Deuteronomy 12 and 14: Strange Facts about Tithing

An Exhaustive Examination of "Tithe," "Tithes" and "Tithing"

Should the Church Teach Tithing?

A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

Section 8 –  Deuteronomy 12 and 14: Strange Facts about Tithing

Tithing Did Not Begin until Israel Was in the Land

Deut. 12:1 These are the statutes and judgments, which you shall observe to do in the land [Hebrew: eretz] which the LORD God of your fathers gives you to possess it, all the days that you live upon the earth [in the land: NIV; Hebrew: adamah].

Deut. 12:5 But to the place which the LORD your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even to his habitation shall you seek, and there you shall come;

Deut. 12:6 And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the first offspring of your herds and of your flocks.

Deut. 12:19 Take heed to yourselves that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live upon the earth [in your land: NAS; Hebrew: adamah].

Did you realize that Israel did not pay tithes during the 40 years in the desert? The tithe of the Old Covenant Mosaic Law was integrally connected to the land of Canaan. Therefore, there was no tithing during the 40 years in the wilderness. This is logical because no tribe had an inheritance and the Levites were not given tithes before there was an inheritance from which to tithe. According to Deuteronomy 12:1 the statutes and judgments about giving, including tithing, did not begin until Israel was actually in the land, and were to last as long as Israel stayed in the land.

In Sketches of Jewish Social Life, Old Testament and Hebrew scholar, Alfred Edersheim devoted the first two chapters to discussions of the holy land of Israel which are well worth reading. After the exile, the country was subdivided into three different zones of “holiness.” Only tithes from the most holy land-zone could be brought to the temple. Tithes from lesser holy land zones within Israel could provide for local shrines and the poor. However, since even the “dust” from pagan Gentile lands defiled, it is certain that no temple tithe could come from “defiled” ground.

Again, although, God does indeed own all the heavens and all the earth, this fact is never used as the reason for the tithe. God’s special promised land was the land of Canaan. Israel’s holy inheritance was only the land of Canaan. Whereas the eleven tribes divided this holy land into twelve (or thirteen) sections, the inheritance of the Levite was the tithe from their land in Canaan. Again, the Old Covenant concept of tithing was part of the Old Covenant concept of a holy inheritance. It is unscriptural to separate tithing from the concept of the holy land from which it came.

A Legitimate Tithe Must Come Only from the Land of Canaan

When Leviticus 27:30 says “all of the tithe of the land is holy” it means the “THE LAND OF CANAAN” after God had sanctified it, not just any land! God’s Word does not say, or imply, all of the tithe “of the land of the United States,” or “of the land of Great Britain,” etc. It is not a holy tithe merely because it comes from “land” per se; it is only a holy tithe if it comes from “the sanctified land of Israel.” Moses prayed in Deuteronomy 26:15, “Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel, and the land which you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land that flows with milk and honey.” The reverence for the land is the reason that the body of Christ was not allowed to stay on the cross overnight. “And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is to be put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God) that your land be not defiled, which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance” (Deut. 21:22-23).

Tithing Was to Stop if Israel Were Expelled from Its Land

12:19 Take heed to yourself that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live upon the earth. (The NKJ, NAS, NIV, and RSV all read, “as long as you live in your land.”)

As previously mentioned, according to Deuteronomy 12:19, as long as Israel lived in its land, it was to give tithes to the Levite instead of land inheritance. However, should Israel be expelled from its land of Canaan and lose its inheritance, then the Levite would also lose his inheritance of the tithe from the sanctified land. Therefore, tithing should cease.

After the exile this was illegally modified to include lands on which Israelites lived in Babylon and Egypt, but even those inferior tithes were not holy enough to be brought to Jerusalem and stayed in the local synagogues for the poor. The basic concept that pagan dust defiled never changed as far as the temple tithes from Levitical cities in Israel were concerned.

The Second Tithe Could Only Be Eaten in Jerusalem

14:23 And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the first offspring of your herds and of your flocks, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.

Originally, the second yearly tithe must be brought only to the city of Jerusalem for all to consume. This was to prevent competitive points of importance and false worship. After the nation split, northern Israel set up its own worship centers at Bethel land Dan and false worship resulted. Amos 4:4 is an example of including tithing in false worship.

The Second Tithe Could Be Exchanged for Money and Then Be Used to Buy Strong Drink

14:24 And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it; or, if the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD your God has blessed you,

14:25 Then shall you turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and shall go to the place which the LORD your God shall choose,

14:26 And you shall spend that money for whatsoever your soul lusts after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever your soul desires; and you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you, and your household.

Deuteronomy 14, verses 22-26, is one of the strangest passages in the Bible. Since carrying the food tithe was a physical burden when one lived too far from Jerusalem, this also proves that tithes were not money which would not create a burden! God actually commanded the purchase of wine or fermented drink for festival celebration. Alcoholics love to discover these texts and try to justify their habits. However, this by no means authorized drunkenness or the abuse of alcohol. These texts describe rejoicing at worship services, not personal drinking abuse. Also, since distillation was not practiced as modern man knows it, the alcohol content was far below what is consumed in our time. Local drinking water was often polluted and unsafe to drink. Also, Scripture provides many texts warning of the evils of alcohol abuse and we cannot claim lack of access to safe drinking water.

Eating and drinking the tithe (14:23) at the “place” in the presence of the Lord was not the normal practice, but was reserved for special occasions — the second festival tithe. The importance of these texts is in rejoicing and giving God praise for his blessings.

God Required No Tithe from the Farmland Every Seventh Year and Every Fiftieth Jubilee Year to Allow the Holy Land to Rest

Exod. 23:11 But the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie still; that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner you shall deal with your vineyard, and with your olive yard.

Lev. 25:12 A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be to you; you shall not sow, neither reap that which grows of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of your vine undressed.

Lev. 25:12 For it is the jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat the increase thereof out of the field.

Read Exodus 23:9-11 and Leviticus 25:3-7, 11, 20-22. On these special “sevens” the land was neither sown nor reaped. It was open for the Levite, the poor, and the hired worker to eat freely along with the landowner. Is it not fair to ask how many churches which teach tithing also tell their members NOT to bring tithes every seventh and fiftieth years? What principle gives those who support tithing the authority to delete the aspects of tithing discussed in this chapter?

When Tithing Was First Imposed, There Was No Civil Authority, King, Nor Elected Officials to Support with Taxation

At first, the freewill offerings and tithes supplied the needs of Israel. With God’s approval, things changed drastically when Israel rejected God’s rule through judges and God gave them a king. From that point on, which includes most of Israel’s Old Testament history, the political authorities were responsible for collecting and redistributing the tithes.