Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Tithe: Its Early Structure

{The second part of a series on tithing: See the introduction posted here.}

Collection plates come in a number of different styles, made of aluminum or wood and in colors such as brown or silver or brass. I discovered this many years ago when asked to buy replacement plates for a church. A recent Google search showed a number of ways of describing these plates, including one which spoke of how envelopes would fit nice and flat on the bottom. Yet I suspect none of these plates could hold a person’s tithe if they were given as described in Deuteronomy.

Though not the first mention of tithing Deuteronomy gives instructions on how the people of Israel were to deal with their tithes once they entered into the Promised Land. The chapters give us a framework for how and where the people were to give, along with God’s goal in requiring the tithe. Leviticus and Numbers tell us how the tithe was intended to support the ministry of the Levites. Deuteronomy tells how the tithe was to work for each individual within the nation of Israel.

Deuteronomy 12:17-19

Being a mostly agricultural society, Israel’s tithing was described in terms of their crops. They were to bring a tithe of everything they grew as part of their offering, with a special tithe designated in the third year to mark their becoming established in the Promised Land. This was only one subset of their offering, as they were still required to give for burnt offerings and such that would increase the giving beyond the 10% mark. All was to be set aside and accounted for in wait for the day designated for the offering to be given.

Deuteronomy 14:22-23

The people of Israel were to bring their tithe to the place designated within their cities. There they were to eat their tithe, giving based on how they had been blessed by the Lord. Yes you read that correctly. The tithe was not simply left there at the altar. The people were to eat from the tithe they brought in to the temple, doing so before The Lord. They were to have what we would call a fellowship dinner, making sure to include the Levite. They were also to invite the widow and the poor living among them.

In doing so the people of Israel fulfilled the command given in Numbers that the tithes go as an inheritance to the Levite. It also fulfilled the ministerial mission of taking care of the poor, the widow, and the fatherless. But giving the tithe described in Deuteronomy served another purpose, one geared towards encouraging personal spiritual growth: “…that you may learn to revere your God always.”

More often than not the reason for tithing is wrapped up in the possibility of receiving a blessing in return for the tithe. Learning to revere and to fear God is not generally mentioned as a reason for paying our tithe. Yet it was given as a reason for paying the tithe as described in Deuteronomy. How is it that today when we speak of tithing and giving to God learning to revere is so often left out?

Next week we will look at Malachi, often the point of reference for those who justify giving a tithe as a way to receive blessings. Until then I leave you with something to ponder.

Perhaps you have been taught to give in reverence to the Lord. Have you ever been told how giving helps you learn to reverence God?


Gary Arnold said...

In all 3 tithes (Leviticus 27:30-33, Numbers 18; Deut. 14:22-27; Deut. 14:28-29, God commanded a tithe from HIS miraculous increase of food from crops and animals, NEVER money, and NEVER from man's income. This must be completely understood in order to understand that the tithe always came from God's labor, and never from man's labor. It came FROM God, not something man earned.

By tithing on one's income, man is replacing God in the tithing formula.

Dennis said...

Hi Gary. Thanks for sharing a very important point. As I study the tithe I am finding that my old views did not always line up with scripture. I had suffered from a me centric view of the tithe. Thanks for adding to my understanding of how the tithe was intended to be God centric.