I became a born again Christian when I was 32. Since then, I have tried to understand God’s will for my life. For years, I have been confused on which Old Testament laws were nailed to the cross. I found your June-August 2006 article titled “Questions on the Laws of Moses” while searching on the internet. I enjoyed that article for it clarified many things that have been a mystery to me. I have a question. Does God still require a tithe? I have looked over your website and did not find anything on this topic. Thank you.
Thank you for your e-mail. Your question is a good one and I hope you will read this response in its entirety before putting it down. You may get the wrong idea if you quit prematurely. The first man recorded in Scripture to tithe was the prophet Abraham. (Genesis 14:20; 20:7, Hebrews 7:2)
It is probable that people paid tithe before Abraham did, but there is no biblical record. The origin of tithing is rather simple. In ancient times, people gave 10% or more of their income to their king for protection. Here is the background:
About 100 years after the flood in Noah’s day, there was a divisive incident at the Tower of Babel. (Genesis 11) God divided mankind into small groups according to language. These groups soon moved away from Babel in search of a territory they could call their own nation.
As these groups organized into tribal nations, a leading patriarch became king or chief. At that time, survival depended on hunting and farming. Farming with hand tools and using animals to provide sustenance was hard work and harvests did not appear overnight. So, the availability of food was always a source of concern. Some tribal kings, having more testosterone than intelligence, found it more expedient to steal food than to grow and harvest their own.
Their evil ways forced respectable kings to be concerned with safety and strength because evil kings could declare war on weaker kings with impunity and take possession of whatever wealth they obtained in their raids. An entire year’s harvest could be captured by an evil king in a single day.
If the conquering king was nomadic and if he decided to take possession of the weaker king’s land, the captives faced a choice: Pay tribute (tithe) to the conquering king and abide by his laws or suffer death. (2 Samuel 8:2) In those rough and tumble times, every king knew that if a particularly evil king (or group of evil kings) were on a sweep to steal livestock, gold, food, women, and children, weaker kings could only defend themselves by forming alliances with each other.
When it comes to national protection, national defense in the U.S. has become very expensive. You also know that the war in Iraq is costing about $10 billion per month in addition to the lives of men and women who serve in the U.S. military. In terms of proportions, the importance of national security has not changed.
In ancient times, tribal kings hired men to serve as soldiers and this military protection came with a price. Thus, everyone in a tribal nation was required to pay a “protection tax” to their king. This tax (also called tribute or tithe) was regarded as a citizen’s patriotic duty.
It was a show of allegiance and loyalty to the king and in turn, the financial resources helped the king to protect his throne, territory and subjects. If a family failed or refused to pay their “protection tax” while enjoying the benefits of the king’s protection, the king considered them traitors. (See 2 Samuel 8:2, Malachi 3:8)
With this historical setting in mind, consider this short Bible story that occurred about 350 years after the Tower of Babel: “When Abram heard that his relative [Lot] had been taken captive, [he consulted no one] he [immediately] called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus.
He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people. After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.’
But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, “I made Abram rich.” ’ “ (Genesis 14:14-23, insertions mine)
It is important to understand that Abraham did not give 10% to King Melchizedek because God required him to do so. Not at all. Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek for two interesting reasons. First, Melchizedek was Abraham’s king. Abraham lived in Salem, the territory belonging to King Melchizedek. (Genesis 13:12, 22:2, Psalm 76:2)
Second, Abraham knew that Melchizedek was both a king and a priest. Since Abraham did not personally profit from his victory, he owed nothing to Melchizedek as king of Salem. However, Abraham was entitled to 50% of the spoils, so he gave Melchizedek the priest 10% of the spoils because Abraham knew that his “protection” and victory came from God.
Note: The territory ruled by Melchizedek included Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham offered up Isaac. Centuries later, King David captured the city of Jebus which had been built on Mount Moriah and David renamed it Jeru-Salem – “city of peace.” Mount Moriah also became known as Mount Zion.
God Required Tithe from Israel
When God delivered Israel from Egypt, He established a theocratic government over Israel. That is, God Himself ruled for about 400 years as Israel’s king (eventually, Israel rejected God and Saul was chosen to be their king – 1 Samuel 8:7). As Israel’s king, God required the people of Israel to pay a protection tax, called “a tithe.” Here is the text: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.” (Leviticus 27:30)
God wanted Israel to demonstrate their allegiance and loyalty to Him by giving Him 10% of their increase and in turn, He would be their “wall of protection.” What a deal! To keep Israel from depending on human effort and the bravado that comes from testosterone, God forbid Israel from taking a census to determine military strength (1 Chronicles 21:1) or for that matter, He forbid Israel from maintaining herds of horses bred especially for war. (Deuteronomy 17:16; 20:1)
Since Israel could not “see” their King, and since Israel had no means of sustaining a standing army, tithing was a serious test of faith. Ultimately, the elders of Israel felt vulnerable and they wanted to put their trust in an earthly king who would maintain an army, so they asked the prophet Samuel to appoint a king. Israel’s desire for a king and a standing army came from their lack of faith in God.
The “protection tax” which Israel paid “for protection” was given to the Levites. This money was their inheritance because the Levites did not inherit a portion of the promised land as did the other tribes. “It is the Levites who are to do the work at the Tent of Meeting and bear the responsibility for offenses against it.
This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.’ ” (Numbers 18:23,24)
There is an interesting dynamic in this scheme. God is so clever! If the Levites fulfilled their duties and if they faithfully taught Israel God’s love, His ways, and His commands, God Himself would bless and protect the nation. The result would be prosperity for the Levites.
They would have plenty of money because 10% of Israel’s economy would be more than enough to provide for the whole tribe! On the other hand, if the Levites failed to fulfill their duties and if they did not teach Israel the Lord’s love, ways, and commands, the Levites would become “the canary in the coal mine.” They would be the first to go hungry and perish.
Every time the Levites became spiritually negligent and arrogant, Israel fell into apostasy. When the tithe income could not support the one tribe that owned no land, the Levites resorted to other ways of extracting money from the faithful people who remained in Israel.
Thus, they set up businesses in the temple, exchanging money into the temple shekel at unfair rates and selling animals for sacrifices at outrageous prices. Remember that Jesus cleansed the temple of this practice twice – and now you know why Jesus was so offended by this practice of the Levites. The Levites were largely responsible for Israel’s apostasy. Their apostasy had dried up their source of income and they had turned to robbing what few people came to worship.
Tithing Nailed to the Cross?
For reasons presented in the document, “Questions on the Laws of Moses,” you should find it easy to understand that the entire Levitical system was nailed to the cross. The Levitical system was a package of laws which were administered by the Levites.
These laws required such things as circumcision, travel to Jerusalem three times a year, new moon observances, annual feast days, animal sacrifices, temple services, clean food restrictions, and tithing (to mention a few). Many Christians insist that portions of the Levitical system are still intact today and they often manipulate the laws belonging to the Levitical system according to personal whim.
Other Christians distort the Levitical laws by insisting that the Ten Commandments were part of that Levitical system and also claim there is no reason to observe God’s seventh day Sabbath. Neither position is valid. The Levitical system had to be administered by Levites and Jesus voided this system of laws at His death. Jesus did not abolish the Ten Commandments at the cross.
He abolished the Levitical laws. This means that tithing is no longer a “legal duty.” As I wrote in the document on the Laws of Moses, after the cross, clean and unclean food are no longer a moral issue. Similarly, tithing should not be considered a moral issue either. Nothing is written in the Ten Commandments about these things.
Even though God does not demand tithing under the new covenant, I avoid unclean foods for the same reason that I tithe! These practices, when motivated by a grateful heart, bring glory to God!
Consider this: The Levitical system did not exist when Abraham was on Earth, so Abraham was not required by God to give 10% of the spoils to Melchizidek the priest. However, Abraham knew that his protection and victory came from God, so he joyfully gave glory to God and gratefully gave 10% of the spoils to Melchizedek.
In this same spirit, I joyfully pay tithes and offerings to God in recognition of the countless blessings He has bestowed on me and my family. Life itself is a gift from God and I continue to see God’s strength and protection manifested in my life. So, it is a joy for me to return tithe to God out of the abundance that He has given me. God has blessed me financially with far more than I have ever given Him. And yes, I direct my tithes according to the principles which God outlined in the Old Testament.
For example, sometimes I use my tithe to help those who are in financial need. Notice this text: “When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.” (Deuteronomy 26:12) Generally though, I use the tithe to promote the gospel of Jesus. I want my tithe to go as far as possible in reaching others with His gospel because it is the source of true serenity and eternal life. I want people everywhere to know the joy, peace, and happiness that Jesus offers. What better use of money is there?