Understanding the Old Testament

Tithes and Offerings

All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

Tithing—that is, giving ten percent of crops, fruits, and newborn animals to God—was mandated in Leviticus 27:30-33, Numbers 18:21-32, and Deuteronomy 14:22-29.

In addition to tithes, the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy discuss many types of offerings: burnt offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings, grain offerings, drink offerings, wave offerings, thanksgiving offerings, freewill offerings, and first fruits offerings.

Tithes and offerings were intended for the support of the Levites and the priests, who served God in the Tabernacle (and later, the Temple). Tithes belonged to the Levites (Numbers 18:21-24), who were in turn expected to give ten percent of the tithes—a tithe of the tithe—to the priests (Numbers 18:25-28). The priests also received a portion of each of the offerings except burnt offerings, which were completely consumed.

Many of these offerings were to be made at designated times. Continual burnt offerings were made twice each day (Numbers 28:1-8). In addition to the continual burnt offerings, offerings were made once a week on the Sabbath (Numbers 28:9-10), at the beginning of each new moon (Numbers 28:11-15 and 29:6), at the Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 29:1-6), on the Day of Atonement (Numbers 29:7-11), and at the three annual festivals: Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Numbers 28:16-25), the Feast of Weeks aka the Feast of the Harvest (Numbers 28:26-31), and the Feast of Booths (Numbers 29:12-39).

Each individual was required to tithe, but most of the offerings were made by the Israelite community as a whole—although individuals sometimes gave offerings to show gratitude to God or to seek His mercy.

These tithes and offerings served at least three purposes: (1) they supported the priests and the Levites who were devoting themselves to God’s work (see Malachi 3:10); (2) they taught the Israelites to put God first in their lives by giving Him their very best, since most of these offerings (though not the tithe) had to be free from any defect, disease, or deformity; and (3) they provided atonement and forgiveness for sin, which requires the shedding of blood (see Leviticus 17:11 and Hebrews 9:22).

Questions to ponder or discuss: In Malachi 3:8, God accuses the Israelites of “robbing” Him by failing to pay their tithes and offerings. What do you think is God’s attitude about tithing in the New Testament? How, if at all, do any the following verses impact your answer: Mark 12:41-44, 2 Corinthians 9:7, and Philippians 4:14-18?

Copyright 2017 by Don Davidson

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