The next time we see a discussion of tithing after Leviticus 27:30-33 is in Numbers 18. This chapter in the book of Numbers details the duties and support of the priests and the Levites. It contains the specific statutes of God which established the tithe for the support of Israel’s priests and Levites. (There were two other tithes which the people of Israel had to make, but we’ll look at those when we get there.)
Since this is the place in God’s Word where the tithe that supported the priests and Levites is instituted, we should look at it for the foundation of the purpose and requirements of the tithe. What you’ll learn may surprise you.
The Priesthood of Aaron
Numbers 18 begins by making it clear that God was speaking specifically to Aaron and the line of priests that would follow his bloodline and his father’s bloodline. Only Israelites who came from the line of Aaron were allowed to be priests. Only those priests were allowed to draw near to worship God. Even the Levites, the only Israelites allowed to minister to the priests and take care of the Tent of Meeting (or Temple), were not allowed to come near the altar of God or they would die.
1 Yahweh said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your fathers’ house with you shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary; and you and your sons with you shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood. 2 Your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, bring near with you, that they may be joined to you, and minister to you: but you and your sons with you shall be before the tent of the testimony. 3 They shall keep your commands, and the duty of all the Tent: only they shall not come near to the vessels of the sanctuary and to the altar, that they not die, neither they, nor you. 4 They shall be joined to you, and keep the responsibility of the Tent of Meeting, for all the service of the Tent: and a stranger shall not come near to you.
Numbers 18:1-4 (WEB)
All the commands that follow in this chapter are specifically for Aaron, the priests, and the Levites. But we know that when Jesus died the veil in the Temple was torn in two – symbolizing the fact that Jesus’ death and the sanctification He brings allows all of us to draw near and worship God without fear of death. The priesthood of Aaron has been replaced by a priesthood of believers and these statutes no longer apply.
The Maintenance of the Priests
The next section (Numbers 18:8-19) discusses the first part of how the priests and their families were to be maintained and fed. All of the sacrificial offerings could only be eaten by the priests and only in the Tent of Meeting/Temple. The families of the priests were not allowed to eat those things. However, the first fruits of the oil, grain, and wine, all vow offerings, the firstborn animals, the redemption money of the firstborn children and the firstborn of unclean animals, the wave offerings, and the heave offerings could all be used to feed and care for the families of the priests and could be eaten anywhere.
In exchange for the right to those various offerings, God commanded that the priests were not allowed to receive any kind of inheritance or portion of the land in Israel:
Yahweh said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel.”
Numbers 18:20 (WEB)
One of the conditions of receiving the offerings and tithes was that they could no longer own or inherit land. This same restriction is placed on the entire tribe of Levi later in verses 23 and 24. This is why the Levites were not assigned any portion of the land of Israel when it was divided among the tribes (in Joshua 18-21).
The Levites Received the Tithe of Israel
In the next four verses, we see a very clear indication that the Levites received the tithe of Israel and not the priests.
21 “To the children of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they serve, even the service of the Tent of Meeting. 22 Henceforth the children of Israel shall not come near the Tent of Meeting, lest they bear sin, and die. 23 But the Levites shall do the service of the Tent of Meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations; and among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance. 24 For the tithe of the children of Israel, which they offer as a wave offering to Yahweh, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance: therefore I have said to them, ‘Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.’”
Numbers 18:21-24 (WEB)
God gave the Levites the tithe of Israel in return for their service to the Tent of Meeting/Temple. The tithe as we think of it was for the care of the servants of the Temple and not the priests. Obviously, this has huge implications for those who believe Christians are under the tithe of the Old Testament.
The Priests Only Received a Tithe of the Tithes
The final section of Numbers 18 describes how the Levites were to handle the tithe they received from the rest of the Israelites.
25 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 26 “Moreover you shall speak to the Levites, and tell them, ‘When you take of the children of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall offer up a wave offering of it for Yahweh, a tithe of the tithe. 27 Your wave offering shall be reckoned to you, as though it were the grain of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress. 28 Thus you also shall offer a wave offering to Yahweh of all your tithes, which you receive of the children of Israel; and of it you shall give Yahweh’s wave offering to Aaron the priest. 29 Out of all your gifts you shall offer every wave offering of Yahweh, of all its best, even the holy part of it out of it.’
30 “Therefore you shall tell them, ‘When you heave its best from it, then it shall be reckoned to the Levites as the increase of the threshing floor, and as the increase of the winepress. 31 You shall eat it in every place, you and your households: for it is your reward in return for your service in the Tent of Meeting. 32 You shall bear no sin by reason of it, when you have heaved from it its best: and you shall not profane the holy things of the children of Israel, that you not die.’”
Numbers 18:25-32 (WEB)
This passage contains four major points that must be understood about tithing:
- Only the Levites received the full tithe from the Israelites.
- The priests only received a tithe of the tithes – which would have been 1% of all the agricultural increase from Israel.
- The Levites kept the rest of the tithes – which would have been 9% of all the agricultural increase from Israel. They were allowed to eat it anywhere and use it for their families. It was their reward for their service to the Tent of Meeting/Temple.
- The tithes were only food products – never money. Silver, gold, and money (shekels) were commonly used but were never considered part of the tithe. Only the agricultural increase of Israel (crops grown and animals raised) made up the tithe.
As you can see, this chapter alone flies in the face of all modern teaching that requires Christians to tithe. We don’t require any of the other offerings or sacrifices described in the Old Testament. We substitute money for food when it was never used in the tithe. The priests of the Temple only received 1% – not 10%. The rest (the other 9%) went to take care of the Levites as a reward for their service to the Temple. And it’s clear that all of these statutes applied specifically to Israel – to the extent that modern Jews do not even tithe.
We still have several more Scriptures to examine before we’ll have the full picture on tithing, but it’s becoming clear that the modern teaching of tithing (10% of your gross income going to the church, mostly to support preachers) as a requirement for Christians cannot be supported through the Scriptures that even instituted tithing in Israel. Christians are under much different principles of giving as outlined in the New Covenant. If you’re interested in learning more, make sure you sign up for free updates to Provident Planning. And as always, feel free to leave a comment below!