Tithing. So Numbers establishes a tithe to support the Levites. Here we have the outline of a tithe for sacrifice, but one that is eaten before the Lord, not given to the priests. This is explained as a tithe for feasts. (I looked up several resources and they all say the same thing.) These are two separate tithes.
So: there’s a first fruits offering to the priests. Then there’s a tithe to the Levites. Then there’s a tithe for the feasts. And every three years there’s a tithe for the poor and Levites. So in practice this was just over twenty percent of livestock and produce. (Apparently the tithe for the poor was a year off tithing toward feasts, which I don’t understand, except that the inclusion of the Levites would mean they don’t lose their income for those years rather than getting an extra portion.)
Aside from getting tangled up in the intricacies of piecing together the system of financial obligation from at least three separate books, tithing seems worth discussing in several ways.
First, it’s worth mentioning that we are not obligated by law to tithe at all anymore. The New Testament church is encouraged to support one another, to help the poor and displaced, but they are not commanded to give nor recommended a particular percentage. So the system of tithing is one of principle as far as we are concerned today.
Second, the first fruit is offered directly back to God. It is symbolic of the entirety of his provision. It is all his, and this offering is recognizing that. We would do well to work out how best to keep this in mind, in a practical and personal manner.
Third, the tithe to support the Levites. If you want to have a dedicated pastor and ministry team, tithe to your church. You aren’t commanded, sure, but like the Levites, they are giving themselves to service. Yes, bi-vocational ministry is common, but IT SHOULDN’T BE! It is exhausting! If you see the worth of a church building with lights and air conditioning, of regular meetings, of sermons and music and organized Bible Study, I suggest you support it financially and faithfully.
Fourth: the tithe actually covered in this chapter. The tithe of feasts. Ten percent of their increase was devoted to consumption in God’s presence. They were to carry it to a place of his choosing to eat and drink together in observance of his feasts of remembrance and celebration. Yes, I think this can be rolled into idea of providing for the church property along with the ministry team, but these feast were to commemorate the Exodus, to remember the time of slavery, and to remember the time of sojourning, of homelessness. How often do we take for granted our places of worship? Our homes?
My point is, this tithe brought them closer to God, closer to their ancestors, and literally closer to each other. It wasn’t to support the ministry, it was to support the relationships, to observe the covenant. It wasn’t simply handed over, it was engagement. Maybe it’s easier to cut a check, or hit submit in an app, every time we get paid, whether that’s every week, every month, twice a month, whatever it is. We don’t have to worry about keeping track of it or ‘accidentally’ spending it. But think about how much more significant it would feel if you paid up on your tithe three times a year? If you saw that larger number? Would it mean more to you? Would it be harder to do?
We aren’t commanded to tithe anymore, but however you give to the church, it should be significant, and it should be a reminder. It should remind you that none of this is yours. It should remind you that we owe a far greater debt than can ever be paid, and that it was paid for us. It should be a celebration of God’s provision and our community.
Also, how many of us have given ten percent of our income to the poor? Even just for two out of seven years?