Kings, Tithes and Taxes: Levites with Political Jobs

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 10

1 Sam. 8:7 And the LORD said to Samuel, Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

1 Sam. 8:14 And he [your king] will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.

1 Sam. 8:15 And he will take the TENTH of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.

1 Sam. 8:16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your best young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.

1 Sam. 8:17 He will take the TENTH of your sheep: and you shall be his servants.

During the approximately 300 year-period of the book of Judges, tithing is not mentioned in the Bible. Each man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judg. 17:6; 21:25). There was no central government, no organized worship, and most of the Levites (who owned no land) became drifters and beggars among the various tribes of Israel. Worship of pagan gods was common. During the period of the judges, often several tribes were in bondage to neighboring nations.

As long as the Levites only performed the routine and lowly servant tasks for their Aaronic brothers, their receipt of the tithe was probably very inconsistent, or even non-existent (Numbers 3, 4, and 8 all). Tithe collection would also be sporadic during reigns of foreign kings, foreign occupation, and during times of pagan apostasy. Some families even used ordinary Levites as personal family priests.

When Israel asked for a king to rule over them like their neighbors, God declared that they had rejected his reign and had replaced him with an anointed king. From ancient antiquity to the Roman Empire, the political ruler collected the tax-tithe of food, animals, and even subjected people in order to finance his government, pay government expenses, build government buildings and provide a national army. King Solomon even used forced labor of Israelites and non-Israelites to make many citizens work every third month on the king’s farms and on the king’s projects without pay.

Tithes Were Taxes! Even the Jews Admit It!

As soon as Israel became a nation ruled by a king, the FIRST TITHE became part of national taxation which was collected and redistributed by the king according to his needs. First Samuel 8:10-17 says that the king, whom God would “anoint” as his representative, would take the “best” and the “tenth” which formerly belonged to God. The “tenth’ was regarded as “the king’s share.” Ten percent was already a centuries-old tradition among Israel’s Canaanite neighbors and surrounding nations. Later, as witnessed in the reforms of King David, King Hezekiah, and Governor Nehemiah, politicians supervised collection and distribution of the tithe. We must remember that, under Ezra and Nehemiah, the best and first tithe-tax went to the conquering and ruling Persians. The tithes collected by these two leaders were only secondary.

King David’s Use of Levites

1 Chron. 23:2 And he gathered together all the princes of Israel, with the priests and the Levites. [Civil and religious leaders are combined in a theocracy.]

1 Chron. 23:3 Now the Levites were numbered from the age of thirty years and upward; and their number by their polls, man by man, was thirty eight thousand [38,000].

1 Chron. 23:4 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].

1 Chron. 26:29 Of the Izharites, Chenaniah and his sons were for the outward business over Israel, for officers and judges [civil and religious].

1 Chron. 26:30 And of the Hebronites, Hashabiah and his brothers, men of valor, a thousand seven hundred [1,700], were officers among them of Israel on this side Jordan westward in all the business of the LORD, and in the service of the king [civil and religious].

1 Chron. 26:31 Among the Hebronites was Jerijah the chief, even among the Hebronites, according to the generations of his fathers. In the fortieth year of the reign of David they were sought for, and there were found among them mighty men of valor at Jazer of Gilead.

1 Chron. 26:32 And his brothers, men of valor, were two thousand seven hundred [2,700] chief fathers, whom king David made rulers over the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, for every matter pertaining to God, and affairs of the king [civil and religious].

King David used tithe-receiving Levites as the core of his government. Just in case you missed my last statement, I will repeat it — King David used tithe-receiving Levites as the core of his government. What does this tell us about how the tithe was used during the God-blessed reigns of David and Solomon? David clearly took over control of the Levites, and whatever tithes they might have previously collected. However, no tithes are actually mentioned in association with David. Tithes were most likely included as an additional part of the royal taxes paid directly to him, as was the situation in other surrounding nations.

Since God had been replaced as ruler by the king, it became the king’s responsibility to rule over the worship facilities, Levites and priests. This principle was later used to legitimize the “divine right of kings” to collect tithes in order to support a state church. It is noteworthy that neither God, nor any of his prophets, ever objected to this church-state arrangement comparable to that originated by David in Israel.

Levites Were Only Partially Religious Workers

As temple workers, David re-organized the Levites’ work schedules under his political authority. Levites served in 24 divisions, each serving at the temple only a week at a time, or about two weeks per year (1 Chron. 24 all; Luke 1:5-6). During the construction of the temple David divided the 38,000 Levites as follows: 24,000 construction supervisors, 6,000 treasurers and judges 4,000 gatekeepers, and 4,000 musicians (1 Chron. 23:4-5).

Duties of 38, 000 Tithe-Receiving Levites as Religious/Political Workers:

24, 000 Temple Workers (23:4)

6, 000 civil and religious judges and officers (23:4; 26:29-31)

4, 000 civil and religious guards (23:5) (Neh. 13:22)

4, 000 singers (23:5)

4, 600 earlier served as soldiers (1 Chron. 12:23, 26) (1 Chron 27:5)

While preachers want us to think that Levites received the tithe because they were full-time workers for God, they are deceiving us! Look at the list above! As temple workers and supervisors of temple workers, they certainly must have been experts in crafts and trades! They were also politicians and soldiers. After the temple construction was completed, most likely many of the 24,000 Levites who were construction supervisors continued to serve the king in other roles. First Chronicles, chapter 26 is a very interesting chapter for those who want to know how their tithe was used. While only serving about two weeks a year in religious activities at the temple, the remainder of the time many Levites were still the core of the king’s officials. Inspired by God, King David used the Levites as the base of his POLITICAL support.

Levites Were Also Political Leaders and Rulers

In their political role as servants to the king, the government consisted of “leaders, priests, and Levites” (23:2). There were 6,000 Levites who served as governmental judges and treasurers in the Levitical cities: 1,700 judged and collected revenue in one region of the country, 2,700 in another region, and (evidently) 1,600 in a third region (26:31-32).

Certainly David (and Solomon) would have been corrected by God, or the prophets, if they had used tithes incorrectly. As inspired writers of Scripture, the Holy Spirit was guiding their decisions. Yet Scripture records that Levites were for the outward business over Israel, (1) “for every matter pertaining to God,” and (2) “affairs of the king” (26:32). Compare also Ezra 2:40-42, 61; Neh. 7:43-45; Neh. 8:9; 10:28, 39; 12:44-45.

A Theocracy Combines Both Civil and Religious Taxation

God placed all of these verses in our Bibles to remind us that Levites were public officials of the state and tithes were included as state-taxation to support them. It is difficult for some to understand that the above “political” positions were supported by the tithe for sustenance of the Levites which allowed the king to use his first tithe-tax for other purposes. Using the excess Levites (who were already due ten percent) was a simple matter of good political money management by the king.

It is even more difficult to understand how Christian tithe-teachers can ignore this Old Covenant context of tithing as a political tax. Total taxation, including tithes, easily approximated forty (40) percent, which is comparable to that found in our modern society. In addition to wholly religious duties, the Levites (who received the whole tithe) performed normal governmental positions such as judges, treasurers, registrars, census takers, genealogists, building and city policemen, and social service workers!

Even the Jewish Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Judaica, agrees that tithes were political taxes. “As may be learned from 1 Sam. 8:15, 17 and from Ugarit the tithe could also be a royal tax which the king could exact and give to his officials. This ambiguity of the tithe, as a royal due on the one hand, and as a sacred donation on the other, is to be explained by the fact that the temples to which the tithe was assigned were royal temples (cf. Amos 7:13) and, as such, the property and treasures in them were put at the king’s disposal. . . .”

“As is well known, the kings controlled the treasures of palace and temple alike, which is understandable, since they were responsible for the maintenance of the sanctuary and its service. . . . It stands to reason that the tithe, which originally was a religious tribute, came to be channeled to the court, and was therefore supervised by royal authorities.”

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says, “This [1 Sam. 8:14-17] is the only reference in the Old Testament to the exaction of tithes by the king. However, in the East it was not unusual for the revenue of the sovereign to be derived in part from tithes, as, for example, in Babylon and Persia.”

The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary says, “All their possessions he [the king] would also take to himself: the good (i.e., the best) fields, vineyards, and olive-gardens, he would take away, and give to his servants; he would [take the] tithe [of the] the sowings and vineyards (i.e., the produce which they yielded). . . and raise the tithe of the flock. . . .”

While such action was not challenged by God’s prophets as being out of line with the Old Covenant Law, no Christian church would want politicians to handle its finances today. Yet, following the example of the Old Covenant should compel them to do so. However, since tithing is not New Covenant, we have no guidelines concerning its collection and redistribution.

Briefly Concerning Tithing in Amos 4:2-6

The chapter from the first edition has been removed with only the final paragraph kept. “Tithes were brought to Bethel and Dan for idol worship. These were the royal chapels of the northern kingdom. Since most of the Levitical priests had moved south into Judah, Israel’s worship was totally false. Merely going through the motions of tithing was just another way to “sin yet more.” Therefore, God scorned such actions when done in defiance to his will. They were no more justified with wrong motives than was the Pharisee in Luke 11:42.”