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The Tithe in the Bible

Section 4

Mosaic Offerings

Besides three tithes, the law of God imposed other fixed claims and offerings, both annual and occasional. Thus the Israelite was commanded:

"When ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather the fallen fruit of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and for the stranger," Leviticus 19:9-10.

Again:

"When thou reapest thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands. When though beatest thine olive tree, thou shall not go over the boughs again . . . . When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it after thee; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow," Deuteronomy 24:19-21.

From the foregoing we learn that, at the time of fruit-gathering, the owner was to leave for the needy, fallen fruit, overlooked olives, and small bunches of grapes; whilst in the harvest field he was not to care for forgotten bundles nor gleanings (that is, ears of corn dropped in the hands of the reaper); and the corners of his fields he was not even to cut.

How large the corners thus left were to be, the Mosaic law does not specify; but as a matter of practice we learn, in later years, from a chapter on "the corner" in the Mishna, that "they do not leave less than a sixtieth part" of the whole (Gills Exposition of Old and New Testament, Leviticus 19:9).

Another annual claim upon the Israelite was that of his firstfruits; and although the law, again, does not define the amount of the offering, it is instructive to notice how Maimonides asks concerning the quantity to be brought, "What measure do the wise men set?" which he answers, saying, "A good eye [or a bountiful man] brings one of forty; a middling one [one that is neither liberal nor niggardly] brings one of fifty [or the fiftieth part]; and an evil one [a covetous man] one of sixty [or the sixtieth part]; but never less than that" (Gill on Exodus 22:29). Another authority, referring to the Mishna and its chapter on firstfruits, names one-fiftieth of the produce. (See McClintock and Strong's Cyclopaedia, article "Tithe," volume 10, p. 434.)

But besides the firstfruits to be offered annually the law enjoined certain charges to be paid occasionally. Thus:

"Sanctify unto Me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast; it is Mine." Again:

"The firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto Me. Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with its dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it Me," Exodus 22:29-30.

The firstborn of man was to be redeemed by payment of five shekels [This is still observed, apparently, among modern Jews in Lemberg. Mister Israel Sunlight, an ex-rabbi of my acquaintance (and who was kind enough to read over what I have hereafter written about Talmudic teaching on tithes), writes thus: "At the beginning of the month I was invited to be present at a unique ceremony, the redeeming of the firstborn," and he continues, in short, as follows: The parents present the child to the Cohen (or priest), who takes it in his arms, and then asks them whether they wish him to keep the child, or whether they would rather redeem it for the sum of five shekels (about twelve shillings). The parents, of course, take the latter alternative, and pay down the redemption money: whereupon the priest pronounces his blessing upon the child, and hands it back to its parents (Jewish Missionary Intelligencer, March, 1903, p. 43)] and the firstlings of unclean animals were to be redeemed also. The firstling, however, of a cow, a sheep, or a goat might not be redeemed; but it was brought to the altar, and the flesh, after being offered to God, became the property of the priest, Numbers 18:16-17.

Another fixed charge was made at the time of the census in the wilderness to the amount of half a shekel. The rich were not to give more, nor the poor less, Exodus 30:11-15. Also the law prescribed that when the Israelite should plant a fruit tree, the fruit for three years was to be regarded as unclean, and not to be eaten; whilst in the fourth year the fruit was to be set apart for giving praise to Jehovah, Leviticus 19:23-24.

Moreover, the seventh year was to be a year of release, when every creditor was to refrain from enforcing re-payment for that which he had lent to his neighbor:

"Beware that there be not a base thought in thine heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou give him nought: and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee," Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 9.

Such, then, were the fixed deductions, annual or occasional, laid by the Mosaic law upon an Israelite's increase, the discharge of which was a duty and the withholding a sin.

Besides the foregoing, it was enjoined for the Feast of Weeks:

"Thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give, according as the Lord thy God blesseth thee: and thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are in the midst of thee, in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there," Deuteronomy 16:10-11.

The nature and amount of the freewill offering is here left to the liberality of the giver; and this seems to be the only one of the feasts held at the metropolis to which the stranger, fatherless, and widow are expressly named as persons to be invited. But the law contemplated other offerings also, the bringing of which was not obligatory, but which God expressed His willingness to accept from any of His people who were disposed with a willing heart to give. A famous example of this occurred at Sinai, at the making of the tabernacle, when the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering: of every man whose heart maketh him willing, ye shall take my offering," Exodus 25:2, the result of this appeal being that the people had to be restrained from bringing, "for the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much," Exodus 36:7.

We have frequent mention also, in the law, of vows and freewill offerings. It was directed that "whosoever offereth a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the Lord to accomplish a vow, or for a freewill offering, of the herd or of the flock, it shall be perfect to be accepted," Leviticus 22:21. An imperfect bullock or lamb might be brought for a freewill offering, but not for a vow, verse 23. Other directions concerning vows and devoted things take up nearly the whole of the last chapter of Leviticus.

The general rule, seemingly, for voluntary giving at the festivals was this:

"Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which He shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty: every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which He hath given thee," Deuteronomy 16:16-17.

At the same time, concerning vows generally, the law enjoined:

"When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not be slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt observe and do; according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God, a freewill offering, which thou hast promised with thy mouth," Deuteronomy 23:21-23.

Another general rule, that might be practiced every day and everywhere, was:

"If there be with thee a poor man, one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: but thou shalt surely open thine hand unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wanteth . . . . Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy work, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto," Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10.

Such, then, were the tithes and offerings of the Mosaic law. In some cases the amount or proportion due was definitely stated; in others it was not stated with precision -- as, for instance, with the second and third tithes, it is not stated whether each tithe was to be a tenth of the whole or a tenth of the remainder after the previous tithe or tithes had been deducted. Hence, to reduce to figures what an Israelite was called upon annually to pay, and encouraged to give, is not easy, especially in relation to such matters as the firstlings and tithes of cattle, and his own firstborn son, to say nothing of the fruit of young trees for four years, as well as debts not enforced in the seventh year.

A freewill offering at the Feast of Weeks, Deuteronomy 16:10, animals in payment of vows or things devoted, Leviticus 27:9, 28, remission of debts in year of release, the redemption of the firstborn, and thank offerings generally.

From the foregoing it will be seen that if the standing crop amounts to 6,000 Ephahs, or bushels, an estimated 1/60 must be left in the corners, or as gleanings, or forgotten sheaves, for the poor. Then, of the remaining 5,900 bushels, an estimated 1/40 more is to be offered as firstfruits. From the 5,750 bushels left, the Lord's tithe for the Levites is to be taken, which reduces the ingathering to 5,175 bushels; and when from this the festival tithe is taken, it leaves to the owner 4,658 bushels. From this must be deducted 1/30 (or a third of the triennial tithe), by which the net remainder is reduced to 4,503 bushels, or three-fourths of the original whole.

Out of this remainder, however, there might have to be provided the redemption for a firstborn son, or, once in seven years, the remission of debts; and from the same source, according to the owner's liberality, would come a freewill offering at the Feast of Weeks; and, on other occasions, animals for the payment of vows, or devoted things and thank offerings, generally.

So, then, on the principle of tithing the remainder, a liberal Israelite's outgoings would amount to, at least, a fourth of his income. On the other hand, if each item is charged upon the whole 6,000, then it will be seen that there would remain, after the payment of fixed claims, only 4,350. Added to this, the consumption of time for several weeks, for the observance of festivals, would be considerable; and if 350 bushels more may be regarded as an equivalent for this loss, as well as for redemption of the firstborn, remitted debts, for vows and freewill offerings, then a man's outgoings would amount, on this principle, to a third of his entire harvest.

Perhaps, therefore, we are justified in supposing that the Mosaic law required the Israelite to set apart, in some way or other connected with his religion, from one-fourth to a third of his income. Or, to put it in another away: a conscientious man, wishful to act up to his duty, might begin by setting apart a tenth of his income for the Lord's tithe. He would regard his firstborn and the firstlings of his cattle as belonging to the Lord. The fruit of young trees for three years he would not eat, and on the fourth year would set apart the fruit for God, whilst every seventh year he would not claim money from his debtors. At the time of every harvest he would leave the poor the corners of his field, the gleanings and forgotten sheaves, as well as fallen fruit and overlooked olives and grapes. He would then set aside a second tenth for expenses connected with going up to the sanctuary, taking with him a freewill offering at the Feast of Weeks, and possibly animals for payment of vows, or thank offerings, or things devoted, in addition to his firstfruits. These firstfruits he would put in a basket, and, coming to the priest, would say to him: "I profess this day unto the Lord thy God, that I am come unto the land which the Lord sware unto our fathers for to give us," Deuteronomy 26:3.

Upon this the priest would take the basket and set it down before the altar, and the offerer then would solemnly say before God, Deuteronomy 26:5-10:

"A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous: and the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage: and we cried unto the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression: and the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders: and He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground, which Thou, O Lord, hast given me."

The firstfruits thus dedicated, the offerer would worship before Jehovah, in gratitude and acknowledgment of all the good given to him, his family, the Levite, and the stranger, Deuteronomy 26:2-11.

This beautiful form was provided for yearly use, whilst every third year, a third tenth having been set apart for the local poor, our pious Israelite would solemnly declare before God:

"I have put away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all Thy commandment which Thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed any of Thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them: I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I put away thereof, being unclean, nor given thereof for the dead: I have hearkened to the voice of the Lord my God, I have done according to all that Thou hast commanded me. Look down from Thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Thy people Israel, and the ground which Thou hast given us, as Thou swearest unto our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey," Deuteronomy 26:13-15.

Having now collected various pieces of information concerning Mosaic tithes and offerings, we do well to notice the nature of the evidence thus brought together. Professor Driver, in his commentary on Deuteronomy (p. 172), would have us to believe that "the data at our disposal do not enable us to write a history of the Hebrew tithe." But this is no sufficient reason why we should not make the most of the information we have, remembering, however, that the evidence is not primary, direct, and complete, so much as subsidiary, indirect, and fragmentary.

We have not, for instance, throughout the Pentateuch so much as a single chapter, or even a long paragraph, dealing with tithe as a whole. We have had to collect our information mainly from three short passages in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, these passages being there introduced not so much for their own sakes as for their bearing upon other things.

Thus the first authoritative statement (in the generally received order of the books) of the great foundation principle that a tenth of the produce of the land and of beasts belongs to Jehovah, is not ushered in, as we might expect, with the solemn preamble, "The Lord said unto Moses, Speak unto the children of Israel," etc.; but we see this great truth specifically mentioned for the first time at the end of Leviticus, in a supplementary chapter regulating the making of vows and determining how far things or animals devoted to God might be redeemed. Here the subject of the tithe comes in, quite incidentally and without explanation; and then it is spoken of, not for the purpose of enjoining it as something new, or as though it were not already in use, but in order to exclude the tithe portion from vows, and to prescribe how far and under what conditions, like vows, tithe might be redeemed (Langes Commentary on Leviticus 27:30-33).

So again, in Numbers 18, after the rebellion of Korah, when several laws are being given concerning the priests and Levites, this first tithe is again introduced, not so much, seemingly, for its own sake, as to show how the Levites, though having no inheritance among the tribes, are to be repaid for their labor by its appropriation to their benefit.

Once more, when we come to Deuteronomy 14 we have a chapter regulating what may be eaten and what may not be eaten, of beasts, fishes, and fowls; and then follow directions concerning eating before God of the second tithe at an appointed placed of worship.

Furthermore, what we are told about tithes is not only fragmentary, but it is also incomplete. The Mosaic law, for instance, does not define particularly what seeds, fruits, or animals are to be tithed; nor does the legislator give directions "whether the tenth is to be paid of all newly born animals; whether it includes those newly purchased or exchanged; whether it is payable if a man have less than ten cattle, or at what age of the animals the tithe becomes due" (McClintock and Strong, 10, p. 434). Nor, as already observed, does the law say whether each tithe is to be computed in reference to the whole, or out of what remains after previous tithes have been deducted; nor, again, is it clear whether the second tithe includes a second tenth of all animals. [By way of illustration we may observe, as a somewhat parallel case, the importation of the word "fasting" into the Book of Common Prayer. In the prefatory matter is "A Table of the Fasts and Days of Abstinence," also a list of the days of fasting; and in the Communion Service the curate is directed to declare what fastings days are to be observed. But nothing is said as to who is to fast, nor in what fasting consists, where it should be observed, or with what accessories, nor why or how, but only when. Just, then, as these minutiae, when the first English Prayer Book was issued, were well known and understood, and were taken so to be; so, presumably, the less needed to be said by the writer of the Pentateuch about the particulars connected with tithing, because the people were familiar with the custom as descended from their forefathers.]

The law concerning tithe, then, in general has in one respect a close resemblance to the law concerning the Sabbath. When Jehovah promulgated the Decalogue as a statute or written law, He said, "Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy," thereby implying that the commandment was already in existence or had been enjoined before; and the same might be said of other commandments which were laws of God and rules of life for man, and for keeping of which Abraham is praised, and for the non-observance of which punishment is recorded, long before Jehovah's laws were published on Sinai.

So, with regard to Mosaic tithes and offerings, it has been shown elsewhere that before the descendants of Jacob left Palestine it was a well-established custom in Egypt to make regular offerings to the gods and to pay to the temples firstfruits of the harvest, (see Sacred Tenth, p. 3) so that with these customs, at any rate, the Israelites, on leaving Egypt, would be familiar. They would likewise remember that two-tenths, or a double tithe, of increase was paid by the Egyptians to Pharaoh, who supported the priests, and that, by virtue of the legislation of their own ancestor, Joseph, whose bones they were taking up for burial in the land of Canaan at the very time their own law was given; whilst as for tithes, how could the Israelites forget the observance of this custom by their great ancestor Abraham, or fail to remember the vow of his grandson Israel, "Of all that thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto Thee"? Genesis 28:22.

These things, presumably, must have been to them as household words, and hence there can be little doubt that the inspired legislator adopted the already existing practice of tithing, and inserted it in the statute law of the divine code, because he found that, with some modification, this ancient payment might be made a proper stipend for the servants and officers of the theocracy, and also that second and third tithes might furnish the means of promoting regular worship at the national sanctuary, and foster social intercourse and good feeling between rich and poor (See McClintock and Strong's Encyclopaedia, 10, p. 436.)


The Tithe in Scripture
by Henry Lansdell
Section 1
Cain and Abel
Section 4
Mosaic Offerings
Section 7
Tithing in
the Apocrypha
Section 10
Christ's Attitude
on Tithing
 
Section 2
Abraham and Jacob
Section 5
The tithe from
Joshua to Solomon
Section 8
Talmudic Teaching
on First and Second Tithe
Section 11
Christ's Teaching
on the Tithe
 
Section 3
The Three Tithes of Israel
Section 6
Tithing before
and after Captivity
Section 9
The Demai or
Doubtful Tithe
Section 12
Early Giving
by Christians
 
Section 13
Apostle Paul's Teaching


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