One of the biggest tests for many people is the command to tithe. There is much to understand. Tithing involves a lot more than just paying ten percent of one’s income.
How many tithes are found in the Bible? Is there only one? Two? More? Do tithes belong to God? If so, how does one “write a check” to Him? How should tithe money be spent?
Tithe is an old English word, meaning “a tenth or a tenth part.” The term was commonly used three to four hundred years ago. It is rarely used today, except in a scriptural connection.
During Old Testament times, the nation of Israel was commanded by God to tithe. But the matter of to whom each Israelite paid this tenth, which tenth was paid, why and for what purpose, seems to confuse many. Even today, the New Testament teaching about tithing is misunderstood by the majority of professing Christianity.
Most assume that tithing is just an Old Testament commandment that was done away at the start of the New Testament era. But is this true? If not, can it be proven otherwise? Let’s look to the Bible and see what God says!
Hebrews 7:5-9 states some interesting facts about who should receive tithes: “And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment [Numbers 18] to take tithes [plural] of the people according to the law [first five books of the Bible], that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: but He [Melchisedec] whose descent is not counted from them [Levites] received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. And here men [Levites] that die receive tithes; but there [Abraham’s time] He [Melchisedec] receives them, of whom it is witnessed that He lives. And as I may so say, Levi also, who receives tithes [according to the law], paid tithes in Abraham.”
These verses tell us: (1) The Levites were commanded to take tithes of the people, (2) the people did not decide for themselves whom to send them to—God was very plain—and, (3) the tithing law was in effect centuries before Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.
Notice Genesis 14:20: “And blessed be the most High God, which has delivered your enemies into your hand. And he [Abram] gave Him [Melchisedec] tithes of all.”
Continuing in verses 10-12 of Hebrews 7: “For he [Levi] was yet in the loins [not yet born] of his father [Abraham], when Melchisedec met him. If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood”—it was not—“(for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed [transferred from Levi to Christ], there is made of necessity a change [transfer] also of the law.”
Today, Christ is our High Priest “of the order of Melchisedec.” The priesthood was changed and the law concerning who received the tithes also changed. But the law of tithing was, and is, in effect. When Christ became our High Priest, the tithes stopped going to the Levites and started going to Christ’s ministers—spiritual Levites—those in whom God is working to proclaim His gospel to this world. This is what the apostle Paul was saying in Hebrews 7. Since Christ is our High Priest with the same rank as Melchisedec, and the Levites received tithes, how much the more should Christ receive them?
Now that we have established that tithing is still in effect in this New Testament era, it becomes evident that tithing is even more important for us today! How would God’s Work go forward without it? How would we preach the coming kingdom of God without the financial support of God?
Just as with a normal household or corporation, bills come due in the Work of God. Church literature—books, booklets, articles, magazines, websites, etc.—requires the “mammon of this world.” Rent for headquarters office space, and other overhead expenses, must also be paid.
And how would we manage Feast sites? How would we be able to help the needy within the Church?
II Timothy 2:3-7 makes plain that the ministry (and those serving full-time in the Work) is entitled to receive payment for services rendered. “You therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that wars entangles himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who has chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. The husbandman that labors must be first partaker of the fruits. Consider what I say; and the Lord give you understanding in all things.”
God expects those who do His Work to be paid! And it is God who pays them. Full-time ministers should not be forced to work a second job because they are underpaid. (That is not to say though that their salaries should be exorbitant. No true minister would dare “fleece the flock” of God.)
As mentioned earlier, tithing did not start with Moses. We saw that Melchisedec received tithes from Abraham over 400 years before.
God owns everything. So says the Bible! Exodus 19:5 states, “Now therefore, if you will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine.” (Also see Psalm 50:12.)
All the earth belongs to God. We puny little humans own nothing except that which God gives us. Whatever blessings we have are here because God chose to give them to us. Our homes are built from materials that come from the ground. Our food is grown in soil that God created. Our automobiles are produced from ores that come from the earth. Nothing we have is ours unless and until God allows us to have it—and even then, we only own it temporarily. When we die, we take nothing with us (Ecc. 9:10)!
Although God owns everything, He does allow us to keep part of the fruit of our labor. But there is a catch. Only after we tithe of that increase does God allow us to keep the rest. If we keep to ourselves the whole amount we earn, then we are stealing from Him. Malachi 3:8 is very clear about this: “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me. But you say, Wherein have we robbed You? In tithes and offerings.”
What happens if we don’t tithe? Verse 9 continues, “You are cursed with a curse: for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation [has robbed Me].”
God then encourages people to tithe—even challenges them! “Bring you all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (vs. 10).
There it is! God promises to bless those who tithe. He is able to make that 90 percent stretch further than if the whole 100 percent were kept.
The first place in the Bible in which tithing is mentioned as a command is Leviticus 27. This was God’s instruction for Moses to tell the Israelites. It was not something Moses invented. “And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them…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 unto the Lord…These are the commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel in mount Sinai” (vs. 1-2, 30, 34).
Numbers 18 sheds light on who is to receive tithes: “And the Lord spoke unto Aaron, Behold, I also have given you the charge of Mine heave offerings of all the hallowed things of the children of Israel; unto you have I given them by reason of the anointing, and to your sons, by an ordinance forever” (vs. 8).
The Levitical priesthood descends from the tribe of Levi, of whom Aaron was a member. But the high priesthood comes from the family of Aaron—a family within the family. God told Israel to tithe. Then He told Aaron that his family and the Levites would receive those tithes.
Also notice that the tithes were their inheritance: “And the Lord spoke unto Aaron, You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any part among them: I am your part and your inheritance among the children of Israel” (vs. 20). The Levites received no land, but they were to receive God’s part. This was whom ancient Israel “made the check out to.”
To reinforce what God told Moses to tell the people of Israel, He states in verse 21, “And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.”
The only land the Levites inherited were 48 cities scattered throughout Israel. This land was common to all so that no individual owned it. (See Numbers 35:1-34.) These cities included enough land to sustain the herds that were received as tithes. Among the 48 were to be six cities of refuge (vs. 6). These were established in case someone accidentally killed a person (vs. 11).
A person’s inheritance was not to move from tribe to tribe. Even in the case of a man having only daughters and no sons. The daughter was only to marry within the tribe of her father if she received an inheritance. This ensured that the inheritance would always stay within a particular tribe.
Notice Numbers 36:7-8: “So shall not the inheritance of the children of Israel remove from tribe to tribe: for every one of the children of Israel shall keep himself to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter, that possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel, shall be wife unto one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the children of Israel may enjoy every man the inheritance of his fathers.”
As with the other tribes that received land as an inheritance, the Levites received tithes from the people. Those tithes—their inheritance—were not to be removed from that family! As long as that tribe represented God’s ministry, tithes were to be given to the Levites.
But now, the priesthood of Melchisedec, with Christ as High Priest, receives those tithes (Heb. 7:5-12). Paul wrote, “Do you not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? And they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so has the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (I Cor. 9:13-14).
When the Levites received their tithes, they were also to tithe. They were no different in this regard. But how did the Levites pay tithes, and to whom?
Notice what God told the Levites: “When you take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall offer up an heave offering of it for the Lord, even a tenth part of the tithe…Thus you also shall offer an heave offering unto the Lord of all your tithes, which you receive of the children of Israel; and you shall give thereof the Lord’s heave offering to Aaron the priest. Out of all your gifts you shall offer every heave offering of the Lord, of all the best thereof, even the hallowed part thereof out of it” (Num. 18:26, 28-29).
The tithe the Levites were to pay went to the family of Aaron, the high priest of that time.
Even centuries later, the Levitical priesthood still received tithes. Notice: “…and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage. And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house” (Neh. 10:37-38).
Jerusalem was the only place where offerings were permitted on the altar. Priests who served at the temple received the tithes from the Levites and were to distribute the tithes among themselves. This was their inheritance, and payment for the service they rendered. If they were irresponsible in their duties, and disobeyed God and His laws, then they would receive nothing. The priesthood would die out and their inheritance would dwindle away.
When we study the subject of tithing, some scriptures seem to indicate that we are supposed to hold our tithes—and that we are to spend them on ourselves.
Notice Deuteronomy 12: “These are the statutes and judgments, which you shall observe to do in the land, which the Lord God of your fathers gives you to possess it, all the days that you live upon the earth…But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, even unto His habitation shall you seek, and there you shall come” (vs. 1, 5).
This is talking about traveling to one of God’s Holy Days, primarily the Feast of Tabernacles. (Read our booklet God’s Holy Days or Pagan Holidays? to learn more about God’s annual sabbaths.)
What are we to bring with us? “And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes…And there you shall eat before the Lord your God… Notwithstanding you may kill and eat flesh in all your gates, whatsoever your soul lusts after” (vs. 6-7, 15).
Now comes the problem. If we are to give to the priesthood a tithe of all our increase, how are we also to take our tithes to the feast with us—to spend on whatever our hearts desire? The answer is simple. This is speaking of a second tithe. Note that the above verses mentions “tithes”—plural—there are more than one.
The second tithe is the same amount as the first—one tenth of your increase. You are to save it and bring it to the Holy Days or Feasts of God. It can be used, as stated in Scripture, for whatever your heart “lusts for”—desires.
Of course, this does not mean “anything goes.” This does not give us a license to break God’s laws—as millions of professing Christians do. God’s true people will not want to lust after things forbidden by God. But we can desire anything within the boundaries of God’s Law—anything allowable or permissible by Him.
Back to Deuteronomy 12: “You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your corn, or of your wine, or of your oil, or the firstlings of your herds or of your flock, nor any of your vows which you vow, nor your freewill offerings, or heave offering of your hand: but you must eat them before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord your God shall choose, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite that is within your gates: and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all that you put your hands unto” (vs. 17-18).
This clearly states that one cannot stay at home and spend his second tithe. However, there are a few exceptions for those unable to travel to the Feast. Poor health, illness or a late term pregnancy are a few, but there are not many more. These are God’s Feasts, which He has commanded His people to keep.
Who should enjoy the Feast with you? “Your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite that is within your gates.” Your whole household is to travel with you and enjoy a foretaste of the world to come.
The first and second tithes are different from each other. They are two distinct tithes, used for two distinct purposes. The first tithe, as we have seen, was for the Levitical priesthood. Today it is used to preach the gospel to the world through various media. The second tithe is for an individual to bring to the Feast—to spend at the Feast.
The tithe explained in Deuteronomy 12 could not be the same tithe explained in Numbers 18. If we were to translate Deuteronomy 12 from the Septuagint, it would read, “You shall not eat in your cities the additional tithe of your corn…”
The Greek word ephidekaton is used instead of dekaton. Dekaton means “a tenth” or a “tenth part,” whereas ephidekaton means “an additional tithe” or “a tenth besides.” If this were the same tithe spoken of in these two books, why were two different words used to describe them?
While the Septuagint is not always accurate in some areas, it is obvious that the Greek-speaking Jews, who were responsible for translating the Hebrew text into Greek, knew the difference between the first and second tithes.
Now let’s look at another part of the tithing principle, of which most are unaware. Turn to Deuteronomy 26:12: “When you have made an end of tithing all the tithes [plural] of your increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and have given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within your gates, and be filled.”
Notice the phrases “the third year” and “the year of tithing.” The third year refers to the third and the sixth year in a seven-year cycle. The seventh year in this cycle is called “the year of release.”
Every third year of seven during a Christian’s life, he is to pay an additional third tithe. This is called the year of tithing because this is the maximum number of tithes a person is commanded to pay.
It may be a trying time and difficult, but all one must do is remember the promise God has given us. If a person is faithful, God promises, “I will open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3:10).
For what purpose is this tithe? Who does it go to? Consider: “For the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within your gates.”
Third tithe is used to support the needy within the Church—those unable to support themselves. This is a special tithe, in that it is God’s “insurance plan” for those less fortunate. This can be a child who has lost his father, a woman who has lost her husband or any person who has temporarily lost a primary source of income.
Christ said in Matthew 26:11 that the poor will always be with us. This is not saying “once poor, always poor.” It means that sometimes the unexpected comes along. This is God’s way of providing for such circumstances.
Again notice Deuteronomy 26:12 in the Greek Septuagint. The Greek-speaking Jews knew that this tithe is a separate tithe not to be confused with the first two. The Septuagint uses yet another Greek word to convey the specific meaning: deuteron epidekaton, which means “second additional tithe.”
Two final aspects of tithing are “firstlings” and “firstfruits.” Although firstlings are not an actual tithe, the principle is the same. A firstling is the firstborn—firstfruit—of an animal.
Notice: “That you shall set apart unto the Lord all that opens the matrix, and every firstling that comes of a beast which you have; the males shall be the Lord’s…And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that opens the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem” (Ex. 13:12, 15).
God wants His people to remember what He did for them when He called them out of Egypt.
Now read Numbers 18:17: “But the firstling of a cow, or the firstling of a sheep, or the firstling of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy: you shall sprinkle their blood upon the altar, and shall burn their fat for an offering made by fire, for a sweet savor unto the Lord.”
We do not offer animal sacrifices today. But we do still make offerings to the Lord—on every Holy Day and with other free will offerings throughout the year. Any firstborn animal that we raise (we are talking primarily to farmers, but the principle applies to all) is to be offered to God.
But how? By taking that animal, selling it for fair market value and then giving the money to the Work.
Fruit and vegetables, in principle, are the same as firstlings. Known as firstfruit, they are more common than firstlings only because there are more people growing gardens than raising animals.
Many people have small gardens in their backyards—the fruit from them is a blessing from God. Remember, He created the soil, the air, the sunshine and the water for those plants to thrive in. All He asks in return is ten percent of the increase.
For those in the Church, the firstfruit can be brought to the local minister for his use. If he is unable to use the produce, he can direct you to someone who can. If there are no needy within the Church in your area, who would benefit from your firstfruit, then you can set a fair market value on the produce and give that amount to the Church as an offering.
How does one calculate the firstfruit offering? Simply one tenth of the initial harvest. For instance, if you have ten tomato plants in your garden, wait until they start producing well. Whatever the amount from one plant for that one picking is your firstfruit. Do not offer the very first green tomato or tiniest of cucumbers; wait until the plants are producing regularly. Or, if they are producing heavily, pick the fruit from all ten and then divide it by ten. If a plant produces 15 pounds of something, then 1 1/2 pounds is the tithe.
Deuteronomy 26 explains more about this principle: “You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which you shall bring of your land that the Lord your God gives you, and shall put it in a basket…And you shall go unto the priest that shall be in those days…And the priest shall take the basket out of your hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God…And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which you, O Lord, have given me. And you shall set it before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God: And you shall rejoice in every good thing which the Lord your God has given unto you” (vs. 2-4, 10-11).
The “tithe of the tithe” was established by God for the purpose of paying the administrative costs of the Feast of Tabernacles. During the year, one tenth of the second tithe is sent to Headquarters to pay for such Feast expenses as auditoriums, halls, convention centers and other expenses the Church must pay—anything the brethren use collectively to keep the Feast. It is also used to be able to help those who lack sufficient funds and would be unable to attend.
At the end of the Feast, many find that they have excess second tithe. This should be sent in as an offering to help assist those needing help, which are not covered by the tithe of the tithe.
One of the soundest proofs, apart from the Bible, that several tithes were in effect, comes from Josephus. He was a well-respected Jewish historian from around the second century A.D.
Let’s read what he wrote: “And now Moses…according to the will of God…appointed that the people should pay the tithe of their annual fruits of the earth, both to the Levites and to the priests…but I think it necessary to set down what is paid by all…Accordingly he commanded the Levites…to set apart for them the tenth part of the tithes which they every year receive of the people; as also, that it was but just to offer to God the first-fruits of the entire product of the ground; and that they should offer the first-born” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book IV, chapter 4, sections 3 and 4).
In chapter 8, section 8, Josephus wrote, “Let there be taken out of your fruits a tenth, besides that which you have allotted to give to the priests and Levites. This you may indeed sell in the country, but it is to be used in those feasts and sacrifices that are to be celebrated in the holy city: for it is fit you should enjoy those fruits of the earth which God gives you to possess, so as may be to the honor of the donor.”
Section 22 provides the main point: “Besides those two tithes, which I have already said you are to pay every year, the one for the Levites, the other for the festivals, you are to bring every third year a third tithe to be distributed to those that want; to women also that are widows, and to children that are orphans.
“But as to the ripe fruits, let them carry that which is ripe first of all into the temple; and when they have blessed God for that land which bare them, and which he had given them for a possession, when they have also offered those sacrifices which the law has commanded them to bring, let them give the firstfruits to the priests.
“But when any one has done this, and has brought the tithe of all that he has, together with those firstfruits that are for the Levites, and for the festivals, and when he is about to go home, let him stand before the holy house, and return thanks to God, that he has delivered them from the injurious treatment they had in Egypt, and has given them a good land and a large, and lets them enjoy the fruit thereof; and when he has openly testified that he had fully paid the tithes [and other dues] according to the laws of Moses, let him entreat God that He will be ever merciful and gracious to him; and continue so to be to all the Hebrews.”
Can anything be plainer? The Jews in Christ’s day properly understood God’s tithing system. Now so do you!
One final scripture needs to be mentioned. If a person does not give from the heart, only paying tithes and giving offerings because he is told to, and treats it like a burden, then he will cut himself off from certain blessings.
In order to please God, we must give willingly and cheerfully: “Every man according as he purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (As it is written, He has dispersed abroad; He has given to the poor: His righteousness remains forever…)” (II Cor. 9:7-9).
When God calls us to His way of life, He is offering to us eternal life as members of His family. When we accept His offer, we agree to obey Him the rest of our lives. We make a commitment and He holds us to that commitment.
Many do not fully know what this means until later, when one grows in knowledge over a period of time.
But now that you are armed with the full knowledge of God’s tithing system and understand its wonderful purpose, you are prepared to reap much greater blessings!
(To learn more about the first tithe, read our booklet End All Your Financial Worries.)