Chapter 4

During the Law

During the Law, tithing was part of God's system to provide for the priests, the Levites, and the poor in Israel. But it was only one part of God's financial program under the Law. There were many other gifts, sacrifices, offerings, and financially oriented commandments that were included in that system. The general perception of tithing during the Law is simplistic and inaccurate. That misunderstanding contributes to the wrong conclusion that Christians should tithe today.

Tithing under the Law was not just a simple 10 percent. There were many more details. Many people interpret the Law to mean that there were two separate tithes required. Some believe that there were actually three. There were also special instructions for the administration of the tithe based on a cyclical pattern. There was a three-year cycle, a seven-year cycle and a fifty-year cycle.

Tithing under the Law was not a blanket 10 percent from any and every source of financial increase. Law by its nature is specific. The Law specifically defined the “tithe” and the process of “tithing.” It was to come from the land. It was the increase of fields, vineyards, trees, flocks, herds, and honey from beehives. (Lev. 27:30, 32; Deut. 12:17, 14:22, 23; 2 Chron. 31:5, 6; Neh. 10:37, 12:44, 13:5, 12)

Not a Universal Principle

The scripture is clear that tithing wasn't a universal principle during the Law. The “tithe” was a tenth of the designated things and nothing else. The wide variety of other business activities and sources of financial gain that were part of the economy, such as labor, skilled trades, professional services, commercial enterprise, rents, and inheritance were not included. If God wanted to include them he would have named them specifically or representatively or he would have clearly said that every source was included. When God means any, every, or all, he says so. The Law allowed for freewill offerings from other sources but they were not the “tithe” and were not called the “tithe.”

Spoils of battle were not included in the law of tithing either. In Numbers 31 the children of Israel fought the Midianites, and the Lord gave Moses special instructions about the spoils that were taken. If tithing was an eternal, universal principal in God's kingdom then no special instructions would have been needed. Instead, the people would have simply been told to bring a tenth. But God told them to do something very different. There were four categories which were to be divided a certain way: sheep, cattle, donkeys, and virgin women. The spoils of gold and jewelry were not included in the mandatory offerings.

All of the spoils in the first four categories were divided in half. Half went to the men who fought in the battle, and half was given to the rest of the congregation. Out of the half that belonged to the men of war, one five-hundredth was given to Eleazar the priest for a heave offering of the Lord. Out of the half that belonged to the congregation, one fiftieth was given to the Levites. So the high priest got one tenth of 1 percent of the total spoils and the Levites got 1 percent of the total spoils. These were specific instructions from the Lord and they had nothing to do with the tithe or 10 percent.

The men who fought in the battle were thankful that not one Israelite man had lost his life; so they also brought a voluntary oblation to the Lord of the jewels, gold, chains, bracelets, rings, earrings, and ornaments. There was no set percentage or amount. Out of all the required and voluntary offerings from the spoils of this battle, none of it was included in the law pertaining to tithing. This passage of scripture is an extra confirmation that tithing is not a universal principle in God's kingdom, and that Abraham was not following some unwritten universal principle when he gave a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek.

Firstfruits was another kind of offering under the Law. It was a different offering than the tithe, based on a different concept. Many people use the word firstfruits incorrectly, as if it were synonymous with tithing. That is a source of much confusion and wrong teaching. People know that God should always be first. So because they confuse firstfruits with the tithe, they believe that tithing is the eternal principle for putting God first.

Putting God First Is Inferior

Actually, putting God first is a misunderstanding in itself. If something is first it means that something else is second, and whatever is first is just one of many others. In the New Covenant, God is first, last, and everything in between. He is the only thing. He is the all in all. There is nothing else. In Christ everything is dedicated to God and everything is used for his eternal purpose. The notion of putting God first is inferior to the New Covenant man; Christ is everything to him and everything he does is in Christ. Anything less than that has no place.

When people try to put God first they end up with a lot of rules and principles for how that should be done. If they would let God be what he wants to be, the source of everything in their life, they would be free to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit without regard to any rules on how to put him first or how to be a good Christian.

The Law was an indivisible unit. It was a comprehensive set of instructions to regulate the nation of Israel on every level: personal, family, community, and national. A common error in the church is to believe that certain parts of the Law passed away, but that other parts still pertain to us. The New Testament scriptures make it plain that if you put yourself under any part of the Law then you are under the whole Law.

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:10)
For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. (Gal. 5:3)

Tithing during the Law has nothing to do with life in the New Covenant. All of the commandments, instructions, rebukes, exhortations, blessings, and curses related to tithing during the Law were for the people who were under the Law. They are not for the church. It is wrong to take scriptures that were given to Israel while they were living under the Law of Moses and use them to teach tithing to Christians. It brings spiritual confusion and weakness into the church. That is what is being done every time someone reads Malachi 3:10, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse�,” or declares “the tithe is the Lord's” (Lev. 27:30) for the purpose of compelling people to tithe. Tithing is one of the church's self-contradicting doctrines that are based on scriptures that are taken out of context.

Gifts Are Voluntary

During the Law there was a difference between freewill offerings and those that were required. The tithe, which was required, was not really a gift. It was a tax. Freewill gifts were voluntary expressions of love for God that came from the heart.

And when ye will offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving unto the LORD, offer it at your own will. (Lev. 22:29)

In Exodus we have the account of a freewill offering that was received for the purpose of constructing the tabernacle and all its furnishings. It was completely voluntary.

Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering. (Exod. 25:2)
And Moses spake unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD commanded, saying,
Take ye from among you an offering unto the LORD: whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it… (Exod. 35:4,5a)

In Exodus 35:21–29 the people began to bring their offering, and we can sense the joy of the occasion.

And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the LORD'S offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all his service, and for the holy garments.
And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing hearted, and brought bracelets, and earrings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels of gold: and every man that offered offered an offering of gold unto the LORD.
And every man, with whom was found blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats' hair, and red skins of rams, and badgers' skins, brought them.
Every one that did offer an offering of silver and brass brought the LORD'S offering: and every man, with whom was found shittim wood for any work of the service, brought it.
And all the women that were wise hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, both of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine linen.
And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun goats' hair.
And the rulers brought onyx stones, and stones to be set, for the ephod, and for the breastplate;
And spice, and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the sweet incense.
The children of Israel brought a willing offering unto the LORD, every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all manner of work, which the LORD had commanded to be made by the hand of Moses.

The giving continued as the people brought more and more every morning.

And they brought yet unto him free offerings every morning. (Exod. 36:3b)

Finally there was too much and the people had to be stopped.

And they spake unto Moses, saying, The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the LORD commanded to make.
And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing.
For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much. (Exod. 36:5–7)

That was the grace of God in operation. It was a preview of the age that we are now living in and how much better it is. Grace always outperforms law, every time, every way. The focus of the church on tithing is counterproductive. Neither the threats nor the promises that go with the message of tithing can motivate people to give as much as love in a heart that is overwhelmed by grace.

The church longs for the day when people will have to be told to stop giving, the day when there will be more than enough to meet every need. That day will come when the tithing mentality is gone and pure grace reigns in the hearts and minds of believers. Christians will open their hearts and hold nothing back from God's service when they see the truth of what God has done for them in Christ by grace alone.

Tithing is a tradition that causes people to read the Bible with a bias and come to wrong conclusions. Many who say tithing was “after the Law” don't realize when the Law ended and when the New Covenant began. Some of the scriptures that they think were after the Law were actually during the Law. There is one reference to tithing that is truly after the Law, but it is part of a larger argument in the book of Hebrews that has been carelessly read, wrongly interpreted, and misapplied. It is not teaching tithing to the New Testament church.