the tithe in ancient israel
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DESCRIPTIONThe Tithe in Ancient Israel
THE TITHE in ANCIENT ISRAEL
by Avram Yehoshua
(Endnotes in red. Click on the number to go to endnote. Click the BACK button on your browser to return tothe article)
The ancient tithe was a celebration of what God had given to Israel. The tither came to Jerusalem (orwherever Yahveh chose to make His Name dwell before Jerusalem), and rejoiced in the midst of one of thethree great Feasts, with his tithe, giving it and any extra offerings, to the Levites.
The tithe in Israel provided food, etc., for the priests and Levites, who served Yahveh in the Tabernacle andlater, the Temple. Some think that there were two tithes, while others speak of three tithes (the Levitical tithe,the 'poor and widow' tithe, and the Feast tithe).
The Scriptures don't give us a lay out for tithing, as they do for the Feasts (Lev. 23), and sacrifices (Lev. 1-5,etc.). We know that there was a tithe for the poor, but did it accompany the Levitical tithe, or replace it for thethird year? Some think that there may also have been a tithe just for the Feasts, the person attending taking atithe out and using it to rejoice before the Lord. There is Jewish writing from the days of Yeshua to that effect.Be that as it may, I'll start with what we know and present what I believe was the tithe in ancient Israel. Andthen I'll share how I think the tithe carries over for us today who believe in Yeshua as the Anointed One ofYahveh.
The agricultural and animal tithe could be brought three times a year to the Temple in Jerusalem. Jerusalemwas the place where Yahveh chose to dwell (after the Tent of Meeting).1 The three times corresponded to theholy Feasts of Yahveh, which He commanded all (adult) males to attend:
Deut. 16:16-17: 'Three times in a year all your males must appear before Yahveh your God in theplace which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at theFeast of Tabernacles. And they must not appear before Yahveh empty-handed. Every man shallgive as he is able, according to the blessing of Yahveh your God which He has given you.' (Seealso, Ex. 23:14, 17; 34:23-24)
The phrase, 'not to appear before Yahveh empty-handed', refers to the tithe for that season. The spring, thesummer, and the autumn harvests corresponded to the three great Feasts of Israel. Another text speaks of thetithe being brought to the place where Yahveh would dwell, and that it would be at the time of the Feasts:
Deut. 12:10-12: 'When you cross the Jordan and live in the Land which Yahveh your God isgiving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you so that you live insecurity, then it shall come about that the place in which Yahveh your God will choose for HisName to dwell, there you must bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and yoursacrifices, your tithes 2 and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offeringswhich you will vow to Yahveh. And you must rejoice before Yahveh your God; you and yoursons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since
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he has no portion or inheritance with you.'
The Hebrews being commanded to 'rejoice before Yahveh' tells us that it was for one of the major Feasts,when all Israel had to appear before Yahveh. Israel was to tithe 3 (to give ten percent of all their agriculturaland animal increase) to the Levites. They were the ones that served Yahveh full time and in a sense, 'shielded'Israel from the holiness of Yahveh so that He did not destroy them:
Num. 18:22-32: 'The Sons of Israel shall not come near the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle), againor they will bear sin and die. Only the Levites shall perform the service of the Tent of Meeting,and they shall bear their iniquity. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, andamong the Sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance.'
'For the tithe of the Sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to Yahveh, I have given to theLevites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said concerning them, 'They shall have noinheritance among the Sons of Israel.' Then Yahveh spoke to Moses, saying, 'Moreover, you shallspeak to the Levites and say to them,'
'When you take from the Sons of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for yourinheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to Yahveh, a tithe of the tithe. Your offeringshall be reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor or the full produce from the winevat. So you shall also present an offering to Yahveh from your tithes which you receive from theSons of Israel and from it you shall give Yahveh's offering to Aaron the priest. Out of all your giftsyou shall present every offering due to Yahveh, from all the best of them, the sacred part fromthem.'
'You shall say to them, 'When you have offered from it the best of it, then the rest shall bereckoned to the Levites as the product of the threshing floor and as the product of the wine vat.You may eat it anywhere, you and your households for it is your compensation in return for yourservice in the Tent of Meeting. You will bear no sin by reason of it when you have offered the bestof it. But you shall not profane the sacred gifts of the Sons of Israel or you will die.'
The tithe was for the Levites who didn't share in the inheritance of the Land of Israel, as did all the otherTribes. It was the way that Yahveh provided for His full time servants who devoted their lives to serving Him.The Levites would give a tithe to Aaron and his sons. The Aaronites were the only ones of the Levites whocould sacrifice. They were the actual priests.
The tither, taking not only his tithe but free will offerings as well, went up to Jerusalem and rejoiced with hisbrothers in gratitude for all that Yahveh had done for him. He had set him free from Egyptian slavery, givenhim his own land, and blessed him with food in abundance. Everything was Yahveh's and the tither wasacknowledging his gratefulness to Yahveh by returning a portion to those who ministered in the Tabernacle(or Temple).
The Honor of the Tithe
The tithe was established by Yahveh for those who gave their lives in His service. Their inheritance, unlikethe rest of the Sons of Israel, was Yahveh Himself. The tithe was a reflection of that:
Num. 18:20-21: Then Yahveh said to Aaron, 'You shall have no inheritance in their Land, nor
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own any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the Sons of Israel.To the Sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return fortheir service which they perform, the service of the Tent of Meeting.'
To give us an idea of how much honor Yahveh bestowed upon the Levites and the Aaronites through the tithe,I've calculated in monetary terms (vs. agricultural and animal), how it would have looked in the Wildernessunder Moses. At that time, there were 603,550 men over the age of 20, fit for war (Num. 1:2-3; 46), whowould be able to give a tithe to the Levites.
The Levites, the men between the ages of 30 and 50, who would be ministering in the Tent, were 8,580 (Num.4:47-48). They were the 'helpers' or servants to the Aaronic priests (Num. 8:19). When the Tabernacle wasmoved from one place to another, the Levites would disassemble it and carry it to the next place. Only theAaronic priests could sacrifice (Lev. 8-10; Num. 16, etc.). The Levites would give a tithe, the best tenth ofwhat they had received from Israel, to Aaron and his two sons, Eliezar and Itamar.
If we give a salary of just $10,000 to every Israeli man able to tithe, then every Israeli would give $1,000 ayear as his tithe. This meant that every Levite would receive slightly more than 70 tithes. Each Levite wouldget $70,343.82 (603,550 8,580 = 70.34382). The Levite would receive seven times the amount that theaverage Israeli made for the year.
The Levites in turn, tithed to the Aaronites. Each Aaronite would receive more than twenty million dollarseach ($20,118,326.80). Each Levite would give a tenth of their $70,343.82. That meant that each Levite gave$7,034.38. As there were 8,580 Levites, and only three Aaronites, it meant that each Aaronite got 286 timesthe amount that the average Israeli made (8,580 Levites 3 Aaronites = 2,860 tithes of $7,034.38 each).
As much as the money is, and it is an incredible sum, the issue isn't money, or cattle or grain, etc. The tithereflected the honor that Yahveh had given to the Levite and the sons of Aaron who gave up their life, and theirinterest in this world, to serve Yahveh full time. This reminded me of what Yeshua said about what Hisfollowers would receive if they left all to follow Him:
'Peter said, 'Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.' And He said to them, 'Truly Isay to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for thesake of the Kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the ageto come, eternal life.' (Luke 18:28-30)
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, in their discussion of the tithe (under the 'TheologicalImplications' section), gives us some important understanding concerning the tithe in ancient Israel:
'By giving the tithe the Israelites were declaring solemnly that they were giving a portion back tothe Lord who had prospered them (cf. Dt. 26:10-15). By giving the tithe they also recognized thevalidity of the priests' and Levites' role as God's representatives and acknowledged their right toreceive support for the spiritual service they performed on the people's behalf. The tithe ritualafforde