The Mosaic Law of Tithing
Moses finally came to the conclusion that a tithing system was necessary for the nation of Israel. This occurred at the beginning of the second year of the Exodus. He told the Israelites that they should henceforth give a tenth part of their seed crops and fruit trees plus every tenth animal to the treasury in the newly erected Tabernacle (Leviticus 27:30-33). One should notice three points about this initial law that are commonly overlooked today.
At first, Moses discouraged Israelites from giving tithe in money though Moses reluctantly allowed it. For example, if anyone insisted on retaining any increase of the crops for personal use, Moses demanded an extra fifth part premium (Leviticus 27:31). Moses did not mind them paying in money for crops, but they had to give the extra premium for the privilege. It is strange, but Christian ministers today would rather have the money than the foodstuffs that Moses ordained. Preachers in demanding the tithe are magnanimous and they usually donít ask for the one-fifth premium for the privilege of paying in money rather than in kind.
Secondly, since the tithe was only required on agricultural crops and herds, little produce would have been given to the treasury while Israel was in the desert of Sinai. Israel had little agricultural crops produced in that desolate wilderness to tithe (Deuteronomy 29:5Ė6).
Thirdly, Moses did not say in the Book of Leviticus how the tithe was to be spent or to whom it was to be given. He simply said that Israelites were required to pay the tithe. Obviously, the monies were placed in the Tabernacle (the Temple) treasury and this limited amount of produce was placed in storage bins. Let us now examine the tithing system.
What Products Were Tithed?
Many people have been hasty in assuming that all the income earned by Israelites was subject to the laws of tithing. This was not the case. Any Jewish rabbi can inform a person what items were to be tithed because the Bible makes the matter plain. This point should be noted very carefully.
There were only two types of income that were tithable: One was from agricultural production. "All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lordís" (Leviticus 27:30). This meant that a tenth of all agricultural produce of the land of Israel, whether fruits or vegetables, had to be tithed. The second type of tithable income was the increase of animals. "All the tithe of the herd or flock, whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord" (verse 32). Only these two specific income producers were subject to the tithe.
There is only one exception to this rule. Leviticus 27:31 reads: "If a man will redeem ought of his tithe, he shall add unto it the fifth part thereof." In other words, if a man for various reasons did not wish to pay his tithe in kind (and he wished to give money as a substitute), he was penalized a fifth part. Such a law was obviously not intended to encourage payment of the tithe in money. Monetary redemption, on the other hand, was not allowed for the tithe of animals. Moses declared: "It shall not be redeemed" (verse 33). This means that the tithing law of the Bible prohibited cattle ranchers from paying money at all. They were required to give the tenth animal no matter if they wanted to keep it for some reason to themselves.
Who Did Not Tithe?
Since farmers and ranchers were responsible for paying the tithe, we now come to an equally important question: Who was not required to tithe? It is often surprising to people to find that a large segment of people in Israel did not tithe!
The owner of a farm had to tithe, but his hired hands were exempt. Was a hired hand required to tithe on his salary? Not at all! There was no law that required a tenth of oneís salary to be tithed (which was earned for services rendered). Only the crops and animals of those who owned them were subject to the tithe. After all, the crops and the animals did not belong to the hired hand and only the increase from oneís land or animals was subject to the tithe. And note this. Fishermen did not tithe, though this industry is mentioned in the law (Leviticus 11:9Ė12). Likewise, the mining industry is referred to (Deuteronomy 8:9), but the tithe of minerals extracted from the earth was never called for. The lumber business is mentioned (1 Kings 5:7Ė12) and construction work on buildings (1 Kings 5:13Ė18) but tithes were not extracted from people who worked in those trades. The same held true for those earning an income from weaving, handicrafts, or from any form of manufacturing or merchandising. They all were immune from tithing including all those in the military and government workers. And though the Levites were commanded to pay a tenth of the tithe they received from the farmers and ranchers to the Priests, those Priests themselves were totally exempt from paying any tithe.
To make it plain and simple, only the owners of farms and flocks were required to tithe. Indeed, the Israelite who had fewer than ten cattle did not have to tithe on nine of them because the requirement stated that only the tenth animal that passed under the rod was to be tithed (Leviticus 27:32). Looking at this matter of the tenth animal being tithed from our present monetary point of view, a rancher could have many thousands of dollars invested in nine cattle, but unless he had a tenth he was not required to tithe a penny of his assets.
[Some Christian ministers commonly teach that the tithe is Godís and that he must get his money first. But the Bible says it is the tenth animal (the last one) that passes under the rod that is Godís, not the first.]
These clear biblical teachings present some real dilemmas for Christian ministers today who want to use the tithe for their church activities. If a minister wanted his members of his church to abide by the tithing laws, why doesnít he teach them to perform them the way the Bible instructs? If church members who live in a city wanted to tithe according to biblical law, they would be paying a tenth of their garden produce (if they had gardens) or a tenth of their chickens (if they had chickens). Even if they earned $2,000 a month in other income, thatís all they would be required to tithe. This would hardly be enough to support normal church activities today. Yet this is the precise law of tithing which was ordained for Israel by God. There is however hardly a Christian minister (who demands tithing today) who would feel inclined to abide by these laws of the Bible regarding tithing. They want more money than a tenth of what comes from gardens and chicken coops!
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