MANY businessmen have regularly searched the pages of the Bible for guidance in their daily affairs. They have found that the Bible has many practical words of advice — especially to the money handler. Consider the biblical principle of savings: "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest" (Prov. 6:6-8). But a deeper and more profound monetary concept is contained in the words of Jesus Christ: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Once a person begins to use some of his resources to help others, he discovers that he has begun to lose some of his selfish attitudes. This principle of concern for others exerts a great stabilizing influence on the overall well-being of an individual. The book of Proverbs expresses the principle in this way: "It is possible to give away and become richer! It is also possible to hold on too tightly and lose everything. Yes, the liberal man shall be rich! By watering others, he waters himself' (Prov. 11:24-25, The Living Bible). Thousands have had their lives vastly changed for the better by the biblical principle of tithing. They have found that it works! Look at it this way. Everything produced — money and the things money will buy — comes from the earth. Man didn't make the earth — God did! Man merely applies energy in thinking and planning and labor while on the earth, which God created and owns. Where does the energy man expends really come from? It too comes from God. You merely utilize what God supplies. Therefore, God has a prior claim of ownership on all you take for granted that you produce. But God is concerned about humanity. He has our interest and welfare in mind. He has set laws in motion for our benefit, regulating that portion of His wealth which our thinking and our labor extracted from the earth and developed. God's law regulating what man earns can be likened to a contract. He allows humanity to work on His earth, to use a part of the earth for food and other materials for our livelihood — to utilize its soil, its timber, its water, its coal and oil, and to manufacture products from it. In turn, God wants us to understand that we are working with Him in partnership — maintaining and developing what He created.
The History of That Partnership
The first man Adam was instructed to dress and keep the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). His descendant Abraham was educated in all of the commandments, laws and statutes regarding man's relationship to God, himself and the earth (Gen. 26:5). Consider one of those principles recorded in Genesis 14. A confederation of four kings invaded the flourishing cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and took Lot, Abraham's nephew, captive (verses 11-12). Subsequently, Abraham engaged these four kings in battle, rescuing Lot as well as recovering all the booty. Enroute to his home, Abraham met Melchizedek — King of Salem and priest of the Most High God. He then gave Melchizedek tithes of all the spoils, including nonagricultural products (verses 18-20). There are several interesting observations that can be drawn from this account. The main one is this: the spoils clearly belonged to Abraham. In a strict sense, according to the custom of war, Abraham was entitled to all won in battle by right of conquest. But not wanting his wealth traceable to any man, he returned everything except a full tenth and what his young men needed for provisions (Gen. 14:23-24). The crux point is that he gave the tithe to Melchizedek before disposition to any other parties. Abraham's grandson — Jacob — was involved in the other recorded pre-Mosaic tithing incident. Jacob was running for his life from brother Esau (Gen. 27:43, 44). During his flight, God promised Jacob both the land and an innumerable host of descendants (Gen. 28:13-15). In a positive response to these promises, "... Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God" (verses 20-21). Then Jacob continued with a little-known second promise to his Creator: "... And of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee" (verse 22). Reference to Genesis 31:3, 13, 18-20 and 35:1, 6-15 shows that Jacob fulfilled the first part of this vow to God. In that light it would be highly inconceivable for Jacob not to have fulfilled the second half of his promise as well — a promise to tithe on all the future increase that God would give him. Presumably this would mean that Jacob would have had to tithe more than once, since he would not have received all of his God-given sustenance at once.
Apart from these two specific accounts, tithing is not discussed again until incorporated in the Mosaic code. Here it is enjoined as an ongoing law, not one established at Mount Sinai (Num. 18:21). Later, reflecting on the priesthood in the ancient Israel of Moses, the apostle Paul said that the sons of Levi "have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law..." (Heb. 7:5). The Levites took the tithes — but they did not specifically belong to them. According to the law, Moses had stated: "And all the tithe of the land... is the Lord's: it is holy unto the Lord" (Lev. 27:30). However, God did designate the tithe for Levitical and priestly use at that time: "... I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance..." (Numbers 18:21). Now, for the sake of space, we pick up the story hundreds of years after Moses. As long as the Israelites performed their responsibility in paying the tithe diligently, the Temple services flourished following the return of a few tribes from Babylon to the Holy Land. It was a time of exciting restoration, a spiritual renaissance for the Jewish people.
The Message of Malachi
Once the initial zeal wore off, however, the situation in post-captivity Judah began to deteriorate. Priests became politically oriented and contemptuous of the Temple services — haphazard in their selection of sacrificial animals. God gave them a scathing indictment through Malachi. He pointed to the track record of forsaking His ordinances and laws since the nation's infancy in the wilderness (Mal. 2:8; 3:7). When the people asked God just what He meant, the Creator replied: "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation" (Mal. 3:8-9). By not paying the Levites the tenth, the people were actually robbing God. But was the message of Malachi only for the people of that day? The prophetic pre- and post-context of this tithing passage indicates that the message (indeed the tithing principle) was also for a future time.
New Testament Tithing
In Matthew 23, Jesus Christ — a New Testament Prophet — indicted the religious leaders for their upside-down priorities concerning God's way of life. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these [tithing] ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone" (verse 23). So Jesus of Nazareth did endorse the tithing principle even in the case of its picayune observance in what might be likened to today's backyard garden. Another biblical passage helps to clarify this important verse in context. Notice the very first verse of this chapter: "Then spake Jesus to the multitudes, and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat." Apparently Matthew 23 was directed to the general populace and Christ's own special students as well as the scribes and Pharisees. At any rate, Jesus' own words do appear to uphold the tithing principle (cf. Luke 11:42).
Fully considering the foregoing material, how should the twentieth-century Christian approach the subject of tithing? In retrospect, it is important that we wholly recognize that God is the owner, proprietor and Creator of everything we observe in the natural environment. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein " (Ps. 24:1; 50:10, 12; Job 41:11; Deut. 10:14; Ex. 19:5, etc.). And this includes rare metals often employed as basic monetary standards and mediums of exchange. "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Eternal of hosts" (Haggai 2:8). And there is no possible way humanity can begin to reimburse the Creator for all of His beneficence. The gift of life itself is precious beyond words. Then there is land, water, air and all the little accoutrements of the earth that go to make life so enjoyable for men and women. "... For he [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good. and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt. 5:45, RSV). And as David wrote about God: "Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits..." (Ps. 68:19). He knew that our God is a giving, benevolent God. "Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing" (Ps. 145:16). Tithing (indeed the giving principle) shows our respect, love and admiration for our Creator. It is an expression of honor and acknowledgment of God's supreme lordship and mastery in the universe — a fitting minimum standard for Christian giving. A very wise king certainly captured the principle of this giving spirit: "Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine" (Prov.3:9, 10).