Misconceptions About Jacob’s Tithing Vow (Part 1)
This is Part one of a two part series. After reading this, article, please continue reading, “Jacob’s Tithing Vow“.
I know there are a majority who disagree with what I’m about to say. Even some of those who believe the same thing as I do – that tithing is not required, will disagree with me about this.
I do not believe that Jacob’s tithing vow in Genesis 28 was deceptive or manipulative. I believe that unclear translation, and preconceived notions about Jacob have implanted wrong assumptions. Before i run through my analysis Let’s quickly overview the scenario leading up to the events of Jacob’s vow:
Jacob just found a resting place to sleep after deceiving Esau out of his birthright and running away. During his sleep, Jacob had a dream in which God promised him multiple blessings. After the dream, Jacob wakes up, renames this place to “bethel” and makes a vow to God. – That should do it for a quick synopsis.
Unclear Biblical Interpretation
First, I believe that many translations of Genesis 28 interpret Jacob’s vow unclearly. Here’s what the NKJV states, “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘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 to my father’s house in peace…'”
I believe the unclear translation comes with one simple little word in that passage – “If”. Let’s reword that passage and use a more clear translation of what I (IMHO) believe it should say. “And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, SINCE God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father’s house in peace”.
Let’s not forget that God just finished stating these exact promises to Jacob in the dream:
- “the land on which you lie I will give to you
- I am with you, and will keep you in all places
- and will bring you back to this land”
We can see that the phrase- “if God”, is constantly misused throughout many other biblical passages:
- Romans 8:31 “What then shall we say to these things? If God [is] for us, who [can be] against us?”
- 2 Peter 2:4 “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned”
- 1 John 4:11 “Beloved, if God so loved us”
Is it really – “If” God loves us? I believe “Since” God loves us would be a more clear translation. Let’s not just take my word for it. here are some others who agree:
Young’s Literal Translation states the beginning of Genesis 28:20 as this, “And Jacob voweth a vow, saying, `Seeing God is with me, and hath kept me in this way which I am going…”
Warren W. Wiersbe in his Old Testament bible commentary states, “The ‘If’ found in many translations of verse 20 can also be read ‘since.‘ Jacob wasn’t making a bargain with God. He was affirming his faith in God”
In “Exploring Genesis: An Expository Commentary” by John Phillips it states, “And Jacob vowed a vow saying, If God will be with me [or better, ‘since God will be with me’; he is not using the language of uncertainty, but of assurance]”.
“Jamieson, Fausset & Brown” states, “Jacob vowed a vow–His words are not to be considered as implying a doubt, far less as stating the condition or terms on which he would dedicate himself to God. Let “if” be changed into “since,” and the language will appear a proper expression of Jacob’s faith–an evidence of his having truly embraced the promise.”
Although Adam Clarke’s commentary does not change the terminology of the passage he does state, “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;”
As a final example, Matthew Henry confirms this meaning by rephrasing Jacob’s words this way, “Seeing God will be with me, and will keep me. . .and seeing he has promised to bring me again to this land”
Jacob didn’t add any amendments to God’s already guaranteed promises, so where do we find that Jacob makes any bargain? For instance, If somehow I told you in a dream that I’m going to unconditionally buy you a brand new car, would you wake up and demand conditions of this agreement? It wasn’t Jacob that drafted the terms of God’s promises. Jacob’s response was telling God – “since you are doing that, then i will do this”
Was the Deceiver Being Deceptive?
The other preconceived notion is that Jacob was being deceptive in his vow. Yes, i believe that Jacob was deceptive at times; but there is no indication that deception was in his heart at that time. As a matter of fact, scripture says quite the opposite. Once Jacob awoke from his dream the bible says he had fear – “Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew [it] not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful [is] this place! this [is] none other but the house of God”
Another situation that clouds our assumptions is that many correlate Jacob’s vow with Jepthah’s careless vow in Judges 11 where he promises God, “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
Jepthah’s vow was made out of uncertainty and not of assurance. It was foolish, and he thought he could use a token from his possessions to persuade God to give him victory. Jacob’s vow was not used as a bargaining chip in this way. God already made a covenant with Jacob, and Jacob honored God back.
As you can see, Jacob immediately named that place “bethel”, fulfilling his vow in vs. 22. In chapter 35, he commands that his family put away the strange gods, therefore affirming that the LORD was his God. Two-third’s of Jacob’s vow was just fulfilled without God completely fulfilling his promises. Did Jephthah do the same? Does Jacob’s fulfillment of his promise seem like a man who is of doubt, or who wishes to bargain with God?
Jacob didn’t fulfill one portion of his vow, and that was because he couldn’t. God stated, “the land on which you lie I will GIVE to you and your descendants”, so once you look at what Jacob promised, “of all that you GIVE me, i will surely give a tenth unto thee”; you find that Jacob had promised to tithe off of what he received from the promised land. It’s kind of hard to give a tithe of the promised land, when you haven’t inherited it yet. For all intense and purposes, Jacob fulfilled his entire vow immediately.
Like i said, many people disagree with me about this issue, but there’s no scripture to back up the claim that Jacob was bargaining or being deceptive with God. As i stated above, scripture is clear in saying Jacob had fear in his heart, not deception. Second, these demands did not originate from Jacob, they came from God. Third, the word “if” is unclear in many other passages in many bible translations. Fourth, Jacob immediately fulfilled his vow.
I hope this helps some of you. I don’t want to just throw out my opinion here so that’s why i compared this translation with other scriptures, and used scriptures to also determine the attitude that Jacob had in his heart at the time.