Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tithing – Part II. The Tithe in Deuteronomy 12 and 14

The passages on tithing in Leviticus and in Numbers occurred prior to Israel’s forty-year sojourn in the wilderness. As Israel was about to enter the promised land in Deuteronomy, cultic centralization becomes a need in the face of the geographic dispersion Israel would face as they spread throughout the promised land.

The nations whom Israel would dispossess served their gods in decentralized altars, “on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree” (Dt 12.2). In contrast, Israel would bring offerings to God largely at a single location:

“You shall seek the LORD at the place which the LORD your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish his name there for his dwelling, and there you shall come. There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your heard and of your flock. There also you and your households shall eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you.
. . .
“And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.
. . .
“You are not allowed to eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or new wine or oil, or the firstborn of your herd or flock, or any of your votive offerings which you vow, or your freewill offerings, or the contribution of your hand. But you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and daughter, and your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all your undertakings. Be careful that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land” (Dt 12.6-7, 12, 17-19).

It seems pretty obvious to me that the tithe discussed in Deuteronomy 12 is the same tithe commanded in Leviticus and in Numbers.

First, in v. 6 (and in v. 11), the tithe is listed in the middle of all of the sacrifices and offerings discussed and authorized in the book of Leviticus. Take a look at the list again: “burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, the contribution of your hand, votive offerings, freewill offerings, and the firstborn of heard and flock.” No one argues that the other six categories of offerings listed in this passage in Deuteronomy are anything but offerings commanded in the book of Leviticus. It seems highly implausible that God inserted a command for an entirely new, second tithe in the middle a passage talking about the need to offer six other existing Levitical offerings only in a centralized location in Israel. The most plausible reading to me is that the tithe discussed here, like the other six offerings, is the same tithe written about in Leviticus.

Secondly, this passage in Deuteronomy identifies the same reason as the book of Numbers identifies for the Levites to receive the tithe, namely, “the Levite who is within your gate . . . has no portion or inheritance with you” (Dt 12.12). Further, the passage concludes in v. 19 with the admonition, “Be careful that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in the land.”

It seems to me that the same purpose underlies the tithe discussed in Deuteronomy 12 as underlies the tithe discussed in Number 18.

To be sure, in Deuteronomy, the LORD authorizes a festival when bringing in this tithe (and all of the other sacrifices and offerings) to the centralized cultic location he will establish. As best as I've been able to understand, the existence of the festival is the main reason that commentators argue this passage establishes a second, new tithe distinct from that commanded in Leviticus and Numbers. This is, they claim, a “festival tithe” as opposed to the “Levitical” tithe established in the earlier books.

Yet Leviticus and Numbers do not provide any specific instructions regarding how the tithe described there is to be collected or distributed. I see no reason to assume that Deuteronomy 12 does anything more than provide instructions regarding how and where the other tribes are to bring in the Levitical tithe after they've entered the promised land (as they are about to do). That a festival is associated with the collection of the tithe (along with all of the other Levitical sacrifices and offerings) seems no more than a way to facilitate cheerful giving.

So, too, the tithe discussed in Deuteronomy 14.22-27 is concerned with the Levite (v. 27). What it adds to the laws in Deuteronomy 12 is the authorization to turn the tithe – literally a tenth of the crops & etc., harvested from the land – into a more portable form of wealth, namely cash. The passage authorizes this exchange if the distance between the Israeli residence to the centralized offering place is too great to haul a great load of produce and animals (v. 24).

As best as I can understand, commentators who see a new, second tithe commanded here seem to think that the non-Levitical Israelites could or would consume their entire tithe at the festival. Yet v. 27 seems aimed precisely to forbid anything close to this: while God wanted the Israelites to rejoice when they brought in their tithe, since the point of it was to provide for the Levite, they could not “rejoice” to the point of depriving the Levites of the bulk of the tithe. It seems to me that this passage only means that God graciously allowed the Israelites to skim a bit off the top of God’s his portion to pay for the expenses associated with the festival as they brought the one tithe to the centralized sanctuary.


Blogger russkellyphd said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 16, 2007 6:54 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

While I appreciate the comment, for an extended comment, and especially one that quotes from something you've already published, the norm is to provide a link to the book, or to your website or blog.


November 16, 2007 5:02 PM  
Blogger russkellyphd said...

Sorry about the long post. I just wanted you to include a discussion of the Levitical cities in your discussion of tithes.

Normally people are offended by postings of web sites, but here is mine. I am Russell Earl Kelly, PhD, author of Should the Church Teach Tithing? which came from my dissertation. The book, an essay and a video can be downloaded FREE on my web site.

I accept three OT tithes and my view on Malachi 3 is quite different also. I am opposed to NT tithing for the Church.

November 16, 2007 5:14 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Thanks, Dr. Kelly.

I'm certainly not offended by commenters posting links. And I thought your argument connecting the tithe to the Levitical cities was pertinent and interesting.

I'll also be interested to take a look at your argument for affirming three tithes in the OT.


-- Jim

November 16, 2007 5:29 PM  
Blogger russkellyphd said...


Go to my web site and read chapter 7, How Many Tithes?, on the left column.

We can discuss it if you still disagree.

In Christ
Russ Kelly

November 16, 2007 8:01 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Hi Russ,

Thanks for the headsup. Funny, I'd actually run across your site previously. A lot of good stuff, although your personal experiences associated with the tithe have been a lot, lot worse than mine.

I might post a little more on the three versus one question. (I'm about ready to take off for the kids' swim meet this morning.) But I'm certainly not going to die the death on one or the other. I'm not an expert, after all, just an interested layman.


-- Jim

November 17, 2007 7:25 AM  

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