When we looked at Numbers 18, we found that the tithe only consisted of agricultural products (crops grown and animals raised) and was not based on an Israelite’s income (in money). We also found that only a tithe of the tithes went to the priests, while the remaining nine-tenths of the tithe belonged to the Levites. Today, we’re going to look at three places in Deuteronomy where the tithe is discussed in more detail, and we’ll find some more surprising things that aren’t taught by tithing advocates.
These passages are also sometimes used to determine that there may have been one or two tithes in addition to the tithe that supported the Levites and the priests. However, I’m personally not sure it’s clear exactly how many tithes the Israelites paid and it doesn’t really matter. These passages contain enough clear teaching to refute anyone who would try to teach that Christians should be tithing 10% of their gross income to their church.
Statutes & Ordinances
Tithing is mentioned three times in Deuteronomy 12, but first we’re going to look at how this chapter begins. It starts out by making it clear that the things which follow are for Israel and apply in the land of Israel.
These are the statutes and the ordinances which you shall observe to do in the land which Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess it, all the days that you live on the earth.
Deuteronomy 12:1 (WEB)
Moses is about to explain the statutes and ordinances that God has given him to set before the Israelites. Many of these statutes and ordinances include things that Christians do not even consider maintaining today, such as the dietary laws. But some believe that the tithe is somehow different and stands apart from all the other statutes and ordinances contained in Deuteronomy and the rest of the Law. However, Moses makes no distinction between the statutes on tithing and those concerning anything else. They were all statutes and ordinances that God commanded the Israelites to follow.
We cannot choose to enforce one of these laws and neglect all the others. But how many tithing advocates have you heard teach that Christians are required to keep all the Laws of Moses? Even the Jewish Christians did not impose such requirements on the Gentile Christians (in Acts).
Eating the Tithe
Later in Deuteronomy 12, we see that Moses instructs the Israelites to eat their tithes in the place God chooses.
5 But to the place which Yahweh your God shall choose out of all your tribes, to put his name there, even to his habitation you shall seek, and there you shall come; 6 and there you shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and the wave offering of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock: 7 and there you shall eat before Yahweh your God, and you shall rejoice in all that you put your hand to, you and your households, in which Yahweh your God has blessed you.
Deuteronomy 12:5-7 (WEB)
This is then followed by a passage explaining that the tithes and offerings were to be taken to the place God chooses after the Israelites pass over the Jordon. This passage also repeats the command about rejoicing before the Lord after bringing the tithes.
10 But when you go over the Jordan, and dwell in the land which Yahweh your God causes you to inherit, and he gives you rest from all your enemies around you, so that you dwell in safety; 11 then it shall happen that to the place which Yahweh your God shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the wave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which you vow to Yahweh. 12 You shall rejoice before Yahweh your God, you, and your sons, and your daughters, and your male servants, and your female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you.
Deuteronomy 12:10-12 (WEB)
And later on we see yet another passage that discusses eating the tithe before the Lord in the place He chooses. Additionally, the following passage indicates that all the Israelites ate of the tithe along with the Levites.
17 You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your grain, or of your new wine, or of your oil, or the firstborn of your herd or of your flock, nor any of your vows which you vow, nor your freewill offerings, nor the wave offering of your hand; 18 but you shall eat them before Yahweh your God in the place which Yahweh your God shall choose, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your male servant, and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your gates: and you shall rejoice before Yahweh your God in all that you put your hand to.
Deuteronomy 12:17-18 (WEB)
Then in chapter 14 we see the command to tithe repeated once again and with it the command to eat the tithe before the Lord.
22 You shall surely tithe all the increase of your seed, that which comes forth from the field year by year. 23 You shall eat before Yahweh your God, in the place which he shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there, the tithe of your grain, of your new wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock; that you may learn to fear Yahweh your God always.
24 If the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it, because the place is too far from you, which Yahweh your God shall choose, to set his name there, when Yahweh your God shall bless you; 25 then you shall turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and shall go to the place which Yahweh your God shall choose: 26 and you shall bestow the money for whatever your soul desires, for cattle, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul asks of you; and you shall eat there before Yahweh your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.
Deuteronomy 14:22-26 (WEB)
Verses 24 through 26 talk about selling the tithe and converting it to money if it’s too much to carry to the place God has chosen. But once the Israelites arrived at the place God had chosen, they were to use the money they got from selling their tithe to buy food and drink to eat before the Lord and celebrate. Clearly, money was used during this time, but it was never considered to be part of the the tithe. The Israelites never paid a tithe on their money or income – they tithed on the increase they had in their crops, herds, and flocks.
Now don’t you find these passages quite strange when compared with the modern teaching of tithing? Tithing advocates often condemn those who do not pay a full 10% to their church – but God commanded the Israelites to eat their tithes in His presence. Tithing is taught as 10% of your gross (or sometimes net) income – but God commanded the Israelites to only tithe the increase of their fields (crops) and animals (herds or flocks). Israelites who did not farm or raise animals would have never paid the tithe as it is described in the Law of Moses.
The Levites, the Strangers, the Orphans, and the Widows
Finally, we’re going to look at two places where the tithe seems to have been used to specifically care for the poor. Some take this to mean that the normal tithe was kept in each Israelite city every third year to help care for the poor, while others believe this was a separate tithe (a full 10%) that was only paid every third year for the same purpose. Either way, it doesn’t matter for our purposes. The point here is that at least every third year the tithe (as described in the Bible) went specifically to the poor and needy.
27 The Levite who is within your gates, you shall not forsake him; for he has no portion nor inheritance with you. 28 At the end of every three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your increase in the same year, and shall lay it up within your gates: 29 and the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the foreigner living among you, and the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that Yahweh your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
Deuteronomy 14:27-29 (WEB)
We also see this mentioned in chapter 26:
When you have made an end of tithing all the tithe of your increase in the third year, which is the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the foreigner, to the fatherless, and to the widow, that they may eat within your gates, and be filled.
Deuteronomy 26:12 (WEB)
The point I’m raising here is not whether there was an additional tithe (or even two additional tithes, some think the tithe I was talking about before was the “festival tithe”). The point is that the tithe went to care for the poor and needy in the communities of the Israelites. This included the Levites (most of whom merely served to care for the Tent of Meeting or the Temple and were not priests), the strangers, the orphans, and the widows. If this was an important part of God’s command to the Israelites concerning the tithe, why is it not repeated when Christians are taught that they should be tithing?
The idea that those who gave the tithe were to eat it and the idea that the tithe didn’t just go to support the priests, Levites, and the Temple (the church?) are inconsistent with modern teaching that supports tithing as a requirement for Christians. But clearly the Scriptures teach these ideas in regard to the tithe.
We still have several more verses about tithing to cover before we’ll have fully examined tithing in the Bible. If you want to keep learning what the Bible has to say about tithing, make sure you sign up to get free updates to Provident Planning.
Also, I want to take this chance to say that just because Christians aren’t under the Mosaic Law of tithing does not mean that we should not give. There are clear New Testament passages which indicate the kind of giving Christians should be doing and the fact that we should support those who labor in preaching and teaching the Word. But these New Covenant giving principles supersede the Old Testament tithe. Therefore, those New Covenant giving principles should be taught and the tithe should not be taught as a requirement for Christians.
As always, please share your thoughts and comments below. I’d love to hear from you!