31:2 And Hezekiah appointed the courses of the priests and the Levites after their courses, every man according to his service, the priests and Levites for burnt offerings and for peace offerings, to minister, and to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the tents of the LORD.
31:3 He appointed also the king’s portion of his substance for the burnt offerings for the morning and evening burnt offerings, and the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths, and for the New Moons, and for the set feasts, as it is written in the law of the LORD.
This rather obscure chapter on tithing combines with Nehemiah to offer a background for Malachi 3:10 by describing the use of tithes and the outside-the-temple lives of both priests and Levites. From Deuteronomy 26:13 until Second Chronicles 31:5, the word, tithe, is not mentioned in Scripture. This period reached from the Judges, the united kingdom under Kings Saul, David and Solomon until King Hezekiah’s attempted reforms just before 700 B.C. –approximately 800 years!
When tithing is again mentioned, tithing is commanded, collected and stored by the king, the political authority, who delegated political authority to the priests. Temple worship, observance of the Mosaic Law, and tithing had suffered under bad kings who often paid tribute to other nations and often worshiped false gods. Hezekiah’s predecessor had closed the temple and worshiped Baal.
King Hezekiah had to start all over again in following David’s tradition by appointing priests and Levites and separating them into 24 courses to serve one week at a time in the sanctuary (31:2) (1 Chron. 24). He even gave up some of his king’s portion of the best, his first tithe-tax (cf. 1 Sam. 8:14-17).
31:4 Moreover he commanded the people that lived in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the LORD.
The portion (which you should know if you have been reading this book) means a tenth of the produce and herds from Israel to the Levites who, in turn, gave a tenth of their tenth to the priests (Num. 18:21-26). (Unless Jerusalem had been later added) Hezekiah erred in commanding those living in Jerusalem to bring their tithes directly to the Temple because Jerusalem was not a Levitical priestly city (see Joshua 21:9-19). Tithing may have been neglected for so long that this detail of the Law had been forgotten.
31:5 And as soon as the commandment went forth, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the fields; and the TITHE of all things they brought in abundantly.
31:6 And concerning the children of Israel and Judah that lived in the cities of Judah, they also brought in the TITHE of oxen and sheep, and the [TITHE ] of holy things which were consecrated to the LORD their God, and laid them by heaps.
These texts reveal that the ordinary people were obeying their king and probably did not know that the Law had channeled these offerings in two different directions. While all firstborn, firstfruits, and vow offerings were supposed to go to the priests in Jerusalem, the people were supposed to bring all tithes to the Levitical cities for the priests and Levites together to bring the necessary portions to the Temple for those ministering in rotation (Neh. 10:35-38; 12:44, 47).
31:7 In the third month they began to lay the foundation of the heaps, and finished them in the seventh month.
31:8 And when Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed the LORD, and his people Israel.
31:9 Then Hezekiah questioned with the priests and the Levites concerning the heaps.
Something did not make sense. Was not this the same Temple which Solomon had built? What did Solomon do with all of this food and animals? Where did Solomon put them? Had this problem occurred before? The king had to ask the priests and Levites. Should the king have commanded the people to bring their tithes directly to the Temple? To the great disappointment of those who misunderstand Malachi 3:10, verses 15 to 19 make it clear that only a small amount of the tithes were actually brought directly to the Temple in Jerusalem.
At this point a review of the priestly cities and 24 courses is needed, but will be developed more in the next chapter. Briefly, first, as stated above, priests and Levites were supposed to permanently live in their designated cities (see Joshua 21 and Numbers 35) and Jerusalem was NOT a Levitical city. Second, priests and Levites had been divided into 24 courses, or divisions, who took turns serving (most believe) only one week at a time in Jerusalem (cf. 2 Chron. 23:8). This means that the vast majority of priests and Levites were to permanently live outside of Jerusalem. Therefore, common sense teaches that the tithes should be brought, NOT TO THE TEMPLE STOREHOUSE, but to the Levitical cites where the priests and Levites lived! Unfortunately for many, these facts from Joshua 21 and Nehemiah 10:37-38 destroy the tithing argument used in Malachi 3:10 which will be discussed later.
31:10 And Azariah the chief priest of the house of Zadok answered him, and said, Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the LORD, we have had enough to eat, and have left plenty: for the LORD has blessed his people; and that which is left is this great store.
31:11 Then Hezekiah commanded to prepare chambers in the house of the LORD; and they prepared them;
31:12 And brought in the offerings and the TITHES and the dedicated things faithfully, over which Cononiah the Levite was ruler ….
31:13 And [other Levites] were overseers under the hand of Cononiah and Shimei his brother, at the commandment of Hezekiah the king, and Azariah the ruler of the house of God.
14 And Kore the son of Imnah the Levite, the porter toward the east, was over the freewill offerings of God, to distribute the oblations of the LORD, and the most holy things.
While the king asked both priests and Levites what to do with the heaps of tithes, only the chief priest answered. I wonder why. Could it be that he knew that even the people living in Jerusalem were supposed to bring the tithes to the Levitical cities as Nehemiah later commanded in Nehemiah 10:37?
If indeed ALL of the tithes had been brought to the storehouse in Jerusalem, then Hezekiah was wrong! This would mean that Hezekiah and the high priest, Azariah, had not carefully read the Law as did Nehemiah (in Neh. 10:29). Hezekiah’s commandment would, therefore, be an aberration and not the norm! However, context of the following texts shows that most of the tithe was NOT brought to the Temple.
Although tithe-teachers like to call the church God’s storehouse for the tithe, it was King Hezekiah and Azariah the high priest, NOT God, who first incorrectly commanded that (some) tithes be brought by the people to storehouses in Jerusalem! One storehouse was the treasure house for war spoils and riches. Another storehouse (rather store rooms) held firstfruits and firstborn to be consumed by weekly rotations of ministering priests. Of course, those Levites taking their one-week rotations serving in the Temple would also require a place to keep their food from tithes (Neh. 12:44, 47). Consider this, if King Solomon had built food storehouses inside Jerusalem for tithes in his time of plenty, then King Hezekiah would already have Solomon’s storehouses to use in his time of much less.
31:15 And [other Levites were stationed] in the CITIES OF THE PRIESTS, in their set office, to give to their brethren by COURSES, as well to the great as to the small:
Numbers 34, Joshua 21, Second Chronicles 31:15,19; and Nehemiah 10:37-38; 13:10 all remind us that Levites and priests lived in “provided” suburbs of designated Levitical cities. Nehemiah 10:37 is correct when it says, “and [bring] the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage.” And Nehemiah 10:38 is correct when it says that priests received their tenth of the tithe from the Levites, not in Jerusalem, but in the city suburbs, “And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes.” Finally, Nehemiah 10:38 correctly points out that the Levites (with the priests) brought portions of the tithes to the Temple for the priests (and Levites) who were daily serving;) — “and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house.” THIS IS THE CONTEXT OF MALACHI 3:10!
Again, common sense tells us that most of the TITHE was brought to rural locations for distribution to the 23 of 24 courses not currently ministering in the temple and to the remainder of the families of those males who were away for a week at the temple. The distribution was controlled by Levites.
31:16 Beside their genealogy of males, from three years old and upward, even to every one that enters into the house of the LORD, his daily portion for their service in their charges according to their COURSES;
The word “beside” means that those Levites assigned to distribute tithes in verse 15 did not have to distribute to those presently serving at the Temple because they would receive distributions from those brought in verses 5 and 6. This text is clear: the only portion of the tithe necessary for the Temple was just enough to feed the priests and Levites for their particular week. Even the wives, girls, and younger males of these would eat of the tithes from their cities. It is very likely that even this exception to the Law commanded by Hezekiah had been corrected under Nehemiah and each priest and Levite brought his own portion of the tithe from the cities as he went to serve.
31:17 Both to the genealogy of the priests by the house of their fathers, and the Levites from twenty years old and upward, in their duties by their COURSES;
31:18 And to the genealogy of all their little ones, their wives, and their sons, and their daughters, through all the congregation: for in their set office they sanctified themselves in holiness:
These texts are easier to read in other translations. There is one more reminder that King David had divided the priests and Levites into 24 different courses, or divisions, to take turns ministering in the Temple.
31:19 Also of the sons of Aaron the PRIESTS, which were IN THE FIELDS OF THE SUBURBS OF THEIR CITIES, in every several city, the men that were expressed by name, to give portions to all the males among the priests, and to all that were reckoned by genealogies among the Levites.
While outside of the Temple for 23 of 24 weeks, Joshua 21; Second Chronicles 31:19; Nehemiah 10:37 and 13:10 all teach that the priests and Levites permanently lived “in the fields of the suburbs.” The NAS says “pasture lands”; the NKJV says “common-lands’: the NIV says “farm lands.”
“I thought that, since they received the tithe, they were supposed to be full-time ministers at the Temple!” That is the MYTH preachers want us to think! Actually, most of the time many had to be HERDSMEN or farmers! When they were not at the Temple performing rituals, singing, guarding, or repairing, they were tending the animals brought to them in the form of TITHES! Stop and think one moment! IF every TENTH animal was given to the Levites, and the Levites gave every TENTH animal to the priests — exactly WHO do you think tended these animals? “And the cities shall they have to dwell in; and the suburbs of them shall be for their cattle, and for their goods, and for all their beasts” (Num. 35:3).
This brings us to First Chronicles 23:4 again. “Of which, twenty four thousand [24,000] were to set forward the work of the house of the LORD; and six thousand [6,000] were officers and judges [civil and religious].” Where do you think that the 24,000 Levites obtained all of the skill necessary for building, maintaining, and overseeing the construction and maintenance of the Temple? Surely they could not even supervise something they knew nothing about! My suggested answer is probably “taboo.” The only logical conclusion is that many performed these skills as tradesmen in their Levitical cities while not on duty. The Levites and priests were also used as both CIVIL and religious judges and rulers throughout King David’s reign and after his death.
The Bible does NOT say that priests and Levites were not supposed to work outside of the Temple. If this were true, then King David made a terrible mistake in First Chronicles 23:4. It would also make them little more than free-loaders who only worked one week out of twenty four. The proof text which is often given, Numbers 18:21-24 (which few actually read), only teaches that they have the tithe in place of land inheritance. Logic teaches that, just as those who DID have land inheritance could also work other occupations, even so the priests and Levites who DID NOT have land inheritance could also work other occupations.
Long before the time of Jesus, the priests and Levites had distanced themselves from the average Jew by politics, wealth, ritual, and pure snobbery. We see this best in Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan.
While they controlled the many Sanhedrins (the court system), the spiritual vacuum they had left by not teaching the Law had been filled by synagogues under the leadership of mostly non-priestly and non-Levitical rabbis. These rabbis, who set the example for Paul and the earliest church, usually considered it indecent to teach the Law for monetary or other profit. My point is this: the very existence of the schools of the prophets in the Old Testament times and the synagogues PROVES that the priests and Levites had not spent their time away from the Temple (23 of 24 courses) teaching the Word of God!
In summary, tithing in Nehemiah is again a political tax initiated, commanded, and enforced by the king (31:4). Again, there was no opposition to the concept of political control of the tithes. If these texts were applied to the Christian church, then the recipient of tithes would be required to minister at the altar only 1 week out of 24 — strange indeed.