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, Lot, captive along with all the possessions and food of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He gathered 318 of his trained men and went in pursuit of them.  They attacked and routed them.  They recovered everything and retrieved Lot and his possessions.  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.  Abraham, on oath to God, refused to give the King of Sodom anything.

The King of Salem, Melchizedek, also also met him.  Melchizedek, whose name means in Hebrew ‘King of Righteousness’,  brought out bread and wine, a shadow of the promised covenant seed that would come through Abraham.  Together Abram and this priest of the ‘most high God’  fellowshipped.   Melchizedek blessed Abram by the Creator of heave and earth who delivered his enemies into his hand.   In response, Abram gave this king a tenth of everything as dividing the spoils of war with rulers and religious leaders was commonplace. 

The voluntarily giving of one-tenth of a part of something to another is called a tithe. The custom is as ancient as this exchange between Abram and Melchizedek.   It is also a custom that became part of the Torah given to Israel.  “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 came Isaac and Jacob.  Levi was the third son of Jacob from Leah.  From Levi came the Tribe of the Levites who eventually became the priesthood of God because of their faithfulness in the wilderness.   The Levites were given duties within the Tent of Meeting along with the responsibilities surrounding offerings and sacrifices. Their duties continued throughout their generations whenever there was a Temple where all Israel gathered together. 

The Levites, unlike the other tribes,  were not given a land inheritance and were dispersed throughout the land of Israel.  Because they owned no 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 payment for doing His work among the people of Israel.     Tithes of grain and oil became their sustenance along with the meat of a firstborn offspring of a cow, sheep, or a 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).

In turn, the Levitical priests gave a tithe to the LORD.  From everything they received from the Israelites, they were to present the best portion to God.  In order that Aaron and his sons would have sustenance, God gave His portion to Aaron.  They were to consider it holy and all Aaron’s sons and daughters were 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 Levitical priests because they were the overseers of God’s holy system.  There were different divisions with 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.  The greatest responsibility was reading the commands of God 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 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 priests did not always do what they were called to do.  They began to steal from the people and did violence to God’s Torah and profaned His holy things.

“They 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 A.D. 70 and the Roman invasion of Jerusalem, there has been no Temple. Only the walls and over tuned stones remain where it once stood.  There is no altar of sacrifice or a Holy Place that requires a Levitical priesthood.  The priests have been scattered throughout the world waiting for the day when there will be another Temple and God’s promise of the eternal priesthood to Aaron is restored (Numbers 18:8). 

Because of the destruction of the Temple along with the misunderstanding that God is through with the Levitical priesthood,  many Christian leaders wrongly teach that one priesthood has been eternally replaced with another, that some old divine order of worship has been replaced with a newer one.     They use the reasoning that all of God’s instructions were too difficult to keep  and an unnecessary bondage that Jesus had to come to remove everything found in Torah … well, almost everything.  They still teach the tithe. 

The Priesthood of Melchizedek

“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 believers, 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 as High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6,10; 6:20).  This is the same “King of Righteousness” to whom Abram tithed in Salem (Jerusalem) before Levi, his great-grandson, was born.  Because the tithe existed long before the Levitical priesthood,  the idea of the tithe still has value, but only in the realm of it’s ordained purpose for priests of the Most High God.

According to God’s command, tithes were given to priests who ministered in the Temple, offered praises to God and taught His Torah.  Tithes were given to those who taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, who distinguished between the holy and the profane and who did not shut their eyes to God’s Sabbaths and other ‘appointed times.’

In comes the royal priesthood redeemed and sanctified not by the blood of animals, but by the blood of Yeshua of Nazareth, the Son of God.   The royal priesthood under the authority of Yeshua, the High Priest,  is commanded to equip the man of God through teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness with the God-breathed Scriptures, the Torah, Prophets and Writings (2 Timothy 2:16). 

It would follow that the modern-day tithe should be given to those who teach the Torah, to those who correctly handle the word of Truth, dividing it correctly.  However, it is very difficult to find such leaders in a walk of faith as expected by the royal priesthood, a much higher calling than the Levitical priesthood.   Most church leaders do not use the full counsel of God’s Word from Genesis through Revelation.   They do not teach righteous living through obedience to God’s commandments.

If they do, they pick and choose which commandments work for them and promote their personal and financial agenda.   They keep their followers walking in darkness by not lighting the lamp of the Word for their paths (Psalm 119:105).   Worse yet, modern-day pastors do severe violence to God’s Torah by teaching lawlessness (1 Peter 4:17).  Consequently, God’s name is not only profaned throughout the world, but within the hearts and minds of the Temples of His Holy Spirit.  Should such leaders, pastors and teachers receive God’s tithes?  Was the command for the tithe to be given to them?

Gifts and Offerings

Our family has struggled with the tithe for years especially when it comes to giving it to church institutions and pastors who have judged our walk of faith.  How can we give teachers the tithes that are commanded in the Torah when they teach the ‘law is done away with’?  How can we financially support leaders who do not distinguish between the holy and the profane,  teach there is no difference between the unclean and clean, and shut their eyes to the keeping of God’s holy days?  It was through prayer and the guidance of the Spirit that we searched the Scriptures and found Biblical alternatives for tithing a non-existent Levitical priesthood.

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

James says that believers should 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 the children, help with housework, buy food, pay a bill, take them to the doctor, or just be a comfort in the days of their sorrow.  We have a huge responsibility to look after these unique people 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 the One 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). 

There is nothing wrong with giving to ministries that take care of orphans.  However, we have a personal standard that it must not only teach the children about Yeshua and salvation, it must also teach them about God’s commandments.   We do not support any humanistic, philanthropic outreach.  Though they are noble, they are not bringing glory to the Creator of the Universe.    Christian ministry outreaches like World Vision and Compassion International are wonderful as they reach children with the message of salvation.  Unfortunately, they don’t meet the standards our family has maintained for support as they refrain from teaching the commands of God and take some unBiblical doctrines of the American church to these children.   Whatever you choose to do, do it for God’s glory and be convinced in your own mind. 

“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 are two other ways to give to the Lord as part of the royal priesthood.  Sharing our material goods with those who are in need and practicing hospitality to strangers shows that we live the truth in our  lives as we help and encourage people who are homeless, jobless, and penniless (3 John 1:8).

Hospitality is a lost art in today’s culture of busy-ness.  We have found that by guarding the Biblical Sabbath, we always have an evening/day available to invite people into our home for a meal.  Sharing our material goods can be very challenging because there is no guarantee that it will be appreciated (even if it’s only a meal).  We have experienced criticism numerous times when we have been hospitable and treated others generously; however, because we know that God works everything for His glory, we continue to step out and bless, encourage and offering hospitality.

Paul suggests another way of tithing citing examples of what the gentile congregations in Asia Minor and Galatia did.  They gave their tithes to the believers in Jerusalem.    Originally, a tithe per year was to go to Jerusalem so Paul recommends that the gentiles who have come to faith in Messiah set aside money on the first day of the week (never collected on Sabbath) and give their collections 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 modern-day believers can actually do with the restoration of the state of Israel.  There are many ministries not just in Jerusalem, but in the Land 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.  Some of the ministries in Israel that we have supported over the years include Dugit Messianic Outreach Center in Tel Aviv,  Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund for child victims of war and terrorism, the IDF soldiers in the Israeli military, the Magen David Adom or the Israeli Red Cross, Vision for Israel run by Messianic Jews Barry and Batya Segal, Heart of G-d, a family of musicians who encourage Jewish people around the world to make ‘aliyah’, and Israel Vision – Jerusalem Vistas a media ministry who sent us a prayer map with a street in the Old City of Jerusalem for which we prayed.

Abram, our father shared a tenth of his goods with the King of Salem, Melchizedek, the priest of God who was eternal (Hebrews 7:3).    Like our father Abraham, we should tithe to those who are ‘kings of righteousness’ within the Kingdom of God who teach the Torah.  Or, as Paul suggests, we should give to our Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters in Jerusalem because they have preserved and guarded the ways of God allowing us to know the riches of His inheritance.

©2010 Tent Stake Ministries (For hard copy and more teachings like this one, read Journey with Jeremiah: Nourishment for the Wild Olive.)

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