Nehemiah 10, 12, and 13 provide some of the clearest verses on how tithing worked in the Old Testament. Having a solid understanding of tithing in Nehemiah is critical if you want to correctly understand Malachi 3:8-10. Too many people look at those verses in Malachi without correctly understanding the meaning behind those verses. Then they take those verses and apply them to Christians – saying that those who tithe will be blessed and those who do not will be cursed.
When we get to Malachi, we’ll see why understanding how tithing worked is important and why many modern applications of the verses in Malachi miss the mark in the meaning of those verses. Let’s take some time now to prepare for our study of Malachi by looking at the context that Nehemiah gives us.
An Oath to Do All of God’s Commandments
An important factor to consider as we study Nehemiah and Malachi is that these Israelites were under the Law of Moses including the blessings and curses that came with it. Jesus’ sacrifice paid the full price for the punishment that is due to us under the Law of Moses, which means the curses of the Law do not apply to us any more. Malachi was written specifically to the Israelites – and more specifically to a group of Israelites that had entered into a curse and taken an oath to keep all of God’s commandments, ordinances, and statutes.
28 The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinim, and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, everyone who had knowledge, and understanding— 29 they joined with their brothers, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of Yahweh our Lord, and his ordinances and his statutes;
Nehemiah 10:28-29 (WEB)
What I find interesting is that tithing advocates today choose to bind themselves and others to the statute of tithing but neglect all the other commandments, ordinances, and statutes God gave the Israelites. Even following these two verses in Nehemiah are several things that no one teaches Christians to do like refusing to buy or sell on the Sabbath (Saturday), not charging interest to fellow Christians, and observing the Sabbatical Year every seventh year. But God’s Word tells us that if we try to keep the whole Law and fail in even one point then we’re guilty of failing in all of it.
10 For whoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak, and so do, as men who are to be judged by a law of freedom.
James 2:10-12 (WEB)
By His blood, Jesus has paid for the condemnation we are under because of our sin – taking away that condemnation from us and along with it the curses of the Law. So when someone tells you that God will curse you if you do not tithe, they are failing to realize that we are under a law of freedom in Christ and they ignore the value and purpose of His shed blood. (Note that this is not a freedom to do whatever we wish. We are free from the punishment of the Law because Christ paid what was due on our behalf.)
This understanding is key to knowing why the curses of Malachi 3:8-10 do not apply to Christians. God still calls us to give, but it is no longer under the statutes of tithing. We are called to give because of His love living in us as His Spirit leads us.
The Tithe Went to the Levites – Not the Temple
Although we already learned this in Numbers 18, the tithes went to the Levites in the cities where they lived. It was the Levites’ responsibility to bring the tithe of the tithes to the Temple for the support of the priests and the Levites while they were serving in their shifts. This is made clear by these verses in Nehemiah:
34 We cast lots, the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at times appointed, year by year, to burn on the altar of Yahweh our God, as it is written in the law; 35 and to bring the first fruits of our ground, and the first fruits of all fruit of all kinds of trees, year by year, to the house of Yahweh; 36 also the firstborn of our sons, and of our livestock, as it is written in the law, and the firstborn of our herds and of our flocks, to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God; 37 and that we should bring the first fruits of our dough, and our wave offerings, and the fruit of all kinds of trees, the new wine and the oil, to the priests, to the rooms of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground to the Levites; for they, the Levites, take the tithes in all the cities of our tillage.
38The priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms, into the treasure house.
Nehemiah 10:34-38 (WEB)
It’s very important you understand those parts I emphasized before reading Malachi 3:8-10. The people of Israel only brought the first fruits and the firstborn to the Temple for the priests. These first fruits would have been quite small compared to the tithe that came from all of Israel. First fruits were small enough to fit into a basket.
The tithe went to the Levites, who lived in the Levitical cities (not at the Temple). Then the Levites were charged with bringing the tithe of the tithes to the Temple. Only the Levites – not the people of Israel – took the tithes into the Temple storehouse. Further evidence is given in Nehemiah 12 that the Levites gathered the whole tithe (10%) in their cities and brought a tenth of that (1% of all Israel’s increase) to the Temple storehouse.
On that day were men appointed over the rooms for the treasures, for the wave offerings, for the first fruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them, according to the fields of the cities, the portions appointed by the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites who waited.
Nehemiah 12:44 (WEB)
This is important to understand because those who use Malachi 3:8-10 to teach tithing to Christians hold that those verses are speaking to the entire nation of Israel to bring their tithes into the Temple storehouse – which they then use to say that Christians should bring their tithes into the church. However, such an application of those verses is wrong because:
- Christians are not under the curses of the Law.
- The New Testament temple is not a building – the bodies of those who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them are the temple.
- Only the Levites – not all of Israel – took tithes into the Temple storehouse – and even then it was only a tithe of the tithes (a tenth of the 10% all of Israel gave to the Levites).
Priests Who Steal
The final part of Nehemiah that we’ll study gives us a clear context for Malachi. Both books were written around the same time, and both books show how the priests failed to follow God’s statutes concerning the use of the tithe of the tithes.
In Nehemiah 13:4-12, we see how the priests had failed to give the Levites their portion of the tithe of the tithes while they were serving in the Temple. It appears that the priests even stole the Levites’ portion of the tithe of the tithes.
4 Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the rooms of the house of our God, being allied to Tobiah, 5 had prepared for him a great room, where before they laid the meal offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the grain, the new wine, and the oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the wave offerings for the priests.
6 But in all this, I was not at Jerusalem; for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king: and after certain days asked I leave of the king, 7 and I came to Jerusalem, and understood the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing him a room in the courts of God’s house. 8 It grieved me severely: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the room. 9 Then I commanded, and they cleansed the rooms: and there brought I again the vessels of God’s house, with the meal offerings and the frankincense.
10 I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them; so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled everyone to his field. 11 Then I contended with the rulers, and said, “Why is God’s house forsaken?” I gathered them together, and set them in their place. 12 Then brought all Judah the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the treasuries.
Nehemiah 13:4-12 (WEB)
Due to Eliashib’s actions the Levites who were serving at the Temple were not receiving the portion due to them. So the Levites went back home and started working in their fields (like they normally did when they weren’t serving in the Temple) so they’d have something to eat. After Nehemiah got the Levites to come back, he needed to replenish the food the priests had stolen. That’s why we see all of Judah bringing the tithe to the treasuries of the Temple rather than to the Levitical cities. This was a special exemption to the normal practice because of the circumstances. If Nehemiah had not done this, there would still have been no food for the Levites while they were serving at the temple.
This passage shows us three things:
- The tithe that belonged in the storehouse of the Temple was meant to provide food in God’s house for those who were serving at the Temple. However, this is the tithe of the tithes – not the full tithe that was given to the Levites. This is key to understanding Malachi 3:8-10.
- The Levites did not serve at the Temple full time. They had fields they farmed when they weren’t serving their shift at the Temple.
- The tithe was still only food items and never money. This aspect of tithing never changed in the Bible. Modern tithing supporters have changed it to include money.
We still have several verses to examine concerning tithing. However, the last few Scriptures won’t need nearly as much background information to understand. Thanks for sticking with me as we look at these Old Testament examples of tithing. After we look at Malachi, we’ll be looking at New Testament verses on tithing. If you want to make sure you don’t miss anything, make sure you sign up for free updates to Provident Planning.