Tithing Part 2: Distinguishing Tithes And Offerings
In our first study on tithing “Tithing Part 1: The Biblical Principle”, we surveyed the crucial place that tithing unto God had amongst the Israelites and expounded why it should continue to be important to believers today as a principle. In order to delve deeper into the topic of tithing, it is important to address the confusion that often exists between what is tithing and what is offerings. In this second study we will untangle the instructions and purposes of the various types by delving carefully into the Scriptures.
TITHE FOR GOD
This tithe was examined in the previous study on “Tithing Part 1: The Biblical Principle.” This is the tenth that is holy unto God (Lev 27:30-32). This is the tithe that should be given to God first. It is this tithe that God gave to the Levites because the Levites served in the temple and did have their own land to live off nor other sources of income, unlike the rest of the Israelites.
Numbers 18:13–14, 20-21 (NIV) 13 All the land’s firstfruits that they bring to the LORD will be yours… 14 “Everything in Israel that is devoted to the LORD is yours. 20 The LORD said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites. 21 “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting.
When the Israelites were faithful in their tithing the priests had sufficient. But when the people failed to tithe, then the priest would lack. This was why God specifically instructed the Israelites to faithfully support the Levites.
Deuteronomy 12:19 (NIV) Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.
We should support God’s work by giving faithfully unto God our first tithe.
For that reason, we should support God’s work by giving faithfully unto God our first tithe.
TITHE FOR PERSONAL RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES
Besides the first tithe to be given to God, the Old Testament also required a second tithe.
Deuteronomy 14:22–23 (NIV) 22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always.
When we examine God’s instructions carefully (also Deut 12:5-18), we discover that this tithe is intended for a different purpose. The first tithe was to be given to the priest. But this tithe is to be enjoyed by the people personally at the place of worship and feasts that God will reveal to them. Subsequently, God revealed that this place was to be in Jerusalem. Notice that this tithe was not considered as holy or sacred unto God. There were no divine judgments pronounced upon those who failed to fulfil this tithe.
There were 3 annual holy Festivals or Feasts to be celebrated called the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover or Pesah), the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost or Shavuot) and Feast of Booths (Tabernacles or Sukkot) where the Israelites were expected to congregate in Jerusalem. For that reason, these are also known as the Pilgrimage Festivals. During the Feasts, it was a special time of community-building, religious instruction and worship.
Deuteronomy 16:16 (NIV) Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the LORD empty-handed:
The entire Lev 23 is devoted to the purpose of these Feasts and how it was to be undertaken. Briefly, the Feast of Passover and Tabernacles each require 7 days while it is uncertain how many days the Feast of Weeks is to last though today it is over 3 days. Effectively, it represents less than one-twentieth of the year but have at least double the amount of food set aside. If we assume that the annual produce of the land is sufficient for their food in a year. Then a tenth of annual production should provide for at least 36 days. Truly a feast!
There is no indication of these practices before the Mosaic Laws. Though Jesus did participate in those Feasts. The full significance of the first 2 Feasts were realised in the Gospels and the book of Acts with Jesus sacrifice at the cross (Passover) and the giving of the Holy Spirit in power (Pentecost). Yet there were no indications from Jesus nor the Apostles whether the principle of those tithes would continue. In fact, Apostle Paul states in Col 2:16 that these Festivals are shadows of the reality of Christ. Meaning there is no compulsion nor need to celebrate these Festivals any longer. By association there is no need for tithes for such festivals too. However, the principle behind the tithe in Deut 14:23 “so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always” should be maintained.
Therefore, the principle of setting aside funds to provide for our personal religious activities should continue. Using a tithe as a benchmark. These should foster community-building amongst God’s people, instructions in the faith and worship. Practically it may mean setting aside funds for Christian conferences, retreats, equipping, etc. If this tithe principle was maintained faithfully by Christians, many more would be refreshed, relationships strengthened and better equipped for ministry.
TITHE FOR THE POOR AND NEEDY
A third tithe was commanded in the Old Testament with the intention to care for the poor, needy and marginalised. Again, there is no mention that this tithe was holy or sacred unto God. Nor were there pronounced any divine judgment upon those who failed to fulfil this tithe.
Deuteronomy 14:28–29 (NIV) 28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
A third of a tenth was to be set aside each year to help the poor and needy.
In other words, a third of a tenth was to be set aside each year to help the poor and needy. However, no mention of this tithe was made in the New Testament. Nevertheless, the principle and practices of caring for the poor, needy and marginalised was strongly emphasised in the New Testament (James 1:27, Gal 6:10, 1 John 3:17). It is obvious that throughout the Old and New Testament, God sought for generous and caring hearts to provide for the poor and needy. Any rebuke was against the lack of generosity rather than the lack of observance of this tithe.
It may be argued that in many developed nations, the income tax is used partially used by the government to support social welfare and social services which are intended to help the poor, needy and marginalised. This could account for more than 3.33% of one’s income. Nevertheless, we should not approach this in a rigid fashion but remember the principle is to care for those who genuinely struggle to care for themselves.
Offerings are what is given above and beyond the tithes. Offerings are not compulsory in the Old Testament but is freely offered to God.
It is important to understand the difference between tithes and offerings as described in the Scriptures. Tithes refer to the 3 types of tithes described above. Offerings are what is given above and beyond the tithes. Offerings are not compulsory in the Old Testament but is freely offered to God out of gratitude, thanksgiving, worship or to fulfil a vow. The Old Testament lists a variety of offerings that were made. For example, many gave freely to Moses in order to build the Tabernacle for God’s Presence. God also asked for the Israelites to give freely offerings during the Festivals but never set any guidance. This included vow offerings.
Exodus 35:4–5 (NIV) 4 Moses said to the whole Israelite community, “This is what the Lord has commanded: 5 From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering of gold, silver and bronze;
Deuteronomy 16:10 (NIV) Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you.
Deuteronomy 12:11 (NIV) Then to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the LORD.
Hannah made a vow offering of her firstborn son unto God if God would open her womb.
1 Samuel 1:11 (NIV) And she made a vow, saying, “LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
We all know the rest of the story with Samuel becoming the greatest priest-prophet because Hannah fulfilled her vow.
The tithes for personal religious activities and for the poor and needy do not appear to be in the same category of holy expectation as the first tithe which is holy unto God.
We surveyed the Old Testament to show that there were 3 types of tithes that God commanded in the Old Testament. However, the tithes for personal religious activities and for the poor and needy do not appear to be in the same category of holy expectation as the first tithe which is holy unto God. We recommend practicing the first tithe in principle using a tenth of our income as a benchmark, to honour God. For the remaining tithes, we recommend observing the principles behind them as best we can, with a heart to align with God’s heartbeat. Offerings are to be given freely as we desire. But if we did make a vow regarding it, then it is important we keep it. In our next study we will look into the heart conditions God desires in our giving.
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