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Tithing and Firstfruits

Tithing was a tax system, welfare system, and an inheritance. Tithing didn’t included money.

LEVITES

The Levites (one of the 12 tribes of Israel) were given the duty of being priests to mediate between the children of Israel and God, offering the sin sacrifices on behalf of the people and taking care of the temple. This was their reward for not worshipping the golden calf with the rest of the tribes while Moses was up getting the 10 commandments on Mt. Sinai. So when they arrived in Canaan, and God is distributing all the land for everyone, they don’t get their own territory. Instead, God tells the rest of the tribes to give 48 cities to the Levites to live off of.

But with the temple duties and not a lot of space to grow their own food, God instituted a tax system to provide for the Levites (Deut 12, 14, 26). They had to pay 10% of the increase of everyone’s crops and every 10th animal, but never money. Even in this agrarian society, the Israelites still used money, including functions like interest and banking. And they even had the opportunity to buy-back the tithe if they wanted to, which would cost them an extra 1/5th of the value. God’s choice to make the tithe of agriculture and animals signifies that the Israelites inheritance was the land of Canaan, and from that land He would continue to take care of the Levites and the poor and widows.

MULTIPLE TITHES

In all, there were actually three tithes they paid. The First Tithe went to the Levites in their 48 cities, and 10% of it (a “tithe of the tithe”) went directly to the temple storehouse in Jerusalem so those working their would have food and drink while on duty. The Second Tithe was for an annual feast for the poor and widows to be provided for. And the Final Tithe happened every 3 years so they could throw an additional feast for the  Levites, the poor and widows. This is where we see the tithe operate as a welfare system. So in effect, this was in total a 23.3% tax on agriculture every year.

In review, the Levitical tithes were a….

  • Tax System
  • Welfare System
  • Inheritance for the Levites

FIRST FRUITS

First fruits was another similar yearly payment from the Israelites out of the land, but with a different purpose. It was in remembrance of God sparing their first born sons, bringing them out of Egypt, and giving them the land of Canaan. Now in return they offer God their best produce and animals born out of this promised land. First fruits were a small portion (1/40th to 1/60th in amount) of the very best of the agriculture. They were brought in usually once a year in a parade with woven ceremonial bowls made of gold or silver, which came straight to the temple storehouse in Jerusalem for the Levites to eat.

In review, the First Fruits were a…

  • Offering to God to remember how he brought them out of Egypt.
  • Provision for the Levites working in the Temple.

IMPERFECT

Both the tithe and first fruits were payments commanded from God with specific purposes for the Israelites, and the symbolism of them coming from the land is very significant for these people. But they were both incomplete, flawed, and temporary.

The Levites, being human themselves and imperfect, offered sacrifices for their own sin, not just the rest of the people. Eventually they would die and a new priest would assume their position. The produce and animals that were brought in eventually were eaten, molded, or died as well. So the sacrifices themselves were temporary.

JESUS

But Jesus came to finish the work of them all. A perfect priest to mediate with God on behalf of all people. Jesus brought the priesthood under a new lineage. Also, His resurrection day coincided with the Feast of First Fruits (the day first fruits were offered), displaying that he being the only son of God was the last first fruit ever needed because we all had been delivered. Not just from Egypt, but from death itself. Jesus was the final sacrifice.

Both of these payments had a place in their time, but have been completed. Our reward is to be called children of God, his firstfruits. We come to him directly, no in-between.

MODERN CHURCH TEACHING

Modern day teaching on “tithing” attempts to bundle all of these together. The command has become: Give the first 10% of your income to the local church. This is the three basic parts broken down:

  • “Give the first/best” = First Fruits
  • “10% of your income” = Tithes
  • “to the local church” = Temple Storehouse

But to actually combine all of them into one, you would need to bi-pass the following aspects of the original tithes and firstfruits offerings:

  • Tithing was specifically instituted as an inheritance for the Levites.
  • Only one tithe instead of all three.
  • 90% of the first tithe went to the levites, and only a “tithe of the tithe” went to the Temple Storehouse to support the priests.
  • No record of tithing ever being money (only produce and animals). You could buy-back your tithe, but with 20% interest.
  • The symbolism of the offering coming out of the produce from the land. For tithes, God had not given the Levites land of their own, so out of the land of the rest of the tribes he would sustain them. For first fruits, the land of Canaan was their promise being delivered out of Egypt.
  • Tithing wasn’t concerned with the “best” or “first” 10%. Animals specifically were to be “the tenth animal to cross the gate”, not the best.
  • Tithing was the Israelites welfare system. We have governmental welfare systems now.
  • Poor people never gave a tithe, but they were recipients of the 2nd and 3rd tithes.
  • The second tithe was specifically given only to the poor and widows. The third tithe was shared amongst poor, widows, and Levites.
  • There is no record of first fruits ever being money.
  • First Fruits were a very small portion, not 10%.
  • We no longer require earthly priests to talk to God, thereby the temple, and the Storehouse, are no longer necessary.
  • The church does not fill the same role as the temple storehouse.
  • Pastors do not fill the same role as priests.
  • These payments were instituted specifically by the Law, which we no longer live under.

Speaking of the Law…

The biggest omission is Jesus. The work he did on the cross completed the need to continue to offer these payments any longer. So the references to tithing and first fruits offerings are mostly contextual to the people of that time. We can still glean insights into the character of God. However, we are now free from these commands , able to be as generous as we desire.