Back in the late 90’s to early 2000’s, a well known minister had a “personal revelation” that the blessing poured out in Malachi 3 in connection to tithing is ideas, concepts, and insights. Yet, this revelation is foreign to the context and foreign to the entirety of the scriptures regarding the tithe.
The blessing that is referred to in Malachi 3 was God’s promise to bless the crops from which the tithe (food provision) was taken. The open windows of Heaven refer to such blessings as the rain that waters the land, causing an abundant harvest and the timely ripening of the crops. The devourer that is to be rebuked isn’t Satan, but things like pests (bugs, worms, etc.) that would come and devour the crops.
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be FOOD in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty. ~ Malachi 3:10-12
Addressing the subject of tithing is important and needful, but it is also risky because this subject touches a nerve with a lot of people on both sides of the issue.
The disagreement between the two sides generally revolves around this question, “Is tithing a New Testament doctrine?” Though this is a valid question, it isn’t the best place to begin a discussion on tithing.
Well then, where should we begin?
We ought to begin with a working definition, a Biblical definition, of what the tithe is. Most tithing teachers claim that the word “tithe” means “the tenth,” and applies to monetary income, but is this the Biblical definition of the tithe?
Was the tithe ever a tenth of money anywhere is scripture?
If you have ever heard anyone preach or teach on tithing, you have probably heard Malachi 3 referenced. Most tithe teachers use this as their “go-to” text, and since many sincere believers have never been taught what the biblical tithe really is, the use of Malachi 3 can be very convincing for the tithe teacher.
The truth is, many who teach that the tithe is 10% of monetary income, do so out of honest and sincere conviction. However, sincerity can be misleading if a person hasn’t taken the time to find out what the Biblical tithe actually is.
When ministers who don’t know what the Biblical tithe is, use verses such as Malachi 3 to preach a required monetary 10%, this can put people under much condemnation. Having once been a Pastor of a local church, I am not proud of the fact that I once taught tithing incorrectly. Teaching God’s people that they are robbing God if they do not give a tenth of their monetary income can, and does, put people under unnecessary and unjustified guilt. No minister should use such tactics to gain financial support.
The Book of Malachi belongs to the Old Covenant, and Malachi’s tithing statements ought to be understood in view of the definition of the tithe given in the Law of Moses.
According to the Law of Moses, the tithe was never money. According to Leviticus 27:30, 32, and 16 other scriptural texts, the tithe was always food provision from the produce inside the land of Israel, and food provision from the herds inside the land of Israel. The tithe was never a tenth of the monetary income of those who had occupations such as fishermen, tent makers, makers of linen, blacksmiths, etc.
Under the Law of Moses, there were four categories of tithes:
(1) THE LEVITICAL TITHE ~ Numbers 18:21-24; Nehemiah 10:37
The Levites were given the tithe (food provision) because they were given no land inheritance among the tribes of Israel (Deuteronomy 10:9; 12:12; 18:20-24) . It was food provision for their service in the ministry. The Levites, who received the tithe, were to give one tenth of the tithe they received to the priests, whom they served in the ministry (Num 18:25-28; Neh 10:38). The priests (who were the descendants of Aaron) were also of the tribe of Levi, and were given a tithe from the tithe, because they also were given no land inheritance like their fellow Levites who served them in the ministry.
(2) THE FESTIVAL TITHE ~ Deuteronomy 12 and 14
This tithe was to be consumed by the individual worshiper during the three yearly festivals in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 12:1-19; 14:22-26). The following words refer to the festival tithe and shows that the tithe was not money but consumables, i.e. food.
“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.” ~ Deuteronomy 14:22-29
Have you ever heard anyone who teaches monetary tithing tell the people to take their tithes and go spend it on themselves and rejoice in the presence of the Lord?
Notice in the reference above, if the tithe was too much to carry (this is a reference to food from the harvest), the tithe could be exchanged for silver (money) and then the money could be used to buy food at the feast of the Lord. This clearly shows that the tithe was not money, but food.
(3). THE TITHE FOR THE POOR
This tithe was given to the widows, orphans, and strangers living in the land of Israel. ~ Deuteronomy 14:28, 29; 26:12, 13).
(4). THE TITHE-TAX
This tithe was tax imposed on the people when the Kings began to rule over the people of Israel. ~ 1 Samuel 8:14-17
There is absolutely no scriptural basis to say that people struggling to make ends meet are required by God to give a tenth of their income or else they’re robbing God and under a cursed.
In the book of Malachi, the prophet Malachi rebukes the backslidden priests for their many sins and among their sins was their stealing from the tithes (the food provision for the Levites). Consider the following from the book of Nehemiah, which is consistent with Malachi’s tithing statements.
Now it came to pass, when they had HEARD THE LAW that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude. And before this, ELIASHIB THE PRIEST, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was ALLIED UNTO TOBIAH: And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and THE TITHES OF THE CORN, THE NEW WINE, AND THE OIL, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests. But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that ELIASHIB (the Priest) did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. AND IT GRIEVED ME SORE: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff to Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense. And I perceived that THE PORTIONS OF THE LEVITES HAD NOT BEEN GIVE TO THEM: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled everyone to his field. Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place. Then brought all Judah THE TITHE OF THE CORN AND NEW WINE AND THE OIL unto the treasuries. And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren. ~ Nehemiah 13:3-13
In Malachi, God is addressing the sins of the priests who were cursed. Among their sins was that of robbing from the food provision which belonged to their servants, the Levites. It is not a statement to New Testament believers regarding their income.
Paul told the Corinthians to do the following with their money:
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” ~ 2 Corinthians 8:7-9
Giving freely from the heart is New Testament doctrine. You may give a tenth or more if you wish. You can give as much as you desire, for you are free to give as you purpose in your heart.
You are not required by God to give 10% of your income. The Old Testament tithe was never 10% of monetary income. It was food from the crops and herds inside the holy land of Israel.
Russell Earl Kelly, a theologian on the subject of tithing, points out the following:
The argument made concerning the non-food tithing is that money was not universally available and barter from food was used for most transactions. This argument is neither biblical nor historical. Genesis alone contains money in 32 texts and the word occurs 44 times before the holy tithe is described in Leviticus 27. Gold is in Genesis 2:12. The words jewelry, gold, silver and shekel also appear often from Genesis to Deuteronomy.
Abram was very rich in silver and gold (Gen 13:2); money in the form of silver shekels paid for slaves (Gen 17:12+); Abimelech gave Abraham 1000 pieces of silver (Gen 20:16); Abraham paid 400 pieces of silver for land (Gen 23:9-16); Joseph was sold for silver pieces (Gen 37:28); slaves bought freedom (Lev 25:47-53). Court fines (Ex 21 all; 22 all), sanctuary dues (Ex 30:12+), vows (Lev 27:3-7), poll taxes (Num 3:47+), alcoholic drinks (Deu 14:26) and marriage dowries (Deu 22:29) included money.
Joseph gave Benjamin 300 pieces of silver (Gen 45:22). According to Genesis 47:15-17 food was used for barter only after money had been spent. Banking and usury laws exist in Leviticus even before tithing. Therefore the argument is false. Yet the holy contents from Leviticus to Luke never include money from non-food products and trades. (Russell Earl Kelly PHD).
Besides the use of Malachi, Abraham’s tithe to Melchisdek is one of the most often used texts to support tithing. Often, Abraham’s tithe is used to advocate the the idea that tithing is an eternal principle because Abraham tithed before the law.
Actually, Abraham’s tithe was an ancient Arab custom. Paying a tenth from the spoil of war (to the reigning or ruling King) was a customary practice in Abraham’s day. Abraham’s tithe was a special onetime tithe-tax from the spoils of war.
Russell Earl Kelly points out that under the Arab custom, the spoil-tithe tax was ten percent of the spoil. However under the Mosaic Law, the spoil-tithe tax which came from the spoils of war was only one percent and was given to the Levites and (one tenth) of that (one percent) was given to the priests.
The required tithe tax from the spoil of war under the Law of Moses, was actually less that what Abraham gave to Melchizedek.
Abraham did not give Melchisedek a tenth of his own personal wealth. In fact there is no record that Abraham gave Melchisedek anything from his personal possessions. At other times when God appeared to Abraham, Abraham offered sacrifice to God from his personal substance (Genesis 12:7-8; 13:14-18) but he did not give from his personal substance to Melchisedek. Abraham gave only that which was from the spoils of war to Melchisedek.
For more study regarding Melchisedek, I have provided a link at the end of this teaching.
Finally, we sometimes give just because we want to out of a generous heart, and other times we are prompted to by the Lord. He will bless those who give when we do it in faith and with a generous heart. I believe if Pastors would teach their congregations the biblical tithe and set the people free to just simply give from the heart, all the needs would be met. I mean, there probably would be times we’d see such a move of God everyone’s needs may get met. This happen in the early part of Acts, there was such grace in giving that everyone’s needs were met and the apostles distributed what was given as everyone had need.
For more on the topic of New Testament giving, I have written the following teaching: Paul’s doctrine for Christian giving.
Also here is the link to the teaching on Melchisedek, mentioned above.