And on the Sabbath he rested . . .
This will be my last blogpost on tithing, a cool seven blogposts in all (I was aiming for ten—you, know ten on ten, and all that, but I now think seven will do quite nicely). I will include here all the rest of the references to tithing in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, so as to exhaust the topic—but, I hope, not in an exhausting way. So here goes . . .
We have already discussed good King Hezekiah (see the two-part blogpost on Hezekiah and his curious seal impression [“It the glory of God to conceal a matter,” and “King Hezekiah, man of God, continued”]), and the book of 2 Chronicles (which directly follows 1 Chronicles, in case you have trouble finding it) adds even more to this king’s already strong Yahwistic reputation (again, even though he has, of all things, an Egyptian-style dung beetle on his stamp seal!). In 2 Chronicles 31:2-12, Hezekiah is urging support for the priests and Levites, in accord with the priestly traditions found in Torah (compare my recent blogpost entitled “Pyramid Scheme”). In a way reminiscent with another section of Torah where Moses is evidently surprised at the generosity of the people in giving toward the Tabernacle (see Exodus 36:2-7), King Hezekiah and the priests were faced with the pleasant problem of the Temple contributions piling up “in heaps” with “this great amount . . . left over” (2 Chronicles 31:10, NIV). I am not the first commentator to notice that many church and synagogue leaders would love to have to face this problem today!
Similar to this Chronicles text are the ones in Nehemiah (10:38-39; 12:44; 13:5,12) where once again the tithes (plus other offerings) are to support the priests and Levites. Once again, the “pyramid scheme” is utilized (one tenth of the tenth) to make sure that the rural Levites (who are given the task of collecting the tithe) adequately support the centralized temple in Jerusalem, with its offerings, its priests, and its Levites. In ch. 10, the text on tithing concludes its exhortation with the promise, “We will not neglect the house of our God” (v. 39b, NIV).
The final reference to the tithe in the Christian Bible is to be found in Luke 18:9-14, in Jesus’ parable about the rich man and the tax collector, both going to the Temple to pray. Which one was proud enough to mention he paid his tithes? You guessed it, it was the rich man: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” The tax collector, however, wouldn’t even look up to heaven as he beat his chest in sorrow and prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus concluded his parable, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Was Jesus then against tithing? Of course not! (see the “Go to Bethel and sin” blogpost for details). Jesus just wanted us to be sure to keep our priorities straight. Don’t fixate on straining out a gnat, while swallowing a camel! (see Matthew 23:23-24; compare Luke 11:42). And this is probably as good a way to end our tithing series as any: God’s will as found in the Hebrew Bible explicitly included giving tithes and offerings for the poor (the widow, the orphan, the alien [non-native sojourner], and the Levite [as well as for the priests]); but by New Testament times, simple generosity became the rule. And in both Testaments, justice and the love of God must above all be emphasized (Deut 6:4-9; 10:12-22; Luke 11:2-4, 42; etc.). So let us today do likewise.