Exploring the Tithe
by Pastor Thomas Kulp
Exploring the tithe in the Lord’s view heavily involves Malachi 3:6-12. These passages are the primary source for a dissertation of God’s instruction for the material items in life. God makes the source of all blessings clear and that He is in control of all things. Visiting these passages involves relating a number of Pentateuch passages that give us a backdrop of the commands that God is revealing to Israel and therefore still affecting us today.
When discussing the subject of the tithe, the need to define the word and differentiate the use of tithe and tax in context becomes necessary. The word tithe is defined as, “The practice of offering to God a tenth of the harvest of the land and of livestock, as holy to the Lord. The idea is also used in a more general sense, meaning offering one-tenth of one’s income to the Lord.” The use of this word and concept is used in Deuteronomy 26:12, as describing the year of the tithe and in Numbers 18:21 to define the use of it to support and compensate the Levites for the work of the priesthood. In contract the word tax is defined as, “Any form of payment levied on people by a supervising authority.” A tax is a payment from human rulers, whereas a tithe is given in obedience and thankfulness to the temple by command of our Holy God.
God gave Israel the land as their inheritance. He made it clear that it was actually a stewardship: “The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants (Lev 25:23). One reason for this was the sinful human tendency to disconnect the gift from the giver (Deuteronomy 6:10–12).” The view is stated that God is the giver of the gift of the Promised Land, and specifically the City of Jerusalem. Israel is but a tenant and all material goods are a gift from the Father. With this in mind there is a necessary fact that needs revealed; God does not need the money, the money is a tool used by a loving God to support and provide for His people. As an example, as in Nehemiah, King Atraxerxes is used by God to provide for His enslaved nation. Vast resources are provided by God through Atraxerxes, the ruler of Persia, which allowed for Israel to return and to rebuild His Holy City and Temple. The lesson is all is a gift from the Father, and the giving of the tithe is a heart condition issue with the nation. “We are dealing with the same unchanging God who requires obedience and who forgives those who repent of disobedience (1 John 1:9). In a world of flux and change, he is the constant.” God has from the beginning been constant. Genesis 14:20 shows Abram giving of a tithe (or tenth) to the Priest Most High, Melchizedek and again in Genesis 28:22 the evidence of a tithe is displayed. God has revealed Himself seeking obedience and a relationship with His people from the beginning of time. Little is asked by God but to worship Him alone. Part of this worship is the giving back cheerfully of the generous gifts that He alone provides.
In Malachi 3:9, the call of the Father is a calling out of the people for “…robbing me”, furthermore states that the people are “under a curse” for the action and heart condition. In Mark 12 the story of the widow’s mite displays the true heart that God desires. The widow gave out of poverty; the widow gave all. The widow displays a giving heart that is also revealed in Matthew 25 with the story of the talents. Here in Malachi the same thing has occurred. God has blessed His people with release from captivity, restoration of the land, and the ability to reconnect with His presence, yet they hold back and rob Him. God knows the heart and knows this to be a condition that reveals another potential abandoning of Him. Once again idols are evolving. These idols steal away the focus on God. God is a god of structure and as written in Malachi 3:6, “I the Lord do not change.”(NIV), therefore what was established in Genesis is consistent in Malachi and in the future times. “Turning toward God means offering Him our entire selves. We can’t claim to follow Jesus and not give toward God’s causes with our time and money. To do so would be to make our beliefs center on what we feel or think, not what we do. Faith requires action.”
All of the verses in Malachi are calling His people back to total obedience and fully back to relationship to Him. God know that the tithe is provided to support the Temple and the Priests in the Temple of God. God’s desire is to have the priests fully committed to the work placed before them in order to serve His purposes. A reduction in the tithe is not only a spiritual failure but also a hindrance to the functionality of the Temple in the everyday life of the nation. The issue evolves around greed. “Greediness is not only a mark of selfishness; it is a token of infidelity and therefore of outright disobedience. The most severe penalty for failure to conform to God’s will is curse.” The way the nation is heading will only lead to great problems. The nation has recently returned from curse in foreign lands, and should not be seeking another act of discipline. The deep love and care of the Lord is displayed through the prophet, Malachi, to call them out and to give them the opportunity to correct and redirect the actions.
God is not painting a picture from ten thousand feet but from a down to earth level where actions that do not follow a proper heart conditions are called out. The blessing is that God desires to bring joy. “He promises that He will respond with an overflowing blessing. It is impossible to out-give God.” What a God that in His infinite wisdom and love sees the error, gives a call to obedience, and does the thinkable; promises overflowing blessings.
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