This is the third post in a series on tithing, as it’s taught in many churches today. This series examines all 17 Bible passages which speak of tithing, and is taken from a term paper I wrote in 2006. The first post included the series outline and an introduction, and covered the two passages where tithing was mentioned prior to the Law of Moses (Genesis 14:8-24 and 28:8-22). The second post examined how tithing was prescribed and practiced under the Mosaic Law (in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). This post will look at how tithing was enforced by a king (Hezekiah), a reformer (Nehemiah), and two prophets (Amos and Malachi). My references will be included in the final post.
III. A King, a Reformer, and Two Prophets Restore Tithing
In Walter Kaiser’s book, “Toward Rediscovering the Old Testament” (1987), he says that the Law of Moses was the basis for much of the teachings of the Biblical prophets. Often they came along when Israel had strayed far from the Law, and challenged the people to return to God’s ways. Kaiser says that there are literally hundreds of citations and allusions in the Major and Minor Prophets to just two Law passages, Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 (p. 182).
More than once in Israel’s history, the tithing system God had ordained was grossly neglected. The poor and the needy were left to fend for themselves. The Levites were not taken care of, and they in turn failed to support the priests and the tabernacle. It was at such points in Israel’s history that God sent Hezekiah, Nehemiah, Amos, and Malachi with a word from heaven.
Passage 8: II Chronicles 31:4-12
Moreover [Hezekiah] commanded the people who dwelt in Jerusalem to contribute support for the priests and the Levites, that they might devote themselves to the Law of the LORD. As soon as the commandment was circulated, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain and wine, oil and honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything. And the children of Israel and Judah, who dwelt in the cities of Judah, brought the tithe of oxen and sheep; also the tithe of holy things which were consecrated to the LORD their God they laid in heaps. In the third month they began laying them in heaps, and they finished in the seventh month. And when Hezekiah and the leaders came and saw the heaps, they blessed the LORD and His people Israel. Then Hezekiah questioned the priests and the Levites concerning the heaps. And Azariah the chief priest, from the house of Zadok, answered him and said, “Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the LORD, we have had enough to eat and have plenty left, for the LORD has blessed His people; and what is left is this great abundance.” Now Hezekiah commanded them to prepare rooms in the house of the LORD, and they prepared them. Then they faithfully brought in the offerings, the tithes, and the dedicated things; Cononiah the Levite had charge of them, and Shimei his brother was the next.
The most common dates given for Hezekiah’s reign are 715-687 BC., soon after the Northern kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BC. Hezekiah ruled over the Southern kingdom of Judah, which didn’t fall to Babylon until 586 BC. Reinstating support for the priests and Levites was just one of his many reforms. He had already cleansed the temple (29:3-19), restored temple worship (29:20-36), gathered all Israel to keep the Passover (30:1-27), destroyed idolatrous high places (31:1), and reappointed the priests and the Levites to their divisions (31:2).
The priests and the Levites needed the support of the people in order to devote themselves to God’s law. Under Hezekiah, the people again brought their food offerings, and their tithes of oxen and sheep and other holy things. Azariah, the chief priest, testified that the priests suddenly had more than enough to eat, and the Lord was blessing them. Storage rooms were prepared in the temple for the offerings, the tithes, and the dedicated things.
Passage 9: Nehemiah 10:28-39
Now the rest of the people—the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the Nethinim, and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, everyone who had knowledge and understanding—these joined with their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes— …And we made ordinances to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, to the house of the LORD; to bring the firstborn of our sons and our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks, to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God; to bring the firstfruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities. And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse. For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the grain, of the new wine and the oil, to the storerooms where the articles of the sanctuary are, where the priests who minister and the gatekeepers and the singers are; and we will not neglect the house of our God.
Nehemiah came to Jerusalem in 445 BC. His reforms occurred around 435-430 BC, about 150 years after Judah went into exile in Babylon. He was a contemporary of Malachi, who also referred to worship at the restored temple (Malachi 1:6-14, 2:7-9, 3:7-10). Cyrus the Persian had given the Jews permission to return to their land, rebuild their temple, and reinstitute the sacrificial system. Nehemiah took a prominent role in reminding the people of God’s code of conduct given to them in the law. Ezra the scribe read the Law of Moses before the people for days (Nehemiah 8:1-18), and the people responded with fasting, confession, and loud cries of repentance (9:1-38).
This passage, quoted here, is very significant regarding tithing and the Law. We see that the people as a whole “entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD [their] Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes.” The vocabulary used here should be very familiar.
When the Israelites were still in the wilderness, Moses communicated in detail the Law God had given him. His address closed with these words: “‘Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen’” (Deuteronomy 27:26). The nature of the curse is given in detail in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. In Nehemiah’s day, they once again heard the law, said ‘Amen,’ and affirmed that they were under obligation to obey all of God’s commands, and thus under a curse. We’ll see this curse brought up again when Malachi proclaims his message, and again when we look at the New Testament.
The first fruits offerings and the tithes were once again reinstated. The tithes for the Levites came from the land, and they were to receive them “in [their] farming communities.” A priest was to be with them when they received the tithes, and only then were they to bring a tenth of their tithes to the House of God.
Many are aware of Malachi’s use of the term “storehouse,” but do not know that true “storehouse tithing” was already spoken of here in Nehemiah 10:37-39. The storehouse and the storerooms literally contained grain, new wine, and oil for the temple workers.
Russell Kelly (2006) recalls that earlier sections of Scripture speak of the Levites living on borrowed land in farming communities. Only a small percentage of the Levites worked in the temple at any given time. They were responsible to bring the Levitical tithe to the temple. Only 1 % of the crops and herds of the people were brought there, to be consumed by the priests and Levites serving on site. The other 9 % remained in the farming communities.
Therefore, 90 % of the tithe (grain, wine, oil, animals, etc.) the people brought to the Levites never made it into the temple, but instead remained in the 48 cities where the Levites dwelled. Also none of the “festival tithe” and none of the “poor tithe” made it into the temple storehouse.
As Russell Kelly (2006) points out, Numbers 18:21-24 instructed the people to tithe to the Levites, and this command is repeated in Nehemiah 10:37. Numbers 18:25-28 instructed the Levites to give a tenth of this amount to the priests, and this command is recalled in Nehemiah 10:38.
Passage 10: Nehemiah 12:44
And at the same time some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions specified by the Law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who ministered.
This passage again states that the tithes, together with offerings and first fruits, were brought into the temple storehouse from the fields. These tithes, consisting of farm produce, were for the priests and Levites. Workers oversaw the operation of the storehouse.
Passage 11: Nehemiah 13:4-13
Now before this, Eliashib the priest, having authority over the storerooms of the house of our God, was allied with Tobiah. And he had prepared for him a large room, where previously they had stored the grain offerings, the frankincense, the articles, the tithes of grain, the new wine and oil, which were commanded to be given to the Levites and singers and gatekeepers, and the offerings for the priests. But during all this I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Then after certain days I obtained leave from the king, and I came to Jerusalem and discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. And it grieved me bitterly; therefore I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room. Then I commanded them to cleanse the rooms; and I brought back into them the articles of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense. I also realized that the portions for the Levites had not been given them; for each of the Levites and the singers who did the work had gone back to his field. So I contended with the rulers, and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their place. Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the storehouse. And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouse Shelemiah the priest and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah; and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered faithful, and their task was to distribute to their brethren.
It didn’t take long for Nehemiah’s reforms to collapse. Tobiah, who had earlier opposed his efforts to rebuild the city walls, had now infiltrated the temple while he was away from Jerusalem. Tobiah was sleeping in a large room in the storehouse! This is where the tithes of grain, new wine, and oil, and other items meant for the Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and priests had previously been kept. The Levites working in the temple were not receiving their portions. The Levites and singers had left their assignments and gone back to their fields. It’s possible that they had already left before Tobiah moved in, rather than being chased out.
When Nehemiah came back and discovered all this, he was grieved and asked why the house of God had been forsaken. He threw out Tobiah’s personal belongings, had the storerooms cleansed and replenished, and appointed new treasurers over the storehouse. The people once again began to contribute their tithes of grain, new wine, and oil.
Dr. Thomas Constable (2004) is the Department Chairman and Senior Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary. In his study notes on Nehemiah, he explains that Nehemiah went to Babylon in 432 BC to report to King Artaxerxes (verse 6). It’s not stated how long he was there. Dr. Constable surmises, “The prophet Malachi reproved the Jews in Judah for the same sins Nehemiah described in this chapter, and conservative scholars usually date his prophecies about 432-431 B.C. Therefore Nehemiah may very well have returned to Jerusalem about 431 B.C.”
Passage 12: Amos 4:1-5
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, “Bring wine, let us drink!” The Lord GOD has sworn by His holiness: “Behold, the days shall come upon you when He will take you away with fishhooks, and your posterity with fishhooks. You will go out through broken walls, each one straight ahead of her, and you will be cast into Harmon,” says the LORD. “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.
This prophecy came some 300 years before Nehemiah’s time. It was directed toward those in the Northern Israeli kingdom of Samaria who oppressed and crushed the poor while living in luxury (4:1). God swore that judgment would come to them (4:2-3). He then used irony to beckon the people to Bethel and Gilgal, main worship sites, but to transgress rather than worship. With biting sarcasm, He told them to bring their tithes, offerings, and sacrifices to Him.
(*The NKJV indicates in a footnote that an alternative translation to “days” in verse 4 is “years,” recalling the command in Deuteronomy 14:28 to lay aside a tithe every third year for the Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows. A number of Bible versions do choose to translate this as “years,” among them the NIV, KJV, and Young’s Literal Translation.)
In any case, it is quite fitting that God would ironically tell them to bring their sacrifices, tithes, and freewill offerings, which they loved to do. From the time of Moses, God had always made needy people a primary concern. Now His people were ‘majoring on the minors, and minoring on the majors.’ The obvious point is that these external practices were secondary to what God desired most, love toward Him and love for their neighbors, especially the poor. This passage helps to illustrate what Jesus later said, that the entire Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:34-40), and that certain matters of the Law were “weightier” (23:23).
Passage 13: Malachi 3:5-12
“And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien— because they do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts. “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, 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. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,” says the LORD of hosts; And all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land,” says the LORD of hosts.
Malachi, like Moses and Amos, picked up the theme of the plight of widows, orphans, and strangers, adding one more segment, wage earners. All were being exploited, and judgment was coming. The sin of the “sons of Jacob” went deeper than failing to tithe and give offerings. They didn’t fear God, Malachi said. One resulting symptom was that they had again stopped keeping God’s ordinances. Who was God talking to?
It’s helpful to see this passage in the context of the entire book. The “word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi” (1:1) was addressed primarily to the priests. He addressed their mocking questions throughout the book (1:2, 1:6, 1:7, 1:12-13, 2:14, 2:17, 3:7, 3:8, 3:13-15). There is no indication that God ever stopped addressing them. He chastised the priests for despising His name, and failing to honor Him by offering polluted offerings (1:6-8), including the stolen, the lame, and the sick (1:13).
He was still addressing the priests in the second chapter, which begins, “And now, O priests…” He had already cursed their blessings (2:2), but affirmed that He still had a “covenant with Levi” (2:4). The priests had corrupted His covenant, however, and had “caused many to stumble at the law.” The people held the priests in contempt (2:9).
In the next chapter, He was still addressing the priesthood, as indicated by the words, “sons of Levi” (3:3). Their once pleasant offerings (3:4) had been replaced by open exploitation of wage earners, widows, the fatherless, and the alien (3:5), the very ones the tithing laws had been designed to benefit.
The priests were told that they had left God’s original ordinances (3:7), and the Lord called them to return to Him. There is no reason to assume that in the next four verses, quoted often by tithe proponents, God let the Levites off the hook and only rebuked the common people.
The whole system of tithing and offerings was in disrepair. God said they had robbed Him (3:8). He declared once again that they were cursed (3:9), and commanded them to obey Him with their tithes of food (3:10). The temple storehouse didn’t have enough food for the temple workers anymore, because of their neglect. Finally, God repeated His conditional blessing, previously given to Moses. If the nation would obey Him, their vines, fields, and the ground would again bear fruit (3:10-12).
Regarding blessings and curses, God simply restated what was already clear in Mosaic Law. The Law of Moses required the Israelites to keep many laws (of which tithing was just one) in order to receive blessings. They were automatically under the curse of the Law if they failed to keep even one of the 613 commands in the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 27:26, Galatians 3:10).
It seems that the Levites were chiefly involved in robbing God in Malachi’s day. They were the ones who brought the tithe (of the people’s tithe) into the storehouse, so that those working in the temple had food to eat. God’s charge here in Malachi 3 is that they were keeping almost 100% of their portion for themselves, causing the priests and temple workers to go hungry. Regarding offerings, they were also the ones giving inferior food offerings, and sacrificing inferior animals on God’s altar (1:6-8).
Malachi 4:4 summarizes his message well: “Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.” It’s precisely because the sons of Levi and their followers were not doing so that they were faced with a curse.
Some, however, view this passage in Malachi very differently. Pastors Carter and Clark (2006) believe that those who fail to tithe today are breaking several of the 10 Commandments, the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 10th. They say, “The eighth commandment forbids theft. God says that to refuse Him the portion He requires is theft (Mal. 3:8).” They say non-tithers are also guilty of breaking the first two commandments, because they can’t “find it in their hearts to return to God a portion of His goodness.”
Carter and Clark maintain that tithing is still required today because the third chapter of Malachi mentions both the day of the Lord’s coming and tithing. Since both are linked together, they say, the world will be “under indictment for theft” (i.e. failing to tithe) when the Lord returns. They also lament the fact that people have forgotten the Law of Moses, including tithing. They imply that we are still to follow the entire Mosaic Law.
Jay Snell (1995) says that the “storehouse” and “My house” of Malachi 3:10 is “where you get fed, whether your church, a book and tape ministry, TBN, a missionary, or a combination of the above, etc.” He says that God asks present day believers to test Him by doing one thing, tithing, and then they can receive the 7 blessings promised in Malachi 3:10b-12. He says they belong to “The Abraham Seed Group,” because Abraham paved the way by giving the first recorded tithe. Abraham “has a good deal going here” for those who also tithe. According to Snell, Abraham had already figured out that he could get “700 % interest” on his tithe investment (p. 11).
He also calls Malachi 3:11 our “blanket insurance policy” against Satan: “But there is a blanket insurance policy that we can have from God against the devourer which stops him from devouring what’s ours, and that insurance policy is tithing” (p. 14).
Anonymous Pastor (2003) agrees with Snell on the point that tithes are still to be given to the storehouse of God. He says the storehouse is “where you receive spiritual nourishment.” He adds that to Israel the storehouse was the Tabernacle, but “to the New Covenant believer [it] is the local church.” He represents many by saying that non-tithers rob God:
IS IT NECESSARY FOR BELIEVERS TO TITHE TODAY? [A.] YES. God admonishes us to tithe (Leviticus 27:30; Proverbs 3:9-10). [B.] If a person does not tithe and present offerings to God, he is robbing God (Malachi 3:8-12). The tithe is not ours to give; it is already God’s possession. If a person only tithes and does not present offerings, he is not giving anything at all to God.
Nathan Foy (2006) would disagree that the offerings spoken of in Malachi had anything to do with money, as is often taught:
Since tithes is used in a plural form is it talking about all 3 types of tithe that were required under law. Secondly, offerings is mentioned in the same context. The offerings talked about [are] in the first few chapters of Leviticus, which are burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. These offerings were primarily animal sacrifices. We no longer practice animal sacrifices today but tithing is practiced widely in the church. Why would we still practice tithing and not animal sacrifices when they are mentioned together in Malachi 3:8? Of course most churches somehow switched the definition of offering to mean the amount you give to their church after you give your tithe. I don’t know where this is Biblical.
Strong’s Concordance (2001) indicates that the Hebrew word, terumah, used in Malachi 3:8 for “offerings,” had nine uses in the Old Testament. It was used on different occasions to describe heave offerings, animal sacrifices and sin offerings, two different taxes, a land offering; and offerings of gold, thread, animal skins, oil and stones for the Wilderness Tabernacle and the Second Temple Period. The two remaining uses were offerings of grain products set aside for the priests, and a portion of the tithe of the Levites to the priests.
In Dr. Constable’s study notes on Malachi (2005), he says regarding Malachi 3:10,
This verse has been used to teach “storehouse giving.” Those who do so view the church building, or the church congregation, as the storehouse into which Christians should bring their gifts to the Lord. Some go so far as to say that it is wrong for Christians to give to the Lord in ways that bypass the local church, for example, giving directly to a missionary. This viewpoint fails to appreciate the difference between Israel’s temple and Christian churches. Israel’s temple was a depository for the gifts that the Israelites brought to sustain the servants and work of the Lord throughout their nation. The Christian church, however, is different in that we have no central sanctuary, as Israel did, nor does the church have a national homeland.
For almost 300 years after Pentecost, Christians didn’t even have buildings of their own which they could call “storehouses.” They lived in nations where it was illegal to be a Christian, much less to receive approval to raise up buildings devoted to Christian worship. The word “church” in the New Testament is not used to describe buildings where God dwelled.
Why is it that in Malachi 3:10-11 the phrases “storehouse”, “food”, “fruit of your ground”, and “the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field” are used? Is God reprimanding Christians in this century through Malachi’s prophecy for not bringing 10% of our income into church buildings, “that there may be [money] in [His] house”?
There is indeed a reason why food is spoken of in Malachi 3:10. As we’ve seen, the tithes under the Law of Moses were food products, not money. It’s also no accident that the blessing promised in verse 11 is that the land would produce fruit and come under God’s protection. The tithes came from the land, and those who tilled the land were the ones responsible to bring the tithes to the Levites.
God designed a brilliant system, which, when its ordinances were followed, benefited everyone. When one link failed, the whole system was affected. The Levites and the priests depended upon this system for their support and livelihood. Without it, the entire Levitical system of worship could not be maintained. In fact, that is exactly what happened, and is one of the reasons why the reforms and rebukes of Hezekiah, Nehemiah, and Malachi became necessary.
Dr. Constable sums up the passage regarding tithes and offerings in Malachi:
The issue in Mal 3:7-12 is not tithing but apostasy. Judah is charged here with abandoning the God who had chosen and blessed them, and turning away from the statutes he had given them to test their loyalty and to mark the path of life he would bless. By retaining for themselves the tithes and other offerings they owed to God, the people showed their idolatrous hearts in placing themselves before God, and they showed their callous hearts in leaving the Levites and landless poor to fend for themselves.
As already noted, Malachi prophesied during the same post-exilic time period as Nehemiah, the reformer. God’s announcement, “You are cursed with a curse” (3:9), should not have been a surprise to the priests, the Levites, or any of the Israelites. If the events of Nehemiah 10:28-29 took place first, they had just recently “entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law, which was given by Moses.” The curse of Malachi 3:9 is nothing less than the curse of the law which Paul writes about in Galatians 3:10-13.
Russell Kelly (2006) makes his application of the passage:
Both the blessing and the curse of Malachi 3:9-11 only lasted until the Old Covenant ended at Calvary. Malachi’s audience had willingly reaffirmed the Old Covenant (Neh.10:28, 29). “Cursed be he that confirms not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen” (Deut. 27:26, quoted in Gal. 3:10). And Jesus ended the curse. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).
In Part 4, we will look at how tithing was spoken of by Jesus and the author of Hebrews, and also look at tithing in church history.
All posts from this series, and on the subject of tithing, can be found here.