The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 50: Tithes and Offerings
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In the Hebrew economy one tenth of the income of the
people was set apart to support the public worship of God.
Thus Moses declared to Israel: "All the tithe of the land, whether
of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's: it
is holy unto the Lord." "And concerning the tithe of the herd,
or of the flock, . . . the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord."
Leviticus 27:30, 32.
But the tithing system did not originate with the Hebrews.
From the earliest times the Lord claimed a tithe as His, and this
claim was recognized and honored. Abraham paid tithes to
Melchizedek, the priest of the most high God. Genesis 14:20. Jacob,
when at Bethel, an exile and a wanderer, promised the Lord, "Of
all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto
Thee." Genesis 28:22. As the Israelites were about to be established
as a nation, the law of tithing was reaffirmed as one of the
divinely ordained statutes upon obedience to which their prosperity
The system of tithes and offerings was intended to impress the
minds of men with a great truth—that God is the source of every
blessing to His creatures, and that to Him man's gratitude is due
for the good gifts of His providence.
"He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things." Acts 17:25.
The Lord declares, "Every beast of the forest is Mine, and the
cattle upon a thousand hills." Psalm 50:10. "The silver is Mine,
and the gold is Mine." Haggai 2:8. And it is God who gives men
power to get wealth. Deuteronomy 8:18. As an acknowledgment
that all things came from Him, the Lord directed that a portion
of His bounty should be returned to Him in gifts and offerings to
sustain His worship.
"The tithe . . . is the Lord's." Here the same form of expression
is employed as in the law of the Sabbath. "The seventh day
is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God." Exodus 20:10. God reserved [p. 526] to Himself a specified portion of man's time and of his means,
and no man could, without guilt, appropriate either for his own
The tithe was to be exclusively devoted to the use of the
Levites, the tribe that had been set apart for the service of the
sanctuary. But this was by no means the limit of the contributions
for religious purposes. The tabernacle, as afterward the
temple, was erected wholly by freewill offerings; and to provide
for necessary repairs and other expenses, Moses directed that as
often as the people were numbered, each should contribute a
half shekel for "the service of the tabernacle." In the time of
Nehemiah a contribution was made yearly for this purpose. See
Exodus 30:12-16; 2 Kings 12:4, 5; 2 Chronicles 24:4-13; Nehemiah
10:32, 33. From time to time sin offerings and thank offerings
were brought to God. These were presented in great numbers
at the annual feasts. And the most liberal provision was made
for the poor.
Even before the tithe could be reserved there had been an
acknowledgment of the claims of God. The first that ripened of
every product of the land was consecrated to Him. The first of
the wool when the sheep were shorn, of the grain when the wheat
was threshed, the first of the oil and the wine, was set apart for
God. So also were the first-born of all animals; and a redemption
price was paid for the first-born son. The first fruits were to
be presented before the Lord at the sanctuary, and were then
devoted to the use of the priests.
Thus the people were constantly reminded that God was the
true proprietor of their fields, their flocks, and their herds; that
He sent them sunshine and rain for their seedtime and harvest,
and that everything they possessed was of His creation, and He
had made them stewards of His goods.
As the men of Israel, laden with the first fruits of field and
orchard and vineyard, gathered at the tabernacle, there was made
a public acknowledgment of God's goodness. When the priest
accepted the gift, the offerer, speaking as in the presence of
Jehovah, said, "A Syrian ready to perish was my father;" and
he described the sojourn in Egypt and the affliction from which
God had delivered Israel "with an outstretched arm, and with
great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders." And he
said, "He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this [p. 527] land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey. And now,
behold, I have brought the first fruits of the land, which Thou,
Jehovah, hast given me." Deuteronomy 26:5, 8-11.
The contributions required of the Hebrews for religious and
charitable purposes amounted to fully one fourth of their income.
So heavy a tax upon the resources of the people might be
expected to reduce them to poverty; but, on the contrary, the faithful
observance of these regulations was one of the conditions of
their prosperity. On condition of their obedience God made them
this promise: "I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he
shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your
vine cast her fruit before the time in the field. . . . And all
nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land,
saith the Lord of hosts." Malachi 3:11.
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