(See DEUTERONOMY.) Tenths of produce, property, or spoils, dedicated to sacred use. So Abram (and Levi, as in Abram's loins) to Melchizedek the king priest who blessed him (Ge 14:20; Heb 7:1-10). Jacob after his Bethel vision vowed a tenth of all that God gave him, should God be with and keep him, and give him bread and raiment, and bring him again to his father's house in peace (Ge 28:20-22). The usage of consecrated tithes existed among the Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, and Arabians. See 1Ma 11:35; Herodotus i. 89; iv. 152; v. 77; vii. 132; 9:81; Diod. Sic. v. 42; xi. 33; 20:44; Cicero, Verr. ii. 3,6-7; Xenophon, Anabasis v. 3, section 9. The "tithe" (terumot) of all produce as also of flocks and cattle belonged to Jehovah. and was paid in kind, or if redeemed one fifth of the value was added. Le 27:30-33, "whatsoever passed under the rod": the rabbis had the tradition that the animals to be tithed were enclosed in a pen, from whence they passed one by one under the counter's rod, and every tenth was touched with a rod dipped in vermilion (Jer 33:13; Eze 20:37).
The Levites received this terumot; they in turn paid a tenth of this to the high priest (Nu 18:21-28,31). In De 10:9; 12:5-18; 14:22,29; 18:1-2; 26:12-14, the general first tithe of all animal and vegetable increase for maintaining the priests and Levites is taken, for granted; what is added in this later time is the second additional tithe of the field produce alone, and for celebrating the sacred feasts each first and second year in the Shiloh or Jerusalem sanctuary, and every third year at home with a feast to the Levites, the stranger, fatherless, and widow. The six years thus marked were followed by the Jubilee year; on it the attendance was the larger because of the scant attendance on the sixth year when most stayed at home. In the Jubilee year there was no tithe, as the land enjoyed its sabbath. Tobit (Tob 1:7-8) says he gave a third tithe to the poor; Josephus (Ant. 4:8, 8, section 22) also mentions a third tithe; so Jerome too on Ezekiel 45.
Maimonides denies a third tithe (which would be an excessive burden) and represents the seceded tithe of the third and sixth years as shared between the poor and the Levites. (See Selden on Tithes, 2:13). Ewald suggests that for two years the tithe was virtually voluntary, on the third year compulsory. Thus there was a yearly tithe for the Levites, a second yearly tithe for two years for the festivals; but this second tithe on every third year was shared by the Levites with the poor. The kings, Samuel foresaw, would appropriate the three years' poor man's tithe (1Sa 8:15,17). Hezekiah rectified the abuse (2Ch 31:5,12,19); also Nehemiah after the return from Babylon (Ne 10:38-39; 13:5,12; 12:44).
The Pharisees were punctilious in paying tithe for all even the smallest herbs (Mt 23:23; Lu 18:12). Amos (Am 4:4) upbraids Israel with zeal for the letter of the tithe law while disregarding its spirit. Malachi (Mal 3:10) seconded Nehemiah's efforts. God promises to "open heaven's windows and pour out a blessing" so that there would be no "room to receive it," provided the people by bringing in all the tithes would put Him to the proof as to keeping His word. Christians, whose privileges are so much greater and to whom heaven is opened by Christ's death and ascension, should at least offer no less a proportion of all their income to the Lord's cause than did the Israelite: we should not lose but even in this world gain thereby (Pr 3:9-10). Azariah the high priest told Hezekiah: "since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the Lord we have bad enough to eat, and have left plenty, for the Lord hath blessed His people, and that which is left is this great store" (2Ch 31:10).
The New Testament plan of giving is 1Co 16:2; 2Co 9:7-9. Moral obligation, not force, was what constrained the Israelite to give tithes. He solemnly professed he had done so every third and sixth year (of the septennial cycle), when instead of taking the second or vegetable tithe to the sanctuary he used it at home in charity and hospitality (De 26:13-14; 14:28-29). Ananias' and Sapphira's declaration corresponds, but it was a lie against the Holy Spirit (Acts 5); Joseph's fifth of Egypt's increase to the sovereign who had saved the people's lives corresponds to, and was perhaps suggested by, the double tithe or fifth paid by Israel long before.
The giving of a tenth to God, or to His representatives, was practised long before the law enforced it. Abraham gave tithes of the spoils to Melchizedek, and Jacob vowed that he would give to God the tenth of all that God might give to him. Ge 14:20; 28:22; Heb 7:2-9. There is evidence that heathen nations devoted tithes to sacred and fiscal uses, consecrating them to their gods or to victorious generals, or as a permanent source of income to their sovereign.
The tithes under the law were
1. Those given to the Levites: they embraced a tenth of all produce. Every tenth animal as it passed under the rod was to be given, whether it was good or bad: if changed, both had to be given: if either animal or vegetable produce were redeemed, a fifth had to be added thereto. Le 27:30-33; Nu 18:21-24; Ne 10:37-38. Again a tenth of the tithe given to the Levites was a portion for the priests. Nu 18:26-28.
2. On coming into the land a second tenth of all produce was to be taken to Jerusalem, or, if the distance was too great, it could be turned into money, and when the offerer arrived at Jerusalem he could purchase any thing that he desired, which was to be eaten there by himself, his children, his servants, and any Levites that might be there at the time. De 12:6-12,17-18; 14:22-27.
3. Every third year (called 'the year of tithing') a third tenth was given according to Josephus (Ant. iv. 8, 22: cf. Tobit 1:7, 8), or, what is more probable, a variation was made in that year respecting the second tenth: it was not to be carried to Jerusalem, but to be laid up 'within the gates,' and there shared by "the Levites . . . . and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow." De 14:28-29; Am 4:4.
At the end of 'the year of tithing,' the offerer was to make a solemn declaration before the Lord that he had fully performed the commandment of the Lord, and had withheld for his own use nothing of the tithe. And on this ground he was to pray for the divine blessing on Israel. One of the charges brought against Israel at the end of the O.T. was that they had robbed God, because they had withholden the tithes and offerings; and therefore the whole nation was "cursed with a curse." But if they would bring the tithes into God's storehouse, and prove Him, there would be a blessing beyond their capacity to receive it. Mal 3:8-12.
In New Testament times many were punctilious in paying tithes of small things, while they neglected the weightier matters of the law
TITHES. We have nothing more ancient concerning tithes, than what we find in Ge 14:20, that Abraham gave tithes to Melchisedec, king of Salem, at his return from his expedition against Chedorlaomer, and the four kings in confederacy with him. Abraham gave him tithe of all the booty he had taken from the enemy. Jacob imitated this piety of his grandfather, when he vowed to the Lord the tithe of all the substance he might acquire in Mesopotamia, Ge 28:22. Under the law, Moses ordained, "All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's; it is holy unto the Lord. And if a man will at all redeem aught of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof. And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord," Le 27:30-32. The Pharisees, in the time of Jesus Christ, to distinguish themselves by a more scrupulous observance of the law, did not content themselves with paying the tithe of the grain and fruits growing in the fields; but they also paid tithe of the pulse and herbs growing in their gardens, which was more than the law required of them. The tithes were taken from what remained, after the offerings and first fruits were paid. They brought the tithes to the Levites in the city of Jerusalem, as appears from Josephus and Tobit, 1:6. The Levites set apart the tenth part of their tithes for the priest; because the priest did not receive them immediately from the people, and the Levites were not to meddle with the tithes they had received, before they had given the priests such a part as the law assigned them. Of those nine parts that remained to the proprietors, after the tithe was paid to the Levites, they took still another tenth part, which was either sent to Jerusalem in kind, or, if it was too far, they sent the value in money; adding to it a fifth from the whole as the rabbins inform us. This tenth part was applied toward celebrating the festivals in the temple, which bore a near resemblance to the agapae, or love feasts of the first Christians. Thus are those words of Deuteronomy understood by the rabbins: "Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thy oil, and of the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks: that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always," De 14:22-23. Tobit, 1:6, says, that every three years he punctually paid his tithe to strangers and proselytes. This was probably because there were neither priests nor Levites in the city where he dwelt. Moses speaks of this last kind of tithe: "At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates. And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest," De 14:28; 26:12. It is thought that this tithe was not different from the second kind before noticed, except that in the third year it was not brought to the temple, but was used upon the spot by every one in the city of his habitation. So, properly speaking, there were only two sorts of tithes, that which was given to the Levites and priests, and that which was applied to making feasts of charity, either in the temple of Jerusalem, or in other cities. Samuel tells the children of Israel, that the king they had a mind to have over them would "take the tenth of their seed, and of their vineyards, and give to his officers, and his servants. He will take the tenth of your sheep, and ye shall be his servants," 1Sa 8:15,17. Yet it does not clearly appear from the history of the Jews, that they regularly paid any tithe to their princes. But the manner in which Samuel expresses himself, seems to insinuate that it was looked upon as a common right among the kings of the east. At this day, the Jews no longer pay any tithe; at least they do not think themselves obliged to do it, except it be those who are settled in the territory of Jerusalem, and the ancient Judea. For there are few Jews now that have any lands of their own, or any flocks. They only give something for the redemption of the first-born, to those who have any proofs of their being descended from the race of the priests or Levites. However, we are assured, that such among the Jews as would be thought to be very strict and religious give the tenth part of their whole income to the poor.