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 God.

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:

  1. 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 7:2,3.
  2. 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 peace, then 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 each of 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 You?í In tithes and offerings.  You are cursed with a curse, for you have 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:

  1. Godís people departed from Him when they did not tithe and needed to return to Him by resuming tithing (verse 7).
  2. 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).
  3. For not bringing tithes the whole nation was cursed with a curse from God (verse 9).
  4. 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)
  5. In addition, God promised to rebuke the forces that ate up their profits and possessions. (verse 11)
  6. 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."  Matthew 23:23.  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.