I recently wrote a post about Misconceptions about Jacob’s Tithing Vow, and this post is intended to be a sequel. If you have not read that post first, it is imperative to read it here before reading this. Many of you were shocked and actually enlightened to the real truth behind Jacob’s motives to his vow in Genesis 28. The first post is important to read and was written to introduce you up to what’s being said in this post. I feel that the following information is one of the largest pieces to the puzzle when understanding the course of tithing throughout scripture.
Some time in 2007, i was studying the passage about Jacob’s tithing vow. All of a sudden i had one of the most amazing “Ah” moments. It was like the movie, “Sixth Sense” when everything that didn’t make sense this whole time all rushed to my head at once and came together. I always wondered, when did Jacob tithe, could he have tithed, how, and who could he have tithed to? Jacob made a vow to God in Genesis 28, “of all that you give me, i will surely give a tenth back to you“. Here’s the thing, Jacob never gave the tithe, nor was he capable of giving a tithe. Although Jacob was not capable of tithing in his life eventually he was able to do so through his children.
I have been researching and studying for some time on what I’m about to say, but i need to preface it first. With most of my research being done through sources found on the internet, I have found only a few others to confirm what my conclusions are on this matter; and even with the few that confirm this matter for me, they write only a couple sentences without any deep analysis of their thoughts. This confounds me because there are many who wonder – how, where, when, and if Jacob fulfilled his vow, but ironically, there is a minute amount of research put into this mystery. Jacob’s tithing vow has been overlooked because it is a story that is dwarfed between the large shadows of Abraham and the Mosaic laws. Much research has been done on Abraham’s tithe to Melchizidek, and more research has been done on Mosaic tithing laws, while very few analyze Jacob’s tithing experience.
With this in depth analysis, you will find answers to some of the questions surrounding the tithing vow of Jacob. You will also find some of the ‘best evidence’ against those who support tithing because of its occurrence 400 years before the Mosaic law. You will also see the biblical reasons why Israel could only tithe from agriculture and livestock, and why they could only tithe from the produce of the promised land. You will also see why the Levites were not given an inheritance as promised by God, but ironically were given the tithe of the land. You will also see why Jacob never tithed, and never could have. These answers, and even more, will be discussed in the following information.
The Meaning of Jacob’s Vow
Most people do not read Jacob’s vow in context. When most people read Jacob’s statement, “of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You“, they believe that Jacob was willing to give a tithe off everything that he garnished though his lifetime; but this interpretation is not correct. In Genesis 28 Jacob had just woke from a dream wherein God said, “the land on which you lie I will ‘give‘ to you and your descendants“. Jacob made a vow to give a tenth from the land that God promised to give him and his decedents. Jacob’s vow was not a general statement that included a tithe from his wealth, or from his occupation, or any gold. It was a promise to give God back 10% of the increase from the land. Strangely, Jacob never received the promised land, so there was never an opportunity for him to tithe. . .Or am i wrong?
Victor Stephens in his article “A Closer Look at Tithing” states, “If tithing was not commanded before the Mosaic Law, then how did tithing become law? As we have just discovered, Jacob vowed to give a tenth of all that he would receive. Since a vow becomes an obligation once it is made, Jacob’s vow to give a tithe became a requirement. A requirement of what? The Promised Land (Canaan). After the death of Jacob and the conquest of Canaan, God held Jacob the nation (Israel) accountable to pay the tithe. Thus, we have the enactment of the law of tithing.”
L. Ray Smith in his article “Tithing is Unscriptural Under the New Covenant” also states, “Jacob concludes his proposition to God, should God meet all of his requirements, by saying that of all the things that God will first give to Jacob, Jacob will give God back a tenth. Now don’t laugh. God honored Jacob’s proposition, and furthermore, God continued to honor this same principle of tithing all through Israel’s history.”
As we all know, the decedents of Jacob eventually received the promised land which provided them an opportunity to fulfill the promise of their father by tithing off of the seed of the land and the fruit of the tree (Lev. 27). Deuteronomy 1:8 states, “See, I have set the land before you; go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to your fathers–to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–to give to them and their descendants after them.” Psalms 105:7 also states, “The covenant which He made with Abraham, And His oath to Isaac, And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, To Israel for an everlasting covenant. Saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan As the allotment of your inheritance,”
I know it might be hard to conceive that a vow given by one man was required from his future generations, but let’s look at how God fulfills his vow to one man. God told Jacob, “the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants”. Although it seems that God had promised the land to Jacob directly, we know Jacob never inherited the promised land. So our conclusion is that God’s vow was collective rather than inclusive of Jacob in a direct way. Put simply, God fulfilled his vow to Jacob by giving the land to his children. If we are willing to accept that God fulfilled his promise directly to Jacob by finally giving the land hundreds of years later to his children, then we should be willing to accept that Jacob’s tithing vow could have been fulfilled in a belated matter as well.
It is not contradictory or unorthodox to pass Jacob’s vow down to his children since it would not be the first time where a token was made and required to be observed by the following generations. Let’s read Genesis 17:10-13, “This [is] My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. “
It is not unique for the generations that follow to inherit a covenant token that initiated with their father. These ‘signs’ are declared throughout much of scripture where God’s covenant promises were commemorated by a token of some sort. Jacob’s vow to tithe was a continual promise because just as circumcision, it was based upon a continual covenant. In a few chapters prior to Jacob’s vow we have an example of Abraham’s tithe, but this was a one time gift. We also know that Abraham’s tithe was not a lifetime or continual requirement because it would not have been an available option for Jacob to offer it as a token in his promise.
Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the passage of Genesis 28 states this, “Jacob seems to make this vow rather for his posterity than for himself, as we may learn from Genesis 28:13-15; for he particularly refers to the promises which God had made to him, which concerned the multiplication of his offspring, and their establishment in that land. If, then, God shall fulfill these promises, he binds his posterity to build God a house, and to devote for the maintenance of his worship the tenth of all their earthly goods. This mode of interpretation removes that appearance of self-interest which almost any other view of the subject presents. Jacob had certainly, long ere this, taken Jehovah for his God; and so thoroughly had he been instructed in the knowledge of Jehovah, that we may rest satisfied no reverses of fortune could have induced him to apostatize: but as his taking refuge with Laban was probably typical of the sojourning of his descendants in Egypt, his persecution, so as to be obliged to depart from Laban, the bad treatment of his posterity by the Egyptians, his rescue from death, preservation on his journey, re-establishment in his own country, &c., were all typical of the exodus of his descendants, their travels in the desert, and establishment in the promised land, where they built a house to God, and where, for the support and maintenance of the pure worship of God, they gave to the priests and Levites the tenth of all their worldly produce. If all this be understood as referring to Jacob only, the Scripture gives us no information how he performed his vow.” (source)
Adam Clarke connects a bunch of dots in his text above. He understands that there is a correlation between Jacob’s vow and the tithing laws that the Israelites were asked to obey. Notice how Clarke even shows how Jacob’s journey mirrors the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt and into the promised land.
A Powerful Argument Against Tithing
Many people are quick to use Abraham’s example of tithing prior to the law as a model for new testament giving under grace. At some degree i can understand an argument like this, but if we also take Abraham’s example prior to the Mosaic law, then to be unbiased, we must accept Jacob’s principles of giving as well. First, we see that Jacob promised to give the tithe from the Holy Land. Second, his tithing vow did not include any income, goods, or gold. Lastly, his vow also excluded everything he had garnished prior to receiving the promised land. If our evaluation of scripture should be consistent, shouldn’t Jacob’s example of tithing be incorporated into the model of new testament giving as well? Instead we look at how much Jacob was willing to give, and overlook what it was to be given from.
Jacob’s Vow found in the Prophets
Malachi 3:7-8 For I [am] the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. Yet from the days of your fathers You have gone away from My ordinances And have not kept [them]. Return to Me (shuwb), and I will return to you,” Says the LORD of hosts. “But you said, ‘In what way shall we return?’ “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.
I have highlighted a unique Hebrew word that is consistent with the passages regarding tithing and Jacob’s vow. Please read them here.
Genesis 31:13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return (shuwb) to the land of your family.
Amos 4:4-6 Come to Bethel and transgress, At Gilgal multiply transgression; Bring your sacrifices every morning, Your tithes every three days. Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, Proclaim [and] announce the freewill offerings; For this you love, You children of Israel!” Says the Lord GOD. “Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities. And lack of bread in all your places; Yet you have not returned to Me (shuwb),” Says the LORD.
The key word in each of these passages is the Hebrew word ‘shuwb’ . This word is important because of the conditions in Jacob’s vow we find in Genesis 28:20 states,“If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back (shuwb) to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God.”
The “return” (shuwb) of Jacob to the promised land was part of Jacob’s vow and an integral part of his condition to tithe. This is why we see that Israel never tithed when they were outside of the promised land. The tithing vow was no longer binding as long as they did not have possession of the Holy land. This wasn’t because they didn’t have access to the crops or animals; Israel could have still given a tithe of the cattle they had in foreign lands, but because of the conditions of Jacob’s vow they were not required to.
Also take note of the correlation of Jacob’s tithing vow, the reference to Bethel, and the return to God (shuwb) in all of the passages mentioned above. One other thing to note, if you take the time to read these next passages, you will also see that the passages about tithing in Malachi 3:10-11 and Amos 4:5-6 are synchronous with Jacob’s vow asking God’s provision in Genesis 28:20 for food and clothing. The features in Jacob’s tithing vow are inseparable with how tithing functioned for the nation of Israel.
The Conditions of a Vow
Even if we pass everything off so far as a coincidence we come across Leviticus 27 and find an interesting correlation. The whole chapter of Leviticus 27 addresses the proper way to manage your vows.
Bob Deffinbaugh writes a short outline on Leviticus 27 on bible.org,
- “Vows of people—vv. 1-8
- Vows of animals—vv. 9-13
- Vowed houses—vv. 14-15
- Vowed inheritance (family land) vv. 16-21
- Vowed (non-family) land—vv. 22-25
- Illicit vows—vv. 26-33
- Conclusion—v. 34″
Right at the end of Leviticus in verses 29-33, God discusses how the tithe is to be handled. The ironic thing is not that tithing is found in the chapter about vows, but that you see instructions from God that treat it as a vow. Vows were somewhat like private contracts between the people and God. The bible states that if a vow was made and you wished to redeem it, that you were to add one-fifth to it (Lev 27:13,15,19,27). The same is true with tithing. Leviticus 27:31 states, “If a man wants at all to redeem [any] of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it.” Why would tithing be treated as a vow if it was not a vow? Better question yet – when was tithing ever vowed prior to Leviticus 27?
Garry D. Pifer in his article titled, “Did Jacob Tithe” states this, “There are many more very clear scriptures showing that the promise God had made was not fulfilled until the Israelites crossed over the Jordan and took possession of the land of Canaan. The final and third part of Jacob’s vow, “… and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee” would not have become valid and binding until this time. When we review God’s instructions regarding tithing found in Leviticus 27 it is so clear. He is giving instructions regarding payment of vows in this chapter. He tells them the tenth, the tithe of the land, that Jacob had vowed to give to God was “holy to the Lord.” (Lev. 27:30)“
In Leviticus 27, the word “holy” is stated nine times in reference to the many types of vows made to God not just tithing. If an Israelite were to vow an animal to God, they could not substitute the animal regardless if it were a good or bad one. The animal was holy regardless of its quality. Ironically, the same rule applied to the tithe in vs 32-33 “every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord. No one may pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution.” Why would the tenth be so holy if it wasn’t vowed?
The Levitical Inheritance
I don’t know if these proceeding thoughts are conclusive my mind, and I’m not sure if this ties into everything that I’ve been discussing, but nonetheless, I wish to address a question. If the nation of Israel was promised an inheritance of land, and yet the Levites were excluded from inheriting this, how can we explain that God did not break his promise? Am I missing something here, or is this a question in your own mind as well?
Since the tithe was vowed to be given from the land Jacob inherited, I believe inheriting the tithe was an ‘indirect’ way for the levites to inherit the land of Israel.
Numbers 18:20-21 states, “Then the LORD said to Aaron: “You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I [am] your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel. “Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.”
If Jacob was to give God back 10% of what God promised him (the land of Israel), then the tithe of the land would be a perfect way for God to fulfill his promise without giving the Levites a direct inheritance of the land. I hope this makes sense, otherwise the question would still linger (at least in my mind) on how God fulfilled his promise to the Levites without actually giving them any land inheritance.
Tearing Down the Tithing Defense
After studying the vow of Jacob and its effect on the law of tithing and Israel, i was able to get an even deeper grasp of why tithing is not commanded for the New Testament Church. I know tithing had begun with Abraham and that’s where the tithing debate begins, but debating whether or not Abraham’s tithe is required for the Church does not answer if Jacob’s tithe is required of us. After defining Jacob’s tithing vow I list five arguments made clear from this article that refute the practice of tithing in the New Covenant.
- Tithing was initiated from a personal vow under the Old Covenant
- The tithe was to be taken from the increase of the land of Israel, and from nowhere else
- Tithing was only to be given from the increase of the crops and animals and not from income, goods, or precious metals
- Don’t forget, these rules were made clear 400 years before the Mosaic law.
- Jacob’s voluntary vow proves that tithing was not a requirement prior to the law.
I hope many of you have found this article informative whether or not you agree with what was said. Although i had put in a good amount of time into researching and writing for this article, i am not one of those people who will take my beliefs in this article to the grave. I am pretty open minded, so if you have some input, i am willing to hear what you have to say.