This argument is one of the tougher discussions to defend against. We live in a very prosperous world while living under the grace of God. Israel never had the opportunities we have had in our time. How can people living under grace, with a higher calling, and the Holy Spirit possibly be excused from giving less than the 10% tithe that Israel gave?
First, the facts: Israel did give less than 10%
The initial problem with the above argument is believing that 10% was the minimum Israel gave in the first place.
- Israel was only required to give 1/500 of the spoils of war (Numbers 31). The Israelites were not required to give 10% of their spoils of war. They weren’t even required to give one percent.
- Bankers, lawyers, and doctors did not participate in tithes because Israel was only required to give from the increase of their animals or from their crops of the land. They gave 0% from their non-farming occupation.
- Israel’s tithe paid for civil duties. The tithe was a part of Israel’s civic duty and tax obligations. According to Zippia, the average household income in the US is around $87,000. The tax bracket for joint filers at that income level is 22%. Our taxes pay for social welfare, including food, housing, schooling, etc. The budget for the welfare program alone was 1 trillion dollars in 2021. According to Statista, personal income was 21 trillion. In summary, Americans are already giving ~5% of their salary towards one of the welfare programs that exist. This does not include sales taxes that are paid. Don’t get me started on business taxes. If you’re a small business entrepreneur, you understand the absurd amount of taxes you pay towards your civil duty.
- Israel’s rich and poor gave an equal amount of half a shekel for the temple tax. Across the board, everyone was required to give towards the upkeep and maintenance of the temple. A shekel was about 7-8 grams of silver. In today’s value, that could be around $4-$6. This does not equate to the value of silver back then, but it gives you a picture. Regardless, the flat offering was across the board and was more than 10% for some and under 10% for others.
- Israelites never tithed outside of the promised land. When the Israelites lived outside of their land, they did not give a tithe. God only wanted crops and animals that were a part of the increase of the land of Israel. So, a farmer gave 0% of grain towards the storehouse if the crops were grown outside the land. Please read more about why Israel only tithed on food.
- Jesus’ own words to his disciples about ministry said, “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8). Although, his words are not direct proof, it does set a precedent and relieves us from some of the pressure to meet a standard that not even all of the Israelites had to meet.
- Israel only tithed on the increase of animals. If their flock increased by nine animals that year, then they gave 0% of their increase.
10% is not a spiritual principle – it is an earthly standard
God never raised the standards of his principles in the New Testament. We can’t hold ourselves accountable to any of Israel’s requirements. Take a look at priests: they could only serve 25 years from age 25-50 and had to have documented lineage. These aren’t standards that any of us would consider universal principles.
God placed certain rules and restrictions on Israel because he wanted to teach a spiritual principle through earthly regulations. The regulations are not there for us to compare ourselves to. Do you realize how crazy some of the Old Testament laws are that we would find ourselves working towards?
If we can take the tithe and compare it with our efforts in the New Testament, we are opening the door to other rules and regulations for adoption. Where do we draw the line on which Old Testament laws we should supersede? Which laws do we ask ourselves, “How can we do less, serve less, give less, say less, than Israel did?”
God’s spiritual standards are repeatable and applicable across the board. If questioning how we can give less than Israel helps us uncover tithing as a spiritual principle, then this same question could be repeated to compare our efforts versus everything that Israel did. This self-reflection shouldn’t just stop with our wallets.
The question is flawed. Using it to confirm our doctrine may make sense in some instances, but we soon find ourselves realizing that this is a poor question to confirm New Testament practices. If it was a good question, we could apply it to everything.
The truth is that God never raised the bar. His principles have been steady and unwavering. It’s dangerous to base our theology or doctrine on qualitative questioning. How can we give less than Israel did? Well, let’s find out the facts first before we start basing our doctrine on unstable rationale.
You Be The Judge
Now it’s time for the jury to weigh in: