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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary


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(See DEUTERONOMY.) Tenths of produce, property, or spoils, dedicated to sacred use. So Abram (and Levi, as in Abram's loins) to Melchizedek the king priest who blessed him (Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7:1-10). Jacob after his Bethel vision vowed a tenth of all that God gave him, should God be with and keep him, and give him bread and raiment, and bring him again to his father's house in peace (Genesis 28:20-22). The usage of consecrated tithes existed among the Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, and Arabians. See 1 Maccabees 11:35; Herodotus i. 89; iv. 152; v. 77; vii. 132; 9:81; Diod. Sic. v. 42; xi. 33; 20:44; Cicero, Verr. ii. 3,6-7; Xenophon, Anabasis v. 3, section 9. The "tithe" (terumot ) of all produce as also of flocks and cattle belonged to Jehovah. and was paid in kind, or if redeemed one fifth of the value was added. Leviticus 27:30-33, "whatsoever passed under the rod": the rabbis had the tradition that the animals to be tithed were enclosed in a pen, from whence they passed one by one under the counter's rod, and every tenth was touched with a rod dipped in vermilion (Jeremiah 33:13; Ezekiel 20:37).

The Levites received this terumot; they in turn paid a tenth of this to the high priest (Numbers 18:21-28; Numbers 18:31). In Deuteronomy 10:9; Deuteronomy 12:5-18; Deuteronomy 14:22; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 18:1-2; Deuteronomy 26:12-14, the general first tithe of all animal and vegetable increase for maintaining the priests and Levites is taken, for granted; what is added in this later time is the second additional tithe of the field produce alone, and for celebrating the sacred feasts each first and second year in the Shiloh or Jerusalem sanctuary, and every third year at home with a feast to the Levites, the stranger, fatherless, and widow. The six years thus marked were followed by the Jubilee year; on it the attendance was the larger because of the scant attendance on the sixth year when most stayed at home. In the Jubilee year there was no tithe, as the land enjoyed its sabbath. Tobit (Tobit 1:7-8) says he gave a third tithe to the poor; Josephus (Ant. 4:8, 8, section 22) also mentions a third tithe; so Jerome too on Ezekiel 45.

Maimonides denies a third tithe (which would be an excessive burden) and represents the seceded tithe of the third and sixth years as shared between the poor and the Levites. (See Selden on Tithes, 2:13). Ewald suggests that for two years the tithe was virtually voluntary, on the third year compulsory. Thus there was a yearly tithe for the Levites, a second yearly tithe for two years for the festivals; but this second tithe on every third year was shared by the Levites with the poor. The kings, Samuel foresaw, would appropriate the three years' poor man's tithe (1 Samuel 8:15; 1 Samuel 8:17). Hezekiah rectified the abuse (2 Chronicles 31:5; 2 Chronicles 31:12; 2 Chronicles 31:19); also Nehemiah after the return from Babylon (Nehemiah 10:38-39; Nehemiah 13:5; Nehemiah 13:12; Nehemiah 12:44).

The Pharisees were punctilious in paying tithe for all even the smallest herbs (Matthew 23:23; Luke 18:12). Amos (Amos 4:4) upbraids Israel with zeal for the letter of the tithe law while disregarding its spirit. Malachi (Malachi 3:10) seconded Nehemiah's efforts. God promises to "open heaven's windows and pour out a blessing" so that there would be no "room to receive it," provided the people by bringing in all the tithes would put Him to the proof as to keeping His word. Christians, whose privileges are so much greater and to whom heaven is opened by Christ's death and ascension, should at least offer no less a proportion of all their income to the Lord's cause than did the Israelite: we should not lose but even in this world gain thereby (Proverbs 3:9-10). Azariah the high priest told Hezekiah: "since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the Lord we have bad enough to eat, and have left plenty, for the Lord hath blessed His people, and that which is left is this great store" (2 Chronicles 31:10).

The New Testament plan of giving is 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7-9. Moral obligation, not force, was what constrained the Israelite to give tithes. He solemnly professed he had done so every third and sixth year (of the septennial cycle), when instead of taking the second or vegetable tithe to the sanctuary he used it at home in charity and hospitality (Deuteronomy 26:13-14; Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Ananias' and Sapphira's declaration corresponds, but it was a lie against the Holy Spirit (Acts 5); Joseph's fifth of Egypt's increase to the sovereign who had saved the people's lives corresponds to, and was perhaps suggested by, the double tithe or fifth paid by Israel long before.

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Tithes'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. 1949.

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