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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Tithes

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TITHES . According to both North Israelite ( Genesis 28:22 ) and Judæan ( Genesis 14:20 ) tradition, Israel’s patriarchs paid tithes; the custom, therefore, among the Israelites was evidently very ancient. But the institution of offering tithes of the fruits of the field and of the flocks is one which dates back to a period greatly anterior to Israelite history. A tenth of the flocks, fruits, and possessions of all kinds, as well as of the spoils of war, was given to their gods by many peoples, not only of Semitic, but also of Indo-Germanic race.

In the OT two ideas lie at the root of the custom; the more antique apart from its position in the Bible is that which regards the offering of a tenth to the Deity as His due, owing to His being the Supreme owner of the land and all that it brings forth, or that feeds upon it (Leviticus 27:30-33 ); here the underlying thought is that of propitiation, if the Supreme owner does not receive His due, His blessing will be wanting another year. The other idea, which is obviously a later one, is that of thankfulness for the blessings received ( Genesis 28:20-22 ); the tithes were given in recognition of what the Giver of all things had accorded to His worshippers.

Among the Israelites this ancient custom was taken advantage of by the Levitical priesthood, who, as those employed in the sanctuary of Jahweh, claimed for themselves, on behalf of Him, a tithe of all. According to Numbers 18:21-24 the Levites were to receive this in lieu of the inheritance of land which fell to all the other tribes; but they received the tithe on behalf of Jahweh; stress is laid on this point in Numbers 18:24 : ‘For the tithe of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave-offering unto the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance’; the ‘heaving’ of an offering towards the altar was the substitute for the actual consuming of it upon the altar. Although tithes were, of course, intended to be offered once a year ( Deuteronomy 14:22 ), it would appear from Amos 4:4 though the words are ironical that in their anxiety to more than fulfil the requirements of the Law, many worshippers brought them more frequently (the original Hebrew, however, is ambiguous). Though, generally speaking, tithes were offered only to God, yet it is clear that they were sometimes given also to the king (cf. Genesis 14:20 , 1 Samuel 8:17 , Hebrews 7:2; Hebrews 7:4 )]

W. O. E. Oesterley.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Tithes'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/t/tithes.html. 1909.

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