Giving In The Old Testament
It would seem that every Christian would want to
know what the Bible teaches about giving. Most of us receive far
more appeals to give to "good causes" than we have finances
to support. In addition, financial and moral scandals in respected
ministries have produced frustration and disappointment to
previously faithful supporters. A clear understanding of Godís
teaching on giving would enable any Christian the guidance to give
with confidence and joy.
Giving in the Old Testament can be classified
under the two areas: Tithes and Offerings. A tithe means one tenth.
It refers to the giving Ėor payingóof 1/10 of oneís increase
financially or materially. Offerings would include (1) all offerings
made to God on an altar (2) free-will offerings for special projects
and (3) alms gifts to the poor.
Offerings Made To God On An Altar
These would include offerings from both the
animal and vegetable kingdom from the days of Cain and Abel forward.
The purposes of these offerings were to either:
1. Receive forgiveness and purification from sin or
2. Express worship and the desire to enter into fellowship with
Free Will Offerings
These were voluntary offerings for any purpose
the giver felt worthy of supporting with a contribution. The two
most outstanding examples were gifts for the construction of the
Tabernacle and, later, for the Temple.
God had given Moses the patterns for the
tabernacle and the priesthood. The time arrived to produce all these
things. Moses called for a free will offering. "This is the thing
which the Lord commanded, saying, ĎTake from among you an offering to the LORD: whoever is of a willing heartÖ" Exodus
35:4,5. "Then everyone came whose heart was stirred and everyone whose
spirit was willing, and they brought the LORD'S offering for the
work of the tabernacle of meeting, for all its service, and for the holy
garments." Exodus 35:21. The end result was that those who received the
offering said to Moses, "The people bring much more than
enough for the service of the work which the Lord commanded us to
do" (36:5). So the people had to be restrained from giving
because they gave too much. Most preachers today would probably say,
"That would be a delightful problem."
For an even more impressive example of free will
offerings read about the offering for the Temple in 1st Chronicles 29.
Tithes Before The Mosaic Law
The first record of tithing in the Bible is
Abraham. A powerful king from the East, named Chedorlaomer, led a
coalition army that defeated five kings around the southern tip of
the Dead Sea. In the process they plundered the cities and took the
survivors captive. Captured was Abrahamís nephew, Lot, and his
family. Abraham armed 317 of his servants and led a pre-dawn
guerrilla raid that defeated the invaders; freed the captives, and
enriched Abraham with priceless plunder. On his way back home
Abraham was met by Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most
High. Melchizedek provided bread and wine and blessed Abraham. "And
he [[Abraham] gave him a tithe of all." Genesis
14:18-20. What makes this so significant is that the New Testament
book of Hebrews is based on this experience:
- From the facts given in Genesis, Melchizedek was a type
[picture] of Christ ---if not the pre-incarnate Christ. ". .
.First being translated 'king of righteousness' and then also. .
.king of peace, without father, without mother, without genealogy,
having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like
the Son of God, remains a priest continually." Hebrews
- To the above facts the writer of Hebrews quotes the oath of
God to His Christ in Psalm 110:4 "The LORD has sworn and will
not relent, You are a priest forever according to the
order of Melchizedek." Hebrews 7:17.
The shocking consequences of all this is that
the Levitical priesthood of the Mosaic covenant has been replaced
by the high priesthood of Jesus Christ Who has been made a high
priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (See Hebrews
7:12-19) In regard to tithing we find in Romans 4:1 that Abraham
was justified by faith so that "he might be the father of all
who believe without being circumcised." That includes all
believing Gentiles of the church age. At the very least we have an
example of "the Father of all who believe" giving tithes to the
priest "after the order of Melchizedek."
The second example we have of tithing
before the Mosaic law was that of Jacob. Jacob had been told by
his father Isaac, to return to his relatives in the land of Haran
to seek a wife. On Jacobís first night out he chose a stone for a
pillow and slept under the canopy of the stars. While sleeping he
had a vision of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven with angels
ascending and descending on it. The LORD God appeared above the
ladder and confirmed the Abrahamic covenant to Jacob and promised
to be with Jacob until He had completed all His promises to him. "Then
Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will keep me
in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and
clothing to put on so that I come back to my fatherís house in
the LORD shall be my God. And this stone, which I have set as a
pillar, shall be Godís house; and of all that You give me I
will surely give a tenth to You." Genesis 28:20-22. We
presume that Jacob faithfully fulfilled his vow although his
motivation left considerable room for improvement. What we learn
from Jacobís financial agreement with God is that God did
abundantly bless him materially in spite of his Uncle Laban doing
everything he could to suppress his prosperity. When Jacob
returned to his homeland twenty-one years later he had another
meeting with God just before crossing the Jordan into Canaan. One
of the things he said to the LORD was, "I am not worthy of
the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have
shown Your servant; for I crossed over this
Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies." Genesis 32:10.
Jacob was clearly stating that God had kept His side of the
agreement by citing the evidence that when he left home the only
possession he had was a crooked stick and he is now returning with
two companies of sheep, goats, camels, rams, mules, and servants.
Giving Under The Mosaic Law
The Levitical Priesthood
To understand giving under the law we must
understand the structure of Israelís priesthood because giving to
God was so vitally connected with the priesthood. All priests were
members of the tribe of Levi. Levi was one of the twelve sons of
Jacob who became Israel. However, when we read about the twelve
tribes of Israel that inherited the land of Canaan Levi is not
listed as one of those tribes. The reason is that Levi was
extracted to be the priestly tribe. Leviís vacancy was filled by
the tribe of Joseph being made into two tribes through his two
sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
The work of the priesthood was divided between
Leviís three sons, Gershon, Kohath and Merari. All priests who
offered sacrifices had to come from the family of Kohath and the
high priest family had to be a descendant of Aaron. The
descendants of Gershon and Merari performed the more menial tasks
associated with priestly ministry.
God laid claim to ten percent of all the yearly
increase in the land. "And all the tithe of the land,
whether of the
seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORDíS; it
is holy to the LORD." Leviticus 27:30 Every family in Israel
was required to bring ten percent of their annual increase and
present it to the Levites to assist their material needs and to
provide for the care of the tabernacle and, later, the Temple.
Deuteronomy 14:22 & 18:21-24. In addition, they were required to
give the first-fruits of their crops each year (Exodus 23:19;
34:26) and every third year they were to bring an additional tithe
to minister to the Levites and the poor. (Deuteronomy 14:27-29)
The Levites in turn gave a tenth of what they received to the
priests who were descendants of Aaron. (Numbers 18:25-32).
Was Israel always faithful in bringing their
tithe to the LORD? No, there were several times when Godís house
suffered neglect and the Levites and Priests were impoverished. In
the days of King Joash we read about "breaches" in the house of
the LORD that went without repair for 23 years (2nd
Kings 12:4-6). We also read of "breaches" that needed repair when
King Josiah came to the throne (2 Kings 22:3-7).
Following the Babylonian captivity of the Jews
Nehemiah led in the rebuilding of the Temple and the renewal of
priestly ministry in the Temple. He was recalled to Babylon for an
extended time and when he returned to Jerusalem he was shocked to
find the temple abandoned by the Levites. "I also realized
that the portions for the Levites had not been given them, for
the Levites and the singers who did the work had gone
back to his own field. So I contended with the rulers and
said, ĎWhy is the house of God forsaken?í And I gathered them
together and set them in their place. Then all Judah brought
the tithe of the grain, and the new wine, and oil to the storehouse.í"
(Nehemiah 13:10-12) This experience underscored the importance of
the human factor in supporting Godís work. When Godís people
neglect to support the needs of the ministry for Godís work then
Godís work ceases to function as God intended.
At a still later time the prophet Malachi was
inspired to bring the most scathing exhortation about tithes and
offerings that we have in the Old Testament. "Yet from the days of
your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not
kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,í says the LORD
of hosts. ĎBut you said, In what way shall we return?í Will a man rob God?
Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, In what way have we robbed
tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you
robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into
the storehouse, that there may be food in My house and try Me
now in this, says the LORD of hosts, If I will not open for you
the windows of heaven and pour out for you such a blessing that there
will not be room enough to receive it.. And I will rebuke the devourer for your
sakes, so that
he will not destroy the fruit of your ground; nor shall the vine
fail to bear fruit for you in the field, says the LORD of hosts. And all
nations will call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land,
says the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 3:7-12).
We can profit from noting the following points:
- Godís people departed from Him when they did not tithe and
needed to return to Him by resuming tithing (verse 7).
- Since God had stated numerous times that the tithe (tenth) was
His, it followed that His people had committed robbery of God by
not bringing their tithes to Him (verse 8).
- For not bringing tithes the whole nation was cursed with a
curse from God (verse 9).
- When they resumed bringing tithes into His storehouse He would
open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing until there
would be no room to receive more. (verse 10)
- In addition, God promised to rebuke the forces that ate up
their profits and possessions. (verse 11)
- God further promised to make their land so delight-some that
all nations would call them blessed. (verse 12)
To say the least God made quite a "to do"
about whether His people tithed or not.
What Did Jesus Teach About Tithing
Jesus pointed His
disciples to higher and more noble reasons for giving than the
tithe. He only mentioned tithing one time and that is easily
overlooked because it came in the midst of the most blistering
message He brought. He was condemning the religious leaders of
Israel for their emphasis on externals and their making void Godís
word by giving equal or greater authority to their interpretations
of Godís word. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For
you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier
matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith; these
you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone."
Jesus was condemning the religious leaders for putting the greatest
emphasis on less important things and totally ignoring the most
important things of all. Yet, He did say in regards to their
tithing, "Öthese things you ought to have doneÖ" In so
doing Jesus endorsed the tithe.
One of the intangible truths about giving in our
Old Testament scriptures is the gracious spirit of generosity. We
still talk about some people being "givers" and others being
"takers." God made clear that He takes delight in those people with
the gracious spirit of generosity and that He will bless them and
honor them for it. We will include that when we talk about what the
New Testament teaches about giving.
Copyright © 2002 Thomas E Berry
All Scriptures quoted from the NKJV unless otherwise noted
Copyright © 2008 Truth Helpers Inc.