Chapter 2

Before the Law: Abraham

During the entire period of time before the Law there were only two Biblical references to tithing. One instance has been superficially interpreted to justify a teaching that is contrary to the New Covenant. The other is an example of unbelief and bargaining with God. Neither one can change the finished work of the cross. Neither one can add to the surpassing greatness of life in Christ. Neither one is teaching tithing to the church.

The first mention of a tithe is in Genesis 14. A group of four kings from the east came into Canaan to attack a group of five that had rebelled and quit paying tribute. Sodom was one of the cities plundered, and Abraham's nephew, Lot, was carried away with the captives. Abraham, 318 of his trained servants, and three other men of the area who were in covenant with him pursued the invaders and slaughtered them.

When Abraham returned with the people and the goods, the new king of Sodom came out to meet him. Melchizedek, king of Salem, also came out with bread and wine and pronounced a blessing upon Abraham. Genesis 14:20 says that Abraham "gave him tithes of all." Hebrews 7:4 confirms that it was a tenth of the spoils of the battle.

The king of Sodom then asked for the people to be returned to him but told Abraham to keep all the goods. By right of conquest Abraham could have kept everything, including the people. However, he refused to keep anything and publicly affirmed his oath to God that he would take nothing so that the king of Sodom could not say he had made Abraham rich.

The Facts versus Speculation

The account of Abraham and Melchizedek has led people in favor of tithing to make many speculations that have no basis in scripture. An objective look at the facts leads to a different conclusion. For the sake of emphasis, the following points are listed individually.

Tithing was not part of Abraham's covenant. There is no question about that. Tithing was not the reason for his prosperity or the fulfillment of God's promises to him. Abraham was already extremely wealthy before he ever met Melchizedek. God made Abraham rich on the basis of his promise alone.

Not an Eternal Principle

Why did Abraham give Melchizedek a tithe? Some say he was following an eternal principle. That couldn't be true because God himself gave specific instructions that were different in Numbers 31. It was another situation involving the spoils of battle. The high priest got one five-hundredth of half the spoils (one tenth of 1 percent of the total) and the Levites got one fiftieth of half the spoils (1 percent of the total). Numbers 31 is examined in more detail in chapter 4, During the Law.

Many people have the mistaken idea that 10 percent is a sacred standard in God's kingdom when it comes to giving. They think it was an unspoken commandment or principle that didn't get recorded until the Law was given. But that conclusion is wrong. The Bible itself clearly contradicts it. If Abraham had been following a universal principle when he gave a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek, then God would have told the people in Numbers 31 to do the same thing. But he specifically gave them different instructions—proof that Abraham wasn't following an eternal law and his tithe isn't a pattern to be followed today.

There was no commandment before the Law that man should tithe. There is no scriptural basis to say that tithing was an unspoken commandment or a universal principle of worship. There is no scriptural proof that any other worshipper of the true God ever gave anyone a tithe during that time, including Jacob. There is no scriptural basis to say that God wanted a tithe from anyone during that time. Those are the facts. Anything else is speculation.

There is much debate about the identity of Melchizedek. There are at least four schools of thought among Bible scholars and leaders in the church and each position has its scriptural arguments. However, when it comes to the question of tithing in the life of a Christian today, it absolutely doesn't matter who Melchizedek was or why he was given a tithe by Abraham. The key to the matter is profoundly simple, but many in the church have missed it.

The Real Issue

Those who argue about Abraham and Melchizedek are missing the real issue of life in the New Covenant. We are not Abraham and we are not living before the Law. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the focal point of history. It changed the entire nature of man's relationship to God. No matter who Melchizedek was or why Abraham gave him a tithe, it doesn't change the truth or spirit of the New Covenant. Tithing is not part of the New Covenant. Tithing detracts from it. Financial stewardship in the New Covenant is based on a different paradigm.

We do know that Melchizedek was a king and a priest and that Abraham gave him a tithe of the spoils. Tithers argue that Jesus is both king and priest and is therefore due a tithe. Jesus is certainly worthy of a tithe and much more, but his kingdom and priesthood are not based on the tithe. The tithe has no place in it. Everything about tithing is inferior to New Covenant life in Christ.

Jesus never called anyone to a ten-percent commitment. His call was to absolute abandonment of all things for him and absolute commitment of all things to him. He never sanctioned the tithe as a standard of giving in his new kingdom that would begin with his resurrection. He required his followers to forsake all, to give all, and to use all for the accomplishment of his purposes. Paradoxically, he entrusts all things to his disciples to jointly possess with him and use in his service. And the Holy Spirit is now the leader in all matters, not the tithe principle.

The story of Melchizedek was later used by the Holy Spirit as a prophetic picture to the nation of Israel about a new covenant and spiritual order that would replace the Law of Moses. Psalm 110 spoke prophetically about the Messiah and said he would be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Under the Old Covenant, the office of the king was separate from the office of the priest. The resurrected Lord Jesus Christ is both king and priest, and that is one way in which he fulfills the prophetic pattern of being a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 7 compares the priesthood of Melchizedek and the Levitical priesthood but leaves much of the mystery unrevealed. The writer of Hebrews himself said that there was much more that he couldn't say because the people he was writing to were dull of hearing. However, when it comes to the question of tithing, Paul's writings about life in Christ make it so clear that tithing is not part of the New Covenant that we don't need to solve the mystery of Melchizedek in order to know what we should do today.

Scriptural Conclusions

Having the benefit of the rest of the Bible to help us know and understand God, we can see beneath the surface of Abraham's situation to make some conclusions that agree with the truth that God revealed in Christ.

Isaac and the Covenant

The next significant figure in the covenant lineage after Abraham was his son Isaac. Was tithing part of his covenant with God? Was it the source of his wealth? What was his responsibility toward God in regard to his wealth? How does his story apply to us in the New Covenant?

Isaac was very wealthy from inheriting alls his father's possessions. When famine came into the land the Lord appeared to him and reconfirmed the promise made to Abraham. God told Isaac not to go down to Egypt but to dwell where he would tell him and that he would be with him and bless him. Those were the only instructions that Isaac received from God. Isaac obeyed and God blessed him. Genesis 26:13–14 says:

And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great: For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him.

God did not command Isaac to make sacrifices or to tithe. The Bible tells us that Isaac built an altar and called upon the name of the Lord, but that was voluntary just like the altars his father, Abraham, built. There is no scriptural basis to say that Isaac ever gave a tithe of anything to anyone in his entire life. There is no indication that there was ever any concept of a tithe included in his relationship to God. Isaac obeyed the instructions that God gave to him personally, to sojourn in the land instead of going to Egypt. He did that by faith and God protected him and increased the great wealth he already had.

Of course, the nature of the covenant that Isaac had with God was that he and all his possessions were completely dedicated to God. He had to live his entire life with the understanding that at any time and for any reason God could make a demand on anything he possessed. That is how his father, Abraham, had to live also. When Abraham was commanded to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, he had to prove his faith and his commitment to the covenant.

That is the nature of covenant, one-hundred-percent commitment from both parties. That is the nature of our relationship to God through Christ. And like Isaac, we don't concern ourselves with commandments that we have not been given. We need to consider what one-hundred-percent commitment means to us personally in our own calling. We need to listen for God's specific instruction, direction, and requirement for us personally.

The only other mention of a tithe before the Law is in the life of Isaac's son Jacob. A thoughtful study of the situation reveals that it is not what it has been made to be. It does not support the practice of tithing in the New Covenant. In fact, it is the record of a person with no faith who was trying to manipulate God. Jacob did the opposite of what would have honored and pleased God.