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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Tithe, etc. (), derived from the word signifying 'ten,' which also means 'to be rich;' hence ten is the rich number, because including all the units under it. This number seems significant of completeness or abundance in many passages of Scripture. Jacob said unto Laban, 'Thou hast changed my wages these ten times' (); 'Am not I better to thee than ten sons?' (); 'These ten times have ye reproached me' (); 'Thy pound hath gained ten pounds' (), etc. This number, as the end of less numbers and beginning of greater, and as thus signifying perfection, sufficiency, etc. may have been selected for its suitableness to those Eucharistic donations to religion, etc. which mankind were required to make probably in primeval times. Abraham gave to Melchizedec, 'a priest of the most high God,' a tenth of all the spoils he had taken from Chedorlaomer (; ). The incidental way in which this fact is stated, seems to indicate an established custom. Jacob's vow () seems simply to relate to compliance with an established custom; his words are, literally, 'And all that thou shalt give me, I will assuredly tithe it unto thee.' The Mosaic law, therefore, in this respect, as well as in others, was simply a reconstitution of the patriarchal religion. Thus, the tenth of military spoils is commanded ( sq.). For the Jaw concerning tithes generally, see , etc. where they are first spoken of as things already known. These tithes consisted of a tenth of all that remained after payment of the first-fruits of seeds and fruits, and of calves, lambs, and kids. This was called the first tithe, and belonged to God as the sovereign and proprietor of the soil (; ). The proceeds of this rent, God, as king, appropriated to the maintenance and remuneration of His servants the Levites, to be paid to them in their several cities (). A person might redeem or commute in money his tithes of seeds and fruits, by adding the value of a fifth part to them (). Out of this tithe the Levites paid a tenth to the priests, called the tithe of tithes, or tithe of holy things (); and another tithe of the produce of the fields belonging to their cities (). The first tithe being paid, the proprietor had to set apart out of the remainder a second tithe, to be expended by him in the courts of the tabernacle, in entertaining the Levites and his own family, etc. (). If the trouble and expense of transporting this second tithe in kind to the tabernacle were too great, he might turn it into money, but this he must take in person, and expend there for the appointed purpose (). It seems that the people were left to their own consciences in regard to the just payment of their tithes, subject, however, to the solemn declaration 'before the Lord,' which they were required to make concerning it every third year (). Possibly the Levites were not prohibited from taking due care that they received their rights, inasmuch as in later times, at least, they paid their own tithes to the priests under sacerdotal supervision ().
Upon examination it will be found that the payments required by Moses of the Jewish people were exceedingly moderate, and were no doubt easily borne till they chose to incur the additional expenses of a regal establishment. It pleased God, while sustaining the relation to them of sovereign and proprietor of the land, to require the same quit-rent of one-tenth which was usually paid to the kings in other nations (;; comp. ). Aristotle speaks of it as 'an ancient law' at Babylon. In Egypt one-fifth was paid to the king, which was more than the first-fruits and first and second tithes put together. This quit-rent God appointed to be paid to the Levites for their subsistence, since their festive share in the second tithes can hardly be accounted part of their income. They had, as a tribe of Israel, an original right to one-twelfth of the land, for which they received no other compensation than the tithes, subject to the sacerdotal decimation, their houses, and glebes. In return for these, they consecrated their time and talents to the service of the public [LEVITES]. The payment of tithes, etc. was reestablished at the restoration of religion by Hezekiah (; ), and upon the return from the captivity by Nehemiah (;; ). The prophet Malachi reproves the people for their detention of the tithes, etc. for which they had brought a divine chastisement by famine upon themselves, and promises a restoration of plenty upon their amendment (; comp. 3:9; ). In our Savior's time the Pharisees scrupulously paid their tithes, but neglected the weightier matters of the law. His comment on their conduct conveys no censure on their punctiliousness on this point, but on their neglect of more important duties: 'These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone' (; ).
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Tithe'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/t/tithe.html.