The Modern Practice of Tithing in Light of Christ Fulfilling the Law: Part 4


This is the fourth 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). The third post looked at how tithing was enforced by a king (Hezekiah), a reformer (Nehemiah), and two prophets (Amos and Malachi). This post will look at what Jesus and Hebrews 7 said about tithing, and will also take a look at tithing in history. My references will be included in the final post.

———————————————————————————–

IV. Tithing Spoken of in the New Testament

Passage 14: Matthew 23:23

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

The Pharisees, who rigorously followed the letter of the law, tithed different types of herbs from the ground, not Roman currency. Jesus affirmed that they were correct in doing so, although other matters of the law were more central. His main concern was the same concern that Nehemiah, Amos, and Malachi had. Justice, mercy, and faith were being neglected.

Jesus’ audience was still under the Law. The Law of Moses was still in effect during Christ’s ministry, because He had not yet gone to the cross. Therefore, all the Israelites who had land were to tithe from their herds and crops to the Levites, strangers, fatherless, and widows. They were even to consume some of it themselves at the annual festivals. There were still Levites, the temple was still standing, and the priests were still ministering and offering sacrifices. Not only the Pharisees, but other eligible Jews as well, were correct in tithing their crops and animals, and tithing to the poor.

Passage 15: Luke 11:42

But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

This is a parallel passage to Matthew 23:23. This wasn’t the only time Jesus advised someone to submit to Mosaic Law. For example, in Matthew 8:1-4, Jesus healed a leper, then told him to show himself to the priest and “offer the gift that Moses commanded.” To be consistent, if we’re going to say that the law of tithing here applies to us, we should also apply this law regarding lepers. Why don’t we do that? Are we authorized by Scripture to pick and choose which Mosaic laws we still want to keep?

            Passage 16: Luke 18:9-14

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus is neither promoting nor devaluing tithing here. His point was that no one can trust in his own righteousness for acceptance with God. The Pharisee did just that, and he felt that all of his efforts to tithe and fast would help his case. He even went beyond the Law by tithing on all that he possessed. Jesus indicated that he was proud. The tax collector came before God as a sinner who had no merit to offer. He cried out for mercy, and was justified.

            Passage 17: Hebrews 7:1-10

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

The author of Hebrews spoke in chapter 6 of the hope set before us, which anchors our soul. Abraham is seen as an example of one who “obtained the promise” (verse 15). The author concluded chapter 6 by saying that Jesus has become an eternal High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. This idea had already been established in Psalm 110:4.

Quoting Warren Wiersbe, Dr. Thomas Constable (2006) briefly outlined the next 4 chapters: “In Hebrews 7, the writer argued that Christ’s priesthood, like Melchizedek’s, is superior in its order. In Hebrews 8, the emphasis is on Christ’s better covenant; in Hebrews 9, it is His better sanctuary; and Hebrews 10 concludes the section by arguing for Christ’s better sacrifice.”

Hebrews 7 is far more descriptive of Melchizedek than both the Genesis 14 and Psalm 100 passages. Still it’s not easy to understand his identity. Some interpret Melchizedek to be a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. Matthew Narramore (2004) writes that scholars “and theologians debate whether this language referring to Melchizedek’s endless life is literal or symbolic.”

Dr. Constable (2006) says a “literal interpretation of this verse [7:3] might lead one to conclude that Melchizedek was an angelic being, but there is no indication elsewhere in Scripture that he was anything but a human being.” He then states the facts: (1) he was a king-priest, (2) he was a blesser, (3) he received tithes, and (4) he had a significant name.” He adds that one of the writer’s aims, as seen in verse 4, was “to show how great Melchizedek was compared to the venerated patriarch Abraham.”

Dr. Constable also makes a note about the style in which the passage is written:

Verse 4 sounds as though the Jewish priests were presenting offerings in Herod’s Temple when the writer wrote… However it is more likely that we should take these present tenses as timeless. The writer was describing what had been done in Judaism as though it was still going on for the sake of vividness (cf. 7:27-28; 9:7-8, 25; 10:1-3, 8; 13:10-11).

One of the points of this passage is that Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham, was greater than him (7:7). Melchizedek’s priesthood, of which we have limited detail, as a prototype of Christ is superior to that of the Levites (7:8-11). Narramore concludes that the phrase “there he receives them” (7:8) refers to Melchizedek once receiving tithes. He also cautions:

Hebrews 7:8 has been taken out of context and misinterpreted. It is erroneously considered by some to be teaching that tithing is the customary way of giving in the New Covenant. This passage of scripture is part of a weighty and complex theological argument. The casual reader may not comprehend its meaning. It requires a careful study of the whole passage, verse by verse and word by word, to get a clear understanding of what is being said.

Some say that Christian ministers are authorized to receive the tithes that formerly belonged to the Levites, based on the idea that both the Levitical priesthood and the tithing laws have been modified. In other words, today’s Christian ministers have replaced the Levites, and are to receive monetary tithes.

Looking beyond the passage quoted above, the law which needed to be changed (7:12) does not refer to tithing, but to the entire Law of Moses received under the Levitical priesthood (7:11). The Law needed to be changed, just as the priesthood had been changed (7:12). That the Law of Moses is being spoken of is made even more clear in verses 19 and 28. Regarding verse 12, Dr. Constable says:

The priesthood was such a major part of the whole Mosaic Covenant that this predicted change in the priesthood signaled a change in the whole Covenant. This verse is one of the clearest single statements in the New Testament indicating that God has terminated the Mosaic Law (Covenant; cf. Rom. 10:4). Paul went on to say that Christians, therefore, are not under it (Rom. 6:14-15; Gal. 3:24-25; 5:1; 6:2; 2 Cor. 3:7-11). It is not what God has given to regulate the lives of Christians.

Verse 18 points out that “the former commandment” was annulled because it was weak and unprofitable, and no one was made perfect by it. The priests also had weaknesses, because they were limited by death (7:23) and had to offer sacrifices daily (7:28). No wonder they were earlier called “mortal men” (7:8). They have been superseded by a High Priest, Jesus (7:26).

We are told that Christ now mediates a better covenant, with better promises (8:6). The first covenant had faults (8:7), but the biggest fault God found was with the people (8:8). He promised a new covenant in which He would write His laws on the hearts and in the minds of His people (8:8-12). The author of Hebrews concluded that the old covenant was obsolete, growing old, and ready to vanish away (8:13). Dr. Constable comments,

The Mosaic Covenant is now ‘obsolete’ and even as the writer wrote the Book of Hebrews it was also ‘growing old.’ It virtually disappeared in A.D. 70 when the Romans destroyed the temple, terminated its ritual, and scattered the Jews throughout the world (cf. Matt. 24:1-2).

Matthew Narramore (2004) gives his take on why Abraham’s tithe is recorded in Hebrews:

The discussion of tithing in Hebrews chapter 7 was only included to prove that the priesthood of Melchizedek was superior to the Levitical priesthood. By proving that point the writer would also prove that Jesus is superior to the priests of the Old Covenant because Psalm 110:4 had prophesied that he would be a priest forever, “after the order of Melchizedek.” That was the ultimate purpose of the argument, to prove that Jesus was greater than the Old Covenant priests.

Tithing is part of the comparison and the argument because the tribe of Levi was symbolically in the loins of their great-grandfather Abraham when he met Melchizedek and gave him a tithe. Therefore it can be said that Levi paid a tithe to Melchizedek and received a blessing from him. Paying the tithe to Melchizedek and receiving the blessing from him are both considered by the writer of Hebrews to be proof that Melchizedek was greater than Levi and all the Old Covenant priests, which came from the tribe of Levi (Heb. 7:1–17).

Jay Snell (1995) deduces a great deal from this incident in the life of Abraham. He says that God infuses reproductive power into our money when we release it as a tithe or an offering: “With the supernatural, Abrahamic blessing power God promised and gave in His covenant with Abraham, He gives life to the inanimate money when you tithe it and give it in the form of offerings so that it reproduces itself.” Snell concludes that God gave us this power in order to continue His “Abrahamic Covenant” with us, and so that we can be “extremely wealthy” (p. 8).

Matthew Narramore (2004) would disagree: “Abraham was not made rich by giving a tithe to Melchizedek. He was already exceedingly rich before he gave it” (Chapter 2).

This passage does not set out to endorse tithing as a doctrine to be practiced, but seeks to endorse Jesus as our High Priest. As Russell Kelly (2000) says, “The New Testament’s only use of ‘tithe’ after Calvary is in Hebrews 7, and it teaches that God abolished tithing and all other ordinances relating to the Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7:5, 12, 18)” (p. 267). Intentional or not, the modern practice of tithing seems to be an attempt to resurrect something which God has abolished.

C. Tithing in History

The following observations are made in the Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2006):

Tithes were not adopted by the Christian church for over seven centuries. Although rejected, they were mentioned in councils at Tours in 567 and at Mâcon in 585. They were formally recognized under Pope Adrian I in 787… [Today] Word of Faith advocates espouse that tithing, which is inspired in the individual by God, will enable blessings, usually financial, with references to ten or hundred-fold increases… In recent years, tithing has been taught in Christian circles as a form of “stewardship” that God requires of Christians. The primary argument is that God has never formally “abolished” the tithe, and thus Christians should pay the tithe (usually calculated at 10 percent of all gross income from all sources), usually to the local congregation (though some teach that a part of the tithe can go to other Christian ministries, so long as total giving is at least 10 percent). Some holding to prosperity theology doctrines go even further, teaching that God will bless those who tithe and curse those who do not.

David Yeubanks (2006) has compiled more than 100 quotes on tithing from encyclopedias, dictionaries, commentaries, and other sources. Below is just a small sample of quotes which reveal the place of tithing during the earliest centuries after Christ’s ascension:

[1] “It is admitted universally that the payment of tithes or the tenths of possessions, for sacred purposes did not find a place within the Christian Church during the age covered by the apostles and their immediate successors” (Hasting’s Dictionary of the Apostolic Church).

[2] “The early Church had no tithing system … it was not that no need of supporting the Church existed or was recognized, but rather that other means appeared to suffice” (The New Catholic Encyclopedia).

[3] “In the Christian Church, as those who serve the altar should live by the altar (1 Cor., ix, 13), provision of some kind had necessarily to be made for the sacred ministers. In the beginning this was supplied by the spontaneous offerings of the faithful” (The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia).

[4] “[The Jews] had indeed the tithes of their goods consecrated to Him. In contrast, those who have received liberty set aside all their possessions for the Lord’s purposes, bestowing joyfully and freely not the less valuable portions of their property, since they have the hope of better things” (Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W 1.484, 485) – Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs [p. 645]).

[5] “If we still live according to the Jewish Law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace” (Ignatius [c. 105, E] – Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, p. 393).

Ken Westby (2006) recently wrote an article for the Churches of God, the fifth in a series on tithing, which featured a variety of views. Observing the first two quotes above, Ken asked:

How, then, was a tithing system introduced as a means of financing the work of the church? Early-church history shows that, just as the Catholic Church, by its own authority, made other far-reaching changes that have been carried down in the Christian-professing world, that church is responsible for much of today’s misunderstanding on the subject of tithing.

Russell Kelly (2006) notes that the following well-known early Church fathers explicitly opposed the practice of compulsory tithing: Clement of Rome (c95), Justin Martyr (c150), The Didache (c150-200), Irenaeus (c150-200) and Tertullian (150-220).

He shows in his book (2000) that tithing did appear in a limited fashion in the life of the early Church. He says that its introduction came “in direct proportion to the disintegration of the doctrine of the priesthood of believers and the emergence of the power of the bishop-priests” (p. 247). One exception to his “gradual emergence” overview was the large group of Jewish believers who remained “zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20) in Paul’s day:

Almost every denomination’s historians of early church history agree that, until A.D. 70 the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem faithfully attended the temple in obedience to Jewish law and, as faithful Jews, supported the Jewish temple with tithes and offerings in addition to their church support. Acts 21:21-24 can hardly lead to any other conclusion! The Jewish Christians had merely added their unique brand of Judaism into the already diverse Judaism of their day (p. 249).

Of course, these Jews were unable to support the Jewish temple after it was destroyed by Rome in A.D. 70. However, Kelly writes that from the time of Jerusalem’s destruction until the end of the fourth century, a small group of professing Jewish Christians held themselves bound by Mosaic Law, but did fellowship with Gentile believers. They were called “Nazarenes.” They later split into three factions, including Pharisaic Ebionites, but throughout their existence they considered Paul to be a false teacher. They “eventually found themselves outside of the recognized church. These Jewish Christians never ceased teaching that strict obedience to the Mosaic Law was necessary for salvation” (p. 249).

Kelly believes that the majority of professing Christians during that time probably wouldn’t have found the modern practice of tithing to be relevant for several reasons:

When the New Testament was written, very few, if any, of the churches were organized into a ruling-bishop system which would require or sustain a full-time minister. The churches were too primitive, too small, too poor, and often had to hide from the authorities to meet. Church buildings did not exist because they would not have been tolerated until about A.D. 200 and did not flourish until after A.D. 260 [due to a temporary lapse of persecution] before being destroyed again in 303” (p. 258).

He quotes from Philip Schaff, who points out that until the end of the second century Christians worshiped mostly in private homes, desert places, at the graves of martyrs, or in the crypts of the catacombs. Tertullian was the first to speak of “going to church,” possibly indicating the presence of special houses of worship. Around the same time, Clement of Alexandria mentioned the double meaning of the word “ekklesia” (p. 251).

Kelly writes that many competing centers of Christianity arose leading up to the 4th Century (p. 247). “Cyprian (200-258) followed Tertullian in Carthage (North Africa only) and was probably the first influential leader to suggest (unsuccessfully) that tithes should support a full-time clergy” (p. 254). Kelly goes on to say:

Cyprian’s church now compared the bishop to the Old Testament high priest, the presbyters to the Old Testament priests, and the deacons to Old Testament Levites. Cyprian merely took what he thought was the next logical step (in this scenario of the role of bishops) and insisted that the clergy should cease all secular work and depend on tithes for full-time support.

However, Cyprian repeatedly insisted that the clergy should only keep the bare minimum which they needed, and give the rest to the poor (p. 255). Kelly quotes from the 1912 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia regarding the evolution of compulsory tithe giving:

‘In the beginning [provision] was supplied by the spontaneous support of the faithful. In the course of time, however, as the Church expanded and various institutions arose, it became necessary to make laws which would insure the proper and permanent support of the clergy. The payment of tithes was adopted from the Old Law, and early writers speak of it as a divine ordinance and an obligation of the conscience. The earliest positive legislation on the subject seems to be contained in the letter of the bishops assembled at Tours in 567 and the Canons of the Council of Macon in 585.’ (p. 259)

Kelly clarifies that these councils only enacted regional church decrees for tithing, but did not yet enforce collection because they didn’t have the backing of the king. The Catholic Church did, however, begin to excommunicate non-tithers (p. 260). Charlemagne was the first king to allow enforced tithing, after the pope convinced him to do so by quoting from the Law of Moses. Rome officially became the “Holy Roman Empire” when Charlemagne was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor in 800 AD. Kelly adds, “It is significant that tithing did not emerge historically until the church became powerful in the secular realm” (p. 260).

Tithing was legally enforced in England in 906 AD by King Edgar. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) raised the status of tithing above all other Church taxes, and at the same time prohibited all interference by the common people in Church affairs. Kelly adds,

In 1067 and 1078, at the Church Councils of Gerona, and in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council, tithing was increasingly applied to all lands under Christian rule. All citizens, including Jews, were required to tithe to the Roman Catholic Church. A typical peasant was giving the first tithe of his land to ruler or landlord (which was often the church) and a second tenth to the church outright. In 1179 the Third Lateran Council decreed that only the pope could release persons from the obligation to tithe, and he exempted the Crusaders” (p. 260).

Not long after the Bible had been translated into the language of the common man, Otto Brumfels, in 1524, proclaimed that the New Testament does not teach tithing” (p. 261), says Kelly. Church-sanctioned tithing began to decline as a practice in the 1700’s. The secular authority of France abolished tithes in 1789. Compulsory parish tithes in England did not disappear until 1936 (p. 261). While Europe was making these changes, a different story was emerging in North America:

In Canada, as late as 1868, the Fourth Council of Quebec declared that tithing was mandatory. For a while tithes were even made mandatory in the French lands of the New World until the territory was sold in the Louisiana Purchase. In 1871 tithes were abolished in Ireland. In 1887 they ended in Italy… Elsewhere, the Eastern Orthodox Church has never accepted tithing and its members have never practiced it. The Roman Catholic Church still proscribes tithes in countries where they are sanctioned by law, and some Protestant bodies still consider tithes obligatory (p. 261).

Tithing was never a legal requirement in the United States, Kelly continues, but the Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists in particular have required their members to tithe 10% of their income (p. 261). Many Assemblies of God, Baptist, Churches of God, Pentecostal, and Holiness churches strongly compel their people to tithe (p. 266).

James Sparks (2005) links the modern practice of tithing to the business-like way churches are run today in the West:

[Most churches] operate as businesses, and when they do, they must have a source of revenue in order to operate the business, and must have an executive or businessman to run the business. But, early churches did not operate as businesses, because God did not set them up to run that way.

Tithing today certainly looks nothing like it did from the time of Moses to the time of Christ. Often only select citations from the Old Testament are used to promote the practice and to say it’s the duty of Christians today. However, the methodology governing the practice almost always comes from outside the Law. I’ve even been told that giving part of a tithe to the poor is not valid because they do not “spiritually feed me.” Instead of receiving tithes, today the poor are compelled to tithe. Televangelists even coerce them into making pledges when they can’t immediately come up with the money, and then pile on guilt, threats, and gimmicks if they fail to follow through.

One minister who teaches tithing, Tim Greenwood (2006), expounds on the “who, what, when, where, why, and how of tithing.” In my experience, Greenwood’s synopsis is fairly typical of current teaching on tithing:

[Who] Whoever desires to worship God.

[What] Giving first 10% of income to God.

[When] Whenever you receive income.

[Where] Where you have been fed the Word of God.

[Why] To worship God and to receive His blessings.

[How] By faith, diligently, promptly, cheerfully.

Tim Greenwood insists that those who don’t tithe are trying to do things their own way rather than God’s way. Like Anonymous Pastor (2003), and Pastors Carter and Clark (2006), he sees this as the same attitude which Cain had. He also says that tithing was “acceptable worship” in the Old Testament Law, and nothing was said otherwise in the New Testament. “Anyone who claims Jesus as their Lord and does not give Him at least ten percent of their money should face the truth: money is their Ruler, not Jesus,” he concludes. He lists four reasons why Christians do not tithe: [1] unbelief [2] fear [3] greed, selfishness [4] lack of right teaching.

Ironically, he says that to forsake tithing is to “invent a new method.” The truth is that the modern system of tithing represents a new and unbiblical method.

——————————————————————————-

In Part 5, we will discuss different ways that the law of Moses is viewed today, including a summary of the book of Galatians, followed by an analysis of tithing in light of Christ having fulfilled the law.

All posts from this series, and on the subject of tithing, can be found here.

Advertisements

The Modern Practice of Tithing in Light of Christ Fulfilling the Law: Part 3


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.

Revelation Chapter 6 (Part 2)


REVELATION 6 (Part 2)

Adam Maarschalk: September 3, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 6:1-17 (Part 2 covers verses 9-17)

This is now the second part of our study on Revelation 6. It is recommended that one refer to the first part before reading what is to follow:

———————————————————————————————————————

E. Fifth Seal: The Cry of the Martyrs (6:9-11)

Rhetorical questions (open for further discussion): [1] In what sense did John see “the souls” of the martyrs (i.e. How can souls be seen)? [2] The martyrs had already passed on from this life and were safe in God’s presence, so why were they still concerned about vengeance? [3] If they hadn’t yet received their redeemed bodies, what were they to do with the white robes they were given? Were these literal robes?

Sam Storms says,

The fifth seal focuses on the oppression and martyrdom of God’s people. Unlike the first four seals, the fifth says nothing of an angelic decree of judgment or suffering but rather a human response to it… John’s language indicates that there is a specified number of God’s people who are destined to be martyred (the verb translated ‘should be completed’ in v. 11 can mean ‘to make something total or complete, to complete the number of’” (Aune, 2:412). Only when all have been killed in accordance with God’s plan will he act in judgment (http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/the-seven-seals-part-ii/).

Dr. Thomas Constable remarks (p. 71), “‘Those who dwell on the earth’ is almost a technical expression in Revelation describing unbelievers who are hostile to God (cf. 3:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12; 17:2, 8).” I would agree, and would again add that the term “earth,” as considered earlier, refers specifically to the land of Israel and Palestine. [In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subjectbeginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]

The hostile unbelievers were primarily the apostate Jews of John’s day. Steve Gregg, editor of “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” remarks (p. 118):

As the blood of sacrificial animals was poured out at the foot of the altar (Lev. 4:7), so the souls of the martyrs (slain like animals by the Jewish priests) are seen under the altar (v. 9). “The soul [Heb. nephesh] of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11). Their blood cries out for vindication, as did the blood of Abel (Gen. 4:10). The fact that the martyrs are asking for the avenging of their blood upon those who dwell on the earth [or land] (v. 10) suggests that their persecutors were still alive on earth at the time John saw the vision. Prior to A.D. 70, the main persecutors of the righteous Jews and Christians were the leaders of the Jewish nation, headquartered in Jerusalem (Luke 13:33).

These thoughts are brought together by Jesus when He predicted: “that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah…whom you murdered between the temple and the altar… All these things will come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:35f). The destruction of Jerusalem in that generation was the sentence of the divine Judge in response to the cries of the blood (souls) of the righteous slain by her leaders.

Indeed, Jesus couldn’t have been more clear that His own generation in Israel would be held responsible for the shedding of the blood of the saints, prophets, and Himself (Matthew 21:33-45, 23:29-38). We will also see in our study of Revelation 18 that the “saints and apostles and prophets” (verse 20) will be invited to rejoice over the destruction of Babylon the Great, i.e. Jerusalem (18:18, 21; cf. 11:8), because in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on the earth” (18:24; cf. 16:5-6). Their time of waiting (6:11) will have ended at that point. Babylon the Great, then, cannot be a city in the 21st century or beyond, because Jesus stated explicitly that the generation which crucified Him would be the one held responsible for the shedding of righteous blood and justly judged as a result. The generation which heard Jesus speak these things also saw them happen, just as He said they would, in 70 AD. Steve Gregg quotes J. Stewart Russell, who, writing in 1887, said:

[I]t is impossible not to be struck with the marked resemblance between the vision of the fifth seal and our Lord’s parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8): ‘And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith in the land?’ This is more than resemblance: it is identity.

One more note: These martyrs simply asked God to do what He had said long ago that He would do. This was not a brand new request. It was not a question of “if” this judgment would happen but “when” it would happen.

F. Sixth Seal: Cosmic Disturbances (6:12-17)

Verses 12-14: Sam Storms agrees with Preterists when he remarks,

“These verses and their vivid portrayal of disruptions in the heavens echo several OT texts: Isa. 13:10-13 (the defeat of Babylon); 24:1-6,19-23; 34:4 (the defeat of Edom); Ezek. 32:6-8 (the defeat of Egypt); Joel 2:10, 30-31 (judgment on Israel itself); 3:15-16; Hab. 3:6-11 (the defeat of the Chaldeans and other enemies of Israel). In particular, compare Isaiah 34:4 and God’s judgment against historical Edom with Rev. 6:13-14a.

‘and the powers of the heaven will melt, and the heaven will be rolled up like a scroll; and all the stars will fall . . . as leaves fall from a fig tree’ (Isa. 34:4).

‘and the stars of the heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind, and the heaven was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up’ (Rev. 6:13-14a).

The point is this: all these celestial (heavenly) and terrestrial (earthly) phenomena are prophetic hyperbole for national catastrophe. God’s judgment of earthly unbelief and idolatry is described in terms of heavenly disasters.

N. T. Wright is surely correct in contending that “it is crass literalism, in view of the many prophetic passages in which this language denotes socio-political and military catastrophe, to insist that this time the words must refer to the physical collapse of the space-time world. This is simply the way regular Jewish imagery is able to refer to major socio-political events and bring out their full significance” (Victory, 361)… In summary, Revelation 6:12-14 is stock-in-trade OT prophetic language for national disaster.”

Verses 15-17: “What sinners dread most is not death, but having to stand before a holy and righteous God” (Dr. Thomas Constable, quoting from Robert Thomas, ibid).

FUTURIST VIEWPOINT: “Next God will send a tremendous earthquake that will rock the whole world (cf. Luke 21:11). The darkening of the sun (cf. Isa. 13:10; Ezek. 32:7-8; Joel 2:10, 31; Amos 8:9; Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24-25; Luke 21:25), the reddening of the moon (cf. Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20), and the falling of the stars to earth (a meteor-like shower?) appear from the context to be consequences of this judgment… Many commentators have taken this description as picturing a metaphorical convulsion among the nations, not a literal shaking of the earth and the heavens. We should probably take them literally for at least two reasons. First, Jesus used the same language in the Olivet Discourse and gave no indication that it was symbolic[1] (cf. Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11). Second, a shaking of the nations follows in verses 15-17” (Dr. Thomas Constable, p. 72, ibid).

As J. Stuart Russell pointed out, though, the “gorgeous symbolical imagery” used in this passage is fitting for the destruction of Jerusalem because “[t]hat event is not simply a tragical historical incident; it is not to be looked at as in the same category with the siege of Troy or of Carthage. It was a grand providential epoch; the close of an aeon; the winding up of a great period in the divine government of the world” (Steve Gregg, p. 124). Gregg clarifies, “The vision depicts the end of the Jewish state and the fall of its leaders” (p. 122).

In verse 17, John’s readers are told that the great day of God’s wrath has come. J. Stewart Russell says of this day (Gregg, pp. 120, 122), “This is… ‘the great and terrible day of the Lord‘ predicted by Malachi, by John the Baptist, by St. Paul, by St. Peter, and, above all, by our Lord in His apocalyptic discourse on the Mount of Olives. … It is impossible to overlook the connection between the seventeenth verse and the language of Malachi 3:2, ‘But who may abide the day of his coming?’ ” Revelation 6 ends with the question, “and who can stand?” We will see the answer to this question in our study on chapter 7.

Verse 16: It is said that those who would not repent called “to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb…’” F.F. Bruce said the following in 1986 regarding this verse: “The best commentary on the present passage is found in our Lord’s words to the ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ on the Via Dolorosa (Lk. 23:30)…” (“Revelation” in International Bible Commentary, p. 1608). This is what Luke 23:27-30 says:

And there followed Him [Jesus] a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for Him. But turning to them Jesus said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us,” and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?

Jesus spoke these things to the “daughters of Jerusalem,” concerning themselves and their children. If these things were to take place centuries later in judgment upon Gentile nations, why would He have directed these remarks in this way to the present generation of Jews among whom He lived?

The same prophecy was given by the prophet Hosea concerning Israel: “The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us, and to the hills, Fall on us” (Hosea 10:8). This is yet another indication that the judgments of the book of Revelation were directed toward apostate 1st-century Israel (Source).

On July 31, 70 AD, after a five month siege, the Romans succeeded in penetrating the final wall around Jerusalem and burned the temple to the ground. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed, but the surviving Jews retreated to the Upper City of Jerusalem, where many continued to plunder, ambush, and assault their fellow Jews. The victims were too weakened by famine to resist, and quite a few were killed senselessly. Josephus tried to persuade them to surrender to the Romans and spare what was left of the city, but he was only laughed at. Josephus also records that when the temple was burned in August 70 AD, many survivors retreated to Upper Jerusalem and longed for death. Josephus said in Wars 6.7.2 that “as they saw the city on fire, they appeared cheerful, and put on joyful countenances, in expectation, as they said, of death to end their miseries.” Many Jews sought refuge in the caves and underground caverns, hoping to remain hidden once the Romans would reach the Upper City, as Josephus records (Steve Gregg, pp. 124, 126):

So now the last hope which supported the tyrants and that crew of robbers who were with them, was in the caves and caverns underground; whither, if they could once fly, they did not expect to be searched for; but endeavored, that after the whole city should be destroyed, and the Romans gone away, they might come out again, and escape from them. This was no better than a dream of theirs; for they were not able to lie hid either from God or from the Romans (Wars, 6:7:3).

The Romans not only ravaged and leveled Jerusalem, but during the next three years they rooted out the Jews who had fled Jerusalem and attempted to hide out in various pockets of resistance in the Dead Sea areas. The famous hill fortress of Masada was the last to be taken by the Romans in April 73 AD, where 960 Jews committed mass suicide.

————————————————————————————————————————

Our study of Revelation 7 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] It can be said, though, that this language is indicated to be symbolic by the fact that the same type of language was used symbolically many other times in Scripture to refer to localized judgments.

Revelation Study Resources


The following is a list of online resources that we used as we studied the book of Revelation in 2009-2010. (At the bottom of this page are two books that we also used.)

[A] Preterist viewpoint:

[1] http://www.ccel.org/contrib/exec_outlines/rev.htm
-“Revelation: A Study Guide” by Mark Copeland
-Includes all 22 chapters of Revelation
-Also available here: http://executableoutlines.com/rev.htm

[2] http://www.preteristarchive.com/StudyArchive/index.html
-Limited Scripture Study Archive
-Only has commentary on the following texts: Revelation 1:7, 6:16-17, 9:11, 11:1, 13:18, 17:10, 20:1-10

[3] http://www.preteristarchive.com/
-Type a Scripture text into the search box, and you may or may not find some valuable commentary on that particular text, both modern and ancient commentary.

[B] Neutral viewpoint:

[4] http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByScripture/17/
-John Piper’s sermons on Revelation over the years
-Generally non-eschatological
-Sermons available only for chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 19, 21, 22

[C] Futurist and/or Dispensationalist viewpoint:

[5] http://www.gcfweb.org/institute/general/revelation.pdf
-From the Grace Institute for Biblical Leadership
-In outline form, and covers all 22 chapters of Revelation
-In PDF format, so they can be saved and read offline

[6] http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/revelation.pdf
-Notes on Revelation from Dr. Thomas Constable, Department Chairman and Senior Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary
-In outline form, and covers all 22 chapters of Revelation
-In PDF format

[7] http://www.studylight.org/com/guz/view.cgi?book=re
-Commentary on the book of Revelation from David Guzik, director of Calvary Chapel Bible College in Siegen, Germany.
-In outline form, and covers all 22 chapters of Revelation

[D] Dr. Sam Storms/Historicist viewpoint

[8] http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/studies/eschatology/
-Sam Storms is an Amillennialist, and the best I can tell he is also a Historicist. His writings on the various Millennial views came in handy in our study of Revelation 20.
-His commentary at the above site covers Revelation 10, 11, 12, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21
-He also writes about the seven seals (chapters 6, 8); the seven trumpets (chapters 8, 9, 11); and the seven bowls (chapter 16).
-His meditations on Revelation 2-3 (letters to the seven churches) are here: http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/biblical-studies/ (scroll down the page 1/3 of the way)

**********************************************************************************************************

The following are offline sources (books) that we used in our study of Revelation:

[1] Gentry, Kenneth L. Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (An Exegetical and Historical Argument for a Pre-A.D. 70 Composition). American Vision: Powder Springs, Georgia, 1988.

[2] Gregg, Steve. Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary). Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, 1997.