The Reason Why Israel Only Tithed Food

Understanding why Israel only tithed food is one of the most important aspects in understanding giving and also one of the more profound truths about tithing. The very definition of tithing serves as a roadblock to dissecting this practice, applying it, and understanding its deeper implications. 10% is it’s most obvious attribute, so all it’s other qualities are overlooked. The more meaningful principles of tithing aren’t practiced or preached because our attention is drawn to how much it was instead of asking the questions, who, what and why? These are the more important questions to ask anyway.

applesLev 27:30-32 And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord.

In the Old Testament, Israel was required to give a tenth of either the animals or of the fruit of the land. They were not to give anything from their other possessions or from any other form of wealth. God would neither accept money nor goods. Learning the truth about why this is important will help you understand what giving means to God. You will be rewarded with wisdom if you can grasp this concept.

In today’s modern  world, we live in a primarily industrial society, but up until relatively recently this was not case. The entire world lived in an agrarian lifestyle. Farming and herding were more common than they were uncommon. Even though money may have been custom to use in transactions, it certainly wasn’t even a necessity in many transactions since the needs of our society were simple.

Although we’ve evolved from an agrarian to an industrial world, it doesn’t mean that the amount of farming and herding has decreased over time. Overall, there are less farmers per-capita, but the same amount of food and farm-land needed to feed one person today is also the same amount of food one needed 1,000 years ago. So, it’s irrational to claim we can tithe money instead of food because we’re not an agrarian society.

Many believe that Israel was asked to give a tenth of the crops and animals because farming and herding were so common. In other words, God didn’t accept money back then because it was the least available commodity; even though today he is quite accepting of cash, credit cards & even bitcoins. To human rationale, it makes sense for God to ask us to give a portion of our most common tender.

As you are putting this all together in your mind, i want you to think of one instance in the Old Testament where God makes a request just for the sake of convenience? I’m sure you can’t think of a single instance because  you know God had a reason and a purpose for everything he asked. His requests had some sort of spiritual relation to it.

As you continue reading, i want you to ask yourself some questions:

  • Why did Israel give only food?
  • Why is it acceptable for us to give money?
  • Did we change tithing to fit into what God wanted or what we wanted?
  • Does this make tithing more relevant or less relevant today?

Reason: God is the Creator

adam-godGod only wanted Israel to give from resources that they could not produce themselves.

Let’s say i was a carpenter and I needed to sell 100 wooden chairs to feed my family. Since creating chairs is my job, then the responsibility and all the credit for taking care of my family goes to me. Now what if my responsibility was cultivating something that i couldn’t produce on my own at all? What if i had to provide for my family in a way wherein i had to rely on God to produce for me? God wanted farmers to work in the field, although he was responsible for the rain, sun, & nutrients for the plant to develop and grow into food. As human beings, we can’t create something from nothing nor can we grow anything without an act of God.

Ultimately, God’s intention was to draw attention to him as the creator of life and growth. Money had no value to God, so he didn’t want that. He wanted a form of worship not a form of giving. Anyone can give to God, but when you turn your giving into worship, then that’s what God values. God wanted praise, honor, and expectations placed upon him as the creator because that’s his desire. He deeply wants us to rely on him. When mankind realizes what God is to us and what God does for us, that is when God is pleased.

If an Israelite did not grow any crops or raise any animals, then he did not give a tenth from his income. This means that Bankers, Lawyers, Blacksmiths & Carpenters did not give a single penny of their income towards tithing. This sounds a bit unfair, but as i have stated, it’s not about fairness, it’s about worship.

God is a creator and demands our respect in that category. God is the giver and the taker of life and he wanted Israel to understand this. Giving a tenth of  goods from which an Israelite could produce on his own could not be a part of the tithing system in the Old Testament, so why is it part of our New Testament system? In truth, the Church wouldn’t know what to do with food, because we haven’t done much to feed the poor anyway; but give us money, and we know of a billion ways we can utilize it.

I don’t want to go on a greedy, church-bashing rant because i really am trying to relay different point here.

Reason: God is the Provider

babyAnother reason why Israel only tithed food because God wanted us to relate him with our very basic, humanistic needs. This is why Jesus referred to himself as the living water & bread of life. He didn’t refer to himself as the gold or silver of life since we don’t need gold or silver to live. God didn’t call himself the ‘paycheck’ of life either. He wanted to express: God = life. He didn’t want to express (God = wealth) or (God = happiness)

Mankind can live in a world without money and credit cards; we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. But we can’t live in a world with out food and clothing. God wanted Israel to give away part of the very basic necessities we need to sustain life. Isn’t that what God desires anyway- our life? Would God be asking for our life if he asked for our car, or for our job, or money? Does he want you to give him your worldly goods? I’m sure in a way the answer is yes, but if we trusted God in such a way gave away something from our lives that symbolically represented our right to life, then what would that mean to God?

This is why fasting is so effective and worthy as a believer. Placing our life and health at a lower priority really does a lot to get God to react, so wouldn’t it makes sense to place an emphasis on the tithes of food?

Reason: It’s What Jacob Promised

pinky-swearA third and final reason why Israel tithed on food is more of a technicality. It’s simply because it’s what Jacob vowed. Some may disagree with me on this one, but i’m of the school of thought that Israel was required to give a tenth of the increase from the promised land because of the covenant that Jacob made with God. You can read more details about the Vow of Jacob in these two posts Misconceptions About Jacob’s Tithing Vow & Jacob’s Tithing Vow Part 2

In a synopsis, God tells Jacob – ‘The land you are laying on, i will give to you and your descendants’. Then Jacob wakes up and says ‘of all that you give me, i will give a tenth back to you’. Simply put, it was a covenant that was binding to all the recipients included in God’s promise just as circumcision was binding to all generations in the Abrahamic covenant. God said i will give you this land and Jacob says i will tithe from the land you give me. Jacob’s vow was not a deceptive bargain with God. Those who think that are misdirected by either the translation or other’s interpretation of that passage. You can read the links to Jacob’s Vow above for some clarity.

Why Does the Church Receive/Give Money?

offeringSince we can understand the significance of tithing food, we should scrutinize why the Church is comfortable with receiving/giving money. As you’ve read the material above, you should now realize that  the question of “How much Israel gave” had very little significance compared to the question of “What Israel gave”. When you look at the number ’10’, to us it’s just a number. It’s possible there’s no spiritual significance to this fraction except for the fact that we have 10 fingers and the world’s counting system is based on tens.

Because 10% is tithing’s most obvious attribute, the amount has been the focal point behind sermons and church budgets. Maybe this is just the affect of an underlying problem. Maybe, deep down the Church actually desires financial stability more than we desire worship; and that’s why we cling to tangible attributes while overlooking the spiritual attributes of tithing. We’ve chosen our doctrinal Church practices based on relevance; after all what good is food compared to money nowadays?  When i say ‘church’ i don’t mean pastors and leaders, I mean you and I – everyone. We’ve evolved into a selfish, greedy civilization.

We’ve focused our attention on benchmarks, goals, and numbers in the Church. This mentality has thrust tithing in the spotlight for stabilizing Church budgets. Many believers look at tithing in the OT and think God is a genius! WOW! He’s invented a flat tax that is a universal, non-discriminatory, fool-proof, consistent, predictable way to fund the Church (sigh of relief). Sadly, many miss the true nature of God because In his eyes, the genius of tithing in the Old Testament had nothing to do with the percentage, it had to do with worship. Unfortunately, we’ve taken the worship part out and kept the mechanical part instead.

We’ve turned God into an accountant who sits at his clerk desk with a calculator and punches numbers all day to make sure that we’ve gotten that 10%. Sitting right next to him is a little lever that he’s ready to pull in order to release the windows of heaven as the barometer crosses from 9.9% to 10.0%! Yay! You’re the lucky winner! Whooosh! i can hear the blessings falling. Side note: ‘The windows of heaven opening’ is also an indication of the importance of agricultural tithe since that passage is referring to rain falling from the sky to water the crops; not money falling from the sky.

Do i think that we should go back to tithing God our food? No way. I’ve already stated above that tithing was  a command for the Israelite nation, from the Israelite land, and under a separate covenant.

God Always Provides the Increase

plant1 Corinthians 3:6-7 states, ” I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.”

The truths mentioned above spill into other aspects of Christianity. Imagine if we could take credit for creating new life in Christ? We could approach God and say, “look at what i made”. Instead, because God is responsible for the increase, we can approach him with a gift and say, “look at what you made”. Just as the Israelite farmers had done when he presented his food tithe.

So many get hung-up on the ‘Test me in this‘ passage in Malachi 3 thinking that it’s the only place in the bible where we can supposedly abuse or disrespect God. God wanted the farmers and herdsmen to test him because forming life and growth was out of their control anyway. When you understand what tithing was and why their success was up to God you begin to understand why it’s a disservice to use Malachi 3 ‘test me in this’ passage to encourage tithing in the Church. There’s a reason why God said ‘test me’, and it had nothing to do with tempting God, nor does it bring any more validity to the practice of tithing today.

As a farmer in Israel, we could hold God’s feet to the fire on his promise to provide for us. If we toiled all year and gave our tithe, and yet, God allowed very little to grow; we could confront God and truly blame him for the small harvest. No matter how much we plowed or plucked, God is ultimately responsible for creation. Although, if we were a carpenter, then forming, molding, and producing each and every chair is our responsibility. How can you ‘test God’ when you are a carpenter and you are responsible for creating chairs?

Is Tithing Relevant for the Church?

Tithing has no place in the Church today, and even more so the way we tithe (with money). There are principles we can apply today, but giving 10% to a local church is not a requirement. There is nowhere in scripture that informs us how tithing should be changed into what it is today. This doesn’t mean that tithing is required but we’re doing it wrong. It means that we’ve changed the practice of tithing to make it sound like it fits into the New Testament Church. The New Covenant paints a new picture for how we are to worship God with our giving. Please give sacrificially, cheerfully, and consistently while allowing the Holy Spirit to guide your decisions.

Jared Bartholomew is the author of There are over 300 articles written on research and reviews about tithing information.

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14 comments on “The Reason Why Israel Only Tithed Food
  1. Bill says:

    Thank you for this article

    Many today do not see the beauty that is the old covenant tithe.

    The tithe, as revealed in the bible, is amazing. It demonstrates so much of God’s love for his people. He blessed the promised land and through those blessings he provided a means by which people truly relied on him, namely by giving him thanks and worshiping him for something that only he can provide for them. Something they cannot create themselves, as you point out. They had to rely on the ground being right, the rain coming, bugs not eating all of their crops and disease or thieves not taking their livestock. It reminds me of Job, when the Lord lifted his protection, robbers stole his livestock.

    God poured out a blessing on his people living in the promised land, to the envy of other nations. They came to Israel, out of Egypt, to a land God promised to bless beyond all others. They were to come to feasts every year and remember how God saved his people and took them to this land. They worshipped him and drew nearer to him for it. I look at this and it makes my heart warm, the true essence of the tithe. Thousands upon thousands of Israelites, flocking to Jerusalem for a huge feast, and they are there to worship and remember, bringing their tithe with them, to eat, themselves. Sharing with others as well.

    Bring your grain and livestock tithe to the feast and eat it in my presence, and if you are too far away then sell it at home and when you arrive buy whatever you’d like to eat and drink. Enjoy yourself and your family. Enjoy the company of those you haven’t seen since the last feast and enjoy me. Be thankful for what I have provided and draw near to me knowing that I am the one who has provided for you.

    It is such a beautiful balance and such an act of worship.

    It was also God’s means of providing for his people. It is true that you often ate your own tithe yourself, but in the third and sixth year in the 7 year tithe cycle the tithe was set aside for those that were in need, namely the Levites (no land inheritance), the stranger, the widow, and the orphans, living in your own town. To me that is so wonderful. God providing for his people. The tithe, the gleaning of the fields, the leaving the corners of the field available were provisions designed by God to care of that portion of his people and strangers. And there was no tithe in the seventh year, the land rested.

    Jesus did not tithe and I can’t think of a single one of his disciples that would have, fish was not a tithable commodity. Did this make them wrong? Of course not. They ate from the corners of the field as many did, and thanked God for the provision. They participated in the feasts, just the same, and worshiped God along with those that brought their food tithe. They didn’t get pressure for not bringing a tithe, that’s absurd when you understand the principle under the old covenant.

    Another thought. The tithe was not the best of your produce, that was reserved for other offerings and something entirely different. Many today say the first tenth is to God, but scripture defines it as the last tenth.The tithe was the tenth animal that came in through the gate. If you had 10 sheep, the last one in was dinner at the feast. If you had 20, the tenth and twentieth were your tithe. If you had 19, well, you only tithed a single sheep. It was not about how perfect it was, it was about thanking God for what he has provided for you and others and something that you could not have without him being intimately involved. God commanded them not to pick and choose the one to bring, but to grab the tenth ones in succession. I imagine, by popular thinking today, many would think that the israelites would abuse this command by taking the worst and ‘giving it to God’, but most of the tithe you ate yourself and I would imagine the abuse would be that people would want to pick the choicest one to eat, which goes against the modern understanding.

    It is pure worship, through this commandment. You are blessed, your family is blessed, your neighbors, the levites in your town, the strangers. Blessings all around.

    It’s wonderful.

  2. Arthur Tragg says:

    Test me on this, says God. OK, then ONE HUNDRED PER CENT of the time, the windows of heaven HAVE to open up and pour blessings upon the tither that THEY WON’T BELIEVE.

    If it doesn’t happen 100% of the time, it doesn’t apply to the Christian. And it doesn’t.

  3. Tochi Ejiofor says:

    Thank you for this article. It has become pertinent today that what the body of Christ on earth really needs today is to heed to the words of Christ in Matthew 11:29 ‘TAKE MY YOKE UPON YOU AND LEARN OF ME FOR I AM MEEK AND LOWLY IN HEART.’
    Again, Paul made another important point when he wrote to Timothy, ‘STUDY TO SHOW YOURSELF APPROVED UNTO GOD, A WORKMAN THAT NEEDS NOT TO BE ASHAMED, RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH’ 2 Timothy 2:15.

    Humility and Knowledge are partly responsible for the success or failure of the body of Christ here on earth. Sadly, the body of Christ has been overwhelmed by the lack of these two and its obvious.

    • JoAnn says:

      Amen now I understand why when we were told we have to tithe 10 percent and 5 percent of our check weather we had it or not and I said if we do that we want have the money to pay our lights and they will get turned off and they said pay your tithes no matter what. Now I understand why it never felt right about tithing money in the church my husband was right about it being wrong.

  4. Doreen Lydeamore says:

    Recently my church watched a well known tithe teacher on a DVD series to encourage church members to tithe. He asked the question, “why did God invent giving?” He answered, “to get rid of our selfish hearts.” Sounds good but it isn’t right. The bible says, “for God so loved the world He gave…..” Giving is at the heart of who God is, it is the essence of love. God did not even with-hold His only Son but gave Him up for us.

    We are created in the image of a giving God, so giving is written into our DNA. We don’t encourage people to give by telling them they have selfish hearts we encourage people to give by telling them who they are. Affirming their identity in the image of a good and giving God and encouraging them to live out of love as per their design. Yes we can all be selfish but if we continue to look at selfishness instead of at Christ we will just be caught up in the works of trying to fix ourselves.

    This speaker also called Jesus God’s tithe! Can you believe that? God gave 100% of his Son to save you and me 100% and that should tell us something about giving.


  5. Felipe Lazo says:

    I’ve tithed since I’ve worked and I felt so good about that… And now… The firsts paragraphs were just too much to me, but I just can’t think of anything wrong with them.

    I’ll try to read more tomorrow.

    God bless you, thanks a lot.

    • Arthur Tragg says:

      Felipe, Give to the poor and evangelizing!!! Imagine how GREAT you will feel doing that!!

  6. Jason Graham says:

    If something wasn’t already in action when Jesus came to Earth, He pointed towards it in the gospels or He had the apostles and scripture writers to show us the way. Nowhere in the NO are we shown to tithe. Jesus never showed us the example of tithing. He did commend the widow for giving because that’s what we are to do. God never commanded that man love Him. Why would He command our money? As someone pointed out earlier, if we still have room in our life for financial increase and we tithe, something is wrong. Either God is a liar or we’ve misunderstood His word. We all know that He is not a liar so the fault lies with man. We perish because we don’t study to show ourselves approved. If we would put the remotes down and leave social media alone for a while, things will get better.

  7. Bernard Baah says:

    In the new testament, Jesus criticized the scribes and pharisees for tithing a tenth of everything while leaving the other weightier matters of the law undone. He concludes by saying that pharisees and scribes should have done those things without leaving the weightier matters undone. So we see that Jesus taught that it was good to tithe, but it was also important to pay attention to the weightier matters of the law such as mercy, justice, and faith.

    MAT23.23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

    • Jason says:

      One thing we need to look at and that is that the gospels aren’t new testament. Gal 4:1-7 & Hebrews 9: 16-18. Up until the time that Jesus died it was still OT. Nowhere in scripture does it ever say stop tithing food and start tithing money.

  8. Nicolas G says:

    Interesting! I always debate on that myself. 10% is a huge chunk, and now you say that tithe isn’t required and it probably isn’t, unless you feel the call. Let’s dwell on this verse Mark 12:41-44.

    41 Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. 42 Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites,[a] which make a quadrans. 43 So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.

  9. Jason says:

    Nicolas G, she gave 2 mites. She didn’t tithe at all. Jesus commended her because she gave from her heart and not her abundance.

  10. Josh says:

    But Israel’s animals or food was there wealth, at that particuliar time in life, people did not have money to give as much, becaus eit was the food and the service of the animals that kept everything functioning. If we compare it to today’s time, what is the main source of income? It is money and because today everything is run by money, how could one possibly expect a church to function without the tithing? Also Deuteronomy 14:22-26 states that indeed jews were to tithe 10% of their possessions, however it was also stated that if they couldn’t then to tithe 10% of your money instead, so that goes back to us who follow’s God’s law. Who in america really have animals and food to offer? I typically don’t grow or matin a farm, so I would have to, accordingly to God’s law, to pay 10% of my earnings.

    • Jason says:

      Josh, if you go to Genesis 17, Money was in the land. Also, there were actually 3 different tithes. Two given annually and one every 3rd year. So, if you want to really pay the type of titheso that literally Israel paid, you need to give 23 1/3%. Josh, I ask can you show where Jesus or any of the apostles tithed? God wants us to follow His example of giving from the heart. God never commanded man to love Him. Why would He put a mandate on man for his money? If He made us tithe, He would be going against His own teaching in 2Corinthians 9. As you said, most of us don’t own farms. Neither did all of Israel. John the Baptist taught giving 50% when he said if you have two coats and see a brother in need, share with him. Jesus taught giving 100% from the heart when He commended the widow for what she did. I’ve heard may preachers/christians say that there was no money and that’s why people gave food and animals. If God was that unknowing that He didn’t know that He wanted people’s money but didn’t give them any, what kind of God is He? When I say that tithing is not for the church, people’s response is how do you pay the bills? Giving!!! Giving is anywhere from 1-100%. Tithing is simply 10%.

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