Tithing in the Bible: Jacob’s Example (Genesis 28:20-22)

Corey —  November 16, 2009

       Last week, we looked at Abram’s example of tithing. The tithe he gave was only from spoils of war and not from any of his own possessions. We also have no other example of Abraham tithing or continuing to tithe in the rest of Genesis. Today, we’re going to look at Jacob’s example of tithing, which is also very different from tithing in the Mosaic Law and tithing as it is taught today.

A Conditional Tithe

       After Issac sent Jacob to find a wife for himself, Jacob slept at Luz. While he was sleeping, he dreamed about “Jacob’s ladder” where angels were walking up and down a stairway that went from earth to heaven. It was during this dream that God promised to bless Jacob with numerous descendants, to keep him safe, to bring him back to the land he was in, and to give him that land. We’ll pick up with Jacob’s response that next morning:

       18 Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Jacob vowed a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, and Yahweh will be my God, 22 then this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, will be God’s house. Of all that you will give me I will surely give the tenth to you.”

Genesis 28:18-22 (WEB)

       Besides Abram’s example, this is the only other place where we see tithing mentioned before the Law of Moses was instituted for Israel. Just as Abram’s example is never used as a basis for tithing in the Bible, neither is Jacob’s example used to justify tithing. I also haven’t heard many people using Jacob’s example to justify tithing in today’s church – probably because it would go against everything else they try to teach about tithing (i.e., all Christians must do it, it must be the first 10% before anything else, etc.).

       After God promises to bless and protect Jacob, Jacob doesn’t respond by promising a tithe that resembles the tithe in the Law of Moses. Jacob promises to give a tenth to God if, and only if, God first keeps His promise and blesses Jacob. How many people do you hear teaching this Scripture when they talk about tithing? No one who believes tithing is a requirement for Christians would teach that you can decide to tithe only if God blesses you first.

       God did not ask for a tenth from Jacob – Jacob decided to give it on his own and only if God actually blessed him. We know that God indeed blessed Jacob as He had promised, but it is interesting that we never see any further mention of tithing in Jacob’s life.

Whom Would Jacob Have Given His Tithe?

       Jacob’s tithe also differs from the tithe in Mosaic Law because there was no priesthood established during Jacob’s time. There was no temple to worship and sacrifice at and there were no priests or temple workers to support with the tithe. To whom would Jacob have given the tenth he promised to God?

       God would not have taken it directly from Jacob. He had no need for it. However, we know that hospitality to strangers was a large part of the culture during Jacob’s time and would have indicated good character. We can also imagine that Jacob would have given his tithe to the poor and needy. But we have no indication that Jacob had a church or priests to give his tithe to, and so we have no examples before the Mosaic Law for tithing as we understand it today.

       Neither Abram’s example or Jacob’s example of tithing correlate to the tithe as it is described in the Law of Moses or to tithing as it is taught today. When these examples are examined in their context, it’s clear that they do not support the concept of a tithe as the first 10% of your increase (or income) as many understand it today.

Stay Tuned!

       I’ll continue to examine tithing as it is described in the Bible as I complete this series. If you’re interested in learning what the Bible says about tithing, then make sure you get free updates to Provident Planning so you don’t miss an article. If you have any questions or comments, please share them below. I always look forward to hearing from you all!



Corey is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in religion. While he enjoys learning and writing about Christianity, another one of his new passions is writing about personal finances in order to help others make wise decisions with their money.

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