Is the Tithe Pre-Mosaic?
Now let us deal with the teaching that says that the Biblical tithe was pre-Mosaic. The first place we come across offerings of any kind is in Genesis 4:3-7. Cain brought forth an offering from the fruit of the ground to the LORD and Abel brought the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. The LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering which caused Cain to become very angry.
Most Christians who teach tithing would also consider themselves Bible literalists, that is, they are opposed to “spiritualizing” the Scriptures. However, when we get down to some of their pet doctrines, we find that literalists often quickly abandon their “literalism.”
In Genesis 4:3, the passage mentioned above, there is not a hint as to the amount being offered. Both fruit of the ground and flocks are acceptable offerings. One could point out that Able brought blood and Cain did not. One could perhaps make something of the fact that Able gave of his “first-born” while nothing is said about Cain’s offering. We could attempt to “spiritualize” here, but if we let the Scripture stand as it is with a “literal” interpretation, we do not have a “Biblical tithe” here. We have two offerings; one acceptable-the other unacceptable.
We have to travel 2000 years ahead in history to find another trace of offerings to the LORD. We come to Abraham and His offering to Melchizedek, the king of Salem. I want to make an emphatic point here as we analyze this portion of Scripture. As I said before, literalists are not very literal. If true “spiritual” understanding comes from a “literal” approach, then Scriptures such as the following do not make much sense: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, nor can he know them, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14) If the Bible can be understood with the natural mind using a literalist approach to the Bible, then the above Scripture is not true. The fact is, the Scriptures and the things of God need to be “spiritually discerned.” They are “foolishness” to the “natural mind.” Even Christians can be naturally, carnally, fleshly minded. “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.” (1 Cor. 3:1) A Christian, while claiming to be a literalist, who finds himself having to add to or subtract from Scriptures to make them fit into their doctrines, is still very carnal. The next portion of Scripture we will look at will bear this out.
There are those who say that, while we are not under the Mosaic Law, we Christians, are children of faith. Our father in this faith is Abraham. (So far so good.) Then comes the nice little carnal step which shows how unliteral the literalists really are. They say that Abraham was a tither and therefore we must be tithers. Well, let us be literalists for a moment and look at that Scripture to see what it “literally” says.
The 14th Chapter of Genesis deals with a battle between nine kings, five against four. The first part of Chapter 14, is very difficult to understand. The King James Bible does not tell us, but the Jewish Bible called the Tanakh (which is the Old Testament) tells us that some of the meaning of the Hebrew in this Chapter is uncertain. (It seems the Jews are more honest in their translating than some Christian Bible translators.)
Abram, with 318 of his men, went after the four kings who spoiled the king of Sodom and the king of Gomorrah. Abram defeated the kings, and set his nephew Lot free. On the way back with all the spoils of war, the king of Sodom met Abram in the king’s valley. Here a mysterious king of Salem, priest of the God Most High, brought out bread and wine and blessed Abram. Abram then gave a tenth of those spoils to Melchizedek. At this point, the king of Sodom told Abram to take everything except the people. It is not clear in the text whose goods and people are involved here. The armies which Abram defeated had attacked several other kingdoms before they spoiled Sodom and Gomorrah. When Abram defeated them, he must have collected a tremendous amount of wealth plus people which could be turned into slaves. One thing is clear in this passage, these “spoils” were not the property of Abram. They belonged to other kingdoms which were defeated by the previously mentioned kings. The dividing of all the “spoils of war” and the people is not completely clear. One thing, however, is clear, Abram, kept nothing! Furthermore, there is no reference in the Bible that Abram gave the king of Salem anything else, ever. In other words, there is no tradition prior nor antecedent to this event of “tithing” to the king of Melchizedek. In addition, there is no directive anywhere in the Scriptures which grants the right for any human being to place themselves into the priesthood of Melchizedek commanding tithes of God’s people! The jump from this event to the modern day tradition of offering tithes to a pastor or head of an organization claiming this fulfills the event in Genesis is going way beyond literalism and way beyond “spiritualizing.” It is nothing short of twisting the Scriptures for self-gain. Another thing, slavery was certainly a part of life in this region. Spoils of war included people. Are we to “tithe” captured enemies when Christian nations go to war?
The king of Sodom said Abram could keep all the goods, he just wanted the people. It is not clear which people he referred to. We may assume he was referring to his own citizens who were captured, but that would be mere conjecture.
There are many questions which can be asked about this mysterious passage, but there are some very clear points that can be made. Abram gave a tenth of these spoils of war to Melchizedek. If tithing is the issue here, then Abram had every right to keep the rest, but Abram gave it all back. He used a part to feed his army and he allowed three men to keep their share. Abram didn’t give a “full tithe” of ten per cent. Abram gave it all away!
“I will take nothing from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ (Gen. 14:23)
There is nothing here to indicate Abram gave a tenth of his personal possessions. It should also be noted, these spoils went to this mysterious king of Salem, not to a pastor, denominational headquarters, etc. There is not one record that Abram did anything like this again. There is nothing in the Bible up to this point to indicate that God wanted a tenth of everything one owned. If He did want that, it seems it wouldn’t have been to difficult to simply state that He did, but He didn’t. Abram offered a free-will offering of spoils of war to a mysterious king.
If we take passages of Scripture such as the previous one which describes an event which occurred thousands of years ago in cultures totally foreign to our ways today and say that we should do the same things, we should be consistent. Why pick and chose those Scriptures which suit our carnal little minds? Take this Scripture literally and we will all starve to death. We end up with nothing! Obviously, something else is going on here other than what tradition has taught us.
There is another example of God’s people receiving spoils of war from which portions were divided into “offerings” to priests. Will we find this act consistent with what Abram did? Let us look at that event.
In Numbers Chapter 31, the Israel “took vengeance for the Lord on Midian.” (Num. 31:3) Twelve thousand Israelites went to war with Midian. First, they killed all the males. Forget the Geneva Peace Accord about proper treatment of prisoners. Kill them all. Remember how we feel when our troops are treated this way in war? We are outraged! Next they took the women and children captive and brought them along with the rest of the spoils to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation.” I suppose a modern day preacher would be delighted about this. The congregation went out among the heathen and brought the whole plunder to the ministers. But Moses was angry with them. “Have you kept the women alive?” he said. “Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately. But keep alive for yourselves all the young girls who have not known a man intimately.” Now we could talk about this passage of Scripture for days and still not run out of things to say, so we won’t analyze this incident beyond its relationship to tithing. I have met some ministers who would love to go back to these days. Not very many, but some. Just a few glances into the New Testament where Jesus met Gentile sinners like the Samaritan women who had five men and was living with a sixth, the woman caught in the very act of adultery and His response should tell the average Christian who still has a mind to think with that the Law of Moses and the Grace which comes from the Life of Christ are not the same! Jesus never commanded anyone to kill anyone! Moses did. Could you as a Christian kill baby boys and women who were not virgins if your government told you to do it? I hope not!
“Count the plunder that was taken-of man and beast…” We see that humans were counted as “plunder.” Then the “plunder” was divided between those who went to war and those who didn’t. Then they had to give an offering of this plunder to the ministers. Those who went to war were to give one out of every five hundred persons, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep to Eleazar the priest. Those who didn’t go to war had to give one out of every fifty from the persons, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep to the Levites (ministers). So, the warriors had to kill a good part of their “spoils.” Then they had to give two-tenths of one per cent to the high priest. Those who didn’t fight had to give two per cent to the Levites (ministers). If tithing was like what is preached today, why does this incident totally contradict this “law” if ten per cent off the top was the practice then? Why do tithing teachers not refer to this Scripture and make it the standard for giving? These commands were given by “the LORD to Moses.” (Num. 31:25) They are God’s very words! Why do tithing teachers avoid reference to this passage of Scripture? We must go on. But I do want to point out that this portion Scripture of full of spiritual truths which the “literalist mind” will never be able to learn anything from. This Scripture as well as all Scripture needs to be “spiritually discerned.”
And why do the tithing teachers no longer practice slavery, and killing women and children? Well, perhaps they do, but most of the slaves do not realize they are slaves to a system which places burdens upon the backs of God’s people that He never placed upon their backs! And few Christians are aware of how spiritually dead they really are until they come out of the graveyards they worship in.
So we have seen two accounts of how spoils of war were dealt with. It should be pointed out that the incident with Abram was prior to God making a covenant with him. The Abrahamic Covenant is in Chapter 15 of Genesis. The tithe on the spoils given to Melchizedek is in Chapter 14. If God made a law that ten per cent of the spoils of war belonged to Him, then He must have changed the law in Numbers Chapter 31. But God never changed anything. The fact of the matter is there was never a law demanding ten per cent of income before Abraham, before Moses, before Jesus, or after them all. It has never existed except under deceitful or ignorant ministers claiming for themselves in the name of God what God never has asked for.
Returning back to our search for tithing in the Old Testament, we see the word tithe is found in Genesis 28:20-22. Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, spent the night at a place called Luz (almond tree). He had an incredible dream in which Yahweh reaffirmed the promise He made with Abraham. Jacob anointed the stone which was by his head when he slept and called the place Bethel, which means “house of God.” At this point, Jacob tried to make a deal with God.
“If God will be with me, and 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 father’s house in peace, then the LORD (Yahweh) shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” (Gen. 28:20-22) What we see here, is typical of Jacob, the heal-grabber, conniver. If Abraham had taught his children to tithe, then Jacob had no business trying to make a deal with God. “You give me all I want and I’ll give you back 10 per cent.” Jacob, the heal-grabber made a conditional promise to God. We do not find God answering Jacob. (Jacob also called a stone which he anointed with oil the “house of God.” Is that stone the “house of God?” If we are going to be literal, then let us be consistent. Either that stone is the “house of God,” or Jacob still had some growing up to do spiritually.) While we find Jacob playing “Let’s make a deal,” with God, we do not find a single passage of Scripture which declares the deal was made or that that deal was to be passed on to his off-spring. There certainly is no indication whatsoever that any of His attempt to make a deal with God has anything to do with us apart from the fact that many of us seem to have the same nature Jacob had and we seem to play the same games with God that Jacob played. There are many truths we can learn from Jacob who would one day become Israel, tithing is not something we can learn from him. There is not a single record that God commanded him to tithe and not a single record that he ever did.
If there were ever an opportunity for God to conclusively show He was interested in 10 per cent of gross income, Joseph had a perfect opportunity to make it absolutely clear. If you recall, Joseph interpreted a couple of dreams foretelling 7 years of good harvest followed by 7 years of famine. Joseph, “a man in whom the Spirit of God is” (Gen. 41:38) told Pharaoh to set aside one fifth of the grain from the 7 years of plenty to carry them through the 7 years of famine. I am sure there are many great truths we could dig up in the 47th Chapter of Genesis but we must stay on the topic of tithing.
As the famine grew, Joseph sold grain to those living in Egypt and Canaan, until “Joseph brought all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan.” The famine continued. The Egyptians then sold all their livestock to Joseph. At the end of that year they came to Joseph again. This time he bought their land and their very bodies in exchange for food. At this point, the Pharaoh through Joseph’s administration, owned everything in Egypt except the land of the priests’. Pharaoh had given them an allotment of food throughout this time and they therefore did not sell their land.
Joseph had in that moment in history, a perfect opportunity to create a perfect economical system. What did he do? Did he institute a “tithe?” After all, if tithing was a God ordained system among the patriarchs, here was Joseph’s perfect opportunity to set up the system. After all, Joseph’s descendants were going to spend the next several hundred years in Egypt. He had a perfect opportunity to create an environment in which Yahweh would bless them and not curse them. So, did he set up a tithe of 10 per cent of gross or net income? No! Joseph first of all did not give the Egyptian people their possessions back. Capitalism was out. He gave them seed to grow new crops on land which now belonged to Pharaoh. Then, of the harvest from the government-given seed, 20 per cent went to Pharaoh to do with as he willed. The citizens of Egypt were allowed to keep the other eighty per cent. The people remained servants of Pharaoh.
“And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt to this day, that Pharaoh should have one-fifth except for the land of the priests only, which did not become Pharaoh’s.” (Gen. 47:26)
It should be pointed out that there is not even a hint in Scripture that Israel while in Egypt would be under a different system than the one Joseph set up. For those of you who do see types and shadows in the Old Testament, many see Joseph (increaser, adding) as a type of Jesus Christ. There is much to learn here, but tithing is not one of them.
Now twenty per cent, is a very reasonable and probably healthy tax to keep a government running. You see, most of the countries at this time were not structured anything like governments today. Those who teach tithing do not tell us that there was no such thing as separation of church and state at this time in history. The kings and Pharaohs were often recognized as gods. These kingdoms were theocracies. What the king collected from the people could be used for anything from building roads, paying teachers, or building temples. Like I said, there was no separation of church and state.
What Joseph set up, whether we like it or not, was an economic system which forbid private land ownership with a twenty per cent tax. Keep in mind, the Spirit of God was in him. We do not find a 30 to 40 per cent tax for the government, and then a ten per cent tithe for the priests (pastors). Joseph did not institute a 10 per cent tithe off the top because God did not require it! Pharaoh did, however, need funds to keep the government running.
Now that is the end of any Scriptures relating to anything close to what we would call tithing prior to the institution of the Mosaic Law. Clearly, if God had instituted a 10 per cent tithe prior to Moses, either the Biblical characters must have been unaware of it, or God did not make it very clear. The truth is, He never demanded or even suggested it.
Stay Tune…There is more to come, next week!