered to in the way designated by the Lord, variance from which was to have dire consequences.
The preceding passages from Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy were all from the Law of Moses, but now we will consider a few other texts to see what else the Hebrew scriptures had to say about tithing. For example, it is interesting to note that, according to the 31st chapter of the second book of Chronicles, King Hezekiah brought about certain reforms in order to conform to the requirements of the Lord with respect to such things as tithing, with the result that is pointed out in verses 21 and 21:
“20 Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and true before the Lord his God. 21 And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, in the law and in the commandment, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart. So he prospered.”
The tithes are discussed also from the 10th to the 13th chapters of the book of Nehemiah, but I will leave it to you to review what is recorded there. Now consider what we find in the third chapter of the book of Malachi, where the prophet of God writes the following:
“8 “Will a man rob God?
Yet you have robbed Me!
But you say,
‘In what way have we robbed You?’
In tithes and offerings.
9 You are cursed with a curse,
For you have robbed Me,
Even this whole nation.
10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And try 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 such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.
11 “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes,
So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground,
Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,”
Says the Lord of hosts;
12 “And all nations will call you blessed,
For you will be a delightful land,”
Says the Lord of hosts.”
Preachers today sometimes refer to this passage from Malachi, when encouraging parishioners to give tithes and offerings and first fruits to the church. And as the scriptures also remind us, God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). One problem is that, in pressing the issue of bringing tithes into the church, they are forgetting, apparently, that tithes were established by God as an inheritance for the Levites, and as a means of aiding the stranger, the poor, and the widow. Another problem is that they forget, perhaps, that carrying out the practice results in severe penalties, when it is practiced in any way not in compliance with God’s specified requirements. That is what the Lord has repeatedly revealed in the law, as we already have considered. Another problem is that the practice of tithing was established by God as part of the Law of Moses, which the apostle Paul revealed to be obsolete, once the new covenant in Christ’s blood came into existence. And another problem is that they tend not to practice tithing as the Lord required.
You cannot have it your own way. Either you are under the new covenant or you are under the Law of Moses. You must choose. If you choose to be under the law, as Paul says in the third chapter of his letter to the Galatians:
“10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”
If you practice tithing, you place yourself under the law, and so are under the curse (Galatians 3). Moreover, if you practice tithing in some way that does not comply to God’s stated requirements for tithing, you are to be cursed. And if you teach others to tithe, according to the Law of Moses, the curse become triple, as you have become a false teacher who misleads the flock of God. Is that what you want?
As far as the following goes, I will leave to each individual the determination of in what way it relates to their own situation; but it bears mentioning, I believe, that in the seventh chapter of the gospel of Mark, Jesus had some choice words to say to the Pharisees and scribes with respect to giving to God, which might refer in some cases to tithes. Here is what he said there:
“9 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
You evaluate your own circumstances and decide for yourself whether that has anything to do with your life or not.
Contributing to the needs of the church is perfectly normal, good, and necessary. Helping the poor, the widow, and the orphan is certainly what God wants us to do. Enjoying our walk with Jesus Christ is a blessing. But tithing is not, and never has been, what they teach today. Do not be caught up in the curses. Do God’s will according to God’s instructions, not according to you own standards. The 14th chapter of Proverbs warns, “12 There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”
We could here go into a consideration of passages from the word of God on giving, but it is not the point of this chapter to examine that. Giving is a Christian thing to do, taught by Christ and the apostles, and a matter relating to common sense, as well as to the issue of loving our neighbors as ourselves. If we all gave as we should, the world would be full of light, love, and hope. The issue of this chapter has been explained, to the best of my ability. And giving will be discussed a bit more in the following chapter of this book.
Before I did research for this chapter, it was related to me by a friend, Stephen Bening, that those who preach and promote the practice of tithing today bring upon themselves a curse, which I did not really grasp very well at the time. He told me the story of a pastor he knew, whom he warned about the curse, and who contracted a fatal disease that Stephen attributes to his stand on tithing.
Stephen pointed out to me on his website where I could read more about this issue in the course of researching the subject of tithing. But I decided to ignore that information, and instead to stick with the Bible alone on which to base the chapter. After having waded through all that I could find on what the scriptures have to say about tithing, there remains no doubt in my mind that they do indeed bring themselves under a curse who continue to preach and promote the practice of tithing.
If you wish to give a tenth of your income to the church, there is no sin in it. But the pastor has no business preaching to you that a tithe is what you must give. It is not God’s will that a preacher impose upon you that you must observe the Law of Moses. And the very preacher who preaches tithing, who wishes to bend you to his own will in this matter, and not to the will of God, does not practice tithing in the way God prescribed.
If the church were to do with tithes what the Law of Moses mandates, not varying from it at all, it would still be incorrect to do so, as those who follow Jesus Christ are not under the Law of Moses. But the churches do not follow that law as God intended, so that point is irrelevant.
We should contribute to the church (we are the church) in order to meet the expenses incurred by it, and to support the programs administered by it, and the church should give to the needy; but the tithe has no place in the church of Christ.
In the sixth chapter of the gospel of Luke, Jesus Christ taught, “38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
God knows there are many who need our help and we need Jehovah’s blessing. And since we need his blessing, we should pay careful attention to what He has said about tithing, in order to avoid the curse that inevitably comes with disobedience.
I realize that many will not share this view, but who will continue to base their teaching on erroneous bases, rather than on the word of God. I ask them to carefully examine the scriptures and prayerfully consider what God has to say about this, which is, after all, what should be of importance to us.