Tithe to Who?

“Then Melchizedek king of  Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High,  and he blessed Abram, saying,  ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’  Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:18-20).

Abram heard that five kings had taken his nephew captive along with all the possessions and food in Sodom and Gomorrah. Abram gathered 318 of his trained men and went in pursuit of the kings. They attacked and defeated them. Abram’s men recovered everything that was stolen and retrieved Lot. In the Valley of Shaveh, the King’s Valley, the King of Sodom met him and asked him to return the people and keep the goods for himself. Abram refused to give the King of Sodom anything.

The King of Salem, Melchizedek, also met him. Melchizedek, whose name in Hebrew means ‘King of Righteousness,’ brought out bread and wine. Together Abram and this priest of the ‘Most High God’ had Sabbath fellowship. Melchizedek blessed Abram by the ‘Creator of heaven and earth’ who delivered his enemies into his hand. In response, Abram gave Melchizedek a “tenth of everything” as dividing the spoils of war with rulers and religious leaders was commonplace.

The giving of one-tenth of a part of something to another person is called a tithe. The tithe is as ancient as this exchange between Abram and Melchizedek. It also became part of the Torah given to Israel by God.

“The Torah requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people – that is their fellow Israelites – even though they also are descended from Abraham.  This man (Melchizedek), however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abram and blessed him who had the promises” (Hebrews 7:4-6). 

Levitical Priesthood

From Abraham’s seed came Isaac and his son, Jacob. Levi was the third son of Jacob from his wife, Leah. From Levi’s descendants came the priesthood of God because of their faithfulness in the wilderness. The Levites were given duties in the Tabernacle along with responsibilities surrounding the offerings and sacrifices. The Levitical priestly duties continued throughout the generations whenever there was a Temple in Jerusalem.

The Levites, unlike the other tribes, were not given a tribal land inheritance, but were dispersed throughout the land of Israel. Because they didn’t own land, they had no way of growing their own food or raising their own livestock. God commanded the tithe be given to them as their inheritance for doing His work among the people of Israel. Tithes of grain and oil became their sustenance, along with the meat of a firstborn cow, sheep, or goat.

“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. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the LORD. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites’” (Numbers 18:21, 23-24).

From the tithes of Israel, the Levite priests gave a tithe to God. From everything they received from the Israelites, they were to present the best portion to God. God gave His portion to Aaron and his sons as sustenance. God’s portion was considered holy, and all of Aaron’s sons and daughters were allowed to eat it as their share of the inheritance.

“The LORD said to Moses,  “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the LORD’s offering. From these tithes you must give the LORD’s portion to Aaron the priest.  You must present as the LORD’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you” (Numbers 18:25-29).

Tithes went to the Levite priests because they ministered in God’s Tabernacle. Each Levite family division had different responsibilities. Some ministered at the Altar of Sacrifice with burnt offerings, fellowship offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings, and drink offerings while others led worship, supervised weights and scales, witnessed legal agreements, and made judicial decisions. Their greatest responsibility was reading the Torah to Israel in such a way that the people understood it and could obey it.

“The Levites – Yeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Yamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Yozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah – instructed the people in the Torah while the people were standing there.  They read from the Book of Torah of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” (Nehemiah 8:7-8).

“In keeping with the ordinance of his father, David, he [Solomon] appointed the divisions of the priests for their duties, and the Levites to lead the praise” (2 Chronicles 8:14).

“In Jerusalem also, Jehosaphat appointed some of the Levites, priests and heads of Israelite families to administer the Torah of the LORD and to settle disputes” (2 Chronicles 19:8).

“Hezekiah assigned the priests and Levites to divisions – each of them according to their duties as priests to give thanks and to sing praises at the gates of the LORD’s dwelling” (2 Chronicles 31:2).

Unfortunately, the Levite priests did not always do what they were called to do. They stopped distinguishing between the ‘holy’ and ‘profane,’ taught there was no difference between ‘unclean’ and ‘clean,’ and ignored keeping the Sabbath and ‘appointed times.’ They began to steal from the people and did violence to God’s Torah –– sinning against man and doing abominations against God –– profaning His Name among the people.

“They [the priests] do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach there is no difference between the unclean and clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them” (Ezekiel 22:25-26).

Since 70 CE and the Roman invasion of Jerusalem, there has been no Temple. There is no Altar of Sacrifice or Holy Place that requires a Levitical priesthood. The Levite priests have been scattered throughout the world waiting for the day when there is another Temple, and God’s promise of an eternal priesthood to Aaron is restored (Numbers 18:8). Accordingly, the tithe is not in force when there is no Levitical priesthood.

Because of the belief that God is through with Israel and the church has replaced God’s holy nation, many Christian leaders teach that the covenant of the eternal Levitical priesthood has also been replaced with a newer one. They teach that God’s Torah is either too difficult to keep or can’t be kept at all. They teach that Jesus’ death on the cross removed everything found in Torah from Sabbath to the Feasts of the LORD to the dietary regulations to –– well, almost everything; they still want the tithe.

The tithe existed long before the Levitical priesthood so the idea of the tithe still has intrinsic value, but only in its ordained purpose for the Levitical priests who ministered God’s Truth to the people. According to God’s instructions, the tithe shouldn’t be given to anyone today as there is no Levitical priesthood.

If modern-day churches want to collect the tithe, they should give it to the ‘priests’ who teach the difference between the ‘clean’ and ‘unclean,’ the difference between the ‘holy’ and the ‘pagan,’ and honor the Sabbath and the ‘appointed times’ –– ‘priests’ who teach Torah.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (2 Peter 2:9).

As faithful followers of Yeshua, we are called the ‘royal priesthood.’ We get our royal status from Yeshua, whose Kingly lineage comes through Judah and King David. We get our priestly status from Yeshua, who is our High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6,10; 6:20). The ‘royal priesthood,’ under the authority of Yeshua, our High Priest, is commanded to equip the people of God through teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness with the God-breathed Scriptures: the Torah, Prophets and Writings (2 Timothy 2:16).

However, it is very difficult to find ‘priests’ today that teach Torah as expected of the ‘royal priesthood,’ a much higher calling than the Levitical priesthood. Most church pastors do not use the full counsel of God’s Word from Genesis through Revelation. They do not teach holy living through obedience to God’s commandments. They don’t teach the difference between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ or the dietary instructions. They do not accept their place in ‘Commonwealth of Israel’ nor God’s ‘appointed times’ and they close their eyes to the weekly Sabbath.

Most church leaders pick and choose those things in the Bible that promote their personal and financial agenda. They keep their disciples walking in the darkness of the world because the light of the Word conflicts with the ways of the world. Worse yet, they do severe violence to God’s Torah by abolishing Torah and teaching lawlessness (1 Peter 4:17). Consequently, God’s name is not only profaned within the hearts of men where the Spirit should dwell, but also throughout the nations of the world.

Should such leaders, pastors, and teachers receive a tithe? Was the command for the tithe to be given to them?

Gifts and Offerings

Our family struggled with the tithe for years, especially when it came to giving to church institutions and pastors who judged our walk of faith. How can we give teachers who tell us the ‘law is done away with’ the tithes commanded in the Torah? How can we financially support leaders who refuse to distinguish between the ‘holy’ and the ‘profane,’ teach there is no difference between the ‘unclean’ and ‘clean,’ remain blind to keeping the Sabbath and God’s holy days, and give them the tithe belonging to the Levites?

It was through prayer and the guidance of the Spirit that we searched the Scriptures and found Biblical alternatives for the tithe.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress … “ (James 1:27).

Followers of Yeshua are to look after widows and the fatherless. In an agricultural society, the corners of fields were left for the widow, the fatherless, and the foreigner (Deuteronomy 24:19). Though we may not have a field with corners that we can designate for the poor, we do have the means to help them in the time of their distress. We can watch their children, help with the housework, buy food, pay a bill, take them to the doctor, or just be a comfort in the days of their sorrow and struggle. We have a huge responsibility to look after these women and children because we do not live in a culture that encourages supporting the widow and orphan; we leave it to the government. We should never be found on the wrong side of God who “defends the cause of he fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you giving them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18).

What about ministries that take care of orphans? We have a personal standard that the ministry must not only teach the children about Yeshua and salvation, it must also teach them God’s commandments. We do not support any humanistic, philanthropic outreach. Though they are noble, they are not bringing glory to God or Yeshua. Christian ministry outreaches like World Vision and Compassion International teach children the message of salvation; however, they don’t meet the standard our family has maintained for support –– they don’t teach the commandments of God while they do teach un-Biblical western theologies. Whatever you choose to do with giving, be convinced in your own mind (Romans 14:5).

“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:12-14).

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing, people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

These verses above give two other ways to give to God’s people as part of the ‘royal priesthood.’ Sharing our material goods with those who are in need and practicing hospitality to strangers, shows Yeshua in our lives as we help and encourage people who are homeless, jobless, and penniless (3 John 1:8).

We have found that by keeping the Biblical Sabbath, from Friday evening to Saturday evening, we always have time available to invite people into our home for a meal. Sharing material goods and practicing hospitality can be challenging because there is no guarantee that it will be appreciated. We have experienced criticism numerous times when we have opened our home and treated others generously; however, because we know that God works everything for His glory, we continue to step out and bless, encourage, and offer hospitality.

Paul suggests another way of giving citing examples of what gentile congregations in Asia Minor and Galatia did. They gave their tithe to the Messianic believers in Jerusalem. A tithe per year was required to go to Jerusalem so Paul recommended that gentiles who have come to faith in Yeshua set aside money on the first day of the week (never collected on Sabbath) and give what has been collected to Messianic Jews in Jerusalem. He reasons “the gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings” (Romans 15:27).

“Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.  On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.  Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem” (1 Corinthians 16:1-3).

“For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem.  They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them.  For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.  So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution” (Romans 15:26-28).

“And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch.  Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea” (Acts 11:27-29).

Giving to ministries in Jerusalem is one that the modern-day ‘royal priesthood’ can actually do with establishment of the State of Israel. There are many ministries not just in Jerusalem, but in the land of Israel that need support, especially those who are Messianic Jews trying to bring the message of Yeshua to their own people. Poverty abounds in Israel especially with immigrants coming ‘home.’ Some of the ministries in Israel that we have supported are: Dugit Messianic Outreach Center in Tel Aviv that does street witnessing for Yeshua; Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund, that supports child victims of war and terrorism; the IDF soldiers; the Magen David Adom, the Israeli Red Cross; Vision for Israel that helps new immigrants; Heart of G-d, a family of musicians who encourage Jewish people around the world to make aliyah or ‘come home;’ and Jerusalem Vistas, a media ministry that sent us a prayer map with a specific street in the Old City of Jerusalem to pray for. We had the wonderful opportunity to walk that street when we visited Jerusalem.

Abram, our forefather tithed the King of Salem, Melchizedek, the priest of God who was eternal (Hebrews 7:3). Like Abraham, we should tithe to those who are ‘priests of righteousness’ who teach Torah, the standard for holy living. Or, as Paul suggests, we should give to our Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters in Jerusalem because they have preserved and guarded the Torah of God allowing us to know and receive the riches of life contained in His Word.

©2010 Tentstake Ministries Publishing, all rights reserved.  No copying or reproducing of this article without crediting the author or Tentstake Ministries Publishing. For a hard copy of this article,  please purchase Journey with Jeremiah: Nourishment for the Wild Olive.  

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