After Deuteronomy 26, tithing is not mentioned in the Bible again until 2 Chronicles 31 – almost 800 years later. This chapter contains the account of how King Hezekiah reestablished the worship of God among the Israelites after a long period of bad kings, rule by other nations, and worship of false Gods. In fact, Ahaz, the king who ruled just before Hezekiah, had shut up the doors to the Temple and began worshiping Baal and other false gods (2 Chronicles 28).
So as we look at this passage, we have to realize that this is all occurring after a long period of time where the Law of Moses was not taught and the Israelites had not been worshiping God. Hezekiah got some things right and some things wrong as he was leading Israel back to worship God. We’ll see why this is true as we look back at the original commands to tithe in the Law of Moses.
Revival in Jerusalem
Everything that happens in 2 Chronicles 31 follows the events of chapter 30. Hezekiah had called out to all of Israel asking them to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and worship God. Not everyone came, but the ones who did come celebrated the Passover with great joy. In fact, they decided to spend an extra week celebrating and worshiping God. This was the start of a great revival among the Israelites.
Chapter 31 picks up by describing how those who observed the Passover in Jerusalem went out and destroyed all the altars and idols of false gods in the areas that belonged to the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh. After they went home, Hezekiah took the first step to reestablishing the worship of God at the Temple by appointing the priests and Levites to their divisions to serve at the Temple.
Hezekiah appointed the divisions of the priests and the Levites after their divisions, every man according to his service, both the priests and the Levites, for burnt offerings and for peace offerings, to minister, and to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the camp of Yahweh.
2 Chronicles 31:2 (WEB)
After this, he sends out a command to those living in Jerusalem to give the tithe.
4 Moreover he commanded the people who lived in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might give themselves to the law of Yahweh. 5 As soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel gave in abundance the first fruits of grain, new wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly. 6 The children of Israel and Judah, who lived in the cities of Judah, they also brought in the tithe of cattle and sheep, and the tithe of dedicated things which were consecrated to Yahweh their God, and laid them by heaps. 7 In the third month they began to lay the foundation of the heaps, and finished them in the seventh month.
2 Chronicles 31:4-7 (WEB)
The “portion of the priests and Levites” is referring to the tithe that went the Levites and the tithe of the tithes that the Levites gave to the priests (as we learned when we looked at Numbers 18). The command in Numbers 18 applied to all of Israel, but here we only see the Israelites in Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside (Judah) bringing in the tithe.
Again, we see that the tithe consisted only of food items and never money. Otherwise, the tithe would not have ended for that year after the harvest was over (the seventh month). The Israelites would have kept bringing money from their income in all year round. But as we know, the tithe was never on an Israelite’s income – it was only on the increase in their crops and their herds or flocks (again, check out Numbers 18).
The Temple Was Not the Storehouse for All the Tithes
The command that Hezekiah gave to resume tithing did not go out to all of the Israelites – only to those living in Jerusalem. It then spread to those living near Jerusalem in the region of Judah – but those Israelites only brought the tithe of the cattle, sheep, and the things they had dedicated or vowed to the Lord. So the things that made up the heaps were only a small portion of what the entire nation of Israel would have ever tithed, and even this small amount was too much to fit into the Temple at Jerusalem. In fact, it was so much that Hezekiah had to have rooms prepared in the Temple to hold all the extra.
8 When Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed Yahweh, and his people Israel. 9 Then Hezekiah questioned the priests and the Levites concerning the heaps.
10 Azariah the chief priest, of the house of Zadok, answered him and said, “Since people began to bring the offerings into the house of Yahweh, we have eaten and had enough, and have left plenty: for Yahweh has blessed his people; and that which is left is this great store.”
11 Then Hezekiah commanded them to prepare rooms in the house of Yahweh; and they prepared them.
2 Chronicles 31:8-11 (WEB)
Many people who use Malachi 3:8-10 to teach tithing for Christians explain that Israel was commanded to bring all the tithes into the storehouse at the Temple. They then say that today’s church buildings are the modern-day equivalent of the Temple, so Christians should bring all their tithes to the church building. However, this is not correct for five main reasons:
- The Israelites were to give the tithes to the Levites. Then the Levites were to give the tithe of the tithes to the priests and take the tithe of the tithes to the Temple (the place God chose). (See Numbers 18 and Nehemiah 10:34-39)
- The Temple in Jerusalem was never meant to hold all the tithes of Israel. It was designed only to hold the tithe of the tithes. It would not have been large enough to hold a tenth of all the agricultural produce within the land of Israel.
- Most of the Levites were not priests, and they all (the priests and the Levites) served in one week shifts at the Temple. So at most they were working at the Temple two weeks out of the year. The rest of the time they lived in the Levitical cities and their suburbs working at their regular jobs just like everyone else.
- The tithes would have gone to the Levites where they lived (in the Levitical cities – not the Temple). The Levites would have then taken the tithe of the tithes to the Temple to support the priests and the Levites who were serving at the Temple during their shifts.
- The tithe as it is described in the Bible does not apply to Christians.
All of this will become clearer when we study the verses about tithing in Nehemiah, but you can even see it in 2 Chronicles:
15 Under him were Eden, and Miniamin, and Jeshua, and Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah, in the cities of the priests, in their office of trust, to give to their brothers by divisions, as well to the great as to the small: 16 besides those who were reckoned by genealogy of males, from three years old and upward, even everyone who entered into the house of Yahweh, as the duty of every day required, for their service in their offices according to their divisions; 17 and those who were reckoned by genealogy of the priests by their fathers’ houses, and the Levites from twenty years old and upward, in their offices by their divisions; 18 and those who were reckoned by genealogy of all their little ones, their wives, and their sons, and their daughters, through all the congregation: for in their office of trust they sanctified themselves in holiness.
19 Also for the sons of Aaron the priests, who were in the fields of the suburbs of their cities, in every city, there were men who were mentioned by name, to give portions to all the males among the priests, and to all who were reckoned by genealogy among the Levites.
2 Chronicles 31:15-19 (WEB)
Like I said, we’ll see this better as we study Nehemiah. Then we’ll be able to understand Malachi 3:8-10 in the correct context (and by looking at the whole book of Malachi rather than just a few verses).
If you were caught off guard by the idea that the Levites did not spend all their time at the Temple, take some time to check out Joshua 21:1-45, Nehemiah 10:37, and Nehemiah 13:10. You can find more proof that the Levites had other jobs (besides ministering at the Temple) by looking at 1 Chronicles 23:3-5.
We’ve seen here again that the Biblical tithe was quite different from what tithing advocates teach today. We’re going to keep seeing this as we examine the rest of the Scriptures on tithing. Make sure you sign up for free updates to Provident Planning so you don’t miss anything!