The tithe is one-tenth of a person’s income. The word “tithe” literally means “tenth.” The tithe belongs to God. When believers tithe, they are not giving a gift; they are simply returning to God what is already His.
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Tithing Before Moses
“And he [Abram] gave him tithes of all” (Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7:4). The fact that Abram paid tithe shows clearly that this institution was not a temporary expedient to provide for the sacrificial services, but that it was a divinely established practice from the earliest times. The Bible testified that Abraham had kept God’s commandments, statutes, and laws (Genesis 26:5) and did all his religious duties conscientiously.
And in Genesis 28:22, Jacob said, “And of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” There is no doubt that Jacob fulfilled his vow to God. The fact that God blessed him so abundantly in later years is the proof of that. For Jacob left Canaan a poor fugitive but came back 20 years later with much cattle, flocks, servants, and a great family.
These passages reveal that both Abraham and Jacob, who lived long before Moses’ day, tithed their income. We can, therefore, see that God’s plan of tithing preceded Moses’ law.
Tithing During the Mosaic Period
Again Tithing was practiced during the Mosaic era:
“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord. He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed” (Leviticus 27:30–33).
“Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting. Hereafter the children of Israel shall not come near the tabernacle of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. But the Levites shall perform the work of the tabernacle of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a statute forever, throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, ‘Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance” (Numbers 18:21–28).
Tithing During the Kingdom of Israel
And tithing was practiced during the era of the kingdom of Israel.
“Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the storehouse” (Nehemiah 13:12).
“Will a man rob God? yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘in what way have we robbed You?’ 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 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 3:8-12).
Tithing in Jesus’ Time
Tithing was again practiced during the New Testament era. Jesus said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23).
Jesus didn’t abolish the plan of tithing. He endorsed it. And He said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17). Jesus makes it clear that He was not against tithing as such, but against the hypocritical spirit of the scribes and Pharisees, whose religion was made up of keeping the forms of the law. He then plainly told them they should continue tithing, but should also be merciful and just.
Tithing in the Apostolic Era
Neither Jesus nor any New Testament writer in the least releases the obligation of tithing. About tithing, Paul wrote, “Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13, 14).
Jesus’ plan today is that tithing should be used to support those who work solely in gospel ministry. Jesus says, if we put Him first, He will meet all our needs (Matthew 6:33). His plans often work just opposite to human ideas. According to His plan, what we have left after tithing will prove more than sufficient than if we go without His blessings. The truth is that we cannot afford not to tithe.
In His service,