Moses' ninth speech, Part 4, The tithing vow
Jun 12, 2013
There was another occasion where the Israelites were instructed to issue a statement or vow when they gave God an offering. This is the subject of the rest of Deuteronomy 26. This second vow was made every third year when the people were to give their tithe to the poor. Deuteronomy 26:12 says,
12 When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.
It is not absolutely clear if this tithe is an additional tithe that would amount to a 20% tithe in the third and sixth year of each Sabbatic cycle, or if it just means that the entire 10% regular tithe was to be shared with the poor in those years.
Moses calls it “the year of tithing,” implying something different or unusual, but it is also plain that the people were to tithe every year from the increase of the ground, the flocks, and the herds. Hence, some have deduced that this was an extra tithe that was to be given in the third and sixth year. But Scripture does not really say this—at least not plainly. The only other passage that mentions this is what we saw earlier in Deuteronomy 14:28, 29,
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.
We know from Numbers 18:24 that the tithes normally were given only to the Levites. But here we have a clear statement that “all the tithe…in that year” was to be brought to the storehouse in the town (not the temple) and divided among the Levites, aliens, orphans, and widows. The fact that the Levites are included seems to indicate that this was a single tithe (10%), and that the main difference was that it was not only to be given to the Levites but shared with others as well.
It does not seem likely that the Levites would be given all of the first tithe, and then in a second tithe they would again have a share. Nothing is said about two tithes, but rather “all the tithe,” or, as Ferrar Fenton puts it, “the whole of the tithe.” Likewise, this seems to be how the rabbis understood it in the centuries before Christ, for they translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek this way:
28 After three years thou shalt bring out all the tithes of thy fruits, in that year thou shalt lay it up in thy cities. 29 And the Levite shall come, because he has no part or lot with thee, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow which is in thy cities….
Here again there is no indication that the people were to bring a double tithe or two distinct tithes, but that the single tithe was to be shared more broadly every third year.
What we are not told in Deuteronomy 14, but which Moses reveals in chapter 26, is that in this special year of tithing, a vow, or declaration, was to be made before God, in the same way that was done with the first fruits earlier in the chapter. This vow is given in verses 13-15:
13 And you shall say before the Lord your God,
“I have removed the sacred portion from my house, and also have given it to the Levite and the alien, the orphan and the widow, according to all Thy commandments which Thou hast commanded me; I have not transgressed or forgotten any of Thy commandments. 14 I have not eaten of it while mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor offered any of it to the dead. I have listened to the voice of the Lord my God; I have done according to all that Thou hast commanded me. 15 Look down from Thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Thy people Israel, and the ground which Thou hast given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as Thou didst swear to our fathers.”
All such vows were required in order to make the person personally accountable to God, rather than to any law-enforcement agency or church on earth. In this way it is similar to the law of jealousy in Numbers 5:21, where a man's wife suspected of adultery would be required to swear to her innocence. The jealous husband was to accept this vow and leave it in the hands of God for judgment.
In the same way, those giving their tithes were to take an oath of innocence, vowing that they have not withheld the tithe that was due, that the tithe was clean, and that the giver had done all that God had commanded. This vow took every case out of the hands of earthly courts and put all law-enforcement into God’s hands alone. After all, rendering tithe to God was an act of recognizing God as their Landowner, and on the basis of that recognition, the people had the right to ask for His continued blessing.
This also explains why Malachi 3:8-10 says,
8 Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, “How have we robbed Thee?” In tithes and offerings. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”
Withholding the tithe was not robbing the Levites, even though the Levites were the prime beneficiaries of the tithe. The tithe was a matter of recognizing God’s right to receive a portion of the fruit on account of His labor at creation. Refusal to recognize God’s right of Ownership brought a curse to the nation, for it gave God legal cause to expel its inhabitants and put them in bondage to other nations.
This is, in fact, what had happened already by the time Malachi prophesied. His prophecy came during the days of the kings of Persia, the second beast empire of Daniel 7. The nation of Judah was already under the curse of the law for refusing to recognize God’s right to be served and obeyed according to the First Commandment. Withholding the tithe from the increase of the earth was just one factor that had brought Judah under divine judgment—the curse of the law.
Moses does not state specifically if this vow in Deuteronomy 26:13-15 was to be made only with the third-year tithe, or if it was to be made with the tithe every year. Certainly, this vow is given in the context of only the third-year tithe. However, the spirit of the law implies that this vow applied to all the tithes. There is no reason to think that this vow would apply only on account of the tithe being shared with aliens, widows, and orphans. So in my view, I believe this vow was made with every tithe.
Moses continues in verse 16 and 17,
16 This day the Lord your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. 17 You have today declared the Lord to be your God, and that you would walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and listen to His voice.
Here Moses gives us the intent of the tithing vow. When the Israelites made this vow, they were declaring Yahweh to be their God. They were vowing to walk in His ways. The ways of God were defined in “His statutes, His commandments, and His ordinances.” In other words, the law defines the heart and character of God, and when we understand the spirit and intent of the law, we then can know His ways.
For this reason, I find it peculiar that many churches would teach that the law has been put away except for the law on tithing. It seems that they do not understand that the tithe was to be accompanied by a vow of obedience to the law so that they might learn the ways of God. To retain the law of tithing while giving themselves the right to violate any other law that they may find disagreeable seems to be contradictory and hypocritical.
Furthermore, Moses continues in verses 18 and 19 to link Israel’s obedience to their continued status as “chosen people.”
18 And the Lord has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; 19 and that He shall set you high above all nations which he has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the Lord your God, as He has spoken.
The implication, of course, is that if the people refused to be obedient and to recognize God as their King, He would disinherit them, cast them out of the land, and put other nations in authority over them. This is, indeed, what happened in later years. During the time of the judges, Israel was subjected to many captivities within their own borders, and in the end the Assyrians were raised up to deport Israel and scatter them among the nations.
Later God raised up the Babylonians to subject Judah to captivity, and Daniel 7 shows that God gave authority to four main beast empires to rule the Western world until the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom. We stand today at the end of the time of beast empires, and we now understand that the overcomers have been raised up to rule in the Age to come. These overcomers—by definition—are those who have faith in Christ and have learned obedience to His law. At the fulfillment of Tabernacles, they will rise up as the sons of God with the law fully written on their hearts, and will be qualified to rule as the Body of Christ in the Age to come.
So ends Moses’ ninth speech.
This is the fourth part of a series titled "Moses' Ninth Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones