Moses' fourth speech, Part 6
Nov 05, 2012
There was more than one tithe in Scripture. Deuteronomy 14:22 and 23 speaks of the main tithe which was to be used in support of the family’s trip keep the feast days:
22 You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. 23 And you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the first-born of your herd and your flock, in order that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.
This tithe does appear to include the tithe of the animals, but only “the first-born of your herd and your flock.” Furthermore, this was a tithe that was applicable “every year.” As we saw in Deuteronomy 12:17, this tithe was to be consumed on the trip only and was not to be eaten at home, or “within your gates.” It was primarily used as a practical support so that families could keep the feast days, which in those days involved a trip to the specific location where God had established His name.
Presumably, the tithe of all the newborn flocks and herds were given to the Levites living in a nearby Levite town (Leviticus 27:32). In choosing which animal was to be given, the people were to herd them through a funnel and mark the tenth animal to pass through, thus leaving it to God to decide the order in which the animals should pass.
There was also a third-year tithe that was the main tithe. We shall read more of this in verse 28 and in greater detail in Deuteronomy 26, where verse 12 calls this year “the year of tithing.” It was understood or presumed by the rabbis in the past that the year of tithing included both the third and the sixth year of the Sabbatic cycle. This tithe was not brought to the temple but remained at one’s home town and was given to the poor and to the Levites.
The third-year tithe is part of God’s welfare system, along with the gleanings each year (Deuteronomy 24:19-22). The farmers were not to harvest the corners of their field, as these were left for the poor of the land to glean for themselves. Vineyards were not to be clean-gleaned, but some were left for the poor. Likewise, they were not to beat their olive trees a second time, for the gleanings were to be given to the poor.
The law is unclear as to whether the third-year tithe was given in addition to the regular tithe, or if the tithe of that year was to be diverted to the poor. Unfortunately, those who have most to gain or lose (rabbis, priests, ministers) have been the ones to interpret the law, and hence the law has usually been applied as a second tithe in the same year. Some day we will need to obtain an official Supreme Court ruling on this from the divine court.
Whatever the case, in Deuteronomy 14 Moses limits his comments to the use of the tithes other than the third-year tithe. He says that this tithe was to be used to support their trips on the feast days. Verses 24 and 25 read,
24 And if the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the Lord your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the Lord your God blesses you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses.
In those days Shiloh (or later, Jerusalem) may have been too far away to appear before the Lord three times a year for the feasts (Exodus 34:23). In such cases, they were to “exchange it for money” and add a fifth of its valuation (Leviticus 27:31), and spend it at an alternate location that was closer to home. In such cases, they were to be led by the Spirit.
26 And you may spend the money for whatever your heart desires, for oxen, or sheep, or wine [yayin], or strong drink [shekar], or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.
So whether an Israelite went to Jerusalem or to a place closer to home, it is clear that this tithe was to be spent on personal expenses. It was not just for practical trip expenses, but also to “rejoice” and have a good time. Today, we might call it a family vacation. God is not all business; He makes provision for personal happiness as well. If they want steak dinners (“oxen”) or leg of lamb (“sheep”), they may have it. If they want grape juice or fermented wine, they may have that, too.
The Hebrew word yayin can mean either grape juice or wine as we know it. It is a general word that includes both types. However, shekar is the fermented variety, making it clear that the law does not forbid alcoholic beverages. The New Testament merely cautions us to be moderate in all things and not to get drunk (Ephesians 5:18).
In more recent years, the “Temperance Movement” was established in the mid-1800’s, which sought to obtain pledges from Catholic priests and other Christians to abstain from drinking wine (except for communion). This movement was founded by Father Charles Chiniquy in order to address a serious problem with alcoholism that had devastated many families and priests. He wrote of this in his 1886 book, Fifty Years in the Church of Rome, written nearly three decades after he left the priesthood.
His movement became popular in the early 1900’s during the Pentecostal revival, and so when Pentecost became denominationalized around 1910-1912, many of them incorporated a ban on drinking alcohol, along with other legalisms such as wearing jewelry and lipstick, and also imposing various dress codes deemed to be modest.
However, the law did not ban strong drink, and so any such bans should be considered to be “traditions of men.” A tradition can be good, but it should not become a law or a test of one’s righteousness.
27 Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you.
And so, whether they traveled to Jerusalem or to a place closer to home to observe a feast, they were reminded to “not neglect the Levite.” This was a voluntary offering out of the tithe being used for trip expenses. Moses then speaks briefly about the third-year tithe, saying,
28 At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. 29 And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
Moses says nothing about this being a second tithe. In fact, it says that “all the tithe” was to be brought to the town in the third year. This suggests that the entire tithe of that year was to be given to the Levites, and this was for the benefit of orphans, widows, and those who had no land inheritance—including Levites. Hence, all trip expenses in attending feasts were to be borne by each person according to their ability.
Keep in mind, however, that even Levites had flocks and herds that had been given to them as tithes and offerings. They had houses in towns and could graze their herds in the “suburbs” within 2,000 cubits on all sides of the town. They were not destitute, but their income was limited, and they were to be paid in this way for their government services.
In the broader picture, widows and orphans were under God’s direct covering, because they had no earthly covering to defend them. Such came under God’s special covering, and so the third-year (and sixth-year) tithes were partly for their benefit. Likewise, the resident aliens in the land, who had joined themselves to the Covenant with Israel, but who came too late to receive a family inheritance, received provision from this tithe. It was understood that in such cases, they had left their families behind in foreign lands and were therefore at some disadvantage in the land of Israel. For this reason, God took them under His direct covering, along with the widows, orphans, and Levites.
It is often assumed today that to be a true Christian, one must join a particular family, known as a denomination. They say that everyone must have a “covering,” and if they do not, then they are criticized for being “in rebellion.” But the law of God speaks into this situation, for it recognizes that many do not have a covering. They are the widows, orphans, aliens, and even the beasts of the field. God provides direct cover for all of them and makes provision for them in various ways. Never does God criticize anyone for having no earthly covering, for if they are not covered by men, they are covered by God Himself.
This is the sixth part of a series titled "Moses' Fourth Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones