The government requires you to pay taxes. But what about your obligation to God?
FEW SUBJECTS animate our conversation more than taxes. We've learned to live with them, but not without a great deal of grumbling, complaining and opinion about how high taxes are and how the government is spending them. In the United States the annual taxation ritual takes place in April — about the time many of our readers are receiving this issue of The Plain Truth. American taxpayers assemble all their records to calculate whether they have paid enough to, or overpaid, Uncle Sam. Books and magazine articles appear by the dozens to assist taxpayers in the preparation of their forms — a process that may take hours, even days. In nations of the democratic world, taxes are the most important means of financing government and providing services for the people. Taxes are assessed on a percentage of income — generally on an increasing scale. The higher the family income, the greater percentage the government takes in taxes. Most people feel the government taxes too much. But many governments are economically falling further and further behind and often resort to increased taxation in order to meet national obligations. The vicious cycle continues.
The Origins of Taxation
Have you ever stopped to wonder where all this got started? How nations started to tax the population in the first place? Interestingly enough, the earliest record of the ruler of a government taking a percent of income goes back to ancient biblical times. And the primary use of this percent of income was not civil, but religious. The collection was not known as a tax but rather a tithe, because the amount collected was one tenth of the income or increase of the individual or family. The English word tithe simply means a tenth. The earliest biblical record of a ruler receiving tithes goes back. to Abraham — about 1,900 B.C. The story is told in Genesis 14. Abraham, or as he was then called, Abram, had engaged hostile forces who had captured his nephew Lot. Abram and his servants were victorious in the battle and successfully freed Lot, taking valuable spoils of war in the process. On their return, Abram with his tired and thirsty troops stopped near a city called Salem (later named Jerusalem). The king of Salem, Melchizedek, brought bread, wine and refreshments to Abram and his servants. But this Melchizedek was not only king of the city — state of Salem, he was priest of the true God. In his office of priest, he blessed Abram, who was one of the few men on earth who had been willing to be obedient to the Eternal God. We read in Genesis 14:20 that Abram "gave him [Melchizedek] a TENTH of everything" (New International Version throughout, unless otherwise noted). It was obviously Abraham's normal custom to tithe any increase he received. Abraham is described in the Bible as a man who obeyed God's voice, kept his charge, his commandments, his statutes and his law (Gen. 26:5). Tithing is only one of the laws God gave man to live by — but Abraham was diligent in obedience to all of God's precepts. Archaeologists have discovered that major nations or city — states in the Near East — before and after Abram's time — collected taxes or tithes of the people. No doubt this practice derives from God's earliest instruction. But rulers of these other nations at that time did not serve or obey the laws of the true God. In fact, many of them sat in the office of king, and were even regarded as gods. They took to themselves the right to exact 10 percent or more from the people to finance their religions, their military and their governments.
God Calls His Nation
In the course of time; God directed the nation of Israel — to the land he had promised Abraham. This took place shortly after 1450 B.C. Under Moses, the children of Israel were led out of servitude in Egypt. Then under Joshua they inherited the land of Canaan. God gave important financial instructions through Moses: "A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord" (Lev. 27:30). Then God added, "I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting" (Num. 18:21). Tithing was always intended for God's usage. As we already have seen, Abraham paid tithes to God's priest Melchizedek. When the nation of Israel was established, the tithe was to be paid to God, who in turn paid the priesthood of Levi for their service. The primary function of the Levites was religious service and education.
Israel Demands a Change
In the land of Canaan, Israel served under a system of judges. Of course the Levites directed religious matters. All the surrounding nations were ruled by kings and all practiced pagan religious rituals. After some 400 years the people of Israel desired a king to be like other nations. Samuel had for many years served as judge and priest. He was shocked that the people wanted to forsake God's government and choose their own. He had witnessed the way the kings of surrounding nations treated their subjects. But the people insisted and God permitted them to set up a monarchy under King Saul. But Samuel warned the people: "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses.... He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.... When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen... " (I Sam. 8:11, 13-15, 18). In other Words, Samuel knew carnal human leaders would abuse the tithing system. There would be military conscription. Property would be confiscated for the state. The prophecy of Samuel came to pass. Under David and Solomon the nation of Israel prospered. But with the prosperity came added taxes. In the time of Solomon, God permitted the construction of a magnificent temple to be the center of religious worship. But Solomon added a burden of additional revenues or taxation to construct his own palace, thrones, stables and vineyards. The population of Israel became restless under the increasing burden. After the death of Solomon, his son Rehoboam became king. Solomon's servant, Jeroboam, had also become a powerful political figure — primarily among the northern 10 tribes of Israel. As a representative of these peoples, Jeroboam counseled Rehoboam, "Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you" (I Kings 12:4). Even the older advisers who had served under Solomon urged Rehoboam to lessen the taxation and other burdens (verse 7). But Rehoboam and his young advisers wanted to surround themselves with luxury even surpassing Solomon. His decision: "My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions" (verse 14). So he increased the taxes and the labor demands. Under Jeroboam the northern 10 tribes seceded and established their capital at Samaria. In one sense of the word it was a tax revolt. The nations of Israel and Judah remained separate ever since. After their national captivities in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C., only a part of the House of Judah returned to live in their native land. The northern 10 tribes migrated from the Middle East and their national identities were lost to the world.
Jesus on Taxation and Tithing
By the time Jesus of Nazareth was born, the Middle East was under Roman control. In fact, taxation had something to do with the location of the birth of Jesus. "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed" (Luke 2:1, Authorized Version). Roman law on occasion required every resident to return to the area of his or her family origins for the purpose of taking a census and paying taxes. Joseph and Mary made the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to keep the Feast of Tabernacles and to meet the Roman census — taxation requirement. And so it was that in Bethlehem Jesus was born, More than 30 years later Jesus was confronted with the question of paying the Roman tax — a tax most felt unjust and exorbitant. There had been more than one tax revolt among the Jewish populace. It had even become a subject of religious debate among factions of the Jews, On one occasion some of the religious leaders, attempting to trick Jesus, asked: "Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" (Matt. 22:17). If Jesus spoke against paying taxes, they could turn him over to Roman officials for his rebellion against Roman law. And if he favored it, he could be viewed as holding pro-Roman feelings, But Jesus had a calm and wise answer no one could refute: "'Show me the coin used for paying the tax,"' he requested. "'Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?' 'Caesar's,' they replied. Then he said to them, 'Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's'" (Matt. 22:19-21). The Roman government, whether right or wrong, had the authority to collect taxes. Jesus did not justify a tax revolt. If Caesar had demanded a tax, then the tax was to be paid. But Jesus was careful to point out one must not neglect his duty to God while fulfilling one's tax obligations to the nation or the state. On another occasion Jesus commented on tithing. As we have seen, tithing had been the means God set up to finance his work since the days of Abraham. In the days of Jesus the Jewish religious leaders had been careful to impose strict adherence to ritual, custom and tradition. But they often overlooked the spiritual intent of God's law. For example, on the subject of tithing, many among the Jews had been — practicing a very zealous and meticulous procedure to determine their tithes. But they were neglecting other important matters of major spiritual significance. Addressing this problem Jesus said: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former" (Matt. 23:23). Many of them had spent so much time counting out tiny grains of spices or mint leaves, they didn't have time to serve, their fellowman. But they could proudly point to how precisely they counted out exactly 10 percent of their dill. Jesus showed tithing is an important obligation to God — be careful to do it — but don't neglect other important responsibilities to fellowman.
As the years passed, tithing and taxation were practiced in a variety of ways. Because the Roman Catholic Church dominated the religion of the Western world for many centuries, the collection of religious tithes and offerings often rested in the hands of the clergy. In addition to religious offerings, the people were often subjected to a variety of taxes by the state. Import duties, property taxes, inheritance taxes, transportation taxes and market fees were but a, few of the methods used to finance wealthy landlords and government officials or members of ruling families. Often these taxes were collected in goods and produce. In the rural sections of England today there still stand old buildings called tithe barns. Many don't know the derivation of the term. It comes from the practice of collecting goods for distribution to the government, the church or to needy people. A prime reason to collect taxes has been to finance the military. In many modern nations the social functions of medical care, payment to widows — and orphans, unemployment benefits, disability payments and retirement also are paid out from a variety of taxes collected by the government. The tax rates have steadily increased till taxes now constitute a major portion of most families' budgets. In the United States the first federal income tax was imposed late in 1861, the time of the American Civil War. It was 3 percent of income over $800. It was rescinded, along with other Civil War taxes, in 1872. Before then, as students of American History well know, an important contributing factor to the Revolution of 1776 had to do with taxation. The Boston Tea Party and the cry against taxation without representation led to the American Declaration of Independence. It has not been easy to tax the American public. The income tax as we now know was not instituted till March 1, 1913. The 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica makes an interesting observation in the subject of taxation. This — edition was printed in 1911. Britain had just come out of the South African War. Of course some of the taxes of the day were used to fund that war. The Britannica noted: "The important points in this connexion appear to be: (1) Very large appropriations can be made by the state from the revenue of its subjects without permanent injury. The community thereby suffers, but the land and fixed capital remain, and when the high government expenditure ceases individuals at once have the benefit.... (2) A state which in ordinary times appropriates one-tenth or some less proportion of aggregate individual incomes is much stronger relatively than a state absorbing one-fourth... or higher proportion" (Encyclopaedia Britannica. 11th edition, article, "Taxation"). I wonder if modern tax officials would agree?
But What About Tithing?
Tithing one tenth of a family's gross or, if in business, adjusted gross income has always been God's instruction. We addressed at the beginning of the article the subject of tithing in the days of Abraham during the ancient priesthood of Melchizedek. Tithing continued to be the means God instructed to finance his work — in the period when the Levitical priesthood served God and now the New Testament Church. But there have been times when people were careless about the tithe. After the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, some of the people grew lax. Ezra, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel and Malachi had to stir them back to action. One of the important lessons the people of Judah had to learn from the captivity was that when they obeyed and pleased God, God blessed them. They prospered. They had good health, a sound economy. God protected them against their enemies. When they disobeyed they had problems. So obedience is not a burden — it brings God's pleasure and his blessings. The Jews returning from Babylonian captivity began to forsake God — falling back into disobedience as the people had before the captivity. So Malachi wrote, speaking for God: "'Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, "How do we rob you?" In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse — the whole nation of you — because you are robbing me. 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 you will not have room enough for it'" (Mal. 3:8-10). Tithing was never meant to be a burden. Frankly, taxation can be. But the government where you live will insist you pay taxes. And while you may not always cheerfully do so, it is an obligation you have for living in your country. And tithing? It is the key to successful financial management. The world economy is not going to get better. But if you want to ensure yourself of the best possible conditions in very uncertain times, you need to learn to manage your finances based on God's principles. We have two free booklets to assist you in this important aspect of life. One is entitled Ending Your Financial Worries. The other is Managing Your Personal Finances. Why not read them right away? You will find how sound financial management based on God's laws will help you for many years to come.