I would like to start with understanding where the word comes from and why it also comes with such a bitter taste in your mouth on saying it. The word “tithe” comes from the Old English word teogothian which means literally “tenth”. A tithe was paid to the church. Across Europe and from as early as the 6th century to as late as the early 20th century; a tithe was a state mandated tax that was paid to the church and came with severe penalties if not paid.
The first mention of anything resembling a tithe in the bible is in Genesis chapter 4; Cain and Able presenting an offering before the Lord. There has been much debate for centuries on why Abel’s offering was acceptable and Cain’s was not. For me, it is simply an issue of the heart behind the offering that is in question. We fast forward to Noah, upon getting off the ark, makes an offering to the Lord. Moving forward again; Abraham is asked to present Isaac as an offering to God. Offerings are a regular part of honoring God.
So what’s an “offering”? Merriam-Webster defines as; “something offered; especially: a sacrifice ceremonially offered as a part of worship”. Dictionary.com adds; “to present something as an act of worship or devotion; sacrifice”.
“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD's; it is holy to the LORD. If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman's staff, shall be holy to the LORD. One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.” (Leviticus 27:30-33 ESV)
So an offering is to present something as an act of worship, devotion or sacrifice; a tithe is a specified offering…the first 10 percent. Where do we get the idea of the first 10 percent?
When Nehemiah came to Jerusalem, he not only set on rebuilding the wall, but was set on getting the people right with God by following all His commandments. Among these, he echoed the words of Moses in regards to tithes and offerings:
So let me see if I can put this in perspective for you.
Now if you are truly grateful, you will give the first and the best 10% to show your gratitude for all that you have been given. You would not give the left over or the rotten. If you were truly grateful, you would give the best 10%...the first fruits of your labor.
Now because we are human, we are sinful and we are selfish; we have short memories. So soon we stop honoring our benefactor. Soon we make excuses.
Soon we may see someone in need and give to them a portion of our harvest. We say to ourselves; “I am giving 10%, I just gave it to someone else. That’s my tithe.” But the land owner will say to you; “That was a noble thing to offer a gift to someone in need, but that is not what I asked of you. I asked that you honor my gift to you by returning to me 10% of your yield.”
The land owner may even leave someone else in charge of his estate. And that person may abuse his position and treat the land owner’s property poorly. He may misuse his authority and all he has been entrusted. So we use the excuse that we are not going to give our tithe to be misused and refuse to give it. Or even send our tithe off to somewhere else. But the land owner will say; “I will deal with those who misuse what I have entrusted to them, but that does not justify you not honoring what I have asked of you.”
We will say to ourselves that we cannot afford to give the 10% of harvest as asked. So we justify our actions by saying; “I will work in the land owner’s field, which will be my tithe.” But the land owner will reply to us by saying; “I appreciate your effort in working in my fields and appreciate the gift of your time, but that is not what I asked for. I hope that you are working my fields out of appreciation of all I have given you. But that does not replace that which I have asked…your tithe.”
“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:6-12 ESV)
WHAT WAS THAT! What God is saying is; you don’t honor my commandments, don’t wonder why you are struggling. You want to be blessed, start by honoring my commandments.
I do not write this to convict you, for that is the job of the Holy Spirit. I do not write this to condemn you, for that is the job of the devil. All I wish to do is to share that which God has placed on my heart. If this is a subject that has been on your heart, I leave you with these verses for study and words for reflection.
May God guide you, bless you and keep you; may the Holy Spirit fill you and strengthen you; and may you always strive to grow in your relationship with your Heavenly Father.