Beyond The Curtain: Tithes Part 2 – Abraham’s Tenth

Each church service, we have a portion called “tithes and offering” were the congregation would bring in their tithes, offering, donation or outreach fund, etc.

People who were assigned to exhort would obviously pick a verse that has the word “tithe” or “tithes” and preach 5 to 10 minutes why people should give their tithes.

The most favourite but overused verse is Malachi 3:10. Abraham or Abram’s tithe or tenth to Melchizedek found in Genesis 14:20 may probably come in second.

I remember exhorting in the “tithes and offering” portion and I would often use Genesis 14:20 to clarify that Abraham gave his tenth not to be blessed but because he was already blessed (Genesis 13:2) that’s why he tithed.

Of course, it would really make sense. It sounds better too than saying you would like to tithe so the Lord will bless you more. Can the Lord be bribed with a tithe?

Well, that was more than 5 years ago the last time I spoke in the “T & O” portion. Along the way I learned Abraham’s tenth has more weight than meets the eye. I’m sure there are a few who already knows the real score.

For those who are still stuck in Genesis 14:20 as a reference verse only to their colourful testimony, it’s about time we go further just as Abraham went further for the promise land.

Abram/Abraham’s Tithe or Tenth

The Narrative: Genesis 14

(or you could skip the whole skirmishes and go straight to Genesis 14:17 or just go straight to “Let us examine the texts” below and use this narrative as a reference)

Abram Rescues Lot

1At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar,a Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim,2these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). 4For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

5In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim 6and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. 7Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar.

8Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim 9against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. 10Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.

13A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brotherb of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

17After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

18Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

Creator of heaven and earth.

20And praise be to God Most High,

who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

21The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

22But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.24I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

Genesis 14:1-24 (NIV)

Let us examine the texts:

The Goods, Booty or War Spoils:

11The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away.

16He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

20And praise be to God Most High,

who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

21The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

23that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.

Points to ponder carefully:

Abraham here gave a tenth of everything – this was the spoils of war or the goods that the four kings took from Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 14:11 which Abraham recovered in Genesis 14:16 (see above).

The reason we know for sure and without a doubt that the “tenth of everything” here is from the spoils of war is because of Hebrews 7:4

  • New International Version
    Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! 
  • New Living Translation
    Consider then how great this Melchizedek was. Even Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel, recognized this by giving him a tenth of what he had taken in battle.
  • King James Bible
    Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.

After giving the “tenth of everything” to Melchizedek, Abraham (still Abram actually) gave the remaining 90% (yes, ninety percent!) to the king of Sodom in Genesis 14:23

Abraham didn’t kept any spoils of war for himself. He gave it all 100%.

Abraham’s spoils of war (the goods) belonged to the pagan kings (Sodom and Gomorrah) which was clearly pointed out apart from Lots possessions (Genesis 14:16).

Abraham also could not bring his own property or his own possession because he went with his 318 men on a rescue mission (Genesis 14:14).

The bible does not state that he brought with him his property, wealth and possessions (though they were nomads) in rescuing Lot. It would be unwise and illogical to bring things not of war because it would slow them down.

Abraham’s tenth giving was a one time event only and never again mentioned or even implied that he gave again. There’s actually a biblical reason for this why Abraham gave only once but I will discuss about that in another blog post.

The Lord never commanded Abraham to give a tenth to Melchizedek nor the king of Salem demanded such tribute (as a customary practice to recognise the ruler of the land) but Abraham gave it voluntarily.

Abraham’s tenth giving to Melchizedek was an act of gratitude. Perhaps, a thanksgiving to the Lord, God most High.

The bible is vocal of God’s commands to Abraham for example:

  • To move out from the land of Ur to the land of promise (Genesis 12:1)
  • To be circumcised along with all the male in his household Genesis (17:10-11)
  • To take Isaac to the land of Moriah as a burnt sacrifice (Genesis 22:2)

But, there was no mention of God commanding Abraham to tithe at all. 

Hopefully I was able to present a clearcut presentation of what Abraham’s tenth was. I’m sure you will now be able to distinguish the difference between Abraham’s tenth from our current popular understanding of Genesis 14:20.

Next blog post:  Tithes Part 3 – Abraham’s Tenth and Modern Day Tithing

Previous blog post: Tithes Part 1 – The Definition

Cover Image is from Pinterest by Peter Hui on Behance

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