The official introduction or the institutionalizing of tithing for the people of Israel is found in Leviticus 27:30-33
30 “‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.31 Whoever would redeem any of their tithe must add a fifth of the value to it. 32 Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord. 33 No one may pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If anyone does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed.’”
34 These are the commands the Lord gave Moses at Mount Sinai for the Israelites.
The breakdown of the passage
A tithe of everything in the land.
It is very crucial to know that the Bible specifically and explicitly describes what, when and where should Israelites get their tithes. Though the passage here does not explicitly tell of “when” but it gives us clues as we read the whole book e.g. Leviticus 23:10 and 25:2 – each verse starts with “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, when you come into that land I give you” then God proceeds to give the commandments (apart from the 10 commandments) which eventually leads to commands about tithing in Leviticus 27:30-33.
The “when” here is the time they are in the land but which land? Then the same Leviticus 27:30-33 shows us what and where tithes should come from. In the first part of the passage it tells us that the tithe should come from the land but where is this land again? Is it a general term or a specific area of land? I already mentioned two verses above that says “into that land I give you.” Now, let us go back in the book of Genesis and work our way up to see and unlock the “secret” of this land where tithes should come from.
Here we go…
Genesis 17:8 English Standard Version (ESV)
8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
Genesis 28:11-19 English Standard Version (ESV)
11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder[a] set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it[b] and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel,[c] but the name of the city was Luz at the first.
>Take note, Jacob and his sons went to Egypt because of famine in Genesis 47:4,13 (the land of Canaan was mostly inhabited by pagans and were not yet in their possession) and to be with their brother Joseph who was the governor of Egypt. Still, Jacob requested to his Joseph that when dies, he should be buried in Canaan.
Genesis 49:29-30 English Standard Version (ESV)
29 Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place.
Joseph himself requested his brothers to bury his bones too in the land of Canaan when dies.
Genesis 50:24-25 English Standard Version (ESV)
24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.”
After many years in Egypt, a Pharaoh came into power who does not remember Joseph and enslaved the Israelites (Exodus 1:8). Then God remembered his promise and raised up Moses to liberate the Israelites and bring them back to the promised land which is the land of Canaan.
Exodus 3:8 English Standard Version (ESV)
8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
Exodus 6:4 English Standard Version (ESV)
4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners.
When they were finally freed and journeyed into the wilderness on their way to the promised land. God was already giving instructions (commandments) to Moses for the Israelites to obey and follow once they are in the promised land.
Leviticus 23:10 English Standard Version (ESV)
10 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest,
Leviticus 25:2 English Standard Version (ESV)
2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord.
Here, just two chapters before tithes was instituted in Leviticus 27 is a passage that reminds us that the sole word “land” (unless specified e.g. land of Egypt, enemies land) that God mentions even throughout Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy pertains to Canaan.
Leviticus 25:38 English Standard Version (ESV)
38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.
Lastly, Paul gave a great concise summary of the land of Canaan:
Acts 13:16-19 English Standard Version (ESV)
16 So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said:
“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. 17 The God of these people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm, he led them out of it. 18 And for about forty years he put up with[a] them in the wilderness. 19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance.
So it is very clear that the “land” in Leviticus 27:30 is without a doubt the land of Canaan. This means that the tithes of everything have to come from the land of Canaan or present-day Israel. Now that we have unveiled the curtains of mystery regarding the land of Canaan, let us proceed to learn what is considered a tithe.
‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.
What are the tithes described in this passage?
Is it money? Is it income? No, it is not money but grain or fruit. In short, agricultural produce! Any food that grows from the soil such as vegetables or trees that bare fruits can be tithable and it is considered holy that belongs to the Lord. Nothing quite mysterious there but why is it holy?
Remember, the Israelites were separated from the world by the Lord to be Holy…
Exodus 19:6 English Standard Version (ESV)
6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
Leviticus 11:45 English Standard Version (ESV)
45 For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall, therefore, be holy, for I am holy.”
Leviticus 20:26 English Standard Version (ESV)
26 You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.
The things brought in the tabernacle should be holy that includes the products of the land either farmed (e.g. grain, fruits) or raised (e.g. sheep, ram). The land where their tithes come from is also holy for the land is owned by God.
Leviticus 25:23 English Standard Version (ESV)
23 “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.
Psalm 78:53-55 English Standard Version (ESV)
53 He led them in safety so that they were not afraid,
but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
54 And he brought them to his holy land,
to the mountain which his right hand had won.
55 He drove out nations before them;
he apportioned them for a possession
and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.
Tithes are brought to the tent of meeting (later on the tabernacle which was also referred as the tent of meeting or sanctuary) which is a holy place. The Levites who were consecrated to be holy were also anointed for the sanctuary tasks and they collect the tithes of the people. The Levites themselves gives a tithe of the tithe (or 10% of 10% which is 1%) to Aaron the high priest (Numbers 18). Because Aaron (a Levite), the Levites and the sanctuary are holy, tithes are also holy because it belongs to God as noted in Leviticus 27:30-32. Let us bear in mind that the Levites are holy primarily because God is their inheritance (Deuteronomy 18:1-2) and the sanctuary is holy because it is where God can dwell in the midst of his people (Exodus 15:17).
31 Whoever would redeem any of their tithes must add a fifth of the value to it.
What does redeem and add a fifth of the value mean? Redeem here means if you want to buy back your tithes. Please do take note that tithes are not money, it is agricultural products like grain, fruit, vegetable and herd or cattle. For whatever reason a farmer decides not to give his tithe to the Levites, he must pay the Levite with an added fifth to the value.
Let’s put some numbers for illustration:
1 Sack of Grain (Tithe) = $100 (Value)
A Fifth or ⅕ of the total value of 100 is 20
Sack Grain – $100 + $20 (the penalty of buying back or redeem) = $120
So you’ll be paying the Levite $120
As you can see, tithes are not money but it can be converted to money IF an Israelite decides to buy back his food tithe produce but there is a penalty. It goes to show that buying back their tithes is discouraged because of the penalty. The reason for this is simply because tithes belong to God and the Levites don’t have any inheritance for God is their inheritance and also the tithes of the land of Israel for their service (Numbers 18).
32 Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord.
What do we see in this passage? Money or animals? Yes, animals and not just any animals. Herds usually mammals for agriculture i.e. cows, rams, sheep, goats, oxen, etc. and a flock – usually birds i.e. pigeons, dove.
What else can we observe from the text? It says the tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod. This means every 10th animal that passes through is marked as a tithe. Here is an excellent excerpt that describes how it was done…
That is, for the purpose of counting and tithing them. The manner in which this was done is described by the Jewish canonists as follows: “The owner is to gather all his lambs or all his calves into the fold and make a little door to it, so that two should not be able to go out at once. He is to place their dams without. As they bleat the lambs hear their voice and go out of the fold to meet them, as it is said, ‘whatsoever passeth under the rod’ (Leviticus 27:32), since it must pass of itself, and not be brought out by his hand. And as they come out of the fold one after another he counts them with the rod, one, two, three, etc., and the tenth which comes out, whether it be male or female, whether it be perfect or blemished, he marks it with a red mark, and says, ‘This is the tithe.’” It is to this custom that the prophet alludes when he says, “I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant” (Ezekiel 20:37), that is, shall once more claim you, being marked as belonging to the Lord. – Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers –
Take note of the 10th animal and analyze this, what if there are only 97 sheep? How many are tithable? 10 or 9? What is your answer? Think about it.
33 No one may pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If anyone does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed.’”
This speaks of the 10th animal. Let’s look at it with verse 32;
32 Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord. 33 No one may pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If anyone does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed.’”
No one may pick out the good from the bad – this points to the 10th animal which means this tithe doesn’t have to be perfect or the best. It can be good (healthy sheep) or bad (not so healthy sheep), it doesn’t matter. It is marked and belongs to the Lord, no one can pick out the bad and replace it with a good one. Once it goes under the rod (imagine a pen and it is passing through a dam) as the 10th then it is a tithe. Israelites should not even substitute it.
If anyone does make a substitution, both animals and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed – perhaps a farmer decides to substitute the sick one with a good healthy sheep, both sheep will become holy and will be considered a tithe. It is also indicated that animal tithes can’t be redeemed or bought back unlike vegetable or fruit tithes.
Please be aware that the only time the best tithes are chosen would be from the tithes of the tithes or the tithes that the Levites gives to Aaron the priest (Numbers 18:26-30).
34 These are the commands the Lord gave Moses at Mount Sinai for the Israelites.
I included the last verse of the entire book of Leviticus because I believe it is truly a clincher. It says that “these commands” not just the tithe commandments but the entire commandments found in the book of Leviticus were given by God to the Israelites only. Not to the Egyptians, not to the native Canaanites, not to any Gentile at all but only to the Israelites.
What we learned:
Leviticus 27:30A shows us that tithes come from the promised land or the land of Canaan.
Leviticus 27:30B also shows us that tithes are not money but agricultural produce such as grains (vegetables) and fruits.
Leviticus 27:31 tells us that vegetable or fruit tithes can be bought back with money plus 20% or 1/5th penalty from the total value.
Leviticus 27:32 shows us the 2nd type of tithes which is agricultural animals. Whatever falls as the tenth animal is considered a tithe.
Leviticus 27:33 tells us that regardless of the condition of the 10th animal it is already considered a tithe. It can’t be redeemed or substituted. If ever a substitution happens, both the 10th animal and the substitute is or are considered tithes.
Leviticus 27:34 shows us that the commands of tithing and the rest found in the book of Leviticus were given for the Israelites only.
What we can observe with the whole passage of Leviticus 27:30-34
- Only landowners (farmers) and herdsmen were commanded to tithe at least in these passages.
- Animal tithes from herdsmen don’t have to be perfect.
- Tithes are food.
Will, there be other occupations like soldiers or butlers or governors or even kings and prophets commanded to tithe in succeeding books in the Old Testament? Will there be some amendments of the tithing laws along the way? Where did tithing become money or 10% of one’s income in the bible?
We will soon find out as we continue our journey beyond the curtain.
God bless and a happy year 2019!