Behind The Curtain: Tithes Part 4 – Jacobs Vow

I’ve heard a very few sermons about Jacob on t.v. and in churches. Most of those were about how cunning he was (stole Esaus’s birthright, outsmarting Laban, bargaining with God), his wrestling match with God, erecting pillars and of course his pledge to tithe.

Here in our area, pastors barely touch about Jacob. Perhaps, he’s not that popular in the tithing department (almost 50% of the preaching in most churches here I know is about tithing if I’m not mistaken).

There was only one pastor friend I remember who in a way extensively preached about Jacob’s life but nothing really much about Jacob’s vow other than he promised to tithe.

So to cut the chase, let’s talk about Jacob’s vow and its relation to tithing. Let us see if we can use Jacob’s vow as a justification for today’s church tithing practices just like Abraham’s tenth to Melchizedek.

I will do my best to make it simple but clear and direct as possible. Hopefully I won’t miss anything concerning Jacob’s vow and my friends in the church would be able to easily understand. So let’s start where Jacob had stopped for the night to take a sleep:

Jacob’s Dream at Bethel

10Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13There above itc stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.d 15I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

18Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19He called that place Bethel,e though the city used to be called Luz.

20Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lordf will be my God22andg this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

The Shocking Truth

It’s not really that shocking if you will just read the verses carefully. Anyhow, after Jacob made a vow to give a tenth in Genesis 28, it was not mentioned that he actually gave a tenth to God. We could read on the passages of Genesis 29 up to Genesis 49 where Jacob finally breathe his last and still no mention of the word tenth or tithe.

This only means that Jacob was not able to fulfill his part of the vow which is to give a tenth to God. Please take note of these enumeration:

  1. God never commanded (not even a hint) Jacob to bring tithes to Him. Not even during the time God spoke to Jacob.
  2. God commanded Jacob to built an altar in Genesis 35:1 at Bethel but did not gave any instructions to give his tithes. Not even in a dream when God spoke the first time to Jacob in Genesis 28:13-15.
  3. There were no Levite priests (not all Levites were priests but all can receive tithes) who were commanded by God to receive tithes (Numbers 18:21, Hebrews 7:5) in the time of Jacob. Although Levi was the son of Jacob through Leah (Genesis 29:34), it would take another 300-400 years or so before God instituted Aaron and his 4 sons (Exodus 28:1-3) and their succeeding generations to be priests. (Aaron was the son of Amram who was the son of Kohath who was the son of Levi)
  4. God told Jacob to leave the land of Paddan-Aram (Laban’s area), to settle and make an altar in Bethel. God reiterated that he would bless Jacob and his descendants and make them numerous. When God wrestled Jacob, God (the man) said to Jacob to let go then proceeded to give Jacob a new name Israel. Even in Jacob’s old age God also commanded Jacob and all his household to move to Egypt where his son Joseph ruled as vizier or the 2nd most powerful man in Egypt. Still, no mention of tithing or commanded Jacob to tithe until his death in Genesis 49 at the age of 147 years old.
  5. Melchizedek received a war tithe from Abraham (Genesis 14:20) not commanded by God and this was certainly different from Jacob’s vow tithe (a tenth of everything God gives, food and clothing). More on this here.
  6. There was no tabernacle (Tent of Meetings) or a temple for the tithes to be used during this time and certainly no storehouse for tithes to be stored.
  7. Tithes were used as: food for Levites (again, not yet born and ordained), for the welfare of Israel (the nation Israel did not yet exist), and supply for altar sacrifices (again, there was no tabernacle, no temple, no 48 Levitical cities, no storehouse).
  8. There was no nation of Israel at this time and according to the Mosaic Law tithing, tithable land produce (Leviticus 27:30) should come from within the sanctified land of Israel (the promised land which was still a pagan Canaan at this point of time) and not from any gentile lands.

Here’s another interesting take from a theologian and author Russell Earl Kelly about Jacob’s tithe vow:

Again, as the head of household before the law, Jacob served as his own priest. He built altars to Yahweh and sacrificed on them (Gen. 35:1, 10). He asked for “food to eat and clothes to wear.” He promised to give God “a tenth” “of all that you give me.” Was Jacob promising to give God a tenth of food and clothes? How would he do that? We do not know. Perhaps Abraham, Isaac and Jacob built and dedicated shrines to Jehovah (Yahweh). They could then bring food to those shrines for the poor and needy. We know that Jacob did build an altar at Bethel. However, if any commandment to tithe had been involved, there would have been no room for bargaining.

Both Abraham’s tithe and Jacob’s tithe are completely out of context with tithing in the Mosaic Law. However, it must be pointed out that, under the law, Israel would later consider even the dust of the Gentile land as defiling and requiring ceremonial cleansing. Whatever Jacob did tithe, it originated in pagan Haran or (at that time) pagan Canaan and did not meet the exact definition of tithes given under the Law. Perhaps this is why his tithe is not used as an example by Moses. Of course, there is no prohibition against the source of the tithe from a holy land in the book of Genesis.

Above Excerpt Taken From3. Genesis 28:22 Jacob’s Bargain With God


Jacob vowed to tithe but the Bible is clear: there was no mention of the tithing act done by Jacob. In short, Jacob never got to fulfill his vow (his descendants fulfilled the vow for him). Though Jacob’s tithing vow was conditional (he can’t seem to shake off his scheming ways and certainly this was before he was named Israel), God still fulfilled his promise to Jacob and made him prosper (Genesis 30:27-43) despite Jacob’s failure to fulfill his vow.

We can’t justify Jacob’s tithe (same as Abraham’s tenth) as a prescription to enforce tithing on Christians in the New Testament church. Take note: What will Jacob tithe according to his vow: food, clothes (as pointed by Russell Earl Kelly) and everything God gives? Jacob didn’t even gave any tithes to God from his flock increase during his time with Laban. To whom will Jacob give his tithes for God? To Melchizedek again? He would have been dead by this time (yes, Melchizedek was not immortal which some think he was and Hebrews 7:3 means his family lineage and descendants were not recorded at all, check the commentaries).

Jacob as a priest on his own (noted by REK) could perhaps just give the tithes to himself (a crazy idea and not permitted in the Mosaic law), make a sacrificial burnt offering and eat the remaining tithes with his family (this part in accordance to Numbers 18) but where will he do that? Not even Canaan because it was still a pagan land. Most of all, Moses (noted as the writer of Genesis and the Mosaic law) would never omit Jacob’s tithing action or deed IF Jacob did truly tithed and same goes for Abraham.

Jacob tithing to himself would already be a violation in accordance to the Mosaic law (Numbers 18:20-21) because priests should receive the tithes of the tithes from the Levites who received it from the farmers and herdsmen; priests don’t have an inheritance (not allowed to own a land or property) and their provisions comes from the tithe givers. Contrary to the instituted priests (the rightful receivers of tithes commanded by God), Jacob owns lands, flocks and properties.

There are many valid reason why God never instituted tithing at this point of time which I have listed and explained above. I’ll say it again: Genesis is silent about Jacob tithing which only means he never tithed at all despite his vow. Again, modern day tithing is loosely (rather faulty) based primarily on the Mosaic law and not the pre-Mosaic era tithing principle of Abraham and Jacob. Why did it never occurred to Isaac, I wonder?

Even in principle, Abraham’s tithe is not the same with the Mosaic tithe: (war loot from pagans vs land produce from the promise land, free-willing and gratitude vs commanded or curses if not followed). Jacob’s tithe may come a little bit closer (compared to Abraham’s) but still a mile away from the instituted Mosaic law tithing. The only glaring point were Jacob’s tithing vow and the Mosaic tithing have in common is the word tenth and the rest is obvious (Jacob’s conditional everything vs specific agricultural produce). Oh, and you can’t tithe clothes by the way.


If church leaders in a certain church would decide to pattern the tenth or 10% contribution from the old testament only as a measuring standard and nothing more, I guess that’s okay. However, there’s a much better standard set by Paul in his epistle which I will share and discuss sometime in the near future which is part of Behind The Curtain series.

Next Blog: The Introduction of Tithing in the Mosaic Law (coming soon)

Previous Blog from Behind the Curtain Series: Tithes Part 3 – Abraham’s Tenth and Modern Day Tithing

Cover Image is from Pinterest by Peter Hui on Behance



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