The Three Tithes
Dec 29, 2008
Up to now, I have written only about a single tithe given to the Levites, and the tithe of the tithe given to Aaron and his sons, the priests. But actually, there were three tithes, each having distinct purposes. These are:
1. The Social Tithe--the regular tithe that is calculated upon production, or increase, and given to the Levites for their work as record keepers, teachers, judges, musicians, health practitioners, food inspectors, etc. It was for the maintenance of the social order.
2. The Festival Tithe--the tithe set aside for the purpose of observing feast days. This was more than just a family vacation, because its underlying purpose was not only to "rejoice before the Lord," but also to learn His ways and to honor God.
3. The Poor Tithe--the tithe paid twice in a 7-year Sabbath cycle, in order to provide for the general welfare of the poor, the widows, orphans, and strangers in the land. This was paid in the third and the sixth year.
These tithes indicated that the first tenth was paid to the government (Lev. 27:30-33), the second tenth was to be set aside for food and travel expenses when celebrating the feasts (Deut. 14:22-27; 16:3, 13; 16), and the third was the primary storehouse for helping the poor and indigent (Deut. 14:28, 29).
The Book of Tobit, which is part of the Apocrypha, is a beautiful story about an Israelite in the Assyrian dispersion. Tobit was of the tribe of Naphtali, and it gives us a glimpse of life in the Assyrian captivity. In Tobit 1:5-8 he speaks of the three tithes, which he had kept in Israel before going into captivity:
" (5) Now all the tribes which together revolted, and the house of my father Naphthali, sacrificed unto the heifer Baal [i.e., the golden calf in Bethel and Dan]. (6) But I alone went often to Jerusalem at the feasts, as it was ordained unto all the people of Israel by an everlasting decree, having the first-fruits and tenths of increase, with that which was first shorn; and them gave I at the altar to the priests the children of Aaron. (7) The first tenth part of all increase I gave to the sons of Aaron, who ministered at Jerusalem; another tenth part I sold away and went, and spent it every year at Jerusalem; (8) and the third I gave unto them to whom it was meet, as Debora my father's mother had commanded me, because I was left an orphan by my father."
Here is an ancient example of how the Israelites observed these three tithes. Of course, anything over and above those three tithes was called a "freewill offering" or a "voluntary offering."
To be continued . . .
This is the first part of a series titled "The Three Tithes." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones